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Last updated: June 19, 2009 8:11 pm

The CIA on Wall Street

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“You didn’t see the financial crisis coming. We missed 9/11 and the end of the cold war. Sounds like a match made in heaven – particularly now that you’re unemployed.” This is not how recent internet adverts from the Central Intelligence Agency targeted at financial professionals read. Still, a campaign by the agency to recruit former masters of the universe as spies raises interesting questions. The most obvious are whether they will make the switch from stocks and bonds to James Bond, and whether they will be any good at it.

The New York Society of Security Analysts, which claims to represent an “elite segment of investment professionals”, recently hosted a career presentation for the CIA that touted “fast-paced, varied work environments that will challenge you to find innovative solutions to complex problems”. Salaries are not mentioned in the circular, probably for good reason. A separate ad seeking candidates for “paramilitary operations” offers a starting base of $54,525-$75,669. Even the greenest associate at Lehmans earned at least $100,000 and expected many times more within a few years. Those days are over, though.

The ad says candidates can expect training in psychological warfare and operations in “hazardous and austere overseas environments”. Ex-bankers might disagree, but this sounds tougher than negotiating a better bonus or all-nighters spent writing pitch books in Canary Wharf.

Still, the campaign makes sense. Most spooks are deskbound analysts with language and analytical skills of the type prized on Wall Street, not action heroes. Relatively modest pay and onerous background checks may have deterred top graduates from such government jobs in the past. The recession is a great equaliser. The money may be inferior but it probably makes for more interesting cocktail party chatter and a better pick-up line.

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