PARIS -- On June 6, the Central Intelligence Agency joined the social media platform Twitter with its first tweet: "We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet." Presumably this is an attempt by the agency to develop its "brand." Here's why this is a really bad idea:
-- The CIA doesn't need a brand. If anything, the agency is supposed to be all about discretion and secretiveness, meaning that it should be defined solely by its conspicuous absence. In fact, if the CIA ever wanted to run a TV ad, it should consist of 30 seconds of silence and a black screen. People would be left scratching their heads, unsure about who would even pay for such a thing, let alone what the objective was. And that would be the whole idea.
-- The CIA doesn't need to be funny. It's understandable that a government agency would be compelled to humanize itself. Oh, wait ... no it's not. It's a government agency. No doubt there are funny guys who work there -- guys who would do really well in front of a packed house on amateur stand-up comedy night. One of those guys might actually be the best bet for manning the social media feed and cracking jokes on a daily basis. But could he convey the seriousness and discretion reflected in the CIA's mission? And in light of the fact that the agency receives billions of taxpayer dollars every year, could a guy cracking jokes convey "fiscal black hole" seriousness? No. Taxpayers don't want a $14 billion comedy routine when they can buy one on iTunes for 10 bucks.
-- The CIA doesn't need to advertise. Thanks to Hollywood spy films, much of the general public is under the impression that CIA personnel spend their time creeping around the Kremlin in disguise, dodging bomb blasts and killing people with their bare hands, rather than (more realistically) warming ergonomic chairs in embassies, lamenting an expanding waistline from the cocktail circuit, trying to convince locals to manipulate their friends in exchange for cash, and filling out paperwork about all of this. The myths are as good as it gets. Best to stop there.