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'Zero Dark Thirty' Raises Question of CIA High School Recruitment

By Christiana Lilly   |   Wednesday, 09 Jan 2013 05:39 PM

The highly anticipated film “Zero Dark Thirty” hits theaters Friday after limited release, but the internet is already abuzz over a line that has people scratching their heads.

Jessica Chastain’s character Maya, based on a real CIA operative involved in taking down Osama bin Laden, tells a fellow agent that she was recruited out of high school, and that she can’t really discuss it.

Throughout blogs and message boards, viewers are discussing whether the agency really does enlist teens to their ranks.

The answer is yes and no. According to the CIA’s website, high school students are eligible to be a part of the agency through the Undergraduate Scholar Program, where students are given $18,000 per year for tuition, fees, books, and supplies. During their summers in college, they’ll work at headquarters using skills they excel in. After graduation, the students will work for the agency for a period of 1.5 times the period they were a part of the program.

And it’s not a new practice. In 1991, Amy Chen Mills wrote “C.I.A. Off Campus: Building the Movement Against Agency Recruitment and Research,” discussing the recruitment of college students and even teens.

“Seventeen- and 18-year-olds are not being asking if they can ‘meet the challenge’ of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Chen Mills writes. “Open to all high school seniors . . . the CIA ‘Undergraduate Scholar Program’ appears to be the Agency’s attempt to get ‘em while they’re young.”

At the time the book was written, a Chicago recruiter told the author that they had 300 students in the program.

The character of Maya is based on a real woman, and the Washington Post reports that director Mark Boal met with her and other officers. “Maya” joined the agency before the attacks on 9/11 and worked as a targeter in Islamabad, Pakistan. She was recently given the agency’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal — the highest honor given by the CIA to those who have worked under fire.

A former official said that when an email of the award announcement, as well as other awards going to others, was sent out, she replied to all saying, “You guys tried to obstruct me. You fought me. Only I deserve the award.”



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The highly anticipated film 'Zero Dark Thirty' hits theaters Friday after limited release, but the internet is already abuzz over a line that has people scratching their heads.
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