(Resubmitted from October 1988 version that appeared in “Issues Magazine”, published by Brown University.)
In 1987 the Central Intelligence Agency decided it might be wiser not to interview at Brown. Perhaps they didn’t want a repeat of what had happened up at Amherst with Amy Carter. I’d written to ask for a summer position then, but without an interview, nothing ever came of my efforts. Now the Company was coming again and Brown’s liberal groups were ready. In the weeks before the CIA’s arrival, posters appeared all over campus with descriptions of alleged crimes. The Rake enjoyed bashing the Spectator for sending in an unidentified reporter to a People Against the CIA (PACIA) meeting. At an Issues party, the letters P-A-C-I-A were seen written in Cheese-Whiz on the walls. Letters to the Brown Daily Herald insisted that recruiting at Brown was not a right, but a privilege. I remained neutral throughout this period, knowing that the CIA had done some bad things, but also realizing that such was the nature of the game it played. The Mossad, MI5, and KGB were certainly not known for their humanitarian endeavors. A nation needs good intelligence, I realized, and if the organization responsible for the gathering of that intelligence was faulty, then the best way to change it was to work with it, not against it. I decided to again seek an interview with the CIA. I planned on secretly recording my discussion and then writing about it later, hoping, in this way, to dispel the mystery behind the process that had captivated so much of Brown’s student body. Here is my story:
Preoccupied with a twenty-page philosophy paper that was due an hour before the interview, I was just beginning to contemplate what could happen to me if I were caught as I headed past the PACIA demonstrators and into Pembroke Hall.
A friend had lent me the mini-recorder. I hadn’t had much time to see if it worked properly. Earlier I’d discovered that it made a rather loud clicking noise as it turned off when the tape ended. I had thirty minutes worth of tape, so I decided to keep a close eye on my watch and make sure that the interview was long over before I was subjected to that revealing noise.
Walking past a half-dozen police officers, I climbed a set of stairs and soon found myself in a small waiting room. Two officers were nervously whispering together as they huddled around a young woman, who was herself talking frantically on a telephone.
“Could you please come in at three o’clock?” she was demanding. “I’m sure it will all be straightened out by then. “ She hung up. “At least I hope so,” she whispered as she turned to me. “You must be Kristopher,” she stated. “We’re running a little late. I hope you won’t mind waiting.”
I asked if I should come back a little later.
“Heavens no,” she assured me, “It won’t be more than fifteen minutes. One of the interviewers is missing,” she said slowly. “Agent Lynch is conducting all of the interviews today and he’s running a little late.”
I was still trying to figure out what she had meant by “missing,” when she started in again.
“He might have been abducted by some of those protesters,” she added with the merest hint of a smile. “His family lives in Rhode Island and he went to Brown. I called his mother an hour ago. He was with her last night. She says she dropped him off on Thayer Street at 8:30 this morning. All she could say was, ‘My son, the CIA agent… Where is he?’ She couldn’t believe her son had disappeared.” She turned back to her papers. I asked where the restroom was located. “At the end of the hall,” she answered.
Fifteen minutes dragged into a half-hour and I found that I had to go to the restroom again and again to reset the tape recorder. At one point the secretary asked me if I was all right. “Just a little nervous,” I replied.
At last it was time for my interview. The secretary led me into a tiny room and introduced me to Agent Joseph Lynch. We exchanged greetings and I asked about this other agent’s disappearance.
“We may have a man down,” he replied, “but I think he probably just tried to infiltrate one of those protest groups. We’ve got a lot of people working on it.”
Agent Lynch carefully examined my resume. Meanwhile, I tried to direct our conversation to the protesters who we could hear chanting loudly below. “Does this go on at all universities?” I queried.
“A few,” he responded, still methodically reading my resume, “I was at Holy Cross two weeks ago and there were some protests, but it was handled much better,” he added without looking up from the page.
He then asked me if I had gone to the information meeting held in Sayles Hall the night before. I answered no, saying that I’d gone to the Senior Ball instead. He gave me a strange look.
“I guess I just don’t have my priorities straight,” I joked. Silence. ‘This guy has no sense of humor,’ I thought to myself. I looked nervously down at my watch. A siren went off below and the protesters were suddenly silenced.
He lowered his glasses as if to express relief that the din had come to an end. “I really wanted to talk to the students who are interested in working with us; all I got was a bunch of protesters who wound up intimidating the others. I wouldn’t have been upset if Brown had asked for a CIA spokesman to come talk to these people, but I had been under the impression that this was a meeting for only those students who were being interviewed today. It’s not just students,” he continued scornfully, “some of the faculty are involved as well.”
