The CIA is on the prowl for a few good spies, and one of its apparent targets is Portland.
In 2004, President Bush issued a mandate that the intelligence agency increase its clandestine workforce by 50 percent over the next seven years. (The CIA won't disclose the total, saying the information is classified.)
Blame the inept intel that couldn't sniff Saddam's supposed WMDs for the recruitment drive, or the fact that hijackers planned—and executed—the most horrific act on American soil right under the noses of the CIA and FBI.
In his memorandum to the director of Central Intelligence, Bush said the reason behind the full-court press was "to meet the intelligence challenges presented by international terrorism."
And so a CIA operative, name of Lance Romney (he says), showed up recently in Portland to find some recruits.
Romney spoke at an April 29 event sponsored by the World Affairs Council's Young Professionals program. So why would he come to a decidedly leftist mecca of antiwar and government protesting to recruit?
"I don't know why they sent me to Portland," Romney said while nursing a complimentary Fat Tire in the Black Helterline law offices on the 19th floor of Fox Tower.
He then quickly added, "I'm not a CIA recruiter, but are you interested in joining?" (Adding to Romney's Man of Mystery aura: He later handed out his business card with a CIA logo and the inscription: Lance Romney, Recruiter.)
"Convince me," I said.
Romney, who told the group that he sought to "demystify the CIA," never really did tell me or the other 31 attendees the answer to my question—or any others.
"I can't tell you about any of the methods and tactics employed by the CIA," Romney said, before adding, "It's fascinating work, like what you see in James Bond films."
He did go on to tell us about exploding cigars and revolving license plates, throwing in tales of spying and stealing secrets abroad while on various assignments. He told us that the average mission lasts 18 months to three years, and that most operatives spend "practically their whole lives overseas."
But doing what, exactly?
To prevent hostile enemies overseas from terrorizing the United States, he said.
"The CIA does not conduct sabotage," he said. "We secretly undermine hostile organizations, which basically means we conduct sabotage."
Confused? I certainly was. And things didn't get any clearer when Romney summed up the job description as a group of "white-collared spies who engage in a lot of adventurous and exotic stuff."
(Speaking of exotic, when a female attendee asked whether women go undercover as strippers, Romney responded, "There are no stripper covers. But if you feel qualified, stick around and I'll talk to you.")
At the end of the hour and a half event, about 10 of the 32 people gave their contact information to event organizer Reno Tibke.
My name was not among them. Why?
Because after what Romney had described to be an "informational event," I still had no idea what I'd be signing up for.