James Bond Loses to Stocks and Bonds

by Caroline Savello:

Nathan Hale, Yale Class of 1773, became the first American executed for spying for his country. Hale also established another legacy—more than 150 years before the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), he became the first in a line of Yale graduates to work in the nation’s intelligence community. George H.W. Bush (’48), R. James Woolsey (LAW ’68), and Porter Goss (’60) all headed the CIA, and two of the Agency’s most legendary spymasters—William Bundy (’39) and James Jesus Angleton (’41)—also attended Yale.

Yale has a strong history with the CIA. Yet the CIA’s post- 9/11 hiring spree, intended to strengthen intelligence analysis, has not elicited a corresponding increase in interest among Yale students. In late 2001, Director of Career Services Philip Jones said that he had witnessed no “mass movement” of students to the intelligence field immediately following September 11, and a CIA recruiting session early this November drew far fewer students than a networking dinner with Lehman Brothers the following week. Yet the CIA’s comparative lack of enticement is no fault of Yale or its educational philosophy but is due to the outdated hiring practices of the CIA.

A classroom building on Yale's campus. (Courtesy Flickr.com/Lauren Manning)

As Yale’s curriculum fosters critical thinking skills, Yale’s educational strengths align with the needs of the modern CIA. Professor Charles Hill says that Directed Studies alone is the kind of preparation needed for a career in intelligence or the foreign service. The philosophy behind the freshman program—cultivating a skill set of persuasive, coherent writing and critical readings—extends throughout the university.

The university’s recent international push also suggests the makings of a student body particularly primed for modern-day intelligence work. For example, the new foreign language requirement ensures an advanced level of proficiency in every graduating student. The university’s area studies programs expose students to regional politics, histories, and cultures. And Yale’s educational partnership with China has prompted unprecedented interest in Chinese language and East Asian Studies—an important knowledge base for the CIA.

If Yale is creating exactly the kind of internationally-minded, critical-thinkers needed to revitalize the post-9/11 CIA, why is there no “mass movement” among Yalies to intelligence jobs? The first drawback comes before students even land the job. The intelligence community probes invasively into its employees’ lives. Simply applying for a job can initiate 12-18 months of background checks, which try to determine if the applicant has ever used marijuana, depressants, or other illegal substances. Then, applicants must take a polygraph test.

During the application process, too, the CIA will call applicants’ friends, relatives, and teachers and ask prying questions about the applicant’s personal life. Dean Penelope Laurans, dean of Yale College and special assistant to President Richard Levin, has fielded questions from the CIA for four or five applicants she once taught. “They ask every imaginable question,” she told the Globalist.

If students persist past the application phase, they then face a government job that pays like one. Analyst positions at top finance firms pay double what the CIA gives its entry-level workers. With undergraduate tuition at Yale costing more than $45,000 a year and graduate school costing even more, salary disparities may be the primary reason Yalies pass over an analyst position at the CIA in favor of an analyst position at Goldman Sachs.

If low pay still doesn’t deter some students, then the personal restrictions of an intelligence job might. Employees face a good deal of inquiry if they want to marry or live with a foreigner. The CIA even prohibits marriage to or close personal relationships with mainland Chinese or Russians, more than a decade after the end of the Cold War. And future career flexibility might also suffer—many UN agencies do not hire anyone who has previously worked in intelligence.

The CIA should reconsider its outdated approach to recruitment and hiring, as well as its hyper-secretive culture. While the CIA may never offer the same pay as a job in finance or consulting, there are other steps that the Agency can take to attract Yalies. Prohibiting personal relationships with foreigners doesn’t help the CIA’s cause. Extensive background checks are undoubtedly vital to preserving national security, yet their duration and depth border on the absurd. After more than a year of excessive prying into the meanest details of his or her life, even the most upstanding Yalie may be turned away.