What types of mental training exercises do CIA officers receive?
CIA officers, the Directorate of Operations and the spy element of the agency receive what is called trade craft training. This is a several months long course that we do at the farm where a complete alternative reality is created. You are taught specifically how to spot people who might be potential recruits and how to assess their personality to determine whether or not they might be a good foreign spy. Also, how to seek out their weaknesses to see what the weaknesses they have are, that you can prey upon in order to convince them to spy on behalf of the United States. It's several months long courses in how to become a manipulative person if you weren't beforehand, and how to use those skills to hire foreigners to give secrets to the United States.
How are mental training exercises conducted?
One of the things that the CIA instructors try to do at the farm is to put as much pressure as humanly possible on the trainees. We all hated it at that time, but we came to appreciate that later. It's almost like being hazed for a fraternity or sorority. They try to ensure that you have as little sleep as possible, that you're working 24/7. The reasoning behind this is that the agency wants to see what you can handle when you are state side and what you can handle when training, because this will be an indication of what you can handle when you're overseas. An example is, during our paramilitary training, they made a fake prison camp situation where we weren't tortured, but we were really put under a tremendous deal of stress. The point of that was to see who would break and who wouldn't break. It was a gruelling exercise and an emotionally exhausting exercise, but afterwards we all felt good about it because we were able to see what it would actually be like when we were overseas and captured, and asked to defend our cover story.
What types of trainees fail during the mental training exercises at the CIA farm?
One of the things that will get you booted from the agency's training program immediately -- and it's kind of ironic -- is lying. From the get-go, they tell you your job is to lie, cheat, and steal, and when you're caught, to deny everything. But those rules apply only once you're in the field and if you're caught by a foreign intelligence service or a foreign police force. While you're actually going through training, you should never lie to your instructors, particularly with regard to monetary issues. As trainees, we were given budgets and allowed to spend money, and if you were not forthright about how you were spending your money, you would immediately get booted from the program. The other thing that will end the career of a trainee very early is if you're not able to detect surveillance. That is, if you're not able to tell if somebody is following you when you're driving or walking around. A lot of the training is devoted to surveillance detection because if you are in a foreign country and you can't tell that you're being surveilled, you're going to blow not only your cover, but the cover of your foreign agent, and for the foreign agent, that could have very grave consequences. So that's the one aspect of the training that they're really not willing to negotiate on. You have to be able to detect surveillance.
How do the mental training exercises help in the field?
The mental training exercises help in that they prepare you for almost any situation that you might encounter in the field. Typical example of one of the most adrenaline producing events as a CIA spy is when you actually pitch a foreigner and ask him or her to come work for you. Where you say "Look I work for the CIA, I want you to work for us. I am going to pay you a salary and you are going to give me secrets." The agency wants you to be prepared for the possibility that that person might freak out and report you to the police. Hopefully they do not try to do you any bodily harm, but there is that possibility. One of the things we did in practice was to pitch an instructor. In one case where I was pitching an instructor he got up and turned the table over and started yelling at me that he had no idea that I actually worked for the CIA. He was never going to come work for me. It was kind of upsetting at the time because I had thought that during our whole training process I was working in the right direction. I realized later that he was just preparing me for the possibility of that happening in real life. I found it beneficial later when I was actually recruiting foreign agents. To guard against that. To always make sure that before I pitched someone, I was pretty sure that he or she was going to say yes and he or she wasn't going to freak out.