We all do things in our young lives that people who know us later on can’t imagine — bet you didn’t know that I was once in charge of the horses for an entire summer at the day camp where I worked as a counselor while in high school. Yup, it’s a long story…. Just a wee bit shorter than the story of how Julia Child, the beloved TV French Chef, became a spy during World War II.
In those days, now more than half a century ago, the entire population of the United States was mobilized and energized to defeat enemies on two fronts — in Europe against Germany, and in the Pacific against Japan. President Franklin Roosevelt (see my previous blog) responded to the worldwide crisis in many ways, including through creating the Office of Strategic Services that became the precursor to today’s Central Intelligence Agency. The OSS recruited many talented young Americans into the work of intelligence — gathering information and data to help protect U.S. interests. As revealed in documents released this week at the National Archives, the future French Chef Julia Child signed-up for this important work, along with many other young people who later became notable Americans.
As time went on, and the OSS became the CIA, many citizens joined the Intelligence Community, including many Trinity graduates. In the 1950’s, the CIA recruited Trinity alums because of their smarts, their ethics, their ability to analyze vast amounts of data, their personal discipline.
Over the years, notorious incidents involving the CIA and other segments of the Intelligence Community — like the Abu Ghraib scandal during the Iraq War that was linked most closely to the Military Intelligence sector — have tarnished the reputation of intelligence work. Too many politicians have excused unethical and illegal conduct as necessary for national security. The means will never justify the end when it comes to torture, murder and humiliation of other human beings at the hands of American agents.
But even as there are rogue intelligence officers colluding with rogue politicians on shameful actions, there are thousands more good, ethical people working in the Intelligence Community to help collect information that protects our national interests.
Trinity has had a formal program with the Intelligence Community for several years. The Intelligence Center of Academic Excellence is designed to help expose Trinity students to the work of Intelligence and opportunities for employment in this field. Sometimes, people ask me why Trinity, with it’s long track record for promoting social justice, would have anything to do with the Intelligence Community. My reply is simple: we encourage our students to work in Congress and the White House, in spite of the notorious failings of those institutions — as well as in corporate positions, where ethical problems abound — so why would we repress information about careers in Intelligence? Rather than avoiding the topic, Trinity’s Intelligence Studies Program seeks to educate students in the ethical responses. The problem is not intelligence work itself, which is necessary and requires very smart people —- but rather, the work also requires the kind of ethical formation that we promote at Trinity.
I have no idea what Julia Child really did when she worked for the OSS. Her story, however, reminds us that ordinary citizens can answer the call to national service in many ways. Intelligence work should not be left to shadowy figures in fedoras and trench coats — the spy in the toque may well be more effective.