Newspapers Fire, the CIA Hires


Reporting from the UNITY Journalists of Color Convention, Aura Blogando observed a number of her colleagues hovering around the CIA job booth:

Craig P (not his real name, I would guess) works the Central intelligence Agency booth at UNITY. As I cruised the halls the first day looking for old and new faces earlier this week, I was a bit puzzled to find that the CIA had a recruitment booth. At a journalism conference.

"We don't have journalist positions at the CIA," Craig P tells me with a wide smile, "but we do hire people that have journalism backgrounds as analysts…. And what do analysts do at the CIA? Well, they read. A lot. They read everything we give them, and make sense of it."

While it might shock young journalists to find that the CIA wants (some of) us, the agency has a long and creepy history of recruiting from the news industry. Mort Reichek, who worked at Business Week and Forbes in the '60s, responded to an "editor-writer" ad in the Washington Post in 1949:

A couple of weeks later I received a strange letter inviting me for an interview. The envelope and the letterhead displayed no organizational name. I recall only an address in the 2000 block of E Street, N.W. in Washington and a phone number. I was instructed to call for an appointment.

I got to the E Street address, and found a large building that bore no identification….

[S]ecurity in the E Street building was extraordinary. I had to go through a maze of reception desks manned by armed guards before I could get to an elevator that would take me to the office where I was supposed to go.

It was the most unusual job interview I have ever had. The scene was like something out of a Kafka story. I was instructed to fill out an application form outlining my educational, military and employment background in greater detail than I had already submitted. I was then told to wait in another room. I still had no idea who the potential employer might be. After about an hour, I was called into another room where two interviewers bombarded me with very personal questions for at least another hour.

Only during the interiew did I learn that I was sitting in the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency.

But not everyone in the Realm of Truth is cool with the Feds hanging around journalism job fairs. According to Richard Prince at Journal-Isms, the National Association of Black Journalists has a policy banning the FBI and the CIA from its job fairs that dates back to 1989. Wayne Dawkins wrote about the ethos behind the policy in "Black Journalists: The NABJ Story":

Modern-day black journalists feared being labeled or used as spies by the white-majority government, or worse yet, becoming the spy and police agencies of government. NABJ asked the two black women CIA representatives to leave. The intelligence money was returned.

In 1996, several international news organizations published a joint letter to Congress asking it to abandon legislation that would allow the CIA to use journalists in clandestine missions:

Any policy that allows intelligence agents to impersonate journalists, use journalists as agents, or otherwise use journalism as a "cover" is unacceptable on its face. In particular, it endangers the safety of all journalists in war, civil war, terrorist and other situations.

As long as the possibility remains that any journalist may be seen as linked to an intelligence agency, all journalists remain at risk of harassment, personal attack, abduction and murder.

Journalists in hazardous situations should not have to fear for their lives because others may believe they are not what they say they are.

In his essay "Journalism and the CIA: The Mighty Wurlitzer," Daniel Brandt argues that post-WWII intelligence model relied heavily on cooperative, sometimes duped, journalists; Carl Bernstein said much the same thing in a 1977 Rolling Stone article. I feel compelled to agree: How is any ethically-motivated journalist—laid off or no—to trust Craig P, when the guy won't share his last name?