WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT FACEBOOK?
CIA Gets in Your Face(book)
Chaddus Bruce 01.24.07 | 2:00 AM
Wired Magazine Online
If you’re a Facebook member, a career as a government spook is only a click away.
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.
The 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 aimed at potential college-aged applicants. 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 content.
For example, 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 agencies.
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.
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.”