On August 24, I got an e-mail from the Career Advancement office with “CIA Networking Opportunities” in the subject line. I read the e-mail, and it included a link to RSVP for an information session on campus at the beginning of the quarter. “The CIA is currently seeking undergraduate and graduate students in all fields of study to fill open internship, co-op, and full-time job opportunities for over 100 occupations,” the e-mail read.
I think it’s natural for incoming first-years and returning students to be stressed about future career prospects. When they see a lucrative opportunity to join one of the most well-known government agencies in the world—the CIA, an organization so famous its acronym needs no explanation—why shouldn’t they take it?
I’m here to tell you what Career Advancement and the CIA recruiters won’t: The CIA actively works against the national self-determination of countless countries and commits some of the most brutal human rights violations in modern history.
Take the coup in Iran, for example. In 1953, the CIA orchestrated a coup that resulted in the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh after he threatened to nationalize the oil industry in Iran. The coup resultantly strengthened the monarchical power of then-Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose reign ensured the protection of Western interests. He would go on to dictatorially rule for 26 years. A similar situation unfolded in Guatemala in 1954, when the CIA overthrew the democratically elected Jacobo Árbenz in a coup after he improved the conditions for workers and peasants and threatened the interests of the United Fruit Company. The 36-year-long civil war that would follow killed more than 200,000 civilians. The same thing happened in 1961 when the CIA staged a coup in the Congo to remove democratically elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, escalating the Congo Crisis, which permanently destabilized it through civil wars and genocides, while plundering its natural resources (uranium, cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, and lumber). Many millions died as a result of this intervention against a democratic process. Moreover, in 1961, the CIA trained a counter-revolutionary rebel group to overthrow the popular revolutionary government in Cuba in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Their invasion failed, as did their hundreds of assassination attempts on Fidel Castro’s life.
This pattern of coup after coup and invasion after invasion on the CIA’s part demonstrates an intense violation of the self-determination of people all over the world and a complete disregard for human life.
The CIA trained governments in the use of torture, financed death squads, and enabled countless human rights violations in Brazil under Operation Condor from 1964–85 during the period of military dictatorship, as well as in Uruguay, Indonesia, and most notably in Nicaragua and Chile. After the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, in which the masses led by the FSLN overthrew Anastasio Somoza Debayle and put an end to his family’s 43-year-long rule, the CIA financed the Contras, right-wing paramilitary groups and remnants of the Somoza regime, using funds they gained by selling arms to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. This became known as the Iran-Contra Affair. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans were killed during the Contra War, and more than a million people were killed during the Iran-Iraq War.
The CIA’s involvement in these countless coups and invasions has resulted in a colossal number of casualties and has only threatened democracy abroad under the pretense of protecting U.S. interests. Given the CIA’s track record, UChicago should not in any way endorse the CIA, and that duty extends to UChicago Career Advancement.
In 1970, Chile elected a Marxist president, Salvador Allende, after which former U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to "make the economy scream" in Chile. On September 11 of 1973, Allende was overthrown in a bloody U.S.–backed coup. Augusto Pinochet, the U.S. puppet put in place, ran a military dictatorship for 17 years. Tens of thousands of people were tortured and killed. It’s worth noting that during that time, Pinochet’s economic advisors were the Chicago Boys, a group of economists trained by the University of Chicago’s Department of Economics under Milton Friedman. They used Chile as a playground for neoliberalism and wreaked havoc before exporting it to the rest of the world.
These incidents are all indicative of the CIA’s broader trend of committing gross human rights violations. Given that the University of Chicago already has historic roots in human rights violations abroad (most notably the Chicago Boys), and that in Brazil, the current Minister of Economy of Jair Bolsonaro’s genocidal, ecocidal, right-wing government, Paulo Guedes, is also a “Chicago Boy,” the last thing we need is CIA recruitment on this campus.
Some might object to my call to oppose recruitment by arguing that their job or internship with the CIA doesn’t have anything to do with bloody coups and right-wing paramilitary death squads. To them, I say that while that may be true, the organization they work for certainly does. Careerists like them keep the gears of the imperialist machine well-greased; even working for an organization that commits gross human rights violations, no matter how divorced from those violations your day-to-day work may seem, makes you complicit in the CIA’s atrocities.
Others may say that all that is in the past, that the CIA is no longer in the business of coups and death squads. Besides the crude indifference to a history of violence, the truth is that the CIA is still responsible for human rights abuses to this day. You don’t need to look any further than the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (their euphemism for torture) at black sites all over the world.
We need to stand against CIA recruitment on this campus. No matter how prestigious internships and job opportunities posted by Career Advancement may be, we should always look into the history and track record of organizations before deciding to work for them. We have a responsibility to our community and to the people of the world to respect their national self-determination and to oppose human rights violations committed by our institutions.