CIA Tries to Go Viral on Social Media to Attract Likes and New Recruits
The grim reputation of the agency carrying out daring operations and James Bond-like missions, supposedly being made by Langley has backfired, fending off potentially needed recruits. However, some politicians and even a former CIA director are not happy about the spy agency's new methods of attracting fresh talents.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has launched one of its biggest and at the same time least covert missions – to win over the hearts (including digital ones) of Americans on social media. In an exclusive interview with Politico, members of the agency's social media team revealed that the CIA had decided to use its social media accounts existing since 2014 as a tool of resolving one of its acute problems – the lack of promising recruits.
The agency has already amassed nearly 400,000 followers on Instagram, almost a million likes on its Facebook page, and has 3.2 million followers on Twitter (Gen Z's favourite TikTok remains overboard due to concerns about its Chinese origin). Through these channels, the CIA is now trying to promote the idea that it is not a closed and privileged club for Jason Bournes, Jack Ryans, or the likes, but is also the place for quiet analysts and other supporting staff.
"Demystify, educate, and then recruit. There's people who don't realize that we have a softer side here. So our audience is really the entirety of the American public".
The social media team is working hard on dispelling numerous myths and conspiracy theories surrounding the agency that also prevent people from applying. They, however, often dodge hard questions such as drone strikes that kill civilians, waterboarding of detainees, illegal coups in foreign countries, and fake evidence of weapons of mass destruction in a certain Middle East country led by an uncooperative president. They did, however, raise the inconvenient topic of the failed coup in Cuba and the Bay of Pigs fiasco, but only accidentally.
The team also tried to harness some modern trends: from making "Girl Boss-y posts", to using hashtags, cat photos, and organising recurring topics, such as "Humans of CIA". The strategy worked and a CIA spokesperson, Sara Lichterman, reported a decade-high CIA class in 2021 with a "diverse talent pool, including persons with disabilities".
"One of the reasons that we're on social media is if we're not talking about ourselves, other people will still be and then there's a vacuum. So we have to come and tell our own story".
Not everyone was happy with the new approach, however. Left-leaning people slammed the whitewashing of the agency, which is known for a numerous deadly operations and morally dubious practices. The right, including politicians, argue that the new public image of the CIA sends the wrong message.
The first major scandal erupted
after the agency's social media published a video featuring a CIA agent named Mija, who confessed about suffering from "imposter syndrome" and "generalised anxiety disorder", while "unapologetically" being an "intersectional cisgender millennial", who refused to "internalise misguided patriarchal ideas of what a woman can or should be".
Conservative Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson suggested in the wake of the controversial ad that it was high time to rename the spy agency to the "Cisgender Intersectional Agency", while GOP Senator Ted Cruz lamented
the "long way" that the CIA had fallen "from Jason Bourne" to Mija. But the most scathing criticism came from the agency's former boss, Mike Pompeo.
"When I was Director of the CIA, we valued individuals based on their talent and skill, not their race or sexuality. I’ll never forget what one female analyst said to me: 'Thank you for valuing me for my work. I want my abilities and achievements to define me, not my sexuality".
One of the members of the CIA's social media team, identified in Politico's article only as Alexis, said that at first, they were "panicky" about the social media uproar that their Mija posts had created. But in the end, they decided that regardless of whether the post created good or bad coverage, it was important that it had "started a conversation on both sides".
The CIA's social media approach was also apparently adopted by the US military, which started broadcasting various video game sessions with real soldiers on Twitch, and then released their own unconventional recruitment ad, which was branded as "woke"
by many conservatives. The video, released by the Pentagon, focused heavily on the diversity and LGBTQ background of its recruits in a colourful cartoon, instead of relying on more traditional messages used in military ads.