One of the perks of studying at an elite U.S. university is that top companies, organisations, and agencies congregate in search of talent. What follows is my experience attending a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruiting brief and simulation session at the Johns Hopkins University. Names have been altered to preserve personal security. You can read part I here

Nearland (Reuters) — Lazhar de Gosciny, U.N’s special representative to Nearland, was killed in an explosion on his way to a high-level negotiation between Nearland, Fadis, and Timeris this morning. His vehicle was hit by an unidentified object. It was the only one in the convoy to be destroyed. Local eyewitnesses report that the car was hit by a strange object from the sky. The object resembled lighting and made a whooshing sound as it approached.

Lazhar de Gosciny was going to mediate over the ongoing territorial dispute between the three countries. The dispute concerns a small enclave speculated to contain significant mineral resources. Before the U.N’s involvement, negotiations had begun to falter, and the threat of conflict hung over the region. NAME and U.S. diplomatic pressure, however, had shifted the negative climate, and a final resolution was expected to come from today’s meeting.

The three states used to be part of the same country. The end of the Cold War, however, encouraged ethnic minorities in Fadis and Timeris to seek independence from Nearland. Since then, a state of tension has existed in the region. The key to a successful and peaceful resolution rests with Nearland, which is the largest and militarily most powerful of the three.  

Before handing out the Reuters report, Michael had divided us into three groups of three students each. He told us to write our names and any notes we wished on the documents he would be handing out, which he would be gathering at the end of the simulation.

He didn’t specify how much time we had to solve the puzzle and come up with an analysis of the situation. He just quietly edged back in the corner of the room and observed.

I glanced around to my team. On my right sat John. A portly, loud Economics and Public Health major from New York. We knew one another from the school’s amateur Rugby club.  Despite looking like a shorter version of Will Ferrell in Old School, I knew he was clever and with a sharp analytical mind.

On my left sat a girl that I didn’t know. She shyly introduced herself as Manuela, a sophomore International Studies major. Short, athletic, and of obvious Latino descent, she shot us self-conscious glances, as if questioning why she was here.

I made quick mental note of my partners before excited whispers from the adjacent teams indicate that we’re falling behind.

Just as we had begun discussing the Reuters report, Michael slithered around our groups and handed two additional documents. The first was a State Department SITREP. It read:

As of now, there is no concrete evidence of who committed the strike. Nearland’s Foreign Minister spoke with the Secretary and claimed no knowledge of the attack. He highlighted the close diplomatic and military cooperation between the U.S. and his country, and Nearland’s continuous support in the GWOT. He also acknowledged the negative impact that an attack would have on our bilateral relationship.

The second document was a Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) SITREP. It concisely stated that the trajectory and concentrated impact excluded the possibility of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG). The blast radius and crater suggested a small warhead (20-45lb). It also reported that the U.N. envoy’s security detail discovered a partially-destroyed fin. The fin looked similar to that of a drone missile.

“So, who pulled the trigger?” I asked.

“We must make a list of capabilities and opportunity to determine who’s to gain or lose most out of the failed negotiations,” said John. He drew out a notebook and began scribbling down charts.

Manuela, who thus far had been silent, whispered “Do we even know which of the three countries have drones? I mean, the DIA report clearly points that way.”

How the CIA recruits from elite schools: Part III

Read Next: How the CIA recruits from elite schools: Part III

“But, he didn’t give us any drone reports,” said John.

“I think the whole point is to try and think outside the box,” I shot back. “Look, we’ve limited intelligence, just as real CIA analysts would have in such a situation. I mean, the guy was killed this morning. Let’s try to be creative.”

I looked at Michael, who was observing the would-be analysts and jotting down notes in a black leather notebook.

“Em, excuse me, sir, do we’ve any information on the three countries’ drone capabilities?”

“Why would you assume that we would have such intel?” he said.

Before I could respond, Manuela came in like thunder. “Given that we’ve got a close diplomatic and military relationship with Nearland — and a vested interest in the quick, peaceful resolution of the territorial dispute — I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assume sufficient intel on the three states’ military capabilities.”

Was that a grin on Michael’s face?

“You’re correct. The DIA, NSA, and CIA case officers on the ground have managed to form a pretty comprehensive picture of their drone capabilities.”

He went back to the table and picked up a fourth document. It was another DIA report with technical details on each nation’s drone fleet. He added that radar intercepts from a nearby Air Force base reported no activity below 8,000ft. Here’s what we had on our hands:


  • UAV number: 1
  • Crew: 1 on ground.
  • Length: 25 ft
  • Wingspan: 45 ft
  • Height: 6 ft
  • Empty weight: 2,235 lbs
  • Max takeoff weight: 5,657 lbs
  • Fuel capacity: 1,900 lbs
  • Payload: Suicide-drone, 50lb warhead inside nose.
  • Maximum speed: 325 mph
  • Range: 300 miles
  • Endurance: 7 hours fully loaded
  • Operational altitude:6,500 ft


  • UAV number: 3
  • Crew: 2 on ground
  • Length: 45 ft
  • Wingspan: 70 ft
  • Height: 12 ft
  • Empty weight: 4,800 lbs
  • Max takeoff weight: 11,375 lbs
  • Fuel capacity: 3,600 lbs
  • Payload: 2x Wolfhead missiles (22lb warhead)
  • Maximum speed: 500 mph
  • Range: 500 miles
  • Endurance: 10 hours fully loaded
  • Operational altitude: 9,500 ft


  • UAV number: 4
  • Crew: 2 on ground
  • Length: 35 ft
  • Wingspan: 60 ft
  • Height: 10 ft
  • Empty weight: 3,800 lbs
  • Max takeoff weight: 9,375 lbs
  • Fuel capacity: 3,000 lbs
  • Payload: 4x Hotspur missiles (22lb warhead)
  • Maximum speed: 600 mph
  • Range: 800 miles
  • Endurance: 8 hours fully loaded
  • Operational altitude: 7,500 ft

As we gulped down the new information, I glanced at my watch and noted that we only had 30 minutes before the event was supposed to end.

“All right, which of these could have done it?” I asked. “From a first glance, it looks like all of them have the capabilities.”

“I think we should exclude Fadis,” said John. “They only have one UAV. It would be fairly easy to ascertain if they did it.”

“But, then again, investigators would need permission to go through the Fadian military’s inventory,” said Manuela.

“What about the explosion blast?” I asked. “If we knew how large an explosion a 22lb or 45lb warhead can make, then we could begin erasing some of them. For instance, Fadis. Their UAV has a 50lb warhead. Remember that the U.N. guys said it was between 20lb and 45lb.”

But we were too slow in asking. One of the other teams enquired how large an explosion would a 22lb or 45lb missile make.

“Good question,” said Michael. “But that’s a negative — we don’t have that intel at the moment. And it will be sometime before our scientists could come up with an update. You must make an analysis with what intel you’ve got in your hands. Speaking of which—” He went to the room’s whiteboard and wrote:

  • Do you have enough information to come to a conclusion?
  • At this stage, would you inform someone, and if yes, who?

“You’ve five minutes to decide. The Director is on his way to the White House to inform the president. He demands an update.”

I looked at John and Manuela and read the same uncertainty in their eyes. All three nations have drones. All three nations wanted the territory and its resources. But who would kill for it?

Stay tuned for Part III and the big reveal.