On Sept. 16, students gathered in a passionate protest against the CIA hosting a recruitment event at Tufts through the Career Center. They leveled attacks against the CIA in response to its alleged involvement in the overthrow of leftist democratically elected governments in developing countries, as well as its participation in drug trafficking. Students have a right to protest, and I would not attempt to deny or defend the CIA against such accusations. I do believe, however, that students who would like to participate in the CIA recruitment process should be allowed to do so, and that it is reasonable for Tufts to maintain a relationship with the agency.
First, although the CIA has historically been involved in business that is rightfully easy to criticize, its current work encompasses a range of goals. Currently, the countries in opposition to the United States — and therefore facing attempts of subversion by the CIA — are not all simply democratic, yet leftist, nations. Today, the United States counts among its enemies the Taliban-controlled nation of Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria and a number of other totalitarian dictatorships notable for excessive human rights abuses. Though the CIA may arguably be taking the wrong approach in regard to solving questions of dictatorship in these countries, the fundamental goal of the CIA is preserving national security — a goal which is still worth working toward. Although action taken by the CIA to undermine “enemy” nations benefits those who suffer under the respective authoritarian regimes, CIA intelligence also preemptively intervenes in potential threats from notably aggressive nations such as North Korea.
The CIA has gone through periods of reform throughout its history, and it’s not as though this cannot continue to happen; it’s very possible for the CIA to make steps in the right direction. Most importantly, the CIA absolutely needs to end the practice of using covert action, and cannot continue using covert means to influence foreign elections. Notably, the progressive Institute for Policy Studies makes the argument that ending this practice would not impede the organization’s original goal to provide factual and necessary intelligence on foreign events. Two decades later, calls for oversight of covert action still abound.
Suggested reforms such as ending covert action and demilitarizing intelligence would lead to an effective, yet more morally defensible Central Intelligence Agency. Although later reversed by President Trump, President Barack Obama proved the possibility of beneficial reform by removing the CIA’s authority to authorize drone strikes.
Tufts students who want to one day work for the CIA may want to improve the organization, and if Tufts University succeeds in educating students who are intelligent and possess morality, they should not be stopped from pursuing progress within an agency that is very much in need of improvement. I have no doubt that there are plenty of students who have strong moral opposition to the CIA, and these students have the right to feel as they do. However, I believe that students who possess good intentions in their desires to work for the CIA should not be automatically treated as though they are responsible for wrongdoings committed by the CIA in the past.
Furthermore, many individuals use the CIA as a jumping point for eventual work in other government agencies or departments, such as former CIA Officer and U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger from Virginia’s contentious 7th Congressional District. Representatives such as Spanberger prove that individuals within the CIA often have larger aspirations of improving the United States government, and can use experience in the CIA to build toward meaningful goals. The experience that Tufts students can gain working in the CIA could assist them in future career goals and could give them the tools they need for making valuable change.
Quite simply, every government agency is made up of individuals, and no government agency is completely blameless or completely evil. It is important to remember that the stated principles of the CIA, to collect intelligence and protect our country, are worth working toward. There are many individuals within the CIA who joined for the purpose of serving the nation. Through reformation and modernization, the CIA can continue to fight very important battles against human rights abuse, totalitarian regimes and domestic instability. Perhaps it will be Tufts University students who prove to be instrumental in this goal.