The following AP article, published in BYU’s Daily Universe back in 1981, addresses the idea that Mormon missionaries are also CIA operatives. While there is no confirmation of this common assumption, the CIA’s heavy Utah recruiting efforts are confirmed, just as the character John Sorenson describes in the political thriller By A Thread.
SALT LAKE CITY – Traveling in pairs, clad in distinctive white shirts and ties and wearing their hair close-cropped, young LDS missionaries abroad are being mistaken for CIA officers.
“I was accused of bring CIA,” said Floyd Rose, a former missionary in Spain who is now a student at church-owned Brigham Young University. “We were different than most Americans and some of the people really believed it.” He said he was asked about the CIA as least once every two weeks.
“People were always asking us if we were CIA,” agreed Mike McQuain, another BYU student who did his missionary work in France. “People would ask us at doors and yell ‘CIA’ at us as we went by.”
Jeff Turley said the CIA label was a standing joke among missionaries in Peru. For laughs, he said, some of them would tease the Peruvians by whipping off a shoe and speaking into it, or do the same with a buzzing digital watch.
The LDS Church, which has more than 30,000 missionaries worldwide, denies any connection with the CIA. But the confusion is understandable — the CIA does some of its successful recruiting in predominantly LDS Utah.
This summer, the CIA conducted an experimental radio advertising campaign in Utah. Charles Jackson, the CIA’s chief recruiting officer, said “well over 100 applicants responded to the radio spots.”
Jackson said the agency is looking for potential overseas case officers, intelligence analysts, scientists and computer specialists, the latter two categories difficult to recruit because of competition from industry.
“Utah is one of our good sources,” said Denver CIA recruiter Jack Hansen, now in Provo to recruit at BYU, whose student newspaper – The Daily Universe — is currently running CIA job advertisements.
“A lot of people here have language or foreign culture experience,” he said. “That’s what we look for.
Many young LDS men spend two years proselyting for the church. Those sent to foreign missions return with foreign language ability and knowledge of specific countries. BYU records indicate that about 6,700 people in its 26,000 – member student body are former missionaries.
“We’ve never had any trouble placing anyone who has applied to the CIA,” said Dr. Gary Williams, head of the BYU Asian studies department. “Every year, they take almost anybody who applies.”
Former LDS missionaries have the three qualities the CIA wants: foreign language ability, training in a foreign culture and former residence in a foreign country, Williams said.
In addition, Williams said, “our Mormon culture has always been more supportive of the government than American culture as a whole.”