Finally, Zumba Classes for Latter-Day Jason Bournes

Government agencies can take a long time to get things done. Last March, after more than twenty years of petitioning—and getting the approval of four congressional committees—the Central Intelligence Agency got a new gym, as part of the swish Langley Field House at its Virginia campus. The agency’s mildewy basement exercise rooms had long pitted the C.I.A. against the F.B.I., whose gleaming workout facility is where President Barack Obama played basketball. “C.I.A. could get bin Laden,” an official once told the Wall Street Journal, “but it couldn’t get a gym.”

A few months after the gym opened, the agency announced the appointment of its first “chief wellbeing officer,” Dr. Jennifer Posa. Well-being, an agency press release said, had become “a key priority . . . especially given the burdens placed on C.I.A.’s workforce” since 9/11 and the pandemic. Recently, Posa took a seat in the lobby of the new field house, to meet with three C.I.A. officers and discuss their wellness goals. Nearby, a “fuel bar” offered Naked juice and Gatorade. (There’s also a Starbucks on campus; no names are scribbled on latte cups.)

“We have an incredibly high-performance workforce,” Posa said, before the meeting. “The person enables the performance of the organization.” She spoke with a trace of a New Jersey accent and wore a white blazer, pearl earrings, and sling-back heels, a Chinese-character tattoo visible on her right ankle. She had just returned from two trips into the field to try to understand how officers might incorporate well-being practices into their environments. “There’s an undercurrent of caring in the halls here,” she said. “We’re here to protect and serve the country—but also each other. Wellness is safeguarding.”

The wellness effort is part of a larger rebrand, designed to court Gen Z hires. For most of its history, the agency has been known as a high-stress environment. William Donovan, the founder of the C.I.A.’s forerunner, once declared, “Intelligence must be global and totalitarian.” The lobby of the agency’s headquarters displays a hundred and thirty-nine stars, representing officers who have died in the field.

These days, the C.I.A. is pitching a friendlier workplace. A new hiring portal has been rolled out, on which citizens can apply to the agency directly. Cinematic recruitment ads now appear on streaming services, featuring chic undercover officers exchanging a USB drive on a staircase. The C.I.A. also has launched an Instagram account (@CIA), will send officers to this year’s South by Southwest festival (panel: “Spies Supercharged”), and has published a Web page called “Love at Langley” (featuring stories of C.I.A. romances).

When the three officers arrived, Posa asked one of them a question: “Are you a regimented person?” Another mentioned his preference for doing Brazilian jujitsu. “Each of you is fully versed in understanding that well-being is a competency,” Posa said. “And there’s a recovery piece—that oscillation after being in a high-stress situation. You need to recover.”

She pointed out schedules of fitness classes, including hip-hop dance, Pilates, and spinning. Electronic screens flashed messages about resilience and suicide prevention, and announcements about nature treks and guided meditation.

“In our directorate, we already do social connectedness,” she said. “We want people to be aligned with their purpose and mission. Every turn they take here should be about achieving mission.”

Cell phones and electronic devices are not allowed inside the Langley compound. “I was nervous about that,” Posa said. “But from a performance perspective there are a lot of benefits—nobody’s distracted, nobody’s looking at their phone under the table.” The ban, she continued, “can help us connect in ways that allow us to be truly present.”

She walked to a basketball court and an indoor track, then to a suite of meeting rooms for nutritionists and health coaches, and a “quiet room” with virtual-reality headsets preloaded with forest and beach walks.

“My own practice includes not just a physical-exercise practice but also a gratitude practice,” she said. “I worked with a resiliency researcher who does a lot of work on gratitude, and gratitude is so effective.” She does “three to five minutes of gratitude before getting out of bed,” she said. “What enables performance in wellness and in life? It’s a competency, like a muscle. When you are stronger and more resilient, you better protect and safeguard our country. I wish I could paint a picture, but it’s more of a feeling.” ♦

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