Agent Lynch looked back down at my resume and asked what had attracted me to the CIA. I answered that I’d read about the Science and Technology as well as Data Analysis divisions and thought that my applied mathematics/economics background might be something they were looking for. He looked up at me and proceeded to describe how the CIA used people with technical backgrounds for data analysis and image processing.
“We use a lot of satellite imaging techniques. Our technical people, will say, ‘That little box there looks like a generator.’ They’ll then use shadows from the sun to determine how big it is and whether it’s going to be used on a submarine or something. It’s all very technical,” he concluded. “We’re looking mostly for people with PhD’s in those areas. What we really need, though, are people with interests in the Far East and economics. With your economics background, you stand a good chance. It’s a generalist program. You’ll spend a year moving all around the place. You find out which areas you fit into best. We’re looking for intelligent people who are seeking a position where there will be a lot of mobility.” He handed me a large manila envelope. “You’ll have to fill out this application and take a series of battery exams — now you must be straightforward with us — everything on the table.” I again looked anxiously down at my watch-10 more minutes.
“At one point you will be hooked up to a polygraph. If the information we find out about you is of an illegal nature, it could go on your permanent record.”
`So they do keep files on everyone,’ I thought to myself. I could hear a little squeak, “yyyyyy,” coming from my chest. I snapped my fingers and tapped my foot. I was speaking to him, but all I could think was, ‘Holy shit, I hope the protesters start chanting again.’
“If you have any skeletons, write them down and send it to our personnel people. It will be read only by them. There is a difference between smoking marijuana ten times versus 200 times. Just tell us anything you think might be important,” he finished.
The squeak had ended. Thank God! I tried to bring him back to the protesters. Just then there was a knock at the door. One of the Career Planning staffers came in and told us that the other agent had been located. He’d been at a series of lectures at the Center for Foreign Policy Studies and hadn’t realized that the interviews were going on in the morning. So much for a man being down.
The Career Planning staffer described how the protesters had come into the building playing a tape of supposed CIA brainwashing sessions. One of the protesters had turned on a portable siren and then they had all dropped to the floor to symbolize the “genocides” orchestrated by the CIA. They left the building peacefully soon thereafter. I smiled up at Agent Lynch as the man left the room. ‘Lynch must think we’re a bunch of loonies,’ I thought.
“This is a lengthy process,” he resumed, “If you are interested. . . “
We then talked a little about William Casey. “He was like a god. He boosted the morale, got the budget increased, put in the most advanced computer systems. He didn’t stop to think about costs,” Lynch said smiling. “I hope you’ll take the time to fill out that application,” he ended.
He stood up to signal that the interview was over. I shook his hand and started to leave but turned around as I opened the door. “With all this protesting going on, I hope you know that there are people out there who support…” He just nodded and smiled knowingly.
I closed the door behind me, walked past the secretary who mouthed a goodbye to me, and turned to go back down the stairs. I breathed a sigh of relief that my tape recorder had not made the Big Click. From the landing I spied the hundreds of protesters below, silently holding their signs. An officer who looked about my age asked if I wanted to go out the back way. “I’ll go through them.” ‘This is going to be strange,’ I mused. ‘I recognize a lot of these people.’ I opened the door and walked past the television cameras and down through the masses. I could see a look of disgust on many faces.
“So you condone the killing of babies?” one stranger whispered as I shuffled past. I stifled a response, then walked for several seconds and turned to look at these people one last time. The chanting recommenced as I walked away, patting my chest to make sure I had the story.
In writing this piece, I have probably ruined my own chances of ever working with the CIA. Surely Agent Lynch will not be happy when he finds out I recorded our brief tete-a-tete.
I found Agent Lynch to be no different from the representatives of other large organizations with whom I had interviewed during the fall, if perhaps slightly more melodramatic. I certainly got the impression from him that the CIA was looking for a different caliber of people from those pursued by companies like Drexel Burnham Lambert; one friend who went through the interview process with DBL told me how they took their recruits out to a bar to see how they handled themselves when drunk. I don’t think one would have quite as much fun with the CIA.
(A day after this interview, my apartment was broken into and the tape recorder and tape I had used stolen. Fortunately, I had transcribed much of the. interview from the tape onto my computer beforehand. Any subsequent inaccuracies I attribute to poor memory.)