Alex Constantine - June 19, 2010
" ... Students that join straight out of college have no idea of what they're getting into ... "
By Caridad Lezcano | UCLA Daily Bruin | Jan. 11, 2000
RECRUITS: Government agencies seek to revamp staff with new graduates -------
On a recent trip to the CIA's headquarters, Michael Mau, manager of the CIA West Coast Recruitment office, bumped into two former Bruins. "They were recent hires from UCLA that started fall of last year," he said. Mau said the two graduates of the Class of 1999 are part of the next generation of agents. Their names and assignments, however, are classified.
"It's always satisfying running into and meeting bright young people," Mau said.
In an attempt to reinvigorate itself, America's covert intelligence community is on the biggest recruiting drive since the early 1980s.
"We realized that we need to hire more people to focus on national security issues," said Tom Crispell, a spokesman for the CIA.
Although the CIA used to visit hundreds of colleges, for the past two years the agency has been targeting 66 campuses around the country - including UCLA.
"Because we visited lots of schools, we never got to form a relationship with faculty and students," Crispell said.
The CIA looks for schools with departments that are nationally recognized as leading in their field. It also seeks colleges with a diverse student population, Crispell said. "In addition, we invite colleges within a region to participate in recruitment," he said. "People also send in their resumes online."
When the Cold War ended in 1989, CIA budget cuts caused many specially skilled agents to leave the organization. "People with unique government knowledge took advantage of retirement and early outs," Crispell said. The CIA has been sending recruiters to college campuses to find skilled computer programmers, engineers, scientists, analysts and linguists, Crispell said.
"We're looking for qualified individuals who are willing to bypass enormous salaries and work for a greater purpose," Crispell said.
Jeremy Graham, a second-year political science student, said he benefitted from the CIA visit last fall. "At the last career fair in the Pauley Pavilion, I got great information from a CIA recruiter," he said. "The undercover world of the Central Intelligence Agency has always intrigued me."
Experts say that a key reason behind the recruitment drive is the effort to combat the growing upswing in international terrorism. In Washington, D.C. there has been a growing awareness that global threats still exist, Crispell said. "Chemical and biological weapons - stolen Soviet nuclear warheads, all constitute very real threats to national security," he said.
In addition to the CIA, other government agencies are also recruiting skilled college students. The National Security Agency, which does electronic eavesdropping around the world, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which studies foreign military forces, are also trying to boost their employment by searching among college ranks.
"What our nation invests today on intelligence may mean the difference tomorrow between success and disaster, life and death," said George Tenet, director of the CIA, in a recent speech at Georgetown University. But some students argue that covert organizations like the CIA, NSA and DIA may commit questionable acts in the name of national security.
"The CIA has sanctioned contra-revolutionary guerrillas in Central and South America," said Pete Lindsy, a third-year history student. "Students that join straight out of college have no idea of what they're getting into," he said.
Crispell said that the CIA makes every effort to inform perspective candidates about the organization. "We make sure that you have a pretty detailed understanding prior to making your decision to join," Crispell said. "People should not believe everything that they read - we're not killing people."
The CIA has never been immune to controversy. But angry protests and bomb threats, once common when the CIA and other similar agencies came to campus, are now rare, Mau said. "Normally when we go to UCLA, there is a small group of protesters who hand out flyers," he said. "The majority are not students and they are usually courteous."