Back in the CIA's halcyon days at the height of the Cold War, recruiting on college campuses was hardly a chore.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, there was always someone - a crew coach at Yale, a history professor at Harvard or a dean of students at Princeton - who could take a promising young man aside and suggest that a wonderful life of adventure awaited him in the secret world.Then, in 1993, with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CIA shut down its 13 recruitment centers in the United States and reassigned or retired half its recruiters.
Now the agency is once again going around to colleges and introducing itself to the fresh-faced future leaders of America. With some exceptions, it's a far cry from the demonstrations and denouncements of the 1960s, when "CIA, off campus!" was heard. This time, the CIA is not encountering placards and sit-ins, just some puzzlement.
"I was shocked" that the CIA was coming to Clemson University in South Carolina, said Steven Dixon, a 22-year-old accounting major who met with two recruiters. "Isn't this kind of unusual for them? Are they serious about hiring us - fresh out of college, no master's degree?"
Frankly, probably not, a recruiter told a reporter. Of the few hundred people the agency will hire this year, most will have an advanced degree or experience more esoteric than having achieved a grasp of generally accepted accounting principles.
But the agency wants it known that it is talent hunting. Openly, if quietly, it is back on campus again.
"Universities like Brown weren't particularly open to us five, six, seven years ago," said Dick Calder, the CIA's deputy director for administration. "That environment has changed a little bit. There are very few universities now that do attempt to keep us out."
One is the University of Colorado at Boulder, where students have made clear that the agency is not welcome. The CIA circumvents that barrier by renting a video-phone and hooking up applicants from Boulder with a recruiter in Dallas.
To join the CIA or its programs for student trainees, all applicants must fill out a 21-page form, which, among other things, requires them to write a 500-word essay on a current event and answer personal questions about drug use and the like. To be hired, they will have to submit to the lie detector and a thorough background investigation, including interviews with former boyfriends or girlfriends. The whole thing may take nine months or more. And the pay is not good.