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This page is about the time dad got me a summer job at CIA headquarters (where he worked) in Langley, Virginia, after I graduated from high school in 1962. We lived 5 miles from it, a short bus ride. —Frank da Cruz <fdc@columbia.edu>
Most recent update: 12 April 2021 08:10:49


Langley lobby mosaic After Ocean Beach I came home I started work at the summer job my Dad got for me at CIA headquarters in Langley VA, I guess it was an attempt at bonding on his part. Every time the CIA is in a movie or TV show they always show the entrance lobby with the CIA mosaic on the floor. I walked over that thing every day for three months. Dad drove me to work a few times but I told him I'd rather take the bus because it dropped me off right at the entrance, whereas his parking space was way off in Siberia because he was so totally in the shithouse.

CIA Langley Some interesting things I can tell you about working there… All the many long hallways had little concession stands at intervals for newspapers, snacks, and coffee. The people who ran them were not only blind, but verifiably blind, with empty eye sockets. I'm not kidding. It was so they couldn't see or identify anybody who worked or had business there, and they weren't allowed to cover the sockets, so the covert people could be confident they weren't being seen. Another thing I remember was the library… Maybe not the only library, but the one I saw contained nothing but spy and science fiction novels and comic books; presumably people who qualify to be spies are not all that imaginative, so that's where they went to get ideas. My Frankfurt friend Tom McCaffrey showed it to me; after high school he went straight to a full-time entry-level job at the CIA.

At the CIA I worked in a project where teenage children of employees — about 30 of us — were to go through all the CIA's files (on paper in those days, in manila folders, in thousands of black filing cabinets) as the first step in converting them to microfilm. We weren't supposed to read or talk about the documents but of course we did. The sad thing is I can't remember much, just little snatches, like something about a beheaded frogman in NY harbor… One thing I do recall, though, was that at least half of all the file cabinets were about "Red China". I also recall finding out that the magazine US News and World Report was a CIA operation; it was in the orientation film.

As to the documents themselves, they were mainly typed on typewriters, originals or carbon copies, generally written by agents reporting on activies or incidents or meetings or whatever, often discussing at length the extent to which a given source could be considered trustworthy. Once the report was completed, it was sent to (let's call it) the cataloging department where analysts would check for names or places or terms (i.e. keywords) that should be indexed, like in a university library card catalog subject index. The cataloger would mark each such word or phrase with a diagonal stroke of a color pencil (let's say red). Then the document would go to the indexing department. Wherever there was a stroke mark, the indexer would record the word or phrase in a master index (I don't know if it was cards, or what, it might even have been "computerized"), and then cross the stroke with a (let's say) blue color pencil, making an X, to indicate it was indexed (the colors were indeed red and blue but I don't recall which was which). The result was a huge index on a scale similar to Google; if you looked up a given word or phrase, you'd get a list of all the files where it appeared, but I don't know the details of how this was done, or what the list looked like, or how the information was retrieved, but I imagine it was like the Butler Library stacks at Columbia University; you'd ask for a document and someone would deliver it to you.

Not Suitable for Microfilm
Creative stamping
Well, none of that was my job, it's just stuff I picked up while doing it. My job was to decide whether each document could be microfilmed, based on its condition. If so, it went in the good pile. If not, I had a big stamp, NOT SUITABLE FOR MICROFILM, wham!, and put it in the bad pile. All of us did the same thing all day every day. It was pretty monotonous so we made it more fun by making up silly songs and singing them while stamping the documents in rhythm ("Not suitable for microfilm, not suitable for microfilm, not suitible, hardly suitable, it's indisputable, not suitable for microfilm!").

So it was actually kind of fun. This was before I understood the real business of the CIA and what the USA was up to all over the world… That would come 3 years later. Anyway we got to be friends, got together after work, had parties and adventures, including a big cookout sponsored by the job. Another reason it was fun is that it was totally integrated, unlike everything else (except military bases) in Virginia including my high school, so I felt more at home there, like being back in Frankfurt.

I had a Top Secret clearance as a result of that job — even higher than Top Secret apparently, because there was a special one called KAPOK (you can't even find it in Google) — and then later in the Army it got me assigned to my first computer job, in Stuttgart — I wouldn't have got the job without the clearance, and my life would have been totally different. It also qualified me to burn Top Secret trash in a big crematorium. But then when I applied to be discharged from the Army as a conscientious objector, that was the end of my security clearance.

White House Seminar 1962
My entrance ticket
Clinton meets Kennedy
Clinton meets Kennedy
Robert Kennedy's house and family
Robert Kennedy's house, Hickory Hill
(Back at the CIA...) One day they took us to meet President Kennedy in the White House Rose Garden, where he gave us a little pep talk about public service. It was called the White House Seminar. Maybe there's a picture of it somewhere, like the picture of Bill Clinton meeting him under the same circumstances. We only went to the first event, not the others. I also saw Robert Kennedy all the time; the bus to the CIA went past his house, Hickory Hill, on Old Dominion Drive — a grand Virginia mansion with horses, etc; the kids were always out cavorting with the animals. I earned $600 that summer, which paid for my one-and-only semester at the University of Virginia. (Btw other presidents I saw included Eisenhower [at a Washington Senators game at Griffith Stadium] and Nixon [at an antiwar demonstration in DC where we threw stuff at his car]… I didn't see Truman but I saw the bullet holes where some Puerto Rican separatists had tried to shoot him a few hours earlier; Uncle Pete showed me, this was November 1, 1950.)

Most recent update: 12 April 2021 08:10:49