Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Spies: CIA Tries to Make 'Em like They Used to ; Applicants Have Doubled since 9/11, but the Agency Still Struggles to Find the 'Right Stuff.'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Spies: CIA Tries to Make 'Em like They Used to ; Applicants Have Doubled since 9/11, but the Agency Still Struggles to Find the 'Right Stuff.'

Article excerpt

In the days immediately following Sept. 11, the government realized just how lean its legion of foreign spies had become. Government downsizing and advances in electronic spying had led to bringing many men and women home. The CIA had even closed two stations in Muslim countries.

It was clear - with the lack of warning before 9/11 and the planned retaliatory attack on Afghanistan - that the CIA had to bump up its modest recruiting effort. It needed to add scores of clandestine officers who could drop in and mingle with the people in Afghanistan, as well as in many other Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries where Al Qaeda had spread its tentacles.

"We expect to increase the number of officers in the clandestine service by 20 to 25 percent over the next four years," says Tom Crispell, spokesman for the CIA.

The kinds of candidates targeted, Mr. Crispell says, are people with overseas experience; skills in difficult languages such as Arabic Farsi, Dari, Pashto, Korean, and Chinese; and computer skills - "anything that can help us fight terrorism."

Like so many things the CIA won't talk about, agency officials won't discuss a profile of the ideal recruit - it would give away their game plan. But, as one official notes, they're obviously not going to send a 6-ft. 2-in. blond into Afghanistan.

One former high-level CIA official, who asked not to be identified, says there is definitely a prototype the agency is looking for - and Robert Baer is it.

Mr. Baer is a recently retired spy with many years of overseas undercover experience that he detailed in a published memoir "See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism."

He was a Renaissance man, whose breeding - not necessarily university degrees - infused him with a blend of social savvy and hard-core street smarts.

Character, too, was essential to the mix: Baer was a bit of a maverick, but had a love for his country.

When he was 9, Baer's mother - a recently divorced political science professor - whisked him out of school and off to Europe for two years. While frequenting museums and ski slopes on the Continent, Baer developed an ear for languages, and his mother lectured him on political theory - Aristotle, Plato, and Clausewitz.

After that high-octane curriculum, they returned to live in rural Colorado, where Baer raced on his high school ski team (with Olympian Andy Mill) and polished his street skills.

He later attended a military academy, then Georgetown University.

Baer says he spent most of his CIA career living on the edge, pushing the envelope. He developed agents who spied on, or penetrated, terrorist groups.

He was nearly obsessed with finding out who was responsible for the 1980s bombings of the US Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut.

And, at the end of his career in 1997, Baer was investigated for - and cleared of - plotting to assassinate Saddam Hussein. …

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