“I am a woman of color. I am a mom. I am a cisgender millennial, who has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I can wax eloquent on complex legal issues in English while also belting Guayaquil de mis Amores in Spanish.”
Well, this sounds like an interesting individual with a deep, human backstory. I’m open to learning more.
"I am unapologetically me. I want you to be unapologetically you, whoever you are.”
What a wonderful message, very motivational.
“Whether you work at CIA or anywhere else in the world. Command your space. Mija, you are worth it."
Hold on. Did she say the CIA?
No, that wasn’t pulled from the Onion, or a meme, or an episode of South Park. It wasn’t a mistake. It’s just one of a new series of recruitment ads highlighting the diverse, intersectional character of America’s foreign intelligence service. This ad featuring a Latina intelligence officer is just the latest in this series which also includes videos about a gay librarian and blind receptionist.
Ideas and activism that have emerged out of social justice movements, broadly referred to with the umbrella term “woke,” have found a place across areas of American society from schools and universities to workplaces and corporations. Terms like “identity politics,” “intersectionality,” and “political correctness” are also related. However, this recent attempt by the CIA to use “woke” messaging didn’t fool anyone. In fact, it generated much criticism and mockery across the political spectrum.
On the right, FOX News featured former CIA officer Bryan Dean Wright calling it “propagandist garbage” and asking “what happens when you hire a bunch of folks who are woke-sters going out to a world that is not woke?” Indeed, there is a point to Wright’s question that while the “woke” message serves to illustrate American society, using the lens of “wokeness” in the context of a messy world-stage may not be the business of the CIA.
Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that "China & Russia are laughing their asses off watching CIA go full woke" while Breitbart’s John Nolte wrote that this “proves the CIA is hiring and actively looking to recruit the most immodest, narcissistic, grotesquely self-serving people in the world — Woke Millennials.” Conservative voices weighing in on the matter serve to critique the “woke” message and those who propagate it which now includes the CIA. For them, this is further proof that American society has deteriorated down the path of the “woke,” leftist culture and that the once noble vanguards of American security have joined in, especially under the current Biden administration.
On the left, Jeet Heer of The Nation tweeted, “If putatively "woke" language can so easily be co-opted by the CIA, is it really emancipatory? Either time to get new language or pay less attention to language.” The Intercept, a left-leaning publication, insisted that the ideas themselves continue to have merit despite their co-opting by the CIA for self-serving purposes. The article digs further to explain the long history of neoliberal capitalists and state enforcers co-opting messages of liberation and social movements to feed racist, nationalist, and anti-immigrant agendas. Their takeaway, however, remains that the message is still sound and vital as the language of the worldview of the radical left.
The left’s criticism of the CIA’s recruitment campaign targets the CIA as the state enforcers that go around the world torturing, killing, and implementing coups along with the right-wing that, while also critical of the campaign, has traditionally sided with the defense and intelligence wings of the state. While some dismiss criticism of the core philosophy, others have reflected upon the utility of such a message in a world where the CIA can claim that it too is “woke.”
No matter which side of the political spectrum you’re on, overall there is a positive tone to the widespread panning of the CIA over this ad campaign. For decades, the CIA has overthrown foreign governments, supported dangerous militant groups, used torture as a practice of choice, and carried out assassinations, along with countless other unsavory acts with questionable legality and morality.
During the Trump administration, the President was in a constant state of tension with the CIA along with the rest of the American intelligence community. Their “Russia-gate” conspiracy fell apart into silence across the press after two years of investigation, yielding only the vaguest conclusions and no workable evidence. This is after former CIA director John Brennan accused Trump of treason and then walked his statement back later on.
Thus, the CIA lost its luster for conservatives while liberals always had the CIA’s historic record in the back of their minds. The wide criticism of this recruitment ad and the others in the ‘Humans of CIA’ series says more about the CIA’s image than it does about the “woke” themes it is being mocked for.