Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was born during World War II. Originally known as the Office of Special Services (OSS), it was the espionage wing of the military. OSS agents went behind the lines in secret to collect information to support military operations rather than storming the beaches in uniform. After World War II, differences in politics and theories of government led to the Cold War, which pitted the democratic United States against the communist United Soviet Socialist Republic. There were no military confrontations between America and the USSR. Instead, the two countries used espionage to learn everything they could about the other's military strength and plans in order to prepare for victory in case of another armed conflict. In this war, the spies thrived.

If you are interested in a career at the CIA, you should be aware of what is expected of you. In its own words, the agency demands “an adventurous spirit, a forceful personality, superior intellectual ability, toughness of mind, and a high degree of integrity.”

The CIA does not use words like “spy.” It prefers euphemisms like “agent” and “operations officer.” There are many jobs other than the cloak-and-dagger variety. The CIA also employs secretaries and receptionists, foreign language experts, desk-bound analysts, information technology specialists, and maintenance staff to ensure the restrooms are clean and the garbage is disposed of in its Langley, Virginia headquarters.

Prior to the 1970s, the CIA gathered intelligence using paid informants and spies who worked undercover behind enemy lines. Since then, the agency has shifted its focus to satellite technology. Many find fault with this policy shift and maintain that there is nothing like the personal touch in the spy game. Some even claim that relying on satellites rather than spies on the ground contributed to the terrorist attacks of September 11.

You must be a U.S. citizen over eighteen years of age to join the CIA. A college degree is not mandatory, but it helps, particularly if you are interested in an overseas clandestine job. Men and women in the armed forces cannot transfer to the CIA to fulfill their enlistment obligations. The CIA is not a branch of the military, but the CIA and military often find themselves in the same hotspots around the world.

Alert

Don't expect to get a job with the CIA overnight. If you want to join the agency, you will be obliged to take a drug test and submit to a thorough background check. The depth of this check will depend on the type of job you are applying for, as there are many levels of security clearance in the CIA.

The CIA describes the background check procedure as follows:“Applicants must undergo a thorough background investigation examining their life history, character, trustworthiness, and soundness of judgment. Also examined is one's freedom from conflicting allegiances, potential to be coerced and willingness and ability to abide by the regulations governing the use, handling and the protection of sensitive information.”

A lie-detector test and thorough physical is also part of the CIA screening process, which can take from two months to up to one year.

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