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CONSIDERING how uncertain things are in the newspaper business, I may need a new gig pretty soon. So imagine how happy I was to read that the CIA, that old bugaboo of yore, is looking for people just like me for its next generation of superspies and their support staff.

To do that, the Central Intelligence Agency is spiffing up its image through a slick ad campaign that attempts to transform the agency's rep as a creepy spook shop into one of wholesome and good-humored terrorist busters who only sometimes have to lie about where they work. And only with love.

An image makeover thought up by copywriters worked for milk, so why not the CIA? For one thing, the calcium-rich dairy product doesn't have as much dirty laundry as the agency that may or may not have helped Nicaraguan drug lords sell cocaine in the U.S.; that may or may not have tried to kill Fidel Castro with exploding cigars and poisoned scuba suits; and that may or may not have used mind control to create assassins to take out JFK. Plus, talking cows are cute.

The old-time CIA spooks probably hate having to pander to the masses in such a manufactured-hip way. But the agency appears to have little choice; the CIA was ordered by the president to increase its ranks post-Sept. 11, 2001, seeing as how the war and everything was about to cook up a flood of America-hating terrorists who needed spying on, not to mention incarceration and waterboarding in secret European prisons. Just how is the CIA supposed to do that without a larger staff of worldwide operatives?

The nexus of this new campaign is the CIA Web site (, which has a career section with flash animation, zippy music and a ``personality quiz'' that is for entertainment purposes only. On it are all the jobs available at the CIA and their requirements.

As luck would have it, my background in journalism makes me a shoe-in for a gumshoe, according to the agency's requirements. Maybe that's not a surprise when you consider that journalists are trained to find out things people don't want them to know, and then tell those things to other people. I am qualified to apply for three of the agency's four different divisions: the Directorate of Support (secretaries and workers at the paper-shedding plant, I presume), the Directorate of Intelligence (the smart people who break codes and devise diabolical strategies) and, most importantly, the National Clandestine Service (or the covert-ops division).

Best of all, I found I could apply for my new career as a spy online!

Humming ``Secret Agent Man,'' I prepared to embark on my new career as an espionage provider. I was all set to submit my Web resume for a job as a ``core collector'' which, as far as I can tell, is a person who meets with spies and ``handles'' them. Not quite the sexy position as a secret agent, but definitely spy-adjacent and possibly involving travel to exotic locations such as Afghanistan and Sudan.

Then I got cold feet.

It wasn't that the site's disclaimer noted three times -- three times -- that this information would not be used for any other purposes. I could almost hear the ghost of James Jesus Angleton snickering. And it wasn't because the CIA would now have the beginnings of a dossier for me, should it want one on a nobody in Los Angeles whose most subversive activity is making fun of government in a sharp, yet playful and perfectly legal manner.

It wasn't even this note from the CIA that made me rethink my new career opportunity: ``If we contact you about a position, be prepared to undergo a thorough background investigation examining your life's history, your character, trustworthiness, reliability and soundness of judgment.''

What made me give up the notion of a future as a top spy was this: The CIA's Homepage for Kids. I poked around until I found ``Ginger's CIA Adventure,'' in which a precocious blue teddy bear slips off his boss's desk and takes an unofficial tour of the CIA's Virginia offices.

This pro-CIA propaganda for kids was disturbing in a way I've yet to fully fathom, but I know that no self-respecting espionage organization would sell itself with a talking bear. And just what kind of message does it send to kids to have a story about a bear breaking the rules at a secure government facility?

Give me the ranks of shifty agents in trench coats any day. This kinder new CIA is just way too scary.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 3, 2006
Previous Article:PUBLIC FORUM.

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