In her own words: Jami Miscik's path to the CIA


A lot of people wonder what drew Jami Miscik, the fastest-rising woman in the history of the CIA, to the spy agency. Here's her story, in her own words:

When I was an undergraduate at Pepperdine University, in Malibu, California, I volunteered to tutor in a maximum security prison for juvenile offenders. These are the guys whose crimes would have landed them in Folsom or San Quentin. But because they were juveniles, they wound up at a place in the Santa Monica Mountains benignly called Camp David Gonzales.

Anyway, long story short, I became the "cool" tutor because in teaching long division to my 16-year-old charge (who was in for participating in his second drive-by shooting and who had been shot himself), I asked him where he wanted to "go" on a hypothetical trip. "Las Vegas," he said. We went through what kind of car he wanted to drive there. How fast he wanted to go. And then we did the math problem: How long would it take him to get there, dividing miles by speed. We did the same for gambling at the tables, and so on.

Over the next few weeks, the kid started to open up and tell me about himself and about his gang activities. One day, I asked him how he decided which gang to join: Was it based on where he lived, where he went to school, or what? He floored me when he said, "Oh, I just joined the one my mother was in."

I remember thinking that he probably grew up 15 miles away from where I did, in Redondo Beach, and what incredibly different experiences and influences we had. I extrapolated that into what differences there must be in the world, based on our different experiences. And I became intrigued with the need to understand other cultures before you can ever begin to understand international issues. A few years later, after I got my Masters degree at the University of Denver's School of International Studies, I ditched the idea of a New York banking career to join the CIA. I stayed 22 years. Now that I'm at Lehman Brothers, I realize that I have invaluable international perspective. How strange that it started with a wayward kid in the Santa Monica Mountains.

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