How I became a CIA spy for a day
In "The Recruit," Colin Farrell plays a top MIT student recruited by spy master Al Pacino. I haven't seen it yet, but I plan to. Maybe I'll discover what I did wrong.
You see, I'm "The Reject."
In the mid-80s, while my liberal MIT classmates were busy attending pro-Sandinista rallies, I decided to really rebel and apply for a summer job with the CIA. The Soviet Union was a bad actor in world affairs, and I wanted to join the fight.
Entering the on-campus interview room I sidestepped protesters holding "Culpable In Assassinations" signs. This rattled me, but the Agency recruiter quickly broke the ice with, "Hey, know how you become Communist? Go to Harvard and turn left." At the end of our meeting, he stressed absolute secrecy. No one could know I was even applying.
Counterproductively, the Agency would later use plain brown envelopes to correspond with me, envelopes my roommate promptly tore open, suspecting I was hoarding a secret porno subscription. Presumably this ruse was more effective in foiling any Soviet spies monitoring my mailbox.
The nine-month application process consisted of multiple interviews, aptitude tests, psychological profiles, and medical exams. One CIA shrink had me describe 50 possible ways to extract secret information from a foreign scientist. Another test consisted of a single essay question: "Do the ends justify the means?" (Trust me: If you ever want to see that shoe-phone, answer "yes.")
In May, I faced the final hurdle: the polygraph. The questions covered the entire spectrum of taboo behavior. And then: Had I ever, in my entire life, committed a crime? Uh-oh. Klaxons blared in my head and mini-submariners manned their battle stations. This seemed more a test of my memory than my character.
I began by clearing my conscience of adolescent Bubble Yum pilferage, underage drinking, Halloween vandalism, and other youthful indiscretions. Next I itemized the laws I'd broken as an adult - the copyright laws I'd violated by photocopying articles without permission, illegal U-turns, heck - fireworks.
Not being Catholic, I was new to the confessional experience and was on a roll. I even copped to having jaywalked that very morning.
Then I conceded that, given all the loony laws still on the books, I was surely guilty of a whole slew of offenses: juggling without a license, crossing the street while eating an ice-cream cone, cursing while playing mini-golf. Apparently, I'd been on a crime spree since birth.
His patience long gone, the examiner boiled it down to one simple, catchall question: Had I ever done anything that made me susceptible to blackmail by hostile intelligence services? No? End of exam. A good thing, too: By that point I was ready to confess to starting the Chicago Fire of 1871.
Finally, in early June, the CIA called to congratulate me. I would start at headquarters on Monday. Assignment to follow.
I was ecstatic.
But the next day the CIA called again - to unhire me.
"What happened?" I asked.
"It's a secret," the woman said.
"What do you mean, 'It's a secret'? What changed since yesterday?"
"Well, it could be that yesterday Congress canceled the program we wanted you for. It could be we decided not to proceed with that project. It could be that the world situation changed overnight. It could be that we discovered something related to your security clearance."
Looking back, it's just as well I never made it into the CIA. Without any prodding from me, the Soviet empire folded faster than an origami master. And with all the spy scandals, who knows? An agency mole might have sold me out for cheap thrills and a townhouse in Georgetown.
Recently I learned I have a cousin in the BVD (the Dutch intelligence service, not the underwear). Did that derail my career as a spook? I never found out. I bet it was that darn polygraph.
No doubt, Colin Farrell of "The Recruit" had the good sense to keep mum about the Bubble Yum.