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?

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Jim Thompson ’28: Princeton’s Man Who Knew Too Much

jimthompson_1The CIA’s on campus this week searching for new recruits.  While I won’t be signing up for an interview (OR WILL I?  ESPIONAGE!), their arrival did make me think of my favorite Princeton spook, Jim Thompson, whose life – and death – reads like something straight out of a spy novel.

Born to a wealthy family in Delaware, then educated at St. Paul’s School and Princeton (Class of ‘28), Thompson left a career as a high-society architect in New York to join the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to today’s CIA.

His first job after World War II was to set up the OSS’s bureau in Bangkok, Thailand.  By day Thompson made contacts with Southeast Asia’s radical leftists, hoping to sway them to the American side; by night, he established himself as a fixture of Bangkok’s reemerging expat scene.  After retiring from the OSS in the late ‘40s, Thompson set his sights on a new venture: silkmaking.

Working closely with artisans from the country’s impoverished northeast, Thompson set about reviving the dying art of traditional Thai silk weaving. The venture made him millions and earned him worldwide fame as the “Silk King”.  Thompson used his earnings to build a huge, antiquities-filled mansion in the heart of Bangkok (which you can still visit today; it’s a must-see for any Princetonian in Thailand).

Then, on Easter Sunday 1967, Thompson vanished while walking alone in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands.  He was never heard from again.

What happened to Jim Thompson, one of Southeast Asia’s richest men?  No one can say for sure. But as related in two separate Princeton Alumni Weekly articles, sinister theories abound:

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