Spying on the Spies

The name's Bond ... James Bond.

The name's Bond ... James Bond.

Okay, admit it – at some point in your life, however briefly, you looked in the mirror and said, “The name’s Bond … James Bond.” Because really, who wouldn’t want to have a secret agent alter ego? (Or maybe that was just me … but do me a favor and play along, okay?)

What you probably didn’t know is that the Nonprofit Career Fair on Friday just might have been your ticket to living out that dream. Right between the Arts Council of Princeton and the China Education Initiative booths were a couple of CIA recruiters, because it’s perfectly logical that the people who want to join Teach For America and the Peace Corps also have a passion for covert ops.

So for the noble purpose of giving you all the inside scoop on scoring a job at Spook Central, I sacrificed all prospects of a career in government and went undercover with the master spies themselves.

There are actually lots of internships you can get with the CIA – pretty much the only thing you can’t do is get field trained. Make it through your internship without causing a diplomatic crisis, and then you can start thinking about a trip to The Farm, where you’ll earn your super-agent stripes.

I assumed interns wouldn’t get to work on anything highly classified, since interns rarely get to do the really cool stuff even when national security isn’t at stake. Plus, who knows what you’ll spill after having a few too many on a Saturday night? And what if you talk in your sleep and your seemingly harmless roommate is actually a Russian spy?

But my recruiter friend assured me that the CIA isn’t too worried about any of that – all interns get full security clearance and get to work on whatever their unit is working on. Pretty cool, right? Well, at least until you are personally responsible for resolving a nuclear crisis and then can’t tell anyone about it.

But the CIA doesn’t just hand out security clearances like candy. There’s a serious background investigation, involving a polygraph, drug tests, and interviews with people from your past about all the skeletons in your closet.  I tried to get more dirt on the polygraph, but when an imposing man who works for the CIA asks, “Do you have a reason to be concerned about the background check?” you suddenly become a lot less interested in what a lie detector test is like.

I had some more questions (“So if I studied abroad in North Korea, can I still work for you guys?”) but the recruiter gave me a stack of brochures and sent me on my way – although not without asking for my name as I walked away. Pretending not to hear, I casually slipped into the crowd and out the door without blowing my cover.

Mission accomplished.