If you ask a ten-year-old boy what he wants to be when he grows up, the chances that he’ll say “James Bond” are relatively high.
Working for top secret agencies and traveling the world spying on dangerous criminals is portrayed through Hollywood as a glamorous job, so it’s no wonder much of the younger generation aspire to work for the likes of MI5 and the CIA when they grow up.
Although contrary to the rather adolescent surmise, predisposed by Hollywood somewhat, that the CIA stands for “Coolness In Action”, working for the CIA isn’t glamorous or dangerous all the time, and for the majority of officers, as the CIA states on its website, “it’s more like a normal 9-to-5 job.”
Keen to dispel the myth that all CIA officers drive luxury sports cars, are armed with “Q-type” gadgets and jet off around the world on secret missions, the CIA website has devoted a fair amount of literature on its website aimed at debunking the popular glamor myths surrounding the agency, created predominantly by Hollywood.
In a featured story titled “Hollywood Myths vs. the Real CIA”, the Central Intelligence Agency highlights five key misconstrued mythologies about the agency and reinstates the reality.
Myth one: Everyone who works at the CIA is a spy
Without wanting to disappoint many Jason Bourne-aspiring ten-year-olds, CIA officers are not spies but only recruit people in foreign countries who have access to information that may prove valuable to act as spies.
Myth Two: The CIA spies on citizens of the U.S.A.
It is fairly safe to assume that not many people realize that the FBI has the lead on intelligence issues in the U.S., particularly those directed against U.S. citizens.
While the CIA does not collect data about the activities of U.S. citizens, it does work closely with the FBI to protect the interests and security of U.S. citizens.
Myth 3: The CIA makes foreign policies
Politicians and the government make foreign policies, the CIA only informs foreign policy. By working with other members of the Intelligence Community, the CIA creates an objective analysis of intelligence issues but the ultimate decision is left with the president and U.S. policymakers.
Myth 4: The CIA is above the law
If your aspirations to join the CIA is so that you can be “above the law”, then you will need to think again!
The CIA has to report to two Congressional oversight committees, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). It is these two committees’ aim to ensure that all CIA activities are carried out legally and within the framework of its charter.
Myth 5: The CIA arrests people breaking the law
Have you ever actually seen Jason Bourne or James Bond make an arrest? While the prospect of being able to arrest a person, for some, sounds appealing because of the power and authority such an entitlement brings, CIA officers do not have such powers, as, unlike the FBI, the CIA has no law enforcement authority. (1)
The CIA’s Take on Widespread Misconceptions
It certainly seems that the CIA is somewhat exasperated by the widespread misconceptions that are attached to the agency of which it seems keen to blame Hollywood.
In another featured story on its website, the CIA talks about the many myths that movie directors and authors have painted of the agency over the years.
Agents driving sports cars is one popular myth that the CIA is keen to dispel, or even more ludicrous, agents driving sports cars with machine guns in the tailpipes.
Similar to all professions and large organizations, there will be employees of the CIA who have a penchant for sports cars but there will be other employees who probably drive round in a beaten up old banger that looks unlikely to make it to the next block.
The pay hierarchy in the CIA, similar to most companies, varies significantly. According to Inside Jobs:
–> The lowest 10% of the CIA earn less than $38,850 a year
–> The highest 10% earn more than $119,320 a year
It doesn’t therefore seem likely that the lowest-paid CIA fraternity are driving around in soft-top Lamborghinis! (3)
Another somewhat farcical myth associated with CIA employees, as stated on the official CIA website, is that you have to be superhuman to work for the agency.
While the likes of 24’s Jack Bauer certainly appears to be superhuman as he catapults himself out of impossible situations, CIA officers are about as superhuman as a librarian supervising an empty library on a Sunday morning.
The truth is that CIA employees are just ordinary people trying to get on with their jobs, as experienced CIA officer Brad says:
“I’m just a regular guy with a family and a fairly typical life.” (4)
Hollywood also has a job to do – to arouse excitement, intrigue and suspicion and the very nature of the CIA’s mission, to protect American citizens, makes the agency a leading target for authors’ and movie makers’ overzealous imaginations.