“Welcome to the Farm, you maggots! None of you deserves to be here, and we are going to make sure every last one of you worthless pieces of garbage fails out of this place.”
This is not what they say to you when you arrive at the CIA’s version of boot camp for clandestine service trainees. No, here you are welcomed with a smile, with realistic expectations, with recommendations for how to succeed, and with tips for how to make it through the training.
Here, they actually want us to succeed. They have invested a lot of time and money in us up to this point, just getting us hired on, and they believe they have selected recruits who can make it through the training to become successful CIA case officers.
It is up to us, though, to prove them right, and to make it through. They sure as hell are not going to make it easy on us. They want to train us up to the standard they have set. They want to trust that they can work alongside us in an overseas station. They want to maintain the integrity of the training process.
It will not be easy, even if they are not purposefully trying to run us out.
This is where they turn Agency recruits into Agency case officers. This is where the proverbial ‘magic’ happens. This is where we will learn the skills that will make us intelligence officers, and recruiters of human agents—spies—in foreign countries and among hostile, non-state actors.
* * * *
“What an impressive group!”
This is from a 24-year-old female recruit who is straight out of college, and a bit tipsy. She is definitely drunk on the feeling of now belonging to an ‘elite’ community. It is early on in the training, and we still have some time in the evenings to hang out, drink some beers, and mull over the day’s training evolutions.
“I mean, Tom was a Green Beret, you were a SEAL, Eric is a badass guitar player! This is like a movie!”
Eric is, in fact, a badass guitar player, and is improvising a solo to the song “Purple Rain” as it plays on the radio. We are a few drinks in, and trying to process the training so far. We are in the early stages, and have not had a chance to really screw up yet. Most of the training is still ahead of us.
We will continue this tradition of evening drinks, guitar playing, and drunk sing-alongs pretty much throughout the entirety of training, whenever we have free evenings. It is good decompression and helps us alleviate the stress.
And the 24-year-old sure seems to enjoy it.
Working out helps, too. I get up at 5 a.m. each morning, hit the gym, and go for a run. I have to work out to function, to maintain my sanity. It feels good to sweat in the early morning humidity, as I tour the facility’s grounds on my runs. A handful of us maintain a pretty strict workout regiment on our own. A number of instructors are in the gym each morning, too. I like to see that.
* * * *
“So, why are you all here?” asks one of our instructors to the collected class. “It had better be to serve your country, and to make a difference for national defense. I am sure you all remember where you were on 9/11. It was not that long ago. Do you know where I was? I was at CIA Headquarters, working in the Counterterrorism Center. The first plane had hit the tower, then the second, then a plane hit the Pentagon. Everyone knew one more plane was out there, heading toward D.C. What we did not know was exactly where it was heading. The Capitol was evacuated. The White House was evacuated. The CIA was ordered to evacuate. All personnel were sent out of the building, all except a select few from CTC who were told to stay, and to continue to monitor events. So I sat there, waiting for that plane to hit us.
“It never made it, of course. Your job, now, is to be one of the few who goes into dangerous places, to protect your country. You need to be willing to stand that ground, to stay at that post, and to do what needs to be done for all of us. If you cannot do that, you should not be here.”
I look over at the young woman who was so impressed with the make-up of the class. She looks determined, and is visibly steeling herself. I can tell she wants to be on that wall, too, and wants to do her part. Good for her.
Others I cannot be too sure about, though. Some of them seem to want no part of the counterterrorism game. They want the classic ‘spy lifestyle.’ They want to live in Europe and go to cocktail parties and collect information in civilized settings, salons, and over dinner parties. They cringe at the thought of going to the war zones, and some even claim they will refuse to go. They did not sign up to be “in the military.”
I cringe at that talk, and exchange a glance with my buddy, the former Green Beret. He is thinking the same thing: Why the hell are you here if you are not willing to go where your country sends you? Should someone else go in your place? How is that fair or honorable?
Truthfully, we both hope that some of these people will not make it through. There is no room for that kind of selfish thinking at a place like the CIA, or in the military, or really anywhere in federal government service, especially during war time.
* * * *
Training goes pretty well for me. I improve at conducting agent meetings and in developing the all-important rapport. My writing continues to help me along and keeps me out of trouble. I also do well at surveillance detection, which appeals to my Type A, obsessive-compulsive personality. I like planning out surveillance detection routes, then following them, and subsequently finding surveillance behind me. It is a satisfying feeling.
Our instructors do their best to teach us everything they know about espionage, the history of the craft, and the techniques we have to master to keep ourselves, and our assets, out of trouble. We do lots of classroom learning, lots of role playing, lots of training exercises, and lots of honing of practical skills. We drive a lot. We constantly case for operational sites.
The days are exhausting and long. We run into the night most days, either writing, doing exercises, or casing for sites around town. We relax and socialize when we can, and eat in the common cafeteria. We get to know each other and our instructors.
The instructors tell us war stories (“There I was, no kidding! Was I scared? Hell yes!”). They start to warm to us over time, sensing that most of us will make it through the training and become their colleagues thereafter. They share career advice and offer motivation along the way. They clearly take their jobs seriously. Most are professional and clearly love teaching.
We recruits sweat through the broiling, swampy summer, and relish the air when it starts to cool in the fall. We can feel the end approaching, and most of us feel pretty good at our odds of graduating.
All that remains is for us to survive the final, brutal, week-long exercise that represents the last crucible to completing the training, followed by graduation.
Not everyone will make it.
(Featured image courtesy of crooksandliars.com)