By Seana Sperling
Jan 1st 2007
It may surprise you that the CIA doesn't wear dark suits, sunglasses and carry suitcases chained to their arms. The average CIA agent is your neighbor: That attractive guy at work that takes all those business trips: That Teacher from France who has such impeccable English: That charming ESL Teacher who works a couple of months and then takes time off for travel: That funny, funny guy who works at the Travel Agency. See, every spy has a day job.
In the late 1980's a friend of mine started dating a very attractive young woman who also went to our University. She was just about to graduate and had been doing some career planning and ended up going to an interview with a CIA Recruiter who was lurking on campus. She reported the following: They liked attractive, smart young people and interestingly, they really favored actors. She had a theater background and loads of charm. She was recruited.
Although I found all of this very interesting, I was a sign-waving, protest marching, peacenik and of course tried to dissuade her from her dream of becoming Mata-hari. I failed and who knows what coup she is working on today.
When I was filling out my application for Peace Corps, one of the questions was something like, Have you had any affiliation with or have you ever been in the CIA? Well, not having a theater background, loads of charm and enthusiasm for espionage, murder and mayhem, I could honestly say, "No." Evidently there had been some infiltrators in the past and Peace Corps was trying to keep it clean. They had the background checks, the recommendation letters and kept you hanging on for quite some time. In my case it was a year, three wisdom tooth extractions, a barrage of paperwork and a complete physical before I was accepted.
When I went into Peace Corps training, there were more of the same questions about the CIA. I could see they were really trying to keep the spies out, but they are spies for crying out loud and are paid for their secrecy. I really don't think a spy would actually say YES to that question.
When I went to my site after training, some of the people in town eyed me with suspicion, partially because I was the sole foreigner in town and partially because they thought I might be CIA. A few indicated as much in their initial interrogation (veiled as small talk).
I had heard that in Africa and the Philippines, Peace Corps volunteers were often targeted for abduction and assassination because they were viewed as possible spies. This made me a little wary of both of those countries especially since a friend of mine in Peace Corps Philippines had been evacuated for just that reason. I don't think the people at my site wanted to abduct me, but I know they kept an eye on me, as one reported that I was seen buying beer at one of the stores. I was scolded for buying beer and steered towards Sherry and Cognac. Beer was for men and Germans.
I did eventually make good friends at my site and the other neighbors began to relax, however, near the end of my stay I found out that they had moved an ex-KGB agent next door to my flat. I hope he wasn't too bored.
Although I met some wonderful people there and from Peace Corps, there were a couple of Peace Corps volunteers that I really liked at first and we had so much in common, but they became a little suspect later. Their talent for language was amazing too. They seemed to pick it up overnight. Were they spies? I don't know. Were they up to no good in a foreign country? Again, I do not know.
If you meet a CIA agent, you won't know and you will probably like them immediately. It might seem all so coincidental running into this person again and again. Then you find out you have so much in common. What a coup.
Seana Sperling is a freelance
waiter, uh, writer, in Seattle.