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10 things you didn’t know about life in the CIA

Karen Cleveland spent eight years as a CIA analyst, focusing on counterterrorism. Her debut novel, Need to Know, takes us inside a world of secrets and spies, merging the political and the personal to produce a roller coaster of a thriller. Here, Karen shares her insights into life in the CIA.

1. CIA employees like their coffee. A lot! There’s a Dunkin Donuts at Langley, and a Starbucks, too. Rumor has it the Starbucks is one of the busiest in the country. But it’s not your average Starbucks… the baristas don’t ask for anyone’s name.

2. Not everyone is undercover. There are a lot of “overt” employees who are allowed to tell people where they work – but usually try not to. Makes for some awkward dinner party conversations…

3. The day starts early at Langley. Many people are at their desks by seven. Perhaps that helps explain the affinity for coffee!

4. The work setting isn’t always ideal. A lot of people at Langley work in windowless vaults, some of which are underground. Sometimes you need to ascend a few floors and walk down a few hallways just to catch a glimpse of the sun.

5. If CIA employees write about anything that touches on intelligence, they have to get it vetted by the CIA Publications Review Board. For the rest of their lives.

6. There’s a museum at Langley, full of fascinating items. Unfortunately, very few people get to see it!

7. The application process is gruelling. It includes thorough background investigations, polygraphs, medical exams, psych exams, etc. It can take a year or more for someone to be fully cleared.

8. A lot of employees meet their spouses at work. Agency couples are common. And if someone wants to marry a non-Agency employee, they’re required to obtain approval.

9. It’s a great place to work. The retention rate is high. And life is never dull – there are always opportunities to try new things and learn new skills.

10. CIA employees take their jobs incredibly seriously. They shoulder a lot of responsibility, and it’s something no one there ever forgets.

Need to Know

Karen Cleveland

Karen Cleveland, author of Keep Him Close
Karen Cleveland, author of Keep Him Close
Karen Cleveland

Karen Cleveland spent eight years as a CIA analyst, focusing on counterterrorism and working briefly on rotation to the FBI. She has master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin and Harvard University. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and two young sons.

Follow Karen on Twitter.


    I spent 30 years with the CIA and now write mysteries and thrillers. Karen’s list was a fun (and accurate) blast from the past! Can’t wait to check out her book.

    Just finished this today a cliffhanger and such a good read it was hard to put down. hope there will be a sequel

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