David Tittle '63

Recruiting for Global Security
Writer: 
January 31, 2007
David Tittle '63

The popular television counterterrorism adventure series 24 stretches things, according to Dave Tittle, an intelligence community insider. "It's really unrealistic," he says. "But it's my favorite show."

Tittle is well acquainted with distinguishing the realistic from the fanciful in the intelligence field. He's worked as an intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency and the Army Security Agency. Today, he helps discover and recruit executive talent for government agencies and federal contractors in the high-tech community, with special emphasis on defense and intelligence.

The post-9/11 expansion of the intelligence and security industry has kept Tittle and his colleagues at Paul-Tittle Search Group in suburban Washington busy pairing people and firms. Many of the needs are for techies, managers, and corporate leaders rather than swashbuckling Jack Bauer-type field agents. (Bauer, Kiefer Sutherland's terrorist-fighting character on 24, is becoming a twenty-first-century James Bond.)

At Duke, Tittle majored in psychology and participated in every psychology experiment he could, even swallowing radioactive iodine as part of a stress test. He says he found the experiments fascinating, plus subjects got paid.

His senior year, he took a complex problem-solving exam from a National Security Agency (NSA) campus recruiter. Designed to predict an individual's ability to break codes and quickly analyze detailed data, the test appealed to Tittle's dual academic interests in psychology and math. He signed on with NSA without knowing much about what he'd be doing (the Cold War-era climate dictated tight lids), became an instructor for new NSA hires, and moved from cryptanalysis to high-level analytical studies and personnel research.

Frustration with sometimes inept government bureaucracy prompted Tittle's move to the private sector. In one instance, he evaluated a Defense Department program for treating classified waste paper. Someone decided that recycling the waste to make cardboard boxes could realize $125,000 per year for the government. Unfortunately, the recycling process did not obliterate the top-secret information, and text from the recycled secret documents was clearly legible on the boxes. Better to work with the federal government than to be in it, he concluded. He co-founded Paul-Tittle in 1974 and currently serves as its president.

Patriotism has fueled much of the current boom in defense and intelligence hiring, Tittle says. He finds that people who have been hired to work in the Office of Homeland Security are willing to accept lower or reduced position level and compensation because they believe strongly in the mission. Their sacrifice resonates with the JFK-era idealism that helped drive his own career choice.

Even though the global landscape has changed dramatically since Tittle began his career, he says that working in the intelligence community continues to offer rewards for the right kind of person. While the pay is not particularly competitive (as with most public-service jobs), and the confidential nature of much of the work requires utmost discretion, Tittle says he would tell Duke students considering this career path to keep an open mind. "The work can be extremely fascinating, highly challenging, and invigorating. Among this community, the level of pride and the commitment to national and global service is extraordinary."