The CIA and the Dark Side of Personality

If the CIA were a person, who would it be?

If such a thing as a “spook” exists, he would live within the National Clandestine Service, which handles the CIA’s covert/overseas operations.

The CIA tests the mettle of its case officers using a large arsenal of tools, one of which is a psychographic profile nicknamed “The Dark Side of Personality.” Research pioneered by Dr. Robert Hogan indicated that a person’s personality may be strikingly different under normal conditions versus periods of high stress. Essentially, personality consists of both a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Under normal situation, the personality of Dr. Jekyll is what we see. However, under extreme pressure, Mr. Hyde – the so-called Dark Side – emerges.

In the best of cases, the Dark Side of personality is simply a more extreme version of the everyday personality. Under stress, we would like to see someone with a take-charge personality take charge even more. However, in some cases the Dr. Jekyll may have a take-charge personality, while the stressed-out Mr. Hyde is indecisive. Such failures of personality are unacceptable when stakes are high.

Therefore, the CIA seeks two things in probing the Dark Side:

  1. A consistent personality. The Dark Side expresses itself as a more exaggerated form of the everyday personality. There must not be a “snap” – in which a stressful situation causes a sudden and unexpected change in an agent
  2. More interestingly, nearly all case officers have a personality characterized by caution above all else. In its positive form, it is skepticism (and avoiding dumb mistakes). In its negative form, it results in indecisiveness and resistance to change.

As an interesting side-note, the typical McKinsey consultant is classified as “Imaginative” – which, according to Dr. Hogan, leads to a dark side of “erratic decision-making and impractical ideas.”

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