CIA officers describe intelligence careers



Although Chris Westbrook had always wanted to work for the federal government, she decided after her first job on Capitol Hill that she did not want to work in a transient field dominated by “political animals.” But when she joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1982, she found an intense, nonpartisan career.

Westbrook and two other CIA officers spoke about their unique careers in different areas of the intelligence community to a crowd of about 100 — many of whom were interested in careers at the CIA — at a Pierson College Master’s Tea Friday.

As a recruitment officer in the CIA’s intelligence analysis wing, Westbrook helps prepare daily briefings for the President and supplies important intelligence to diplomats and military officers abroad.

Mack McKim, an officer who recruits field agents, said prospective CIA employees must demonstrate integrity, the ability to learn new languages and patriotism. These qualities can carry agents through times of intense training and separation from their families, he said.

Collecting intelligence abroad can be especially dangerous, McKim said.

“As an agent, there is a great risk and reward calculus of collecting intelligence, even in developed Europe,” he said. “If you’re caught, it’s never cool. Nations never have friends. They have interests.”

Officers in the CIA must expect sudden and intense changes in their line of work, Westbrook said. After years of work with former Soviet Union weapons analysis, she suddenly found herself investigating Balkan politics in Bosnia. Although she did not want a demanding career change, Westbrook said she was satisfied when she saw the direct impact of intelligence on military operations.

“I went kicking and screaming,” Westbrook said. “I didn’t think it was something for me. But I haven’t run out of fun things to do [at the CIA] yet.”

In contrast, after working for 25 years in the CIA’s Directorate of Science of Technology, Kenneth Hughes DIV ’06 said he felt called to enter a more “contemplative” life. Hughes is now a Pierson graduate student affiliate.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, recruitment in numerous sectors of the CIA has risen significantly. McKim — who attended Yale in the 1970s but declined to give his year of graduation, citing intelligence reasons — credited Yale’s political science, area studies and language programs with landing many Yale graduates jobs in the agency.

David Denton ’07, who has wanted to work for the CIA since he was ten years old, said he was surprised students did not ask the officers more pointed questions about current intelligence commissions about terrorist attacks and weapons in Iraq.

“I am surprised that given all the bad press, most people were still able to appreciate the CIA’s hard work,” Denton said.

Linnea Duvall ’05 said she was stimulated by the panel’s candid discussion of the excitement and demands of work in the CIA.

“I went to a career fair once and was not impressed by the CIA at all,” Duvall said. “But this talk definitely sparked some interest in working for them some day.”

Comments