Friday, November 27, 2020

SHHHHHH!

By Monte Lazarus 

(The story you are about to read is true. Names and some dates are redacted in the interest of national security….) 

Fall 1956. I was fresh out of the United States Army, and my Sainted Mother was complaining to the kitchen clock, stove and refrigerator that I did not yet have a job – or was even looking. Actually I was looking, but there wasn’t much for a lawyer whose experience was court martial work and army stuff.

I visited my old dean at law school and he suggested that I go down to Washington where lawyers always seemed to be in demand. That sounded good, so I used my mustering out pay to buy two sincere suits – much to my Mother’s horror. “The boy has no money, but he’s buying new suits!” It was useless to explain that I didn’t think I should be interviewed wearing my uniform; I had no other suits.

I used the remainder of my meager funds to take the train to Washington where I dutifully made my rounds of the alphabet agencies. I had some spare time between interviews, so I looked in the phone book, and there it was – the CIA! It was then located on (DELETED) Street near the (DELETED) Memorial. I knew something about the Agency because of my service in (DELETED). So I went up to the CIA building and introduced myself to a kindly receptionist. She looked at me quizzically, and asked what I wanted. “A job”, I replied. She asked, “Are you a walk-in?” Considering that I had just walked in I said “yes”. “Just a moment”, she said and retreated to a room somewhere in the back.

A few minutes passed, and then a man emerged. He said, “Follow me”. So far, so good. We went into a small office, and he said that he understood I had walked in and was seeking a job. I confirmed his quick perception. He then asked (and this is gospel truth), “How did you find us”? Naively, I said, “I looked in the phone book”. “WHAT, WE’RE IN THE PHONE BOOK?” he bellowed. “Yes”, I replied timidly.

From that first encounter, there followed a series of very interesting experiences. I was questioned about my background, interests, abilities, if any, and my family history. I took a comprehensive physical exam. I met in a small, plain room with a desk and two chairs, where a psychiatrist and I stared at each other for about half an hour. Then I was instructed to take a written exam at (DELETED) University. The exam was held in a gigantic auditorium. There were about six people taking exams. We were spread around the room, nearly out of sight of one another. We each had a proctor monitoring our behavior, and we were forbidden to approach the other exam-takers.

I do not remember all the subjects on the exam, but do recall that it lasted almost an entire day. I do dimly remember another follow-up interview explaining that if I were to be offered a job I would be expected to (DELETED).

Following that interview I was offered an excellent job in the General Counsel’s Office at the Civil Aeronautics Board, and accepted the job primarily to keep Mother from complaining to the clock, stove and refrigerator. Things started out well at the Board, and I wound up sharing a very large two-bedroom apartment in the Maryland suburbs with a very smart lawyer who had just begun working for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

One evening as we came back to the apartment after toiling for the public good, we found a yellow envelope under our door. It was something we don’t see anymore – a telegram. It was addressed to me. I opened it. There was no indication who sent it. The telegram simply said, “If you are still interested in us please call the following telephone number (DELETED)”. My apartment mate and I puzzled over it until it hit me. “It must be the CIA!” My friend asked what I was going to do, and I told him I was going to call, of course.

I called, and was told to come to (DELETED) near the (DELETED) Monument, and to identify myself. I followed the instructions carefully. When I appeared I was given a very impressive ID card on a chain, and asked to wait. Pretty soon a very executive looking guy came out, introduced himself and asked me to follow him. My memory is that his office was somewhat larger than the other CIA offices I had visited, and that I might have reached the Big Leagues. He began by reviewing all the aspects of my application, including the initial interview, the shrink, the physical, the written exam and (I think) the follow-up interview.

He concluded, “You’re just the kind of guy we want”, and followed up with why that was so. He asked whether I was still interested. I said yes. We shook hands warmly and I turned to leave. “Oh, there’s just one thing”, he said. “You have to be cleared further up by (DELETED). Your mother was born behind the Iron Curtain”. I said, “She came to the United States when she was four, and I have no living relatives outside the United States. It’s all in my application.” He replied, “We know that. But, if you don’t hear from us again, you’ll know why.”

I did not hear from them again.

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