Budget cuts force CIA to recruit youths

June 11, 1993|By Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

"Wanted: College students with impeccable pasts. Speakers of non-Romance languages preferred. Sunglasses and trench coats optional. Great salary. Apply (hush-hush) to the CIA."

Faced with budget cuts, flare-ups in previously obscure nations and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CIA is cozying up to college students.

It seems that the spy agency -- whose motto is: "Our business is knowing the world's business" -- finds itself scrambling to cover the continents with a shrinking staff.

President Clinton's budget plan calls for trimming the CIA's $28 billion budget by $7 billion over the next five years.

To compensate, one money-saving idea being considered would use college students as a reserve force to analyze information during international emergencies.

But CIA officials sidestep details of the proposal.

"We are exploring to what extent people with expertise in languages or computers can help us from time to time," says CIA spokesman Peter Earnest. "But I stress that this is a concept, an idea by no means worked out."

He cites one major hitch in depending on students.

"What if there is a sudden need for them and it is during final exams week? We have a lot of problems to work out," Mr. Earnest says.

Still, the federal agency is scouring college campuses in search of very specific-skilled students. The student with a general education background is no longer in demand, say CIA recruiters. The agency today seeks students majoring in economics, computer science, engineering and foreign languages native to hot spots like Bosnia and Somalia.

Of particular interest to the CIA are students enrolled in the new foreign translation center at Florida A&M University's campus in Tallahassee.

The historically black public college received a $1.74 million grant from the U.S. Defense Department last October to teach African and Asian languages.

FAMU President Frederick Humphries confirmed that the CIA is showing up more frequently on his campus doorstep.

"We have had some students intern with the CIA, and we are expanding that," Mr. Humphries says."We will be doing activities with them that are appropriate for a university, but we won't be involved in any secretive or clandestine activity of the CIA."

FAMU graduate Daryl Parks, now a law student at Florida State University, worked two summers at the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Va.

"I was an imagery analyst," Mr. Parks says. "We looked at different pictures from satellites of different countries and their tactical vehicle units."

Mr. Parks began to explain his job in greater detail but suddenly paused in mid-sentence.

"Aaaah. . . wait a minute. I'm not supposed to tell you what countries they were."

Kim O'Shea, a CIA recruiter for Florida, says students do not work as spies but are instructed not to discuss details of their jobs. "They are cautioned because the work that they do may be classified," she says.

CIA officials estimate that thousands of students apply for CIA internships and co-operative education programs each year. About 300 are chosen.

Internships are usually one-time employment during the summer. Students on co-ops are often called back year after year. Many of them end up taking full-time jobs with the agency upon graduation.

The application process is rigorous, often taking six to nine months. The CIA thoroughly checks out the student's academic and personal backgrounds. There are polygraph tests, fingerprinting and intensive interview sessions. Yes, agents do talk to your neighbors and classmates.

"I didn't feel offended by it, but they were very thorough," Mr. Parks says. "I enjoyed working at the CIA. It was a great internship."

Among the perks: free transportation, a housing subsidy, a chance at overtime pay and, for co-op students, health benefits while on the job.

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