The CIA is recruiting everywhere; you may get a tap on the shoulder at your local pub- they’re desperate for foreign-language speakers.

The CIA recruiters have come out of the shadows to recruit future operatives. They may tap you on the shoulder on college campuses, at professional conferences, in community partnerships, and yes, in a bar or local nightclub, and they know lots about you before the shoulder tap.

If you are proficient in speaking several foreign languages, you are on their recruitment radar. Their initial contact with you may be brief, with a quick introduction and a short conversation. If they like this first impression, they may ask you to apply to the CIA for employment directly on the CIA’s website. People inside the Agency will have a “head’s up” from the recruiters that you will be applying, so your online resume submission may be prioritized for quick inspection. Expect a telephone screening to ensue.

Following a favorable telephone interview, you may receive an online screening to further evaluate your potential fit into current openings and to assess your general intellectual aptitude. If the results are favorable, you will be asked to send writing samples or other occupation-specific examples of your capabilities, particularly the foreign languages you speak and how well you articulate them.

If the Agency is still interested in you, follow-up recruiter interviews may ensue which focus on your knowledge of current events and other general informational knowledge you have about various subjects.

After all the information gathered on you is studied, they may offer you conditional employment, and you must endure both an exhaustive security and general medical clearance process. If you pass, welcome aboard.

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Fluently knowing a foreign language is so important to the CIA that it may overlook some of the basic criteria for hiring: having a bachelor’s degree, but having a master’s degree would be even better; being an American citizen, and even better if you are an American citizen of non-American descent; and if you would be comfortable living in a foreign country and adopting its unfamiliar culture.

This foreign-language factor is important. The CIA has been desperate to hire linguists for a long while. Back in 2012, the Director of National Intelligence issued a directive that improved foreign language skills throughout the entire U.S. intelligence community, and the CIA knows that foreign language interpretation by linguists is essential to the performance of intelligence missions and operations.

Remember Leon Panetta, the former CIA Director? Years ago, he doubled the number of analysts and collectors who were proficient in languages, particularly those that were mission critical. He set out to increase by 50% the number of people with the right language skills to serve in language-use positions. He also transformed the way CIA trains its officers in foreign language capabilities and increased the number of officers in full-time language training (He Increased the number of operatives from the National Clandestine Service in full-time training by 50% and tripled the number of analysts from the Directorate of Intelligence in full-time training).

Since then, the CIA has been on a mission to recruit and retain new officers who have critical language skills. Foreign language competence for intelligence purposes extends well beyond mastery of a common vocabulary or the ability to translate a newspaper article. Shortfalls in foreign language abilities are a recurring problem in U.S. intelligence agencies, for less than 20 percent of Americans speak at least two languages. And, the Intelligence Community must find, among that population, its multilingual recruits from a much smaller pool of candidates who are willing and able to serve.
A major constraint on human intelligence (HUMINT) collection is the availability of personnel trained in appropriate languages. Cold War efforts required a supply of linguists in a relatively finite set of foreign languages, but today’s Intelligence Community, especially the CIA, needs experts in a wider range of more obscure languages and dialects, according to CRS specialist Richard A. Best, Jr. After all, al Qaeda functions in 60 different countries around the globe!

So, if you’re hoping for a tap on the shoulder by a CIA recruiter, remember that the Agency is boosting its ranks of foreign language speakers, with a special focus on recruiting speakers of Arabic, Mandarin (Chinese), Dari, Korean, Pashto, Farsi (Persian), Russian, Dari, and Urdu.

The CIA’s clandestine services refer to these as “mission critical” languages because they reflect the current world’s political and military “hot spots.” Linguistic fluency in these tongues is especially important if you are seeking a position in the clandestine service.

Robert Morton is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community, and relishes traveling to the Florida Keys and Key West, the Bahamas and Caribbean. He combines both passions in his Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Check out his latest spy thriller: MISSION OF VENGEANCE.



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