CIA worker enlightens students about careers

By By Michael McFall

By Michael McFall

Matt Berrett knows there is a need for people who can tell the President and his men what they don’t want to hear.

Berrett, the CIA’s director of the Office of Middle East and North Africa Analysis, knows how presidential dismissal of negativity can go wrong8212;Vietnam. He knows how ignoring the CIA completely can go wrong8212;the Iran-Contra affair. And he knows that the world can’t afford to make the same mistakes again.

“Our analysts were the first to look (former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld in the face and say, “You have an insurgency on your hands,’ ” Berrett said.

Berrett is a U alumnus who went to work for the CIA after earning his bachelor’s degree in economics. Tuesday morning, he encouraged a room full of U students in the Hinckley Caucus Room that they can do the same and make the world a safer place.

The largest and most recent demands the CIA has right now are mostly for terrorism analysts, polygraphists and analysts who can speak South Asian languages, particularly Urdu and Pashtun, Berrett said.

Justin Dolan, a sophomore in political science, perked up8212;Southeast Asia is exactly where he wants to be, he said.

However, the agency isn’t hiring as much as it used to.

“Right after 9/11, we couldn’t hire fast enough,” Berrett said. Now the United States’ agency of ultimate secrecy, which seldom lets go of hires, is only hiring about 4 percent of the 144,000 applicants they get each year. Not that

students shouldn’t try, Berrett said. Most of the people he knows around the office were repeat applicants.

Apply today8212;don’t wait, Berrett said. But applicants should weigh their conscience. Although the CIA is always looking for people who are compulsively honest and obey the law, the clandestine nature of their business means their headquarters in Langley, Va., is a den of liars and thieves, he said. It’s a dangerous culture at the CIA when the means justify the ends, he said, but a plaque in the front lobby, quoting the Bible, reminds them why they sometimes have to lie, cheat and steal: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

It’s how the CIA operates and it’s what keeps Americans safe, Berrett said.

Beyond having the guts to tell the most powerful man in the world that he’s wrong, the requirements to enter the CIA are fairly broad. The agency accepts applicants from almost every type of expertise, and like Berrett, even students fresh out of undergraduate studies can make it in.

The most valuable asset an applicant can have, and unfortunately the hardest to discern from an application, is creativity, he said.

The CIA once had to convince former President Ronald Reagan that a certain country8212;Berrett would not disclose which one8212;could not possibly close its borders to the criminals moving across them. The president wasn’t convinced. The CIA analysts told the president, a former Texas governor, that it would be like trying to close the border between the Lone Star state and Mexico, only this one is three times as large.

Reagan came around8212;and it’s that sort of creativity and persuasiveness that makes an applicant stand out, Berrett said.

Two other panelists, CIA analysts, were also present at the forum8212;but their full names are classified.

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