On a relatively normal Thursday night, a hooded figure donning a tattered black cloak stood atop a crate outside a building at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With hands ominously spread outwards on both his sides, the dark-clothed figure had a sign slung around his neck reading “Abu Ghraib.”
At his side knelt a second figure, hands bound behind his back, with a dark hood over his head and face, he wore a sign tied around his neck that read “Guantanamo.”
Those walking down the hallways of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on April 9, 2009 may have witnessed this strange, disturbing spectacle, which was the most powerfully visual representation of student sentiment regarding CIA recruitment on the Illinois campus.
In its third annual protest against CIA recruitment efforts on campus, a small group of students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were in fact successful in shutting down a scheduled CIA recruitment meeting.
Around the country the Central Intelligence Agency’s recent recruitment efforts on both UC and non-UC campuses have been met with passionate resistance by on-campus student groups. By bringing to light its recently controversial interrogation practices in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as educating people about a history of political assassinations and sabotage, these students are seeking to discredit the agency and discourage potential recruits from their campuses from joining.
The protest activity at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one instance of nationwide anti-recruitment efforts.
Student members of the school’s Campus Antiwar Network, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and the International Socialist Organization organized a response to a CIA recruitment presentation, setting up two students outside the recruitment session room to look like prisoners from the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay torture pictures.
These two figures were the first thing potential recruits would see as they walked into the recruitment session.
Other students handed out information about the CIA’s practices, and challenged their fellow students to look deeper than just what the recruiters would show them.
According to the International Red Cross, the student protesters hoped to show the potential recruits the CIA’s history of using interrogation techniques which “constituted torture” and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
In a letter to the editor published in the university publication, The Daily Illini, one student protestor explained the cause behind this resistance.
“The reason why we oppose the CIA from recruiting on college campuses is because they fool their applicants, and do not offer the information we did about their abhorrent practices.”
Regarding the recruiters of the program, another student protestor wrote about how, “These are the representatives of an agency which — in our collective name tortured people and committed war crimes.”
Despite vehement protests against CIA attempts to advertise on campus, some students see the agency as a legitimate and reliable employer in tough economic times.
The Agency has caught on to this fact, and according to a Los Angeles Times article from March 2009, “the Central Intelligence Agency is using marketing classes at the University of Southern California (USC) and elsewhere to create public recruitment campaigns on college campuses.”
It states that “a well-paid, secure government job, even one touched by controversy, may appeal to soon-to-be college graduates who might never have considered a spy career in better economic times.” Many students see the starting salaries of $50,000 to $90,000 as highly lucrative, especially as graduating seniors.
According to the article, students in USC’s marketing classes have been assigned to come up with campaign slogans that would appeal to fellow students, and would highlight the CIA’s strong points in an economically unstable time. The class settled on a slogan stating “Discover the CIA. Be Part of Something Bigger.”
Though USC is the first Southern California campus to host CIA recruitment, according to the Times, other schools like UC Berkeley, San Jose State and University of Pittsburgh have also introduced similar programs.
With these other college campuses following suit, the question that remains is if the University of California, Irvine were to do the same, how would we as a campus take it? Would the fears of economic instability overcome our indignation over the recruitment of such a historically controversial agency? Would the lure of a high salary quiet our qualms over the often-underhanded methods of the CIA? Though the issues posed are hypothetical for now, we must ask ourselves, at the end of the day, which one would win out?
OWAIS AHMAD is a second year Biological Science major at the University of California, Irvine.