September 16, 2022 | OPINION | By Maggie Mixer
Last Wednesday, a recruiter named Alex presented an overview of his organization’s job opportunities to about 30 Colorado College students. He discussed the long hours, solid pay, and exemplary retirement plan. He emphasized how important it was for him, as a recruiter, to be honest. It was a normal presentation – besides the joke about how we didn’t know his real name.
Alex is a CIA recruiter. He described the CIA’s mission, saying, “really, all we do is collect information.” Apparently, Block-Plan-trained liberal arts students like us are perfect candidates for analyzing that information and preparing briefings. Alex told us to “think about the mission in terms of preventing war, not just for the United States, but for the world.” The CIA defends the nation. It protects human rights and democracy. It doesn’t work domestically. It’s not like the movies. You’ll either work at a desk in DC or you’ll work overseas, meeting with people betraying their countries to pass on information. This is what Alex said.
What, then, was the CIA doing in Iran in the 1950s, when it toppled Iran’s elected leader?
How about when the CIA, lobbied by a U.S. banana company, brought down the Guatemalan government in 1954 and funded the 30-year civil war that followed, culminating in the genocide of 200,000 indigenous Maya people?
Why was it, when successive presidential administrations poured billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars into installing and supporting dictatorships across Latin America, that the CIA was their chosen tool? Why was it the CIA’s job to arm and train the militaries of those dictators, while they disappeared, tortured, and slaughtered civilians? All this happened while most of our parents were in school, in the 1970s and 80s.
Why, during the War on Terror, have CIA officers so often worked with the U.S. military on the front lines? What was the CIA doing running ‘black sites’ from Abu Ghraib to Poland, where they brutally, pointlessly tortured suspected terrorists?
It’s clear that, since its founding in 1947, the CIA’s purpose has never been simply to “collect information.” For 75 years, presidents have turned to the CIA to exert U.S. ambitions at home and abroad, ruining millions of innocent lives. Has the CIA really made the world safer? More stable?
After hearing Alex’s pitch, I spoke with the Director of the Career Center, Megan Nicklaus, about why such an organization is (and has been for years) recruiting on CC’s campus. She explained that the Career Center’s mission is to provide opportunities, so that students can explore their interests. Students wanted to learn about working for the CIA, so they hosted Alex. Why would CC censor an organization of interest? If they did, why not censor other potentially problematic employers too, like, Goldman Sachs, for example? The director’s position was very reasonable; I was honestly considering not writing this article at all.
I had one final question though: had any visiting employers ever done anything that could endanger their welcome on campus?
Nicklaus replied that, while there have been no ‘egregious’ problems, they’ve had conversations with employers about using inclusive language. She once corrected a man after he referred to his adult colleagues as ‘girls’ instead of ‘women’ during his presentation. She said that she “could imagine” an employer not being invited back if they “were not in line with CC’s anti-racism platform.”
So you can’t call an adult a girl. We’ll put in some gender-neutral bathrooms. Everyone needs training on how to be ‘anti-racist.’
You can, however, recruit for an organization that surveils and extorts and tortures and murders – one that has helped destabilize entire regions of the world. You can lie, openly, in front of 30 students and say that all you do is protect this fine country by ensuring that elected policy makers are well-informed.
Alex and Nicklaus both said that it is CC students’ responsibility to think critically about who they want to work for. They’re correct. Not hosting the CIA wouldn’t stop interested CC students from deciding they want to apply. There are arguments to be made about how the crimes listed above are not all the CIA does: the US needs an intelligence agency, even if we don’t like some of their conduct. Those things are the fault of the political leaders, not the ones holding the guns, the blood money, the drone controls. (It’s about who gives the orders – familiar argument, right?)
I don’t know what CC should do next time the CIA or the FBI or DHS or Goldman Sachs asks to come to campus. Nicklaus is correct that censorship is tricky. I don’t think, however, that that is what matters here. As far as I know, very, very few CC students go on to become CIA officers or FBI agents.
What’s far more important is how this situation has revealed CC’s cognitive dissonance on anti-racism. Inclusive language is important – so is representation and equal access and rainbow stickers. If those aren’t paired, however, with some very difficult conversations and meaningful, reconstructive institutional reform, then all CC will succeed in creating is a politely spoken generation of leaders to help the U.S. into more of the same calamities.