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Humans of CIA video still
Via YouTube/Central Intelligence Agency

The CIA’s latest ‘woke washing’ recruitment ad stars a gay agency librarian

Yet again, the intelligence agency’s awkward attempts to win over new recruits have sparked bipartisan backlash

Last week, the CIA unveiled the latest advert in its ongoing “woke” recruitment campaign, Humans of CIA. Posted to the intelligence agency’s YouTube channel (where the ratio of likes to dislikes tells a pretty clear story), the video revolves around an unnamed agency librarian, who says he was “stunned” by its inclusivity.

“Growing up gay in a small Southern town, I was lucky to have a wonderful and accepting family,” the employee says, over slow motion shots of him leafing through books in the library. “I always struggled with the idea that I might not be able to talk about my personal life at work.” 

“Imagine my surprise when I was taking my oath at CIA and I noticed a rainbow on then-Director (John) Brennan’s lanyard,” he continues. “I remember being stunned.”

The ad follows a similarly heavy-handed video posted in March, which caused bipartisan outrage and hilarity for its depiction of a “cisgender millennial” intelligence officer, who refuses to “internalise misguided patriarchal ideas of what a woman can or should be” (by joining the CIA).

Of course, the videos have prompted reactions from the right and left for very different reasons. On Fox News, a former CIA operations officer turned political strategist, Bryan Dean Wright, called the first ad “propagandist garbage”, while the left have roundly mocked the use of woke terminology to promote an institution accused of torture, drug tafficking, and engineering coups.

Following the new ad focused on the LGBTQ+ angle, people have also pointed to the US government’s history of dismissing homosexual employees en masse — during the so-called Lavender Scare — and, elsewhere, suggested that the whole Humans of CIA series has a distinct Black Mirror vibe going on.

Earlier this year, the CIA also unveiled a diversity-led rebrand that looked less government agency and more monthly minimal techno night at Printworks (view some of the best memes here). Though Kanye West and Grimes collaborator Ryder Ripps claimed responsibility, the CIA subsequently distanced itself, saying: “this individual had absolutely nothing to do with our website redesign.”

Responding to backlash against its latest recruitment videos, the agency has also told Fox News that, actually, they’ve proven effective at attracting fresh candidates. “2020 was a standout recruitment year for CIA despite the pandemic,” it says. “Our 2021 incoming class is the third-largest in a decade.” Great news.