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IP: Uncle Sam Wants Spooks.

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Source:  Wired

Uncle Sam Wants Spooks
 by Arik Hesseldahl

 4:00 a.m.26.Oct.98.PST
 With the Cold War over and United States
 intelligence agencies in flux, both the Central
 Intelligence Agency and the National Security
 Agency have begun to struggle with an issue
 plaguing the private sector: how to hire and
 retain talented employees.

 In a world that increasingly uses computer
 networks to communicate and transfer
 information, the agencies are specifically looking
 for people who can navigate the Net and other

 The CIA launched the most ambitious hiring
 program in the agency's history earlier this year,
 and it is expected to hire record numbers of
 case officers between now and 2005.

 Along with a new, Java-heavy recruiting section
 on the agency's home page, the agency is
 advertising widely in magazines like The
 Economist and recruiting on college campuses
 and within the military.

 "Our recruiting efforts are much more focused
 than they have been in recent years and we have
 a better idea of our target audience," said CIA
 spokeswoman Anya Gilsher. "We're facing
 increasingly difficult challenges like terrorism,
 mass destructive weapons, and narcotics.
 These are all very difficult targets, which require
 innovative approaches and a talented work

 Computer programmers and engineers are as in
 demand in the intelligence business as they are
 in any other industry, Gilsher said.

 "We're looking for people who can deal with
 different computer systems and software.
 Someone who is creative in their ability to
 handle and manipulate information technology
 and build programs that could be useful to us,"
 she said.

 While Gilsher would not go into specifics, an
 article in The New York Times in June suggests
 that the proliferation of computer networks
 around the globe has, for example, complicated
 the ability of agents to slip in and out of
 countries covertly using fake passports.

 It's a different story for the National Security
 Agency, the country's super-secret signals
 intelligence agency. In an unusually candid
 series of answers to written questions, the NSA
 said it is struggling with one of the same issues
 plaguing the private sector: employee retention.

 A recent article in the magazine Government
 Executive said the agency is suffering a "brain
 drain," losing some of its best code-makers and
 code-breakers to the private sector. In a written
 statement, NSA spokesman Patrick Weadon
 confirmed that the agency is working harder than
 it has in the past to attract and keep its

 "NSA, like most of the nation's IT community,
 has had significant challenges in hiring and
 retaining IT personnel," Weadon wrote. "Having
 said that, NSA has been successful attracting
 computer professionals with the stimulating
 nature of the work, student programs, and the
 total benefits package."

 The NSA also happens to be the country's
 single-biggest employer of mathematicians, and
 expects to hire more than 100 Ph.D.-level
 mathematicians in the next three years.

 Like the CIA, the NSA has launched a
 recruitment Web page, which has attracted 20
 percent of its recent resumes. The NSA also
 posts its job openings on employment Web
 sites like Job Web and Career Mosaic.

 The agency has been aggressively marketing
 itself to students, offering several internship
 programs. One program gives college juniors 12
 weeks of summer work experience, after which
 they return to school for their senior year with a
 job offer in hand. Another program allows college
 students to alternate working for the agency and
 going to school each semester.

 Some personnel also qualify for a fully funded
 graduate studies program, during which they can
 go to school full time for a year and still earn a
 salary, provided they commit to work for NSA for
 three years.

 NSA employees aren't likely to take jobs for the
 money, however. Computer science jobs at the
 NSA pay between US$35,000 and $70,000 a
 year, much less than in the private sector.

 "IT professionals seek out the NSA due to the
 unique nature of our work," Weadon wrote. "This
 has made us successful in attracting computer
 professionals over the past several years, and
 we believe this appeal will continue into the

 Not everyone agrees. Steve Aftergood, a
 research analyst for the Federation of American
 Scientists, said the allure of working in the
 intelligence community is wearing thin.

 "The intelligence agencies have an unattractive
 air about them," Aftergood said. "They have an
 aura of failure about them, especially in recent
 years. Rightfully or wrongly, they have been
 attacked as incompetent and even obsolete.
 Those charges may or may not be true, but they
 cast a long shadow over the agencies in the
 public mind."

 In recent years, the CIA has faced its share of
 problems within and criticisms from without. This
 year, for example, the agency was criticized for
 not having predicted nuclear weapons tests by
 India and Pakistan. In 1994, CIA employee
 Aldrich Ames was caught after revealing the
 identities of CIA operatives in the Soviet Union
 over the course of nine years. For its part, the
 NSA has been criticized for its efforts to keep
 strong encryption systems out of the hands of
 private citizens.

 Both the CIA and NSA still maintain a
 technological edge over the private sector, but
 Aftergood said that lead is shrinking.

 "The reality is that the private sector now
 competes in many areas that used to be the
 exclusive domain of the intelligence agencies,"
 he said, citing encryption, computer software
 implementation, and analysis of foreign military
 and economic conditions as examples.

 The schools that train the spies and intelligence
 analysts of the future are placing a new
 importance on learning to use the Net and other
 online resources to get the job done. Robert
 Heibel, director of the Research/Intelligence
 Analyst Training Program at Mercyhurst College
 in Erie, Pennsylvania, said students get a
 thorough exposure to the Net and computers in

 The program trains students to "drink from the
 firehose," to glean important nuggets of
 information as tools for decision makers, Heibel

 Graduates of the program have gone on to
 become analysts for the CIA, NSA, FBI and
 other agencies swimming in the intelligence
 community's alphabet soup, he said.

 "We teach a concept called open source and
 public domain intelligence -- that is, taking what
 is in the public domain and creating new
 knowledge by analysis and interpretation," he
 said. "If you spend 20 percent of your
 intelligence budget on open source intelligence
 you'll be able to answer 70 percent of the boss's

 Applying for a job with the CIA is easy: Send a
 resume. The CIA scans the resumes it gets
 using optical character recognition technology.
 An applicant for either agency must also submit
 to a thorough background investigation, a
 polygraph test, and medical and psychological
 examinations, said Gilsher, who went through
 the process herself. The process currently takes
 five to six months, but the agency is hoping to
 shorten that to three or four months, she said.

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Robert A. Hettinga <mailto: [email protected]>
Philodox Financial Technology Evangelism <http://www.philodox.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'