Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spying 101

One of the biggest industries around these parts is one that we don't talk about much, because it is all so hush-hush. But the National Security Agency has steadily become more visible and more vocal about its place here, and a Sun report raises some interesting questions about the agency's relationship with education.

To wit, we need to do more to prepare students for the sort of jobs (mathematicians, engineers, linguists) the NSA and its myriad contractors require. "NSA, like others, has to make an investment in future workers at ages 4, 5, 8, 10 years," John C. Inglis, the NSA's deputy director told business leaders, according to the Sun.

So is the public school curriculum set up to do that? Should it be geared to do that? Supporters say the kinds of jobs the NSA supports tend to be well-paying and stable, skills easily transferable in this high-tech age to any number of industries. Plus to get an NSA-related job one needs to have a security clearance, and there is no greater demand in the Washington area than people who have security clearances (plus, wouldn't it be an incentive for young people to keep their noses clean?).

Several local universities have established programs in information security, intelligence analysis and such. Inglis, though, suggests that pursuing those careers "doesn't start at 17...It starts at home. It's a culture"


Jessie N said...

In an airport one evening, waiting for a layover, I had a most fascinating conversation with a young gentleman. He worked for "an agency" in the intelligence industry. He was a Mormon.

In our short time together, I learned that (on hearsay from him) that the intelligence industry is able to recruit a high number of employees from young adults who grew up in a Mormon family. Why? They are often bilingual, at a minimum (think missionary work abroad), well educated, holding strong family values, having "clean noses" and are less subject to being blackmailed and such for "immoral" behaviors.

Before you spout in my direction, this is information from a conversation, not quotes from a well-researched and -documented book on the subject. K?

I know generalizations and stereotypes are not politically correct. But my personal experience with the Mormons I've known on a deeper level has always been good. The ones I've known have had a certain resonance and vibe ... a good character and sincerity that I could feel.

So when I had this conversation about the intelligence industry's recruiting tactics among Mormons, I was receptive, as it echoed an experience I already had.

And, I agree with Dan here that perhaps the qualities the intelligence industry seeks start at home, in many cases.

My stand, however, is that in any type of long-range planning, one has to look at generations and their life courses. Tom Barnett is a thinker who is talking about big generational shifts and perspectives, vis-a-vis the intelligence agencies, and such. He has an educated and informative perspective on Millennials, as well.

The Speeker said...

But do we want the NSA training kids for jobs in the intelligence field as young as 6 years old? Its not like the intelligence agencies have a great record for encouraging good citizenship and a healthy, open public sphere.

Shouldn't it be the ENTIRE federal government, as well as our local and state governments that invest vastly more in education?

And not just because we need to train people for employment - we need, as a society - people who learn for its own sake - people who question, are well educated, and who value more beyond their pay scale. So more science students? Yes. More arts students? Also yes. Should the NSA be responsible for supporting our schools? Something worth talking about.