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Nobody's going to prevent you from leaving the agency. Although, if you're a valued employee, they certainly will try to discourage you. One of the tactics the CIA takes is to make you feel like the CIA is your family - which, in some respects, it is. It's almost like the mob. They create this sense that you're part of the family now and that you can never leave. The reality is that you can resign. Nobody has a legal right to keep you within the agency, but they will try to make it difficult for you.
An officer might leave the CIA for a number of reasons. It's incredibly difficult to lead a double life and to sustain that over the course of decades, which is one of the things that you will have to do if you are in the clandestine service and you're going to work for the CIA for the rest of your life. So, if you have a level of discomfort with that, if you don't like lying to your family, your children, your friends, and you don't like leading a double life. This is probably the primary reason that people might leave the clandestine service. I would also say that a lot of people end up leaving the CIA because they join thinking it's going to be this glamorous job at a really glamorous institution, and it ends up being pretty boring. There is a lot of bureaucracy at the CIA, and many people get frustrated with the bureaucracy.
A CIA officer's opportunities after he or she leaves depends on a number of things, one of which is whether or not he's able to say that he worked at the CIA. I had my cover "lifted". That's a term that we use in the CIA, and that means that the CIA allowed me to tell people later that I worked at the CIA. For some people, they don't have that, and they just have a big gap on their resume that's often difficult to explain, which could limit the possibilities for them. I make my living as a freelance writer now, but that's because of my own personal passion for writing and enjoyment of it. A lot of people go into the business world and find that the training that they received at the CIA is very helpful to them in the business world.
The CIA will offer some incentives to make you stay because it's a Government position they usually can't just arbitrarily say “We'll promote you”, or “We'll give you more money”. But usually that is not the motivation for people leaving anyway. What the CIA generally does is to try and give you the impression that you're not going to be able to get a job outside of the CIA - that really, you have such a specific set of skills that they're applicable only to the world of intelligence and specifically at the CIA.
The CIA cannot prohibit an officer from leaving, if he or she wants to. The CIA can certainly prohibit an officer from writing or talking about his work at the CIA. And if you do intend to write about your experience at the CIA, having been a CIA employee, you have to have any information that you write or share about intelligence issues vetted by the Central Intelligence Agency in advance.
Officers leave the CIA more frequently. A lot of people join the CIA expecting one thing, but when they find the reality different they leave in less than a decade, usually within five years of joining. The CIA invest a lot of money in its young officers but it is somehow not able to retain the best, brightest and most effective ones. This is because the officers are frustrated with the overall bureaucracy of the agency, which is a shame.
Sure. The CIA often contacts officers after they've quit and asks them to come back. And I think this happened a great deal after September 11th, when officers who had resigned or left the CIA felt a sudden renewed commitment to the mission or renewed commitment to the agency and went back to work for the CIA again.
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