Dad’s Interview with the CIA (1962)

The CIA recently tweeted the story about a woman who worked overseas for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA, during World War II. She described an interview process in which she wasn’t told anything about what her job would be. “They fingerprinted me and told me not to speak about anything, although I didn’t know anything anyway.”

Dad was interviewed by an old OSS man too and his interview was even stranger.

He didn’t tell many stories about his work but he loved this one. He always started by saying, “Those were dangerous times. The Soviets wanted to take over the world and I thought the days of the U.S. were numbered. I really did.”

He was working in the San Antonio city manager’s office at the time but his heart wasn’t in it, so he bought a ticket and flew to D.C. He lined up interviews with the FBI and the Peace Corp and then landed one with a mysterious man inside an old army barrack.

“This guy who looked like a stern prep school dean sitting behind a desk. There was a bright bird on a perch in the corner. Can’t remember if it was a parrot or a toucan. He started out with questions. Where did I go to college? What was my major? Things like that. Every time he asked something he threw a seed. That bird caught everything too. Curve balls, ground balls, line drives.

At the end of it, the old OSS guy said he couldn’t tell dad much about the job.

“The guy said he couldn’t tell me where I’d work or what I’d do or anything. He said, ‘After what I’ve just said, why the hell do you want to join the Agency?’ I told the guy, ‘I have no idea. You haven’t told me a thing.’ He must have liked what I said because he said, ‘Good answer!’ Two weeks later they sent me a letter and that was it.”

Every time I think of this story, it’s like I’m discovering a different of Dad than the one I remember. When I was growing up, he seemed so sure, focused. But twenty-something-Dad was different. He was undecided and open. Joining the CIA hadn’t been a calculated act after all. More like a giant leap of faith. He accepted a job with an agency he knew virtually nothing about. It seems amazing to me that the decision that determined so much of his life and shaped so much of mine was the result of happenstance – a random interview with a guy and a bird.

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