The CIA’s Least Secret Mission
The goal: to dispel some of the negative press and conspiracy theories that have haunted the agency over the years by showing the public that CIA personnel are just like us.
“Demystify, educate, then recruit,” said Candice Bryant, 37, head of the agency’s social media team, who spoke exclusively to POLITICO to publicly discuss the engagement strategy for the agency. agency. “There are people who don’t realize we have a softer side here,” said Bryant, who has worked at the agency for almost 17 years. So our audience is really the entire American audience.
But not everyone thinks the CIA – with a reputation for being one of the most exclusive and murderous fraternities in the world – should chase the weight off by sanding its edges. The efforts have drawn contempt from both left and right. Some liberals say the CIA is presenting a whitewashed version of CIA history, while many on the right argue that the social media strategy makes the agency appear weak.
Bryant and two other millennial architects of the social media effort, who only went through Michael and Alexis at the request of the CIA to preserve some anonymity, sat down to explain why one of the more underground organizations to the world just can’t stop publishing. “Share what we can, protect what we have to,” said Michael, who is leading the “CIA Humans” effort.
The agency now has Instagram (398,000 subscribers), YouTube (60,000 subscribers), Facebook (993,000 likes) and Twitter (3.2 million subscribers) – “With Tik Tok, of course, there is the Chinese risk”, a spokesperson said, but added that joining the Gen Z-dominated video app remains a possibility.
The team tapped into social media tropes and hashtags, including Girl Boss-y posts touting “Women Crush Wednesday,” #KnowYourValue, pumpkin spice lattes, cat photos, #TuesdayTrivia and a recurring series “Humans of CIA” modeled on the popular “Humans of New York” which went viral a little over ten years ago.
They argue that the CIA is only adapting to a media environment where every person and business is a potential publisher who can put a brand forward. “One of the reasons we’re on social media is that if we don’t talk about ourselves, others always will and then there will be a void,” said Sara Lichterman, spokesperson for CIA and Entertainment Industry Liaison who joined the conversation at Langley. “So we have to come and tell our own story. “
Much of the CIA’s social media story omits waterboarding, drone strikes, misinformation about weapons of mass destruction, failed coups or even successful coups. He also doesn’t focus too much on cool gadgets, discerning Jack Ryan-style analysts, or Jason Bourne-style spies. “You want people to be able to see each other here, not just a certain type of person,” said Bryant.
This impetus was not well received by some conservatives. Last spring, Republicans, including former CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, slammed the agency’s social team when they posted a video promoting the company’s diversity. agency.
“I’m a woman of color, I’m a mom, I’m a cisgender millennial who has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I am intersectional, but my existence is not a box-checking exercise, ”said Mija, a CIA employee.
Pompeo accused the agency of prioritizing “a liberal revival program” to national security. “When I was director of the CIA, we valued individuals based on their talent and skills, not their race or sexuality,” he tweeted in May. “We’ve come a long way since Jason Bourne,” joked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex). Carlson changed the CIA logo to “Cisgender Intersectional Agency”.
The team were initially “in a panic,” Alexis recalls, but ultimately felt good about breaking through. “We had the trend for three good days,” she said. “I just felt like we had struck up a conversation from both sides, whether we saw it as good or bad. [coverage]. “
Bryant added, “As long as this message from [diversity, inclusion, and equity] came out, we’re good, right? … We need James Bond, and we have James Bond, but we also need a whole range of other people, don’t we? “
The social media team also drew mockery to post artifacts as a Bay of Pigs victory commemorative coin, which was fabricated but never issued after the notorious failure of efforts to start an insurgency in Cuba in 1961. Bryant says it’s important to talk about at least some embarrassing moments of the agency in order to cultivate its audience. Posting only positive things, she said, “would make us look untrustworthy.”
The CIA’s outreach has also sparked skepticism from some other corners of social media. When asked about “Humans of CIA,” Brandon Stanton, the creator of “Humans of New York,” wrote in an email, “I guess everyone is free to profile their employees. But I would definitely prefer that they didn’t use the name of my job.
CIA officials, however, believe the effort was essential in attracting people to the agency. Lichterman said the CIA’s new 2021 class is the third largest in a decade and “represents the most diverse pool of talent, including people with disabilities, since 2010.”
Yet there are risks associated with operating a social network representing one of the most opaque – and feared – elements of the US national security apparatus. In 2015, the agency forgot to add hashtags or thread a tweet telling a story from the Korean War that took place in the early 1950s. The tweet – “Analysts noted the regrouping of North Korean forces, including tanks and heavy artillery, along the 38th parallel and the evacuation of civilians from the region” – caused a brief alarm.
Lichterman said one of their unique social media rules is: “We can’t be too joking about international incidents.”