WNYC staffers Elaine Rivera and Corey Takahashi went to the Unity ’08 Journalists’ convention last week and weren’t they surprised when their neighbor at the next table turned out to be the CIA! Hear what convention-goers made of the Agency’s presence.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. Last week, thousands of journalists gathered in Chicago for Unity '08, a conference of journalists of color organized by the Asian-American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native-American Journalists Association.
WNYC staffers Elaine Rivera and Corey Takahashi were there, too, and were surprised to see that their neighbor at the next table was the CIA. Yes, the Central Intelligence Agency sent a recruiter to a convention of journalists.
Elaine Rivera had her tape recorder and wondered what’s up with that, a question she asked the fellow called Craig P., according to his business card, and here’s what he said. CRAIG P.: The CIA actually accomplishes a couple of objectives ideally by attending here. We can do some indirect recruiting simply because of the fantastically articulate list of attendees here. These are people who tend to have their own audience.
So what I've been able to do is to talk to people and dispel whatever myths they might have, provide some new opinions, perhaps, on what CIA does. Ideally, if these people have their own audiences, they can, at some point, convey that to them, give a more accurate impression of what CIA is, what we do. And from my perspective, well, I'll do some indirect recruiting by way of using journalists to help me attain my goals of getting people into the agency.
We also can hire people with journalism backgrounds. We have analytical jobs, for example. We have an office that monitors open source, which for us is the non-classified information source. It’s very abundant. Lots of information there.
And so people who have backgrounds can work for us as analysts, generally, in which we ask them to be an expert, say, in some part of the world. We provide the information to you. Use those journalism skills. Use those skills, that affinity for a foreign region, and combine it to be an analyst. For us, it’s read and write. BOB GARFIELD: So says the CIA. Many of the journalists at the convention had a different take. Here’s Joe Davidson, a columnist at The Washington Post. JOE DAVIDSON: I don't think that the CIA should recruit at conventions for journalists. I think that CIA members have pretended to be journalists in years past. They might still be doing it, I don't know, but they certainly have done it previously. And I think that the knowledge that CIA agents have used journalism as a cover puts legitimate journalists in danger.
It’s certainly known that in other countries, journalists will report to their governments. That certainly is not the case, or certainly generally has not been the case, for American journalists. But we don't want that perception. I think there really has to be a long distance between the role of a spy, even someone who does research in Langley, Virginia, and a journalist.
And I think having a CIA recruiter at a convention of journalists really confuses the situation, and ultimately that can make it dangerous for journalists overseas. BOB GARFIELD: Mytai Hunko [?] [16:18] is an editor at The New York Daily News. MYTAI HUNKO: You know, in our communities there is this notion, right, that a lot of young kids, a lot of young Latinos and blacks are joining the military because they don't have other options. They don't have other jobs. And I don't know how much, what was the availability of jobs at the job fair here, but I know there’s obviously a shortage of journalism jobs.
And in a sense, yes, of course, people are desperate and they need jobs, and in that sense I understand why people would stand on line. But that’s another reason, I guess, just not to be here, because you don't want to replay what’s going on in our communities at a journalism convention. I don't think it’s the right place for the CIA to be recruiting. BOB GARFIELD: Margarita Bauza, a reporter at The Detroit Free Press, didn't see why the fuss. MARGARITA BAUZA: I don't have a problem with it. I think journalists know what they're doing, and if they decide that they want to work there, then they know what they're getting into. I don't have a problem with it. It’s a job. It’s probably an interesting, exciting career for some people, and I don't have a problem with it. BOB GARFIELD: Our reporter Elaine Rivera heard quite a bit of that sentiment, mainly from the younger people in attendance. That didn't much surprise Jackie Jones, formerly on the board of the National Association of Black Journalists. JACKIE JONES: I think a lot of young people just don't know the history. You know, they weren't around in the '70s. They don't know about the FBI and the CIA and COINTELPRO and all the other things that happened during that time period. And so to them, they just don't understand why it’s that big a deal.
But I think anybody over 40, any member over 40 should be able to tell them exactly what went on during that time. BOB GARFIELD: And on the subject of history, this from Dennis Moynihan, CEO at Free Speech TV. DENNIS MOYNIHAN: You know, in a climate where journalists are being laid of en masse by the media corporations, I think it’s unfortunate that an agency like the CIA can prey upon people. I mean, what are they going to be doing? Of course, they're talking about open source intelligence gathering.
Well, that’s exactly how they gather names of alleged socialists or labor sympathizers in Indonesia, by forming lists. They're going to be reading other reporters’ work and identifying subjects of interest to the U.S. security apparatus. I don't think it’s good work for a journalist. There’s just a massive abuse of data collection that’s happening by the United States, principally.
The ACLU released a press report, a press release about waterboarding and CIA’s involvement in authorizing and coaching waterboarding. You know, why isn't this guy being asked about it? I think some journalists here actually have confronted this recruiter, but this is one of the most controversial agencies functioning on the planet today, and it’s shocking that here, with between five and ten thousand journalists, and the guy isn't getting grilled continually. BOB GARFIELD: One thing nobody could deny the CIA was opportunistic timing. News organizations are laying off and buying out left and right. The nation’s intelligence apparatus, on the other hand, is totally a growth industry.
By the way, we spoke with Unity’s executive director, Onica Makwakwa, who said that their board, quote, “does not have a policy that restricts participation of government agencies in the Media Expo and Job Fair. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]