The winter holidays are over and it's back to school - poison pens, invisible ink, and encrypted textbooks. At least, that's the image some have upon first learning of Spain's newest post-graduate degree aimed at preparing students for the intelligence service.
At the General Gutiérrez Mellado University Institute of Peace, Security, and Defense Research in the center of Madrid, students now can receive an "expert's" degree - falling between a bachelor's degree and a master's degree - in intelligence services.
"We had a series of conversations with the Center for National Intelligence [Spain's central intelligence agency] and they told us how the Spanish universities had turned their backs on teaching about security matters," particularly intelligence, says Isidro Sepúlveda, deputy director of the Institute. "Universities have had reservations about these subjects."
But such reservations now seem to be giving way. The degree being offered in Madrid is just part of a growing worldwide interest in espionage - and an increasing recognition of the need for well-trained professionals in the intelligence field.
The one-year course, which ends in July, includes classes on the history of espionage, dating back to ancient times; the basic components of intelligence, based on cases in the United States and Spain; the roles and structures of intelligence agencies in Spain; and intelligence analysis - the latter taught by a CNI agent.
According to Dr. Sepúlveda, many of the classes replicate what is taught during CNI training. The course includes participatory classes and work done via Internet. On the first day, each student receives a CD-ROM with information and documentation. Practical lessons take place at the institute, as do seminars and lectures by guest speakers.
The workload consists of analyzing current, past, and invented cases - none of the materials is classified. The exercises are separated into short-term projects ("Work up this case and e-mail it to the professor in 24 hours") and long-term assignments that can take three or four months.
For years, intelligence agencies poured money and attention into shoring up electronic resources such as satellites, bugging devices, and code-breaking equipment and sought to rely on these to perform the majority of their work.
But recent terrorist attacks around the world have shown the need for human intelligence - live agents in the field. As a result, the CIA has been running recruiting advertisements in popular magazines.
In Moscow, the police have created a detectives department in schools for children aged 6 to 17.
Last October, Australian Prime Minister John Howard promised during his reelection campaign that the government would establish a spy school to train counterintelligence officers.
And one thing sure to excite the public is a dose of espionage. In Washington, the International Spy Museum has packed halls for its seminars and educational programs for children and adults. In late January, its "Dinner with a Spy" program - which brought in former senior KGB officer Victor Cherkashin, who handled US moles Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen - sold out, as did its two KidSpy School sessions, which taught children about spy gadgetry.
"Since the presidency of [George H. W. Bush], and through the Clinton administrations, personnel was cut," Sepúlveda says. "Now, the CIA has opened its doors for new recruits. This is what we need. Here [Spanish intelligence] used to have only five people who could read Arabic. And there is more than just Islamist terrorism. There are Russian mafias, drug cartels, South American mafias. We need people for these threats."
In the United States, the Sept. 11 attacks triggered a massive interest in intelligence. According to the Spy Museum, prior to 9/11, on average 110 people applied for jobs with the CIA each day. A week later, there were 1,100.
The CNI would not disclose any information on its recruitment, but judging from the popularity of Sepúlveda's course, a surge of interest appears to have occurred in Spain following the March 11 attacks in Madrid.
"The response was much greater than we had expected," Sepúlveda says. "We were planning for about 40 to 50 students and we now have 102."
Half of the students are recent college graduates - from backgrounds such as law, economics, psychology, history, and engineering. The other half are professionals, the majority of whom work in the security field: private firms, police, Civil Guard, lawyers.
Although all the course material is publicly available - much of it is in English, but nothing by the British spy novelist John le Carré - and anyone can apply, the nature of the course has inspired a sense of secrecy. Students have asked that the classrooms be closed to outsiders. And Sepúlveda is the only faculty member who will talk to the press.
Nevertheless, fine wine, fast cars, helicopter training, and fake mustaches are conspicuously absent from the curriculum.
"We don't work with guns in our shoes," jokes Sepúlveda. "It's very academic.... Agents work like everyone else - a desk full of papers, a computer, and a telephone."