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CIA launches a podcast, hoping to ‘demystify’ the agency and boost recruitment

The CIA seal at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. (Olivier Douliery/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)

There is no shortage of podcasts out there exploring the mechanics of espionage, celebrating fictionalized spies and detailing the real-world exploits of the country’s premiere intelligence agency. But only one, as of today, is officially unclassified.

The CIA launched ‘The Langley Files’ podcast on Thursday, attempting to step out from its own shadows to share stories from the agency’s 75-year history — and provide a little insight into what it takes to work there.

The goal of the podcast, according to a CIA spokesperson, is to provide a bit more transparency into an agency premised on secrecy.

‘“The Langley Files’ is a major milestone for CIA as the agency marks its 75th anniversary,” said CIA press secretary Susan Miller. “It is the latest in CIA’s ongoing efforts to be as open as possible with the public, sharing what we can about our mission, people, and history.”

And in telling stories on the history of the CIA — featuring senior CIA officials, agency historians and CIA museum experts as guests — the agency hopes to attract new interest from a young generation of potential recruits.

“We want to reach a wider and more diverse audience than ever before, so that people who might not have thought of joining CIA — or might not have known that there could be a place for their talents here — consider CIA in their career plans,” a CIA spokesperson said.

“The podcast supports the agency’s efforts to connect with talent from all backgrounds and walks of life,” the spokesperson continued. “To be successful in its national security mission, CIA needs to build the diverse, skilled workforce of tomorrow, and we hope ‘The Langley Files’ can serve as a way to reach those candidates.”

The podcast will be hosted by two agency officers, exploring new topics with special guests in each episode.

Its first guest is CIA Director Bill Burns.

“In our democracy, where trust in institutions is in such short supply,” Burns said on the podcast’s first episode, “it’s important to try to explain ourselves as best we can, and to demystify a little bit of what we do.”

Burns and the podcast’s hosts had some fun at the expense of Hollywood’s depictions of spies, noting their work “doesn’t always involve fast cars and solo heroics.”

“I should start by saying that I love spy movies,” Burns said. “But one big misconception that a lot of those really entertaining movies feed is that intelligence in real life is just a glamorous world of solo operators in the world of James Bond and Jason Bourne and Jack Ryan. A world of heroic individuals who drive fast cars and defuse bombs and solve world crises all on their own every day.”

“The truth is that intelligence is very much a team sport,” he added.

Burns described the agency’s warnings over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine among its greatest recent successes, as well as the intelligence operation that led to the successful strike against al-Qaida’s co-founder, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

But new challenges, driven by great power competition with China, are driving the agency to adapt its mission set and recruitment strategies, Burns said.

“We need to organize ourselves to navigate successfully what is an incredibly complicated international terrain,” Burns said. “We’re trying to put more resources, recruit more Mandarin speakers, to help address that central geopolitical challenge.”

“But it also means we have to deal with declining powers — not just rising ones — like Russia,” he added. “And Putin demonstrates every day that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising ones.”

The Langley Files will be available on all streaming platforms and the CIA’s website.

©2022 McClatchy Washington Bureau.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.