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Looking for a few good spies: CIA will recruit at USF job fair
You don't need to be 007, spy agencies say.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 22, 2007
TAMPA - The Central Intelligence Agency wants to dispel a few James Bond myths about working there.
Myth One: You'll never see your family again. Myth Two: You'll drive a sports car with a machine gun in the tailpipe.
And agents aren't all super human.
"You don't have to know karate, be able to withstand a jolt of electricity while playing a computer game with a madman or look good in a tuxedo to work at the CIA," an agency recruitment brochure says.
The CIA's tongue-in-cheek reality check is a sign of the intelligence community's desire to set the record straight as it recruits in a job market with a shortage of intelligence analysts.
And now the spies are in Tampa looking for recruits.
The CIA will be at a career fair at the University of South Florida on Thursday for students and alumni. The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency holds a "job event" at the InterContinental Tampa on Friday.
Don't show up at the InterContinental with your resume unannounced. Befitting a spy agency, it's an invitation-only event and pre-applications are already closed as the DIA looks for analysts in everything from bioterrorism to nuclear intelligence.
With baby boomers nearing retirement and the defense community in an unprecedented hiring spree since the Sept. 11 attacks, opportunities in intelligence work are plentiful.
"There's going to be a tremendous opportunity for the next rising generation interested in this work," said Wayne Wallace, the director of the Career Research Center at the University of Florida, where both the DIA and CIA have recruited. "They're attracting some of the best and brightest."
While Cold War intelligence recruiting might once have been a low-key affair in smoky back rooms that fed off the Old Boy network, experts say it's now out in the open like any career.
Job fairs are the norm, advertisements and scholarships common. Signing bonuses, especially in the private sector, are increasingly paid.
Spy industry alluring
Even the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, made famous by James Bond, is advertising to find recruits for the first time in its nearly 100-year history.
Don't believe the Hollywood hype. Workers at the CIA or DIA might be desk-bound information gatherers and analyzers, computer technicians or language specialists translating web sites based in the Middle East.
"There is very little James Bond in what we do," said Bill Golden, who founded Intelligencecareers.com, a job clearinghouse. "But this industry has a certain allure."
So much so that the CIA said it received 130,000 applicants last year, twice as many as it did before 9/11. How many of those were hired is difficult to gauge. The CIA says the information is (big surprise) classified.
As might be expected for an agency where secrets are the coin of the realm, officials at the CIA with knowledge of local recruiting efforts did not return calls for comment.
Cecil Berryman, deputy chief of the DIA's recruiting division, declined to speak in detail about the agency's hiring efforts, saying, "There are some things I can't disclose."
Jobs in the public sector aren't always lucrative. Berryman won't talk, but the DIA's Web site shows starting salaries in the $37,000 range, though sought-after positions might bring someone as much as $143,000 annually.
Search for talent
The DIA doesn't identify these higher-paying positions.
Two years ago, Eckerd College in St. Petersburg began offering a small program for those seeking expertise in intelligence work. It's part of the college's Program for Experienced Learners.
John Duff, the program director, said officials at MacDill Air Force Base approached the college about offering classes for mid-career students who want to hone their information-gathering skills for intelligence work.
While some of Eckerd's students are in the military, the skills taught can be used in any number of careers, from police to corporate work.
The program emphasizes critical thinking, logic, writing and the skills needed for information analysis, Duff said.
Eckerd isn't training spies. "We make it very clear that we don't deal with trade craft," Duff said. "That's not our thing, never will be."
The biggest drawback to the work is the average 440-day waiting period to obtain a security clearance from the government, said Dale Armstrong, a senior partner in the Lucas Group, an Atlanta-based headhunting agency.
A decade ago, the clearance might have taken 150 days.
Armstrong said the private sector frequently raids government ranks, and companies raid each other, for qualified people with a security clearance. One company, he said, offers recruits free BMWs.
"Everybody is robbing each other for talent," he said. "I got out of the business because the competition was so fierce, I couldn't find anybody."
Jim Dunnigan, an author of books on war, intelligence and security who has lectured at the CIA, said intelligence work is the domain of the geek in the 21st century. It's more about computer programmers easier with an algorithm than a martini (shaken, not stirred).
"The geeks love it," Dunnigan said. "They want to be James Bond. I see a lot of Walter Mittys in the business."