A Few Good Spooks

The full-page ad in The Economist magazine describes "the ultimate international career."

The CIA is hiring.

The spy agency hopes to add many more field operatives and to more than double its team of data analysts, based at Langley, Va. headquarters.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, a Florida Republican and former CIA officer, said that during the Cold War the agency's focus was on the Soviet Union, but now "You need eyes and ears everywhere."

About 39,000 resumes were received by the agency in fiscal 1999, which ends Sept. 30, a 56 percent increase over the previous year, and 74 percent of job offers were accepted.

"We've got a niche out there in the hiring market that no one else occupies," said Gil Medeiros, CIA director of recruitment. "If you want to get into the intelligence business, we've got the only game in town."

A potential field operative needs an outgoing personality, a facility for languages and the ability to handle the unexpected, Madeiros said, as well as a keen interest in international affairs-- especially in hot spots such as Russia, China, the Middle East and the Koreas.

The CIA seeks people with work experience, ideally between 28 and 30 years old, as 35 is the age limit.

Salary is not likely to be a draw. Starting spy pay ranges from $35,000 to $50,000 depending on background.

Loyalty is a key factor in selecting candidates.

"Integrity is probably the most important attribute of them all," Medeiros said. Those hired must pass lie detector and psychological tests and an extensive background check.

"These people live sort of a dual role... But at the same time they have to be completely honest with the CIA," he said.

CIA operatives generally go undercover as an employee of some other U.S. government entity. By day they work in an office, but "it's after hours that the action really starts," Medeiros said.

Serious candidates are told what their day would be like.

"We talk about how you live your cover, the kinds of things you have to tell your friends, your neighbor, your family," Medeiros said. Spouses always know, but many operatives do not tell their children until they are "mature enough to understand and to be able to keep the secret," he said.

Technology is a big focus for the agency and is a large part of the information being collected overseas. "These days we're looking for case officers who have some technical background ... who can talk to other engineers and understand what they're telling us," Medeiros said.

For those seeking the life of James Bond, the fictional British agent 007, the reality might be a comedown.

"You never see James the next day writing an intelligence report," Medeiros said.

But the danger can be real, as evidenced by the CIA's memorial wall for employees, some unidentified, who died in the line of duty.
The organization, traditionally dominated by white males, is trying to become more diverse. Job ads use models of CIA employees who are women, Asian-American and African-American.

A more varied work force is required nowadays, given where the CIA must operate. "You need all kinds of people who can blend in everywhere," Goss explained.

In recent years, several lawsuits have been filed by female employees accusing the CIA of discrimination.

Even so, about 30 percent of those joining the clandestine service now are women, up from 20 percent in recent years.