George J. Tenet, the current Director of Central Intelligence, has put an emphasis on strengthening the human component of the CIA's intelligence gathering force. Most people think that spying has gone completely digital, thanks to great advances in satellite and code-breaking technology. However, most encryption technology is so complicated, that even the CIA can't crack it. Also, satellites were good for watching missile silos during the Cold War, but they can't really watch terrorists, drug-traffickers, secret weapons programs, and leaders of rogue nations. For those activities, you still need well-trained old-fashioned spies.

The Directorate of Operations (which we briefly talked about in step 2) is the branch that runs covert operations and recruits foreign agents. The DO employs 1000-2000 people, and when hiring, looks for "an extraordinary individual who wants more than just a job," someone with "superior intellectual ability, toughness of mind and a high degree of personality" who can work in "fast-moving, ambiguous and unstructured situations." Y'know… spy stuff.

In order to become a spy, you have to fulfill the requirements we talked about in step 3 PLUS a whole bunch of other requirements. According to Gil Medeiros, CIA Director of Recruiting, "You have to have a certain set of foreign-language [and cultural] skills...before we'll even talk to you." Favored are Asian- and Arab-Americans and those who can help in other so-called "hard-target" countries.

A common misconception is that CIA has agents, when they actually have case officers who work on getting information and finding others who can get them information. There are two types of officers in the DO:

  • Field operations officers: The "spies" who recruit agents in other countries.
  • Staff operations officers: Their support team in Langley, VA.

To apply for being either a field operation or staff operation officer, you must fulfill the following requirements:

  • You must be under 35 years old.

  • You must have gotten a Bachelor's or Master's degree and have received at least a 3.0. Particularly good majors to have include: business, international relations, economics, biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering (especially nuclear engineering).

  • You must have top-notch writing skills. You'll be writing many field reports.

  • If you're married, your spouse must be a U.S. citizen.

  • It helps if you are 100% fluent in another language… especially one of those "hard-target" languages.

  • Your starting salary ranges from $34,000-52,000 depending on experience. This experience might consist of an ability to speak Farsi or other difficult languages. Or computer expertise that would enable an agent to fool the global data networks that have made using fake identification more difficult.

As far as what you can expect in your training, much of it is kept secret for obvious reasons. But here's the general timeline for gaining admittance into the Clandestine Service Trainee Program. You'll go through an average of 1-3 years of preparation (during which you'll be both an Operations Desk Officer and a Collection Management Officer). If you are to become a field officer, you will also spend time at "the Farm," the CIA's training ground at Camp Peary near Williamsburg, VA. The course there has been called "Outward Bound with guns," and requires a few days in a swamp escaping human predators. Officers also learn how to gather information at cocktail parties, set up clandestine meetings, see if they are being tailed, use short wave radios and secure communications gear, and write reports for their superiors. During a "jail sequence," officer recruits are put in a cell, deprived of food, water, and sleep, and then interrogated for nearly two days.

There is a short cut. If, for instance, you've been in the military or already know tons about the Middle East and speak a Middle Eastern language with fluency, you can apply directly into the CST Program. Send your cover letter to CST Division, ATTN: 98-IC, P.O. Box 12002, Dept. INTERNET, Arlington, VA 22209-2002.

And now you're ready to apply to join the CIA! Just go to the CIA homepage, fill out the form, and wait to see what happens.

One more thing: just for good measure, we've added a glossary onto this article, just so you can use some fancy words in any interviews to prove that you're serious. And even if you don't get the job, you can still scare people by throwing these phrases around.


Agent (Asset): Foreigner recruited by a CIA case officer.

Base: CIA post that is smaller than a station.

Case Officer: A member of the Directorate of Operations (DO) who recruits and directs agents.

CI (Counterintelligence): Information and action against foreign espionage.

Clandestine Service: The same thing as the Directorate of Operations.

Collection: The gathering of raw intelligence info.

Cover: Official or unofficial position held by a member of the Directorate of Operations.

Covert Operation: Secret operation often done at the direction of the President. The Bay of Pigs invasion, for example.

Dead Drop: Secret location for agents and case officers to exchange information. The KGB used to use a hollow tree trunk in Washington, D.C.

Defector: Someone of interest to the CIA who has left his or her country of citizenship.

Denied Area: Country where the US has no diplomatic or military presence.

Developmental: A potential agent courted by a case officer.

Diplomatic Cover: A fake diplomatic position that protects a case officer from prosecution.

Dissemination: Distribution of intelligence.

Double Agent: Agent who is actually working for another government, normally feeding misinformation to the CIA. In the late 1980s, it was discovered that nearly all Cuban agents were working for Castro and passing on misinformation to the CIA.

False Flag: Agent, officer, or operation disguised to appear as if run by another country.

Handle (also called a vulnerability): Information, money, or other means for a case officer to exert control over an agent.

Hard-Target Country: Nation that the CIA considers to be difficult for spying, such as North Korea, China, France, Iran, and Russia.

HUMINT (human intelligence): Intelligence collected by the Directorate of Operations.

IMINT (imagery intelligence): Satellite imagery from spy satellites costing over $1 billion each, so exceptionally detailed that the numbers on license plates are visible.

Institutional Recruitment: Agent who can be passed down from case officer to case officer.

Legend: False identity of a case officer, often that of a real person, albeit a dead one.

Nonofficial Cover (NOC): A fake or real private sector job used by a case officer as a cover.

PNG: Eviction of a diplomat by declaring him or her a persona non grata, usually for spying. The benefit of official cover is that case officers are kicked out of a country instead of being thrown in jail.

SIGINT (signals intelligence): Intelligence gained by intercepting electronic communications.

Station: A major CIA post.

Takedown: Destruction of a network of foreign agents.

Walk-ins: Agents who are not recruited but instead offer their services.