WASHINGTON – Laid-off bankers and anxious students have pushed applications for jobs at the CIA to record highs this year, even though the few jobs available at the agency pay much less than the private sector.
"So far this year we received 90,000 resumes and if we stay at that level we will probably get close to 180,000 resumes" in 2009, said Ron Patrick, an official responsible for recruitment at the CIA.
"That would be the largest number of resumes we've received in a year ever since we kept records of it," he told AFP.
The flood of applications to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia is partly due to an aggressive recruitment campaign, but also being driven by the major economic crisis that has hit the United States, where unemployment reached 9.4 percent in May, the highest rate in 25 years.
A recruitment campaign targeting financial analysts whose jobs disappeared as stock markets crashed has netted plenty of application for the CIA, despite the fact that the CIA can offer only a fraction of the massive salaries that are standard on Wall Street.
"People realize they're going to get less money, maybe less bonuses, but the bottom line is they'll get a stable job and they'll be able to serve their country," Patrick said.
CIA salaries start at between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, but they can climb for those with special experience or talents.
The agency has also had success recruiting among students, going directly to university campuses to seek out applicants.
The rise in applications seems to suggest the CIA has not suffered too great a blow to its reputation from a raft of scandals, including the use of interrogation techniques described by many as torture and its role in running a string of overseas secret prisons.
While the agency officially considers those controversies old news, it admits being forced to do public outreach to counter press reports.
"I think in a few last years, there has been a lot more questions on what it is that we do, will they have to do things that they see in the press," Patrick said.
For aspiring candidates, sending a curriculum vitae or resume to Langley is only the first part of a grueling hiring process.
To enter the secret service, a candidate must be a graduate and be able to master two or three languages, ideally from so-called strategic regions.
"Arabic is one of the skills we're looking for, but also Chinese, Korean, Pashtu and Farsi," the CIA's Web site says.
And you had better not have anything to hide: each candidate is subjected to an in-depth background investigation, including a lie-detector test and a drug test — mandatory for those seeking "top secret" clearances.
At the end of the process, only a small minority will be qualified to join the roughly 20,000 people who work at the CIA, and only a handful will be able to join the exclusive club of secret agents who work undercover abroad.
The vast majority of the agency's employees work at the bureau, collecting and analyzing information that forms the backbone of a secret briefing that goes to President Barack Obama's office every day.
© 2009 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.