President George W. Bush’s announcement in August that he had nominated Florida Representative and former Central Intelligence Agency officer Porter Goss ’60 to succeed George Tenet as CIA director raised more than a few eyebrows. Should Congress confirm Bush’s nomination, Goss will be the latest in a long line of Yalies to assume a prominent position in the CIA.
Although the CIA has had its ups and downs since its inception in 1947, it has historically proven to be a popular career choice for many Yale graduates, most notably former President George H.W. Bush ’48 and legendary operatives William Bundy ’39 and James Jesus Angleton ’41.
Undergraduate Career Services Director Philip Jones said student interest in the CIA has been consistently high since he took up his post at the University six years ago.
“It’s always been on the radar for Yale students that there is a career in the CIA,” he said.
According to Jones, students are correct in their assumption: CIA recruiters are frequently on campus, conducting interviews through UCS and the School of Management. Information sessions and panels with CIA recruiters are widely attended, generating audiences that range between 70 and 80 students, he said. The agency most recently had a table at the Corporate Career Fair on Sept. 17. Jones said more than 700 students, a high percentage of those who attended the fair, visited the table.
Of the many Yalies who express interest in working for the CIA each year, Jones said the agency typically hires several. And while it is true that other elite institutions, such as Harvard and Princeton, have sent numerous graduates into the ranks of the CIA, Yale’s impact on the agency is unparalleled.
A number of Yale graduates have worked for the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s predecessor. They dominated the CIA’s leadership throughout the Cold War period and continue to join the agency in large numbers, said Diplomat-in-Residence Charles Hill, who teaches Studies in Grand Strategy with professors John Gaddis and Paul Kennedy.
CIA recruiters visit other college campuses, but they seem to have a predilection for Yalies — it could have something to do with “nostalgia for the ‘Old Blue’ mentality,” Hill said, or it could be that Yalies are simply more attractive candidates than their Ivy League counterparts.
“People who go to Yale are people of high character,” he said. “In intelligence agencies, you need people with character; they’ve got to be intrepid, you have to know that they’re going to do the job.”
Marked interest in the CIA is not limited to Yale students — the agency has noted a substantial increase in applicants since Sept. 11, 2001. In fiscal year 2001, which ended in October of that year, the agency received 50,000 resumes, a CIA spokesperson said. The following year, the number of resumes submitted tripled to 150,000.
The CIA has attributed the rise in applications to a surge in patriotism following Sept. 11.
“People want to do something to help their country,” said the spokesperson, who is not allowed release her name to the press.
David Denton ’07, who had been resolved that he would pursue a career in the CIA until this year, said he thinks many Yalies are drawn to government service for patriotic reasons. But Denton said he thinks the prospect of working for an elite agency such as the CIA is more appealing to Yalies than serving in the armed forces.
“Serving on the front lines of American defense [as a member of the CIA] is not something everyone can do,” he said. “[The CIA] is an alternative way to pursue the good of the nation, in a slightly more cerebral way.”
Although Jones agreed that patriotism has generated much recent student interest, he said the CIA’s job descriptions also make the agency attractive.
“It’s primarily the nature of the work, because many students are interested in the analysis of information,” he said.
Yalies’ interests in the CIA, said Jones, do not necessarily result from the University’s historical ties to the agency. Rather, the nature of the education Yale students receive — with its focus on languages and international study — equips them for the kind of work intelligence officers perform.
Hill said the CIA’s preference for Yale graduates continued until the late 1970s, when a wholesale lack of confidence in elected officials and government institutions, including the CIA, caused its infrastructure to “shatter” as it attempted to redefine itself.
A prevailing notion existed at the time that the “old elites” — the Ivy League institutions that had once supplied the wealth of the agency’s workforce — had to be spurned, Hill said. As a result, the agency sought to reconfigure itself to “look more like America.” The “best people,” Hill said, were no longer desirable.
This mentality, coupled with its dubious involvement in Latin American and Middle Eastern affairs throughout the 1970s and 1980s, earned the CIA a reputation as a “renegade, outlaw organization that no one should want to be a part of,” Hill said.
The result was an utter lack of student interest in the CIA, which Hill said he observed both as a professor at Stanford University in the late 1980s and as a new member of Yale’s faculty in 1992.
“There was zero interest in the CIA,” he said.
The CIA began the process of reinventing itself throughout the 1990s, recognizing that it needed to recruit “the best” in order to redeem itself. Hill said he began to notice rising student interest in the CIA as early as 1997. Whether this level of interest will continue amid the growing scrutiny of the agency that the findings of Sept. 11 Commission have prompted is of concern to some, including Denton.
Although ethical concerns regarding the CIA prompted Denton to reevaluate his career goals, he said he hopes others will not be dissuaded from joining the agency.
“There needs to be more, not less, interest from intelligent people to help resolve [the CIA’s] problems,” Denton said.