I am so tired of writing this crap. Who cares? No one gives a flying Ford truck what happened, anyway.
These thoughts insidiously invade my gray matter as a I write up one of about five operational meetings I have conducted in the last 18 hours. I am sick of writing. I am sick of casing for meeting sites. I am sick of driving surveillance detection routes. I am sick of trying to make fake-nice with some idiot fake-foreign-government official, and figure out what kind of cigar he fake-likes so I can buy him one.
Welcome to the station phase of The Farm.
This is the crucible we have to endure at the conclusion of field tradecraft training, during which we live in a notional country under a constructed political scenario, which runs for a certain amount of time. In it, all the students play a role in the notional country, developing and recruiting spies in the same constructed environment.
The whole exercise starts slow, then ramps up into confusion, chaos, and crisis. Imagine you were a (hypothetical) CIA officer in Moscow when communism fell, and that about captures it.
I had one particularly bad night. It was toward the end of my training, and I was exhausted. I had been writing all day after a morning meeting, and one of my agents signaled an emergency meeting for that night.
I drive my surveillance-detection route, and all looks clear to me. I hold my meeting. I head back, and write it up. It is all pretty sloppy, and I start to doubt myself about the surveillance.
Was there a car back there? Were those the same sets of lights I saw on multiple occasions?
I try to forget it and move on, but it nags. Oh well, I will know in the morning. Each day, we get regular critiques of how we are doing. I try to grab a couple hours of sleep and forget about it.
* * * *
“So, how did you do last night?” asks the young woman who had been so impressed with our group at the beginning of the training. She is past that now, and just surviving like the rest of us.
“Meh. It went okay. I can’t shake the feeling that I had surveillance, though.”
“Did you abort?” she asks.
“No, I went ahead with the meeting. Let’s hope I was right. At least it isn’t the real world, and no one’s life depends on it.”
“True,” she says back. “I’m worried, too. I already have two failures, and I can’t afford any more.”
We are graded on everything down here at The Farm. We can only get so many failures in the main operational disciplines before it becomes possible that the instructors might not certify us as operations officers. If you are not certified as an operations officer at the CIA, you do not get to work as a case officer, recruiting spies in the field. That is why we are all here, and failing to be certified is like failing your boards in medicine or law. It means the end for a wannabe case officer.
* * * *
Well, I failed that surveillance detection route. Hell. There was surveillance back there and I missed them. It sucks. I do not like to fail at anything—ever—and it bothers me. These are skills I never had to use as a SEAL, and I am just having to work hard to master them, I tell myself.
Luckily for me, it is my first (and only) failure. The young woman is not as lucky. She failed her meeting. That does not bode well for her. She is in real danger of failing to be certified altogether.
* * * *
We wrap up station phase, and the worst is over. All that remains is for us to take care of some final, minor training, do some administrative housekeeping, and wait to hear our fate.
I feel good about making it, as do most of the others, but some are on the bubble. My Green Beret friend has done fine. My station-mates are all okay. One guy, who we all thought was doing great, and who was always very comfortable and confident in everything, is the first to face failure. He fails his first vote—by all the instructors—and his mentor has to argue in his favor.
He ends up being approved for certification, but we are all a bit shaken by this. If he had trouble making it through, what does that say for the rest of us?
The next casualty is a dude who no one is surprised failed. In fact, we are all kind of relieved that there are standards, and that they are actually applied to people who want to do this job. That dude would have gotten people killed. He was not very competent, and pretty much sucked at all the skills one needs for the job.
The young woman is the next to be told she will not be certified. She is crushed. I feel terrible for her, and she is in tears. We all ask her what she will do, and she says that she refuses to quit, and will work at headquarters, at a desk support job, which does not require operational certification.
I admire her resilience and we all reassure her that she is making the right choice. She can always try to be certified again later, after spending some time on a desk. She seems to pull herself together and, in fact, will end up as one of my desk officers down the road. She does a great job, and appears to have found her niche.
My name comes up. I have flashbacks to BUD/S, wondering if I had failed a swim or a run, and dreading the news. My mentor gives me a thumbs up, shakes my hand, and says, “Good job, man. You did well. You made it.”
And just like that, I am a certified operations officer for the CIA’s Clandestine Service.
Let the fun begin.
(Featured image courtesy of galleryhip.com)