Help Wanted: African-American Spies With a College Degree

In the not-too-distant past, employment in the nation’s intelligence agencies was largely closed to African Americans. Blacks were viewed as security risks and their intelligence was considered inferior to that of whites. Blacks had no professional posts in the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and other intelligence agencies. Many whites in the intelligence community believed that blacks were not to be trusted with the nation’s secrets. During the Cold War era, Europe was the location for a large percentage of intelligence activity. As a result, field agents with a dark skin would have drawn undo attention to themselves.

But times have changed. Now the nation has elected a black president. Traditional stereotypes are beginning to melt away. Also, U.S. intelligence agencies need more operatives in Africa, South America, and other areas where a darker skin is an asset for a clandestine operative.

Another consideration is the fact that today many intelligence officers do not operate in the field but rather ply their trade behind a desk and a computer. There, the color of one’s skin does not matter.

As a result of the new intelligence landscape, the federal government is making a concerted effort to recruit more African Americans as spies and other intelligence operatives. Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair reports that agencies are recruiting on the campuses of nearly all black colleges and universities.

A new federally sponsored Centers of Academic Excellence program at 21 colleges and universities aims to increase the number of students who make intelligence their career. Three of these 21 schools are historically black colleges and universities: Howard University, Miles College, and Florida A&M University.

Under the program, schools receive funds to add courses on international issues, cultural awareness, and foreign languages. Funds are also provided for students at these colleges and universities to intern at U.S. embassies abroad. Some 600 students have been selected into the intelligence community scholars program so far. Some receive financial assistance to help them pay for college.