Earlier this week, we were tipped a document stating that an alleged Russian spy was recruiting at a “major” NYC university…perhaps Columbia? Inspired by this McSweeney’s column, our top conspiracy theorist describes the double life of a Columbia student turned secret agent.
You begin preparing for your life in the shadows in the second week of your freshmen year, with a trip to the college career center. They advise you include more action words in your resume. After several more sessions, and your constant reassurance that, no, really, you’re not interested in investment banking, sighing, the assigned counselor finds you a shiny pamphlet: YOUR MISSION IF YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT.
You begin a grueling course load in anticipation of your triple major: Economics, Political Science, and East Asian Languages and Culture. You also plan to finish at least two years of each of the languages recommended by your guidebook: Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hebrew, Spanish, and Russian. (So alright, Russian wasn’t actually recommended, but the geopolitical landscape can shift at any moment and it doesn’t hurt to prepare for world of tomorrow. Besides. Bond beats Bourne any day). You could tell your RA was trying not to laugh when you told him, but he doesn’t know you. You were valedictorian of your class and took mostly APs. You know what you’re getting yourself into.
As for your physical preparation, you are trusting that to your practices with the squash team. Your time as a student athlete, you have already begun to realize, will also help prepare you to handle a grueling schedule, competing demands on your loyalty, and a workload invisible to those around you.
Two years later, coming into your third year, you are proud of yourself. You are well into your Ethnicity and Race Studies major, and think you may even go for the honors thesis, if you can pull your GPA up a bit these next few semesters. You’ve already got your East Asian Languages concentration out of the way, and will be wrapping up Chinese in the Spring. You’ve smoked a little pot and drunk a hell of a lot of cheap vodka. You’ve lived, and you’ve learned. You finally got over Caroline after she dumped you the week before Bacchanal. Whatever. She was crazy.
Most importantly, thanks to one of your friends on the team, this semester you will be joining the most elite of the pre-professional espionage society on campus: the Columbia Leaders In Operations Networking. The Columbia L.I.O.N., like any good pre-esp is a closely guarded secret. With facilities accessible only through a concealed labyrinth located in Dodge, its only public presence is a campus publication, used mostly for money laundering and the occasional message hidden with the wall pin/red string cipher.
After some initiation meetings mostly consisting of forced small talk and even more forced camaraderie, you get to work. (They tell you later that new recruits were going to be kidnapped and taken camping, but then midterms came up, and the leadership was disorganized with the board in a transition year… You understand). You practice case studies ranging from midmarket national takeovers, all the way to the management of multinational shell corporations. You enter, and win, the Wharton, McIntire, and even the famous Iowa State (home of America’s most vicious espionage program) competitions. You hear talks by some of the least famous alumni in the field, and spend nearly an hour and a half speaking with the woman assigned to tail Snowden’s tails. She called you on the standard networking bullshit, and you don’t know, things just clicked.
Seeing who you’re up against however, or rather, failing to see them, drives you into a frenzy. Even as you pursue the typical informational meetings in public parks, parking garages, and backdoor Chinatown gambling dens, you look for anything you can to build your resume.
In the morning your first academic all-nighter of the year, you finally have it. Announcing the plan the next day to your L.I.O.N. cohorts, you are met by snaps of applause. You will launch the most ambitious extracurricular event at Columbia. It will be organized by thirty subcommittees, each with at least two subcommittees of their own, of which at least a third of which you will head. It will be everything extracurricular programming should be: special speakers; panel discussions; networking events; a school wide survey; opportunities to show your leadership skill while still demonstrating the ability to reconcile multiple perspectives, and of course overcome your weakness of letting your talent for noticing small details overwhelm your ability to really see the big picture; and a final report. You will also teach students at an elementary school in Harlem the importance of imperialism and food politics.
Though borderline incoherent in intent or effect, your project is a huge success. You are featured in trade publications across the country, and the alumni magazine calls to do a profile. You walk around campus, for the first time, a known entity.
It is only when you begin receiving the rejections from on-campus interviews that you realize what this means: failure. You don’t want to be known. You want to be unobtrusive. Ignored. Unseen and unheard. You realize that now, you will have to settle for unemployed.
L.I.O.N. crumbles under the weight of its newly minted good reputation. The other members likely find refuge at other organizations, but you are not invited. You are forced to accept a position with Bwog, as their new investigative journalist. You find yourself on assignment trialing PrezBo in an attempt to pinpoint his bowel movements [check here later for the link: PrezBo Poos And You Can Too!].
In desperation, you reach out to a small Russian outfit. You will at least be in the industry. You can call it a boutique! After a favorable interview, you wait to hear back. First a few days, than a few weeks, and then a month and a half. Finally, you see the name of one of your interviewers, revealed in a court case.
How to get recruited by the Russians/tapped by ADP: wear all-black via Shutterstock