The CIA hit up SXSW this year—to recruit tech workers

On Monday, the intelligence agency stopped by the annual tech and culture festival to pitch attendees on spycraft collaborations.
Building in Austin, Texas, displaying SXSW logo with people outside
The CIA is apparently mingling at SXSW to try courting potential tech industry partners. Deposit Photos

The annual South by Southwest festival is currently in full-swing down in Austin, Texas, showcasing this year’s trendiest films, music, comedy, and cutting-edge tech. Much of what dominates the coming year’s buzzworthy headlines often gets a springtime boost from SXSW coverage, such as last year’s Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, which drew rave reviews at SXSW and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture on Sunday. And at least one government department is trying to capitalize on the cultural caché—the Central Intelligence Agency.

On Monday, the CIA hosted a one-hour presentation, entitled “Spies Supercharged,” from a downtown Austin Hilton conference room—an “open call” for those working within areas like quantum computing, biotech, semiconductor research, and wireless communications. The CIA purportedly wants tech’s brightest minds to consider future collaborations with the covert intel agency, according to Bloomberg Business, who also noted around 500 people were in attendance.

[Related: A CIA spy plane crashed outside Area 51 a half-century ago. This explorer found it.]

“In a world of ubiquitous surveillance, artificial intelligence, sophisticated disinformation campaigns, and data streams that double in size every two years, how will intelligence agencies respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by emerging technologies and the ever-changing digital ecosystems we will live within?” reads the event’s official description on SXSW’s panel schedule.

“Supercharged spies are exactly what you want, and what you deserve,” CIA deputy director David Cohen said early in the presentation, reiterating that the agency is deeply concerned about threats posed by AI advancements in surveillance and communications that could potentially compromise agents and assets in the field. “To defeat that ubiquitous technology, if you have any good ideas, we’d be happy to hear about them afterwards,” Cohen added.

Although it’s currently unclear if any deals were struck immediately following the “Spies Supercharged” pitch meeting, the CIA has a number of job openings posted to its website, including Telecommunications Services Officer, Digital Forensics Engineer, and Cyber Security Researcher.

Calling the tech sector “one of the great engines” of the US economy, Cohen argued that an increasing amount of resources would need to be dedicated to ensuring economic stability in the face of meddling from foreign adversaries.

[Related: The CIA’s bold kidnapping of a Soviet spacecraft.]

The presentation comes at a tricky time for tech—last week, the dramatic collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, previously the primary financial institution for tech culture’s venture capitalist backers and startups, sent shockwaves through the economy. SVB was essentially rendered insolvent after depositors attempted to withdraw $42 billion following market indications of bank turmoil, and critics have since argued such chaos doesn’t exactly speak to Silicon Valley leaders’ business acumen or long-term strategy.

SXSW is set to conclude the fun on March 19, following upcoming events like Apple Original Films Presents: The Tetris Experience and the Mike’s Hard Lemonade Lounge.