Shamelessly pilfering article ideas is a skill at which we authors at SOFREP excel, especially when certain articles seem to hit a nerve, or draw lots of clicks. Let’s face it, all that means is that you, the loyal reader, found a certain article to be fascinating and thus you read it, sent it to your friends to read, and then it took flight around the internet.
That is a good thing. After all, we are here to enlighten you all — the muggles, when it comes to the realm of special operations and intelligence — about our world. We want lots of you to read our articles.
One effective way to frame an article so as to ensure it enlightens readers is to craft stereotypes and generalizations about the types of people who work in intelligence and special operations, and share them with the world. This author has done it before — here and here — and alas, now I am going to do it again. Who says profiling does not work?
This time around, we are going to examine the five types of people you will run into if you step foot into the rarefied and legendary spaces of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in northern Virginia. And yes, I am stealing the idea for this article from Raul Felix (here), as his was a useful construct. As we say at the Agency, “kudos Raul,” for coming up with this framework.
The White Collar Warrior
This is the persona that people probably most frequently associate with CIA case officers. Specifically, when they picture CIA “spies” (this term is always misused), many envision a former Wall Street trader, or corporate lawyer, or business executive, who becomes gripped with the idea of serving his country, but does not want to join the military.
Instead, this type seeks out the CIA, intrigued by the idea of a life of espionage in foreign capitals, floating from one cocktail party to another, at various embassies in capitols across the civilized world. He dreams, in other words, of becoming a CIA case officer (the proper term to apply to employees of the CIA; “spies” are those we recruit to spy).
Now, do not be fooled, this is a real “type” at the Agency, and one who often makes an outstanding case officer. This type will often flock to the European Division, to do incredible work collecting intelligence on America’s great power rivals. In other words, he or she makes for a great “traditional” CIA case officer. While he may be less well-suited to the modern intelligence battlefield in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, that is perfectly fine. Great power rivalries are not going away anytime soon.
The Snake Eater
One who is more aptly suited to the CIA’s more recent counterterrorism-centric battlefields is the stereotype of the “snake eater.” This is the former Navy SEAL, Green Beret, or MARSOC Marine Raider who makes the transition over to the CIA to keep up the good fight, but at the strategic/national level.
This type is often pictured bearded, with an AK-47, and wearing the indigenous uniform of whichever country in which he is posted. He is pictured fighting alongside foreign forces, helping them defeat their internal enemies, who also happen to be America’s enemies. He rarely comes home from the war zone for long, and he does not care for the CIA’s traditional work of intelligence collection. He wants to find, fix, and finish the enemy, and then retire to Thailand with his extensive war zone earnings.
The Nerd Genius
A less commonly recognized stereotype of a CIA officer, but one which is important nonetheless, is the technical specialist, or “nerd genius.” These are those men and women who are experts at arcane and complex technical skills, from radio communications, to clandestine listening technologies, satellite imagery collection, and constructing hyper-sensitive data collection platforms and sensors. They may be able to create amazing tech gear from scratch, but do not expect gripping conversation in the Agency cafeteria.
One real-world example of this stereotype is Tony Mendez, who specialized in making disguises for CIA officers and their assets. Mendez had a niche skill that the CIA put to good use for the benefit of America. That is what the CIA does. It harnesses the skills of specialists and puts those skills to work against America’s worldwide competitors and enemies. This is one important type without which the CIA would be in much worse shape.
The Young Idealist
God bless their pure hearts, these are the men and women who join the CIA right out of college, filled with the accumulated knowledge of four years of liberal arts and humanities schooling, ready to do good, and sure that the seedier tales of CIA exploits cannot possibly be true. They are there to smite America’s enemies — in a principled way, mind you — while calling their own Agency to account when it oversteps its bounds.
This type often began his or her career as an intern, or “gray badger” at the Agency, and then parlayed that position into a career one. He or she worked on the headquarters desk for a certain geographic account for years before heading to the field. For that reason, this type might know a lot about Moammar Qaddafi’s sexual predilections, but he could not describe the smell that will greet him when he steps off the plane in Tripoli for the first time.
Have no fear, though, this type will very likely survive his or her period of “seasoning” at the CIA, and come out of it with a clearer sense of how the world really works, and the difference between life at headquarters and in the field. If they are lucky, this type might actually graduate to become…
The Old Hand
Typified by Gus Avrakotos, as represented in the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the old hand is the backbone of the CIA. He or she is the senior enlisted man of the Agency. He is the grizzled master sergeant, or the 20-year Navy Chief, of the intelligence world.
The “I-couldn’t-give-a-shit” attitude that wafts off the old hand is matched only by the stench of stale cigarette smoke and the odor that drifts out of his tumbler full of bourbon and regret at afternoon vespers on the 5th floor of CIA headquarters.
You better believe he also drinks that bourbon straight up, because his black, hardened soul will melt the ice and water down to the only medicine that can help him forget the mistakes he’s made, the family he’s let down, and the secrets he’s accumulated over decades at the CIA.
God bless that guy. The CIA lives and dies by him and his type.