Around the County

Recruiting for Uncle Sam

By Pat Stuart
Posted 9/16/21

Once it was relatively easy to recruit people to spy on their own governments ... if, that is, you were recruiting for Uncle Sam. 

The most persuasive argument went like this:

“You …

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Around the County

Recruiting for Uncle Sam


Once it was relatively easy to recruit people to spy on their own governments ... if, that is, you were recruiting for Uncle Sam. 

The most persuasive argument went like this:

“You know that the policymakers in Washington will be making decisions that will affect your country for generations in the future. Don’t you want to be sure that they’re basing their decisions on solid information? Unfortunately, your own government is divided (or quibbling or whatever they were) on how much they’ll tell us. You have a chance to set that right and do your country and the world a hugely valuable service.”

That was when we were Big Brother and generally believed to be on the side of the angels. We didn’t always make the right decisions — think Vietnam — but no one doubted that our hearts were in the right place. Even when the CBS or BBC or France 1 news said the contrary (as with the civil rights protests and riots or poverty levels or voter manipulations) it only strengthened sympathy for us.

The fact that we struggled made being like us seem more attainable, because everyone wanted to be like us. Most also strongly wished to be our friends ... best friends. We stood for all the right things: human rights, democracy, prosperity, innovation, equality and on through a litany of positives. We were also the world’s protector. That’s what we said, anyway.

It helped that the world had more or less divided into two camps: the Soviet Union and America. Like it or not, countries were lumped into one faction or the other, and that included China and the handful of other authoritarian regimes. But as a general rule? Almost everyone wanted to be like us. From presidents to villagers, we were the model, the ideal.

We were the good guys.

And, yes, I’m oversimplifying history. Still, you get the idea.

Now, I’m so very happy I’m not out recruiting for Uncle Sam and thankful that my one child didn’t follow me into the CIA. Not that it wouldn’t have been an honorable career, not that the agency doesn’t do great work — it still does.

It’s the dynamics that have changed. We have lost the simplicity of knowing for an absolute certainty that, no matter how flawed our government and our system, it was the best one possible. More, we felt ourselves part of a whole that was always striving to become better and make “the world a better place.” Universal peace. Universal prosperity. Universal freedom.

How naïve. How blessed. How so not like now. 

Nothing is simple about our current situation. Little is particularly clear, either, except at least for a few things. We are no longer seen as the bastion of democracy. We are no longer the ideal that other countries strive to emulate. Our status as the number one country in the world in human metrics like life expectancy, educational accomplishments, innovation and just about everything else is gone. 

Worse, perhaps, we’ve lost the respect of not just friendly governments but have become something of a joke to those who once feared us. As part of this, their heads of state are the ones our former president called “my friends ... my best friends.”

Thanks in large part, too, to the machinations of these “friends,” our young people still go off to risk their lives in what seem to be an endless parade of mini-hot wars with little purpose and poorly drawn objectives. 

They do it because they love their country, among other reasons. They do it because they’re Americans and that still means a great deal to them as it does to you and me.

It would be easy to become discouraged by the troubles that surround us — by the coronavirus pandemic, the civil rights struggles, the impacts of global warming, the lack of leadership and abrogation of responsibility by Congress and the government in general. It would be easy. 

It’s harder to reach deep and see that there is every chance that these trials along with our loss of status and power might be blessings in disguise. Change, when we were on top, was almost impossible, even though our leaders knew we needed it on so many levels. 

“Why be the one to rock the boat?” was a Washington mantra.

Now? Change is possible and change is what we need to, once more, make being an American great. And, incidentally, for CIA officers to recruit people to spy for us.