by Chaddus Bruce
January 24, 2007
If you're a Facebook member, a career as a government spook is only a click
Since December 2006, the Central Intelligence Agency has been using Facebook.com, the popular social networking site, to recruit potential
employees into its National Clandestine Service. It marks the first time the
CIA has ventured into social networking to hire new personnel.
CIA's Facebook page (login required)
provides an overview of what the NCS is looking for in a recruit, along with
a 30-second promotional YouTube video (below) aimed at potential college-aged
U.S. citizens with a GPA above 3.0 can apply.
"It's an invaluable tool when it comes to
peer-to-peer marketing," says Michele Neff, a CIA spokeswoman.
The NCS, one of the four directorates of the
CIA, was established following 9/11 to gather intelligence from sources both
domestic and abroad.
In 2004, President
Bush directed the CIA
to increase the "human intelligence capabilities" of the agency and hire
more officers that can "blend more easily in foreign cities."
The search for better spies led
the NCS to set up shop on Facebook, which
is used primarily by college students. Every Facebook user has her or his
own page, and users can choose to join Facebook "groups," which can be
created by individuals or sponsored by companies as paid promotions.
The NCS-sponsored Facebook group was launched on
Dec. 19, 2006 and will stay active for two months. The group currently has
over 2,100 members, up from around 200 one week after its debut.
Scores of companies and organizations have set up shop on Facebook, using
the site's interactive tools like chat, video and personal messaging to
establish relationships with potential hires. However, compared to most
recruitment pages, the CIA's page is remarkably light on interactive
Ernst & Young's Facebook group (login required) offers resume
advice, interaction with current employees and videos of actual interns. But
like the CIA group, the accounting agency's page operates mostly as a
gateway to its corporate careers website.
Like many corporations or nonprofit organizations, the CIA has long turned
to colleges with diverse and intelligent student bodies when hiring. But its
foray into social networks is a new strategy not yet adopted by other
There are strict federal regulations that guide recruitment and hiring,
which are tightly controlled by the Office of Personnel Management. The
bureau audits the recruitment practices of five to six government agencies a
year on a rotating basis, according to Kevin Mahoney, OPM's associate
director for human capital leadership.
Yet the CIA is an "exempted agency," meaning it has its own hiring authority
and isn't audited by OPM. As a result, the CIA is less encumbered by
bureaucratic recruitment procedures.
Basically, it runs its own show.
"We don't have to obtain permissions on any of the venues we have scheduled
for print or web," says the CIA's Neff.
According to Robert Danbeck, associate director for OPM's human resources
products and services division, there is talk about using social networks to
let people know about other government jobs.
However, most of the focus
remains on the one-stop government job site
USAJOBS.gov, which currently has
around 220,000 job vacancies.
"Right now, we really don't know about (social networking). We haven't
gotten our arms around it yet," Danbeck says.
Government agencies may be forced to turn to social networks and other
web-based means for recruitment in the future. Hundreds of thousands of
government workers are set to retire in the coming years, and new talent can
increasingly be found on websites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
However, dealings between social networks and the government may raise the
hackles of citizens concerned about their privacy online.
"If (the CIA) knows about Facebook, and they have a page on Facebook, it
would be surprising if they weren't using it in other ways," says Nicole
Ozer, civil liberties and technology policy director for the American Civil
Liberties Union of Northern California.
don't have access to personal information or profiles. However, it does say
that information may be shared with "other companies, lawyers, agents or
government agencies," in order to comply with the law.
Besides the fact that it isn't technically a company, the CIA says it is
only using Facebook as an advertisement for new recruits.
"The (CIA Facebook) page is only for information purposes; people cannot
leave messages or engage in commentary," says Neff. "There is no collection
of names, bio information or resume collection from this site, nor do we
engage members in any way."
Neff's claim is reinforced by Facebook's director of marketing
Melanie Deitch, who refers to the agency as an "advertiser."
"The CIA has no direct access to any user's profile," Deitch says. "They
adhere to the same rules as all of our advertisers. We do not publish or
disseminate our users' information to any advertiser."
Ozer says that there's no way we can be sure what the CIA is up to online.
"It seems if they would go to the trouble to infiltrate peace groups that
they are also online looking at information."