“Hey man, it’s Bob, from high school.”

“Holy shit, dude, I haven’t talked to you in years. Did someone die?”

“No. The government called and said you were applying for a job with a ‘sensitive security clearance.’ I am throwing up air quotes around that phrase. They asked all kinds of questions about you. Are you in trouble?”

“No, man, I’m good. What did you tell them? Anything bad?”

“Nah, man, I said you were a solid, reliable dude.”

“Thanks, man. Let’s catch up soon.”

“Are you joining the FBI or something like that?”

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“Something like that.”

So, this is no joke. I did not list Bob as a reference for my background check. They must have dug him up back home. The CIA is not playing games in checking up on me. I guess merely being an active-duty SEAL officer is not trustworthy enough. I guess they were not kidding at the Team when they said a lot of SEALs do not make it through the background check and polygraph, and I am better off staying in the Teams.

*             *             *             *

“Thanks for coming in. So, you put on your application that you want to elect the collection management officer career track after you complete the CST program. Are you sure about that? Usually guys like you want to be paramilitary case officers or at least traditional case officers, not CMOs.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I would love to do those things, too, in my career—for a tour or two—but I think I would rather, for the long term, work as a CMO. I like the thought of being both a core collector and getting to manage collection at headquarters and in the field. I can always do tours as a case officer, too, right? I am going through the same training.”

“Yeah, you can. Absolutely. It’s just that you will be expected to do a majority of your tours here at HQS and overseas as a CMO. Are you cool with that? You can always switch tracks, of course, at any time, since you are coming in as a clandestine service trainee, and going through the full field tradecraft training program.”

“Great. Let’s do it, then. Sign me up.”

“Slow down. You need to pass your poly first. A lot of you SEALs fail it.”

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“Yeah, I’ve heard that. I think I should be okay.”

“We’ll see.”

*             *             *             *

Being Catholic has its perks. If nothing else, I am able to fully assuage a guilty conscience by admitting to—confessing—my sins. For this rather grueling couple of hours, my priest is going to be an Agency polygrapher.

She is not too hard on me, mainly because I spill everything. Yes, I have taken consumables home from my SEAL team for personal use. No, I have not used any drugs in the last five years. Yes, I have consumed alcohol as a minor, and broken some minor laws. No, I do not have any contacts with officials of foreign governments. No, there is nothing someone could hold against me to blackmail me.

I escape unscathed, none the worse for wear. I pass the test. The last big hurdle is cleared, and six months after putting in my application to the Central Intelligence Agency, I am provided a conditional offer of employment.

It is conditional on nothing else popping up in my background check. There is nothing there. I’ve got this. It is hard to imagine I will soon be a clandestine service officer in America’s premier intelligence agency—the CIA. It is definitely a heady feeling. No longer will firearms be my primary weapons. I will be expected to use guile, wits, and personal rapport-building skills to convince foreigners to spy on behalf of America.

I will be expected to sift through large quantities of acquired information to figure out what is of intelligence value, and what is crap. I will be expected to write reports that will be read by thousands, in some cases, and by only a select few, in others. In all cases, I will have to protect my sources. Like I said, heady stuff.

*             *             *             *

“Why did you leave the SEALs, man? Why come here?”

“Truthfully, I want to use my brain more. And I want to apply my international affairs education to my job. I want to go after AQ directly, to be the one who finds them. I want to do that stuff more than be part of a tactical element on the battlefield. I want to be a strategic asset that works against our highest-priority targets, all the time. This seemed like the right fit.”

“Yeah, but you could’ve tried to go for a Tier I unit, and been a strategic-level asset there, too.”

“I guess so, but I don’t know that I would’ve made it. And it’s too rough on the family, man. I have a kid coming. I want to be around more, and as a CMO here, I have the best of both worlds and more flexibility to be both at headquarters and overseas.”

“Makes sense. So, are you gonna home base with CTC?”

“I hope so. I am going to try. You?”

“I want to do the traditional stuff, man. I speak Russian. I really wanna work that target.”

“Glad you do. One less person trying for a CTC spot.”

“You will get it. With your background, they would be stupid not to put you there, especially since you will probably head over to the sandbox pretty quickly with CTC.”

“Let’s hope.”  

I still have a lot of pent-up rage over 9/11, like everyone else, and I am ready to exorcise some demons and play my part in bringing the hammer of American vengeance to al-Qaeda.

So it begins.