John Leo

A similar pattern holds at the CIA. The agency was created after World War II almost wholly by elites who felt the strong pull of patriotism and national service. Most of the network that founded the agency came from Yale. The elites of the next generation felt differently. In recent years, the CIA has recruited heavily among top collegians, but has had much more success at Big Ten and Big 12 schools than at places like Harvard, Yale or Stanford.

Even before the end of the Cold War, the elites came to see the CIA as a grubby cloak-and-dagger operation unworthy of a high-minded nation. And though they were reluctant to work for the CIA, they didn't leave it alone, either. One result of their meddling was that the CIA was effectively banned from recruiting unsavory characters to penetrate terrorist cells. That rule has been repealed. The penetration no longer has to be accomplished solely by choirboys, but we still don't know how much damage the old ban inflicted.

Another result of elite thinking is that the agency, like the rest of government, became a playground for race-and-gender social engineering. A CIA official recently complained to The New Yorker magazine that the agency was too caught up in making "diversity quilts."

The distancing of the elites from the people who protect us shows up in a lot of odd ways. Look at all the journalism about the 300 firemen and policemen who lost their lives trying to save others at the World Trade Center. The praise was sincere, but much of it seemed drenched in astonishment, as if it had never occurred to the writers that these men might be worthy of great respect for what they do, that maybe they aren't just a collection of Archie Bunkers who can't seem to get jobs in major corporations.

America does not like to think of itself in terms of social classes, but there are elites, and these elites sometime seem to be holding themselves aloof from the work of defending the nation at time of great peril. The first step should be to shed the old Vietnam-era hostility toward the armed forces and security personnel in general. The next step is to respond to the call.

There are some good signs. A CIA spokesman said the agency was getting 500 to 600 resumes a week from college students around the country before the Sept. 11 attacks, and is now getting 10 times that number. At some colleges, there were even long lines waiting to see CIA recruiters. It's a welcome echo of the line of enlistees from Yale on Dec. 8, 1941.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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