Recruiting CIA Agents

Recruiting CIA Agents

Lindsay Moran (Former CIA Spy) gives expert video advice on: What is 'Recruitment Training' for the CIA?; How much time is spent training to recruit agents for the CIA?; Why is recruiting agents so important to the CIA? and more...

What is 'Recruitment Training' for the CIA?

The CIA provides all of its spy trainees with training in what we call the "recruitment cycle". That is the ability to spot, assess, develop, and then, ultimately, recruit. What that means is that when you are in a setting, particularly a foreign country, to spot people who might have access to information that the US Government wants; to assess those people to determine, A: if they really do have access to quality information, and B: if they have some of the attributes that might make them a good candidate to be a spy. If you find that they do, then to develop that person--and to develop that person means, basically, to become a friend with him, to approach him, introduce yourself, try to find some common interests. Even if you don't have a common interest, you have to pretend that you have a common interest. If you don't like hunting or fly fishing, it doesn't matter. You are going to pretend that you like hunting and fly fishing. Then you start to “schmooze” that person. Say he is an avid fly fisher. Suddenly, you are going to be going on a lot of CIA-funded fly fishing trips with this person, and trying to develop a close relationship with him. As you develop this close relationship, little by little dropping hints to him, or her--sometimes it is a woman, but rarely--dropping hints that you might not be who you say you are, and that there is more to the relationship than just friendship, so that by the time you get to recruitment, that person probably has a pretty good idea that you are not pursuing him just for friendship. They probably have a pretty good idea that you might work for the CIA. When you finally pitch that person, what you are doing is formalizing the relationship, and saying, "I like you. You are a great guy, but not only are you a great guy, you have given me some great information, and this information is very important to the United States Government. It is so important that we would like to pay you for it." This is really formalizing the relationship. Usually, nine times out of ten, if everything has gone as planned and you are pretty sure that the person is going to accept, then when you pitch him, he or she accepts, and you have done what is the cornerstone of the Central Intelligence Agency. You have successfully recruited a foreigner who is now going to provide you secret information, and in return, usually, you provide them with some monetary compensation.

How much time is spent training to recruit agents for the CIA?

When you first join the CIA clandestine service, they make it very clear that the most important thing that you're going to do is to recruit foreign spies. The most important aspect of your training is learning the recruitment cycle, and learning how to view every potential contact you meet as someone who could possibly be a foreign spy. That's not to say that everybody you meet is going to be recruitable or recruited and is going to become a spy. But whenever you meet a foreigner, you are going to view them differently. So the CIA from the minute you walk in the door to the whole first year of your training is almost brainwashing you. With this idea of the recruitment cycles, this is how you're going to run your life. But they will spend about a year training you to actually go overseas. And then the rest of your life is like an ongoing training process, because for the rest of your career you will be doing exactly that. Everybody you meet you're going to be assessing. Does this person have access to information? Does this person exhibit the kind of attributes that I think will make them a possible spy? You'll never look at anyone anymore as a friend or acquiantance. You are always in the back of your mind wondering if there is someway that you and the CIA can use the person.

Why is recruiting agents so important to the CIA?

Recruiting agents is important because foreign agents are the bread and butter of the CIA. They are the people who are actually taking the greatest risks, and they are the people who are providing us the information that we want. Some people, including myself before I joined the agency, have this notion that a CIA Officer would be someone who scales walls and breaks into safes and physically steals secrets. That's not how it actually works. How it works is that you are essentially defending foreigners, and you are specifically defending foreigners to give you information that we might want. A foreigner who might be a nuclear physicist who works in that particular country's nuclear department. That's the one you might want to get to know, because they have access to information the US government wants and the information the US government might not get through diplomatic channels. What you are looking for as a spy is secret information, the stuff that we don't hear from their ambassadors or their political officers. The stuff that the foreign countries want to keep secret.

What types of trainees fail during the agent recruitment stage?

A trainee will typically fail during the phase of the training that deals with recruiting if the CIA instructor, who's usually a seasoned CIA officer, feels that that person lacks the skills that are necessary in order to recruit someone. It could be something as nebulous as basic social skills, but it could also be an indication that you as a person are not likeable, an indication that you're not going to be ethical, an indication that maybe you would let your own arrogance or egoism get in the way of doing your job. Your job is to make the foreign agent feel like he or she is the important person, and to devote yourself to that relationship. If you show signs during training that you're not going to be an effective spy and you're not going to be able to recruit someone and the instructor feels like, "I wouldn't spy for this person. I wouldn't commit treason for this person. I wouldn't feel that this person had my best interests at heart or that this person was going to take care of me, to make sure that I was never exposed", then you're not going to pass that aspect of the training and you'll get cut from the program.

How has the agent recruitment training helped you in the field?

The CIA gave us a lot of training on how to effectively smooze someone and that was an aspect that I had never been comfortable with. I had never thought that I would actually want to learn how to use someone and it didn't come naturally to me. I think that I could make friends naturally but once it became a situation if I was going to use this person, I think I was a little bit uncomfortable with it. The training helped me in that as with all other parts of the CIA training, they constantly remind you of the overall mission and that these people that you are making contacts with, these foreigners, they are not your friends. They are not people that you are going to stay in touch with once you have moved on, say to another part of the world. And they are not people the CIA is going to be interested in once they are no longer useful to us. It's kind of sad in a way but the agency does a very good job in training you to be a colder and more calculating person. It helps you in your career but sometimes it can have a negative impact on your personal life because you have become a colder, more calculating person.

How is the agent recruitment training conducted?

The agent recruitment training is conducted with the scenario where you as a trainee are pretending to be an American diplomat overseas, and there's a whole cadre of instructors who are playing foreigners. It's like an extensive role playing exercise that takes place over a course of several months, or a little bit like what you might think of as a war game. This all takes place at the farm, and they have a fake country that you're residing in, and you're trying to recruit foreigners in that fake country. The seasoned CIA instructors play the role of foreigners. A lot of them really get into it, and some of them, almost start to believe in the fake reality down there, and they will give you a hard time. it is all done with the purpose of trying to prepare you for dealing with real foreigners, foreign agents who might be difficult, who might have drinking problems, who might have family problems, who might make a pass at you. All of this takes place in the training environment, so that when you actually go overseas, you'll be prepared for it.