CIA Seal

Many people are intrigued by the life of James Bond: the cool gadgets, the cars, and the adventure; however to become a spy or a CIA agent there is less "gadgetry" than the entertainment industry portrays. Becoming a spy is not for everyone, but spies are not the only jobs at the CIA. So, just what is the CIA and how did the spy game begin?

The CIA's (Central Intelligence Agency) role in the governing of the United States is to provide national security information to senior policy makers in the government. It is an independent agency whose leader is nominated by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. It is the responsibility of the CIA to collect, analyze and disseminate intelligence information to the top government officials. There are four components in the CIA: National Clandestine Service, Directorate of Science and Technology, Directorate of Intelligence, and Directorate of Support. The Director of the CIA also has staff who address issues in public affairs, protocol, congressional affairs, information management, legal matters, human resources, internal oversight and mission innovation.

The History of the CIA

Although the United States carried out intelligence activities as early as the days of George Washington, it was not until World War II that those activities were coordinated on a government-wide basis. The CIA started out as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1942 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed William J. Donovan, a lawyer and war hero from New York, to the post as the head of the OSS. After the end of WWII, the OSS was disbanded and its functions were transferred to the War and State Departments.

It only took a couple of years for President Truman to recognize the need for a centralized intelligence agency. Communism by the Soviets and the Cold War were looming on the horizon. Donovan and Admiral William D. Leahy helped President Truman develop details of a new agency. The Central Intelligence Group (CIG) was established which accommodated the views of the State Department, the military services and the FBI. CIG began operations in January of 1946.

The purpose of the CIG was to provide strategic warning and to conduct clandestine activities important to national security. The CIG had access to all-source intelligence, functioned under the direction of a National Intelligence Authority and was composed of the secretaries of State, War and the Navy as well as a representative of the president. Rear Admiral Sidney W. Souers, USNR (United States Navy Reserve) was appointed the Director.

The CIG and the National Intelligence Authority did not last long. After a short twenty months, both agencieCentral Intelligence Wheels were disbanded. In 1947 President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 which established the CIA and the National Security Council (NSC). The Act made it the responsibility of the CIA to coordinate intelligence activities for the nation and correlate, evaluate and disseminate any intelligence that affected the national security. The Act restricted internal security functions of the CIA and prohibited the agency from law enforcement activities. The CIA's responsibilities are subject to various controls and directives by the president and the NSC.

The 1947 Act created a Director of Central Intelligence whose position established the person as the head of the CIA and principal intelligence adviser to the president. Additional responsibilities included safeguarding intelligence sources and methods. In 1949, Congress passed the Central Intelligence Act which granted the CIA more powers. The agency was allowed to use confidential administrative and fiscal procedures and was exempted from many of the normal limitations on expenditures. CIA funds could be included in the budgets of other departments and transferred to the agency without any restrictions, thus ensuring the secrecy of the CIA budget.

In 1953, Congress amended the National Security Act to include the appointment of a Deputy Director of the CIA to be appointed by the president with advice and consent of the Senate. In addition, commissioned officers of the armed forces, active or retired, were no longer allowed to occupy both the director and the deputy director positions at the same time. On December 17, 2004, President George W. Bush signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act which abolished the Director and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence positions and created the position of Director of CIA (D/CIA) and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The DNI oversees the Intelligence Community and the National Counterterrorism Center.

What was the Cold War?

In general terms a cold war is conflict between nations that does not involve direct military action. The war is fought through political actions, espionage, propaganda, and economics actions. Proxy wars are engaged by nations that are allies or under the political influence of conflicting nations. These are referred to as satellites of the conflicting nations and are often provided with military or economic aid by the conflicting nations to which they are allied or influenced.

The Cold War most known by Americans is the conflict between the communist states, headed by the Soviet Union and the Western world headed by the United States. This cold war began after WWII when the powers of the Soviets and the Americans disagreed about the political philosophy and how the post-war world should be configured.

The Soviet Union established the Eastern Bloc with its occupied eastern European countries while the U.S. and its allies used a strategy of communism containment and established alliances such as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). The Soviet Union assisted in communist revolutions in Latin America and Southeast Asia and would not allow most Eastern Block members to participate in the U.S. funded Marshall Plan which was developed to assist the post-War recovery of European countries by rebuilding and creating a stronger economic foundation.

Throughout the Cold War, there were periods of calm and tension. The Korean War during 1950-1953, the Vietnam War during 1959-1975, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the Soviet War in Afghanistan during 1979-1989 created international tensions that both sides attempted to ease tensions and deter military attack as both sides were well armed with nuclear weapons and any attack would most assuredly guarantee the destruction of both countries.

The Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaving the U.S. as the dominant military power. President Ronald Regan is credited with bringing this about with The Regan Doctrine, a strategy to oppose the global influence of the Soviet Union. The doctrine, implemented in the early 1980s allowed the U.S. to provide overt and covert aid to anti-communist guerrillas and resistance movements in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The doctrine was designed to not only diminish Soviet influence but also open the door for capitalism.

Jobs at the CIA

There is a wide variety of job opportunities at the CIA. For all positions, applicants must undergo a complete medical and polygraph examination in addition to a thorough background investigation. The CIA offers student programs in which undergraduates or graduates may enroll in an internEarly gadgets of CIA Agentsship. Internships are highly competitive and applicants must also undergo the rigors of pre-employment (examinations and background checks). Requirements for internships require high SAT or ACT scores; minimum of 1500 and 21 respectively.

Jobs at the CIA can be in the field of engineering, computer science, economics, foreign languages, human resources, political science or graphic design. Other areas include mathematics, business administration, military and foreign affairs, national security studies, or geography. The application process is lengthy; it takes from two months to more than a year depending on the position and the applicant's specific circumstances.

The CIA recommends submitting resumes online. If contacted, applicants then undergo the background investigation which examines the individual's character, trustworthiness, soundness of judgment, reliability as well as life history. They will investigate potential to be coerced, and the ability to follow regulations regarding sensitive material. A polygraph is used to check the veracity of the information and the applicant must pass a mental and physical medical examination.

Drug use, past or present can be an obstacle to employment. Use within the prior 12 months disqualifies an applicant; use prior to 12 months is carefully evaluated. Candidates for hire must show a high level of personal integrity as they must be highly trustworthy and reliable. The clearance process is the most lengthy as individuals' lives are examined in detail to determine their fitness to safeguard the secrets of the United Sates. Candidates who are hired by the CIA undergo regular reinvestigations which include polygraph examinations periodically.

Training to Become a Spy or Other Careers with the CIA

When the candidate is hired to be a CIA agent, there is of course additional training provided by the agency. The Headquarters Based Trainee Program (HBT) is an entry-level program for careers in the National Clandestine Service (NCS) of the CIA. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree with a minimum of 3.0 GPA and an interest in international affairs. The program includes orientation, introductory training in the field tradecraft and interim assignments in the occupations of Staff Operations Officer and Specialized Skills-Targeting Officer. Management of NCS places trainees in one of these career tracks based on demonstrated skills during the training and interim phase. Individuals may also be placed on a particular track based on the needs of the CIA.

Other depaCIA Headquartersrtments within the CIA have different training programs based on the particular work of the department. The very nature of the work conducted at the CIA prompts the CIA to request that applicants do not indiscriminately share with others, even family or friends, the fact of being an applicant or if hired, an employee with the agency. The Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union may no longer exist; however, the new order of the world still requires clandestine activities.


  • "Cold War" general term
  • "The Cold War"

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