For years, the Central Intelligence Agency has had an image problem. Even though it has largely been able to dismiss its involvement in countless military coups, rigged elections, death squads, campaigns of terror, and assassination plots across the global South, the spy agency hasn’t been able to shake the perception that it’s a white Ivy League boys’ club.
On Monday, in a move that would seem a little too on-the-nose even for The Onion, the CIA completed a chic and diversity-encouraging rebrand to attract new recruits who can trace their heritage to the places that the agency has undermined and destabilized. The newly-launched recruitment site features a new tech-y logo, vaguely familiar fonts, prominently figured Black and brown faces across the sleek new site.
Current CIA Director, Gina Haspel—a woman who ran a CIA blacksite in Thailand where secret detainees were tortured during the Bush administration—believes the CIA has "come a long way since I applied by simply mailing a letter marked 'CIA, Washington, D.C.," in 1985. "The CIA had never been on my radar," wrote Ilka Rodriguez-Diaz, the CIA's first executive for Hispanic engagement, in an October 2020 Miami Herald op-ed. “I didn’t think I fit the ‘profile.’ After all, the spies I saw on TV were male Anglo-Saxon Ivy leaguers, not Latinas from New Jersey. Still, I went to my expert life coach, my mother, for advice. She said, ‘No pierdes nada con ir.’ (What have you got to lose in going?) So, I went to the job fair. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Even though the agency claims women lead all five of the CIA's major branches ("directorates"), the CIA—like the rest of America’s spy agencies—has a "shocking" lack of diversity that hampers its ability to accurately represent the racial groups and foreign countries it has spent decades carrying out its clandestine operations against. In 2015, a declassified report revealed just 10.8 percent of its leaders were non-white. "The Agency's workforce is not diverse," reads the report's conclusion, going on to add that "the more senior the Agency's workforce is, the less diverse it is."
An Associated Press wire headlined “CIA’s new recruitment website aims to diversify spy agency” noted that while the intelligence community saw an increase in minority representation (up 0.3 percent to 25.5 percent), it was still lower than the federal workforce's numbers (37 percent) or the civilian workforce's numbers (37.4 percent). After the changes went live on Monday, Haspel shared a statement with AP on the rebrand, saying she hoped the website communicates the "dynamic environment" that awaits potential spies at the agency.
These abysmal diversity numbers might come as a surprise considering how much energy the agency has spent engaging non-white leaders. From attempted coups to assassination plots, it has tried to connect with Congolese Patrice Lumumba, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, Chilean President Salvador Allende, Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, and many more.
The agency’s diversity efforts don’t stop there, however. The CIA has also spent a great deal of energy working at the grassroots level to work with community actors to realize a more diverse world. Since 1965—when it worked closely with the Indonesian military to carry out a massive anti-communist massacre—the agency has held space to train local forces across the globe in the art of mass murder, terrorism, political suppression, and other atrocities.
But now, with a more diverse, inclusive, and dynamic environment, that chapter of the CIA’s past can finally be [redacted].
Correction: The CIA reached out and pointed out a quote from the Miami Herald op-ed was incorrectly attributed to CIA Director Gina Haspel instead of the op-ed’s author, Ilka Rodriguez-Diaz, the agency’s first executive for Hispanic Engagement We regret the error.