The CIA is Stalking Me…Online

Crop OtherEverywhere I go she’s there, folded arms, smartly dressed in a blazer and white button-down, keeping an eye on me. Just a hint of a wry smile crosses her face as she lurks.

She’s there representing the CIA, and the National Clandestine Service. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but she’s around when I’m taking a look at a ball game, or getting my fix of the news. I can never quite predict when she’ll appear, but she always comes back.

To be fair she probably doesn’t actually work for the CIA. More likely than not some consultant googled “Asian businesswoman” on a stock photo website. I mean, would the CIA actually put one of their agents in a recruiting ad?

The ad in question, with text that read’s “Discover the truth, join the CIA’s national clandestine service,” has spent the last couple of months chasing me across the web.   It’s normally paired with a banner at the top of the webpage I’m visiting, appearing in Google Ads modules, seemingly a generic ad being used by the agency to cast a wide net for new recruitsCrop 2

But it’s not casting a wide net. Talking to colleagues I seem to be the only one who is getting inundated with the ads. They appear on my home computer, my laptop, and my work computer. I figured this would be a question of a cookie stashed on my computer that was giving away my interest in CIA activities. But of the three computers I only found evidence of a visit to a CIA website on one, in that instance I was looking through publicly available CIA archives. I do cover cyberwarfare (among other things), so it might just be that the constellation of websites I visit makes me attractive.

Emails and calls to the CIA were not returned, so I can’t tell you how they decided I was such a prime target. Google Ads normally allows for filtering as to when ads appear, but I didn’t get my questions answered as to what the CIA’s filter is, nor how much it has spent on the ads.

When you click on the ad, which I finally did after getting curious/creeped out, you get a page describing all the benefits of working for the CIA.

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But the CIA isn’t alone in trying to turn to the digital world for recruits. The NSA made some headlines when its recruitment office put out a seemingly nonsensical string of letters.

“tpfccdlfdtte pcaccplircdt dklpcfrp?qeiq lhpqlipqeodf gpwafopwprti izxndkiqpkii krirrifcapnc dxkdciqcafmd vkfpcadf #MissionMonday #NSA #news,” it tweeted.

TweetThe hashtags at the end should have been a tipoff that this wasn’t a case of somebody sitting on a phone. But several websites described cats crawling across keyboards, or as Gizmodo’s Ashley Feinberg headlined her piece, “The NSA’s Drunk Again.”

The NSA is the powerhouse agency for code breaking, and while such activities are beyond my capacity, others quickly figured out the simple letter substitution code. It reads, “Want to know what it takes to work at NSA? Check back each month to explore careers essential to protect in [SIC] your nation.” I’ll forgive them the failed grammar at the end given that they did have to code the whole thing.

It’s both a sign of how hard agencies are working to try to land talent, a broader issue in general for the government and government contractors especially in the face of the bad publicity surrounding the Edward Snowden disclosures, and the evolving landscape of modern intelligence work. It used to be that a well-placed professor would recommend you to a recruiter, and a guy dressed like Dick Tracy would show up to take your temperature.

I’m flattered, CIA, that you are interested.  Really, it’s nice to be wanted.  But admittedly I’m a bit squeamish.  I prefer to work in a dying profession (journalism) as opposed to one which involves people dying.

Zachary Fryer-Biggs
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Zachary Fryer-Biggs

Senior Staff Writer at Defense News
Zach is the State Department correspondent, cyberwarfare, research & development and business reporter for Defense News.
Zachary Fryer-Biggs
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