A frequent question I receive during public appearances is how the CIA recruits or how I ended up working for them. Most people are surprised when I tell them that I never envisioned working for the Federal Government, let alone, working for the Central Intelligence Agency. Upon receiving my graduate degree in International Business Management, I landed a job working for an international bank located in Miami. I saw it as a stepping stone toward a coveted private sector job in Latin America.
An unexpected opportunity
Three years into this position, I got itchy elbows and wanted to find an opportunity which held more promise in meeting my objectives. In addition to interviewing with several other international banks, I responded to an intriguing job advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. According to the opportunity, an unidentified international investment group was looking for individuals who had considerable experience living and/or working in Latin America, Africa, and/or Asia. Such individuals needed to have a background in economics or business. Preference would be for those who spoke one or more foreign languages. As I met this criterion, I eagerly forwarded my resume.
Approximately one month later, I received a letter from a consultancy firm referencing my resume. The firm claimed to have a client within the Federal Government who would likely be very interested in my background. They required that I provide within 20 days my written consent for them to forward my resume to the client. In addition to not having any interest in working for the U.S. Government, this recruitment scenario seemed rather strange, so I tossed the letter underneath my night table and forgot about it.
The CIA recruitment process
Approximately two months later my spouse asked me about the letter and encouraged me to send in a reply. After reluctantly doing so, I received a telephone call one month later from a CIA recruiter. He claimed that I might be a very good fit for working overseas on their behalf. Without providing details regarding the opportunity, our one-hour conversation focused on my background to include any issues which might preclude me from obtaining a security clearance. This included questions regarding any employer disciplinary actions, criminal record, drug use and sexual orientation.
Having apparently satisfied their initial review, I agreed to receive and complete a series of biographical and psychological assessment forms. Approximately one month after submitting these forms, I was invited to Northern Virginia for what I believed would be an interview.
At a designated time, a gentleman arrived at my hotel room. He advised that before anything could be discussed, I needed to submit to, and successfully pass, a polygraph test. Once I agreed to submit to the lie detector, I was instructed to go to another room within the same hotel. After being seated and wired up, the polygrapher asked me a series of questions to gauge my responses for any indication of deception.
After approximately 40 minutes, he claimed that we were finished, and I could return to my room. When I asked about whether I had passed the test, he emotionlessly stated, “They will tell you.”
Upon returning to my room, the gentleman congratulated me for passing and proceeded to share details regarding the potential opportunity. While I cannot share with the reader details regarding the position, I was asked whether I wanted to submit to the full interview process. I enthusiastically confirmed that I would.
My wife and I were invited to Northern Virginia approximately two months later for five days of interviews. While these sessions provided my wife and I with a window of insight into the CIA, the approximate 20 interviewers reported back their assessment regarding whether we would be a good fit. That late Friday afternoon, we were told to go back home and await a call.
I almost got rejected by the CIA
The call came about two weeks later. I was instructed to travel back up to Northern Virginia for consultations, but not to bring my wife. This time three gentlemen came to my room – the referent, the psychologist and the psychiatrist. As we sat on the edge of two twin beds, they explained that everyone was very impressed with my background and believed that I would be a perfect fit for the position. However, they had “serious concerns” about my wife.
I was in shock and wondered what they had discovered about my wife. What didn’t I know about her which could be detrimental to my getting a job with the CIA? Did she have leftist sympathies? Was she working for a foreign intelligence service? I was totally perplexed when they told me that they were concerned about whether she could handle living overseas. Really? You must be kidding! Having grown up in war torn El Salvador, I told them that my wife had personally lived through years of political and economic strife to include being subjected to martial law and seeing dead bodies on the streets. I was confident that she was better prepared than I to live in challenging overseas environments.
That response seemed to satisfy their concerns. They would hold a murder board later that day. I was told to call back at 2 PM for their response. I proceed to go to the movies for the sake of killing time and provide a distraction to my anxiety. From a payphone I dialed the telephone number and was told “Congratulations, you are accepted into our trainee program which will start in January of next year.” They added that “Additional information will be forthcoming.” Wanting to ensure that the flow of communication would not be disrupted, I advised that my wife and I planned to spend the upcoming holidays visiting her family in El Salvador. There was a prolonged moment of silence. I was told that if I were to leave the U.S. before my start date, I would have to resubmit to the polygraph.
This was the first of many such sacrifices I requested of my wife in support of my CIA career. Whenever she reminds me of this, I cannot resist the temptation to raise the point that her insisting I respond to that initial letter played a pivotal role in my recruitment into the CIA.
Ultimately, my experience working for the agency is what led me to start the security awareness training company, Counterintelligence Institute, to educate the public on the dangers of social engineering, as well as writing the book “Confessions of a CIA Spy: The Art of Human Hacking.”
About the Counterintelligence Institute
Founded by former CIA senior intelligence officer Peter Warmka, the Counterintelligence Institute’s mission is to assist your corporations, government offices, academic institutions and non-profit organizations in protecting your sensitive information and personal data records against security breach attempts. Our online and onsite training services focus on transforming the human factor from being the weakest link in security to becoming the most effective defensive tool against security threats against your company and personal life.