Listen Up: The CIA Hits the Radio to Recruit Spies

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

Being a spy may involve assumed identities and coded messages, but becoming a spy isn't exactly top-secret business. These days, in fact, all you have to do if you're interested in this particular career path is turn up your radio. The CIA is running ads on stations across the country for jobs in its clandestine service.

"Are you a person of curiosity and integrity?" asks one spot. "Are you ready for a world of challenge ... a world of ambiguity and adventure?"

The agency won't say how much it's spending on the ad campaign, but CIA spokesman George Little told TIME via e-mail, "We continue to seek highly qualified candidates to support the mission of America's premier intelligence agency." (See the top 10 Secret Service code names.)

The campaign is the first by the agency under its new director, Leon Panetta, who has said he would like to recruit more people with foreign-language skills as well as more minorities.

The agency is not lacking for applicants; it gets more than 100,000 résumés a year, and the number is growing fast. Little says if current trends hold, there may be a 40% to 50% increase in applications this year over 2008.

But the sheer volume of applications masks some of the agency's recruiting problems. In a roundtable discussion with journalists last month, Panetta noted that less than 13% of his staff have foreign-language skills, and 22% are from minority communities. "I'd like to get to a point where every analyst and operations officer is trained in a foreign language," he said. Panetta also said he'd like to increase the number of minorities at the agency to 30%, "so that we resemble America." And he acknowledged the need for "better outreach for Muslims, Arabs, African Americans and Latinos." (Read "Six Ways to Fix the CIA.")

The outreach program is already underway. Earlier this month, the CIA's third highest-ranking official, Scott White, held meetings with leaders of the Arab-American and Chaldean-American communities in Detroit. "In communities with large numbers of first- and second-generation Americans, we want the message conveyed loud and clear that we welcome their interest in employment with the agency, especially given their language skills and knowledge of other cultures," says Little.

The agency is also looking to reduce its dependence on outside contractors, which increased dramatically after 9/11. "I think we have to bring those capabilities in-house," Panetta said.

The CIA holds about 2,000 recruiting events a year, many of them at colleges and universities. It also advertises, selectively, on television, in print and even on airport billboards. The outreach extends to new media as well. For the past two years, the agency has used a Facebook page as a recruitment medium. Its TV ads can also be seen on YouTube.

CIA officials say all this effort is bearing fruit. "We are on track to meet the hiring goals set forth by former President Bush in 2004, which mandated that we increase by 50% the number of CIA officers in certain job occupations, such as intelligence analysts and clandestine officers," says Little.

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