Some UCLA students got a surprise when their group was randomly called to perform an “elevator briefing” during a Central Intelligence Agency simulation event Wednesday.
Presented with a hypothetical national security crisis, the students had less than an hour to prepare a mock five-minute briefing for the CIA director in an actual elevator. The students who participated in this briefing said while it was unexpected, it tested important skills.
During a CIA recruitment event Wednesday on campus, more than 20 students participated in the simulation to gain a better understanding of the work of CIA analysts. The main task for CIA analysts is to study and evaluate security information in context and report their assessments to U.S. policymakers.
The CIA’s regional recruiters hold about six of these simulation events per semester to educate college students about the CIA analyst job. Simulations also took place at USC and California State University, Monterey Bay among other universities this month.
Chris, a CIA analytic recruiter who does not give out his last name for security reasons, said a typical problem that intelligence analysts face is they often do not have all the information they need.
While CIA workers are not always shrouded in the secrecy portrayed in films, Francis K., the regional CIA recruiter for the West Coast, said there is a level of discretion necessary when working in the CIA.
“We say don’t lie (about your job), but don’t advertise,” Francis said. “Unless you’re undercover, it’s okay for your close friends and family to know you work for the CIA. However, it’s not something you tell everyone. Some people don’t like us.”
Francis said he only shares his last initial, rather than his full last name, to avoid being tracked by people.
During the simulation event, all participating students were given a fictional scenario in which the United States was faced with a potential security threat. Divided in groups of about five students each, the students had 45 minutes to analyze the information to present a briefing to their assigned “policymaker,” such as the secretary of state or director of central intelligence, who was played by a recruiter.
The recruiters often interrupted students while they were presenting their information, asking questions like “Why didn’t we know about this sooner?” or “So what should we do?”
Both Francis and Chris said these simulations and questions were to help students understand some of the requirements for an analyst, which they said include critical thinking skills, concision and the ability to improvise and work in groups.
“As intelligent as he is, Sheldon Cooper from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ would make a terrible analyst,” Francis said. “He can’t work in a group, and if he did, he would be condescending to all his group members.”
Although there were some long pauses and laughter following questions posed by recruiters during briefings, Chris praised the students for what he called their ability to think on their feet.
After the event, Merima Tricic, a third-year world arts and cultures, political science and study of religion student, said she was fascinated by the kinds of questions that analysts are expected to answer.
“It was terrifying but great. I was expecting more of an information session, but this was different,” Tricic said. “I’m interested in counterterrorism and kicking (the Islamic State group’s) butt, so this was a great experience.”