The other day I was driving along in my car, listening to NPR and trying to pretend that my ride wasn't getting more ghetto by the day (It's really cool when people stop at red lights, roll down their windows, and tell you your trunk is open, and you have to just smile and say thanks and pretend like it hasn't been flying open with every bump for the last two weeks).
Anyway, NPR was broadcasting a segment on our nation's growing intelligence gap in third world countries, trying to explain why we were
blindsided by people who follow strict religious law from the 11th century. Basically the reason was: we don't have enough of our own (or any) agents living in third world countries, relating information back to our government (seems like anytime I mention NPR in this column, they're talking about spies).
Of course the first thing I thought was: "I'll go. No one's asked me. Where do I sign up?" Because while I don't really like the idea of cutting my hair short or having to make my bed with hospital corners, the idea of living among a community, watching them, talking to them, gathering information about them, and passing that along didn't sound so bad (in fact, on further contemplation, I realize that is what I do now). Then I remembered I was a woman and would have virtually no freedom and would have to wear a burka (a burqa?) whenever I was with anyone who wasn t related to me, which would be all the time because was a foreign plant by the U.S. government and wouldn't be related to anyone.
Then the report started talking about the actual reasons we don't have spies in those countries. A lot of it comes down to the fact that many
capable spyers don t know any Arabic languages (I certainly don't) and wouldn't be able to blend into the village bazaar. Of course, the other part of it is that there aren't many people willing to live in a place that doesn't have electricity or indoor toilets or soft porn.
Now of course these are deterrents to me -- I mean, I was turned off by wearing the body veil; I'm certainly not going to any place without a
Blockbuster. Yes, I'm way shallow. However, I'm not sure the "no indoor plumbing equals no spies" equation necessarily holds up.
The people on Survivor don't have indoor plumbing. In fact, they have no shelter. They have to build it themselves. And they seem perfectly happy
about it. I mean, those people go live in squalor just for the chance of winning a million bucks. Some of them don t win anything, just national
notoriety and possible Playboy contracts. Why don't we teach them Arabic and send some of those people? All we'd have to do is pay them rather handsomely and let them bring a luxury item (And just think, one of my friends said, of the product placement opportunities. Those burqas have a lot of space on them for logos).
I know it would probably be dangerous to be an on ground intelligence officer, but it's not as if Survivor is completely risk free, either. Poor Mike (Mike? Joe? Who knows? Fame is so fleeting) from the second season fell into the fire and suffered second degree burns. Yes, he was immediately helicoptered to a hospital, but again, that was only for the chance of winning a million dollars. And a million dollars hardly buys anything these days.
And here's the other thing. The people on that show are ruthless. RUTHLESS. They d be perfect. Some of them might not be on the intellectual caliber the government wants, but I'm sure the Survivor producers have tons of applications for people they rejected because they weren't pretty enough for direct sunlight television.
All I'm saying is, we re not going to find any capable spies unless we look for them. Because I truly believe they are out there. I know tons of adventurous souls; they go on Outward Bound excursions or hike through the rainforest in Brazil. Heck, those people on Lost
have to find their way home and they don't even know where they were dropped.
And I, for one, didn't even know that going into the bush and living in a hut for the U.S. government was a career option. Recruiters from the Peace Corps and the Army both came to my high school and I think they even got some takers. But as far as I know no one ever came from the FBI or CIA.
It's really too bad. Maybe my high school wasn't up to standard (I could certainly believe it) but there are tons of high school students looking for a path. Heck, there are tons of adults still looking for a path, too. If our intelligence can't even find these people, living in our own country, speaking our own language, ready to do their duty, how are they going to find our good friend bin Laden?