Flick through a highbrow global magazine at the moment and you may spot the advert offering the 'ultimate international career'. 'Do you have it what it takes?' it asks. Beneath, in finer print, it reads: 'CIA directorate of operations - clandestine service.' The CIA, the world's most powerful espionage network, has launched its biggest recruitment drive in a decade in a campaign geared to hiring more minorities, including Asians. Generally, the agency shuns attention, even inside the United States, but competition for top graduates from a booming private sector is causing fresh problems for the organisation and fuelling the most public of efforts. Despite a mythical image of white men in grey suits and trench coats scuttling about its headquarters at Langley, Virginia, outside Washington, the CIA insists it has been trying for some time to spread diversity but still has some way to go. Unofficial statistics suggest that currently an estimated 11 per cent of about 1,000 operational case officers are either black, Hispanic or Asian. Ideally, the agency would like at least 18 per cent across the board. The latest drive is geared to spreading diversity both among desk-bound analysts at headquarters as well as operations officers abroad, a reflection of the host of new challenges in the post-Cold War era. Operations staff run foreign agents but often need to have a street-level ability to blend in. 'We do want to be more representative of the US population, but also people from different backgrounds can offer a whole different perspective or understanding,' CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said. 'Operationally, it can obviously be a great advantage.' Whereas once operations officers had to be able to work the diplomatic cocktail circuit across European capitals as the Cold War simmered, the CIA is occupying itself with new threats to prove its worth at the centre of US foreign policy. Terrorism, drug trafficking and weapons proliferation are new threats in the Middle East and Asia, the agency claims, and countries including China, Burma and North Korea are fresh targets. Candidates must be full US citizens, but being first-generation or foreign-born is no problem, it insists, saying the ability to blend into foreign climes is vital. Solid educational qualifications and language abilities, including dialects, are valuable assets. It takes people from a wide variety of careers and academic backgrounds. Engineers, lawyers and political and computer scientists are all needed. Others come from the military and police. Applicants face an extensive series of interviews on character and experience as well background checks - more so for operations work. Lie-detector tests are also mandatory, and any successful candidate can expect to face them regularly through their career. The checks screen an applicant's loyalty towards the US as well as other personal elements. 'Personal motivation can be a factor,' said Ms Guilsher when asked if some applicants could be a little too gung-ho. 'We are not looking for people to carry out coups . . . we are here to collect foreign intelligence and to provide the President with an additional foreign policy asset. We don't want anyone going off and doing something beyond our mandate.' As part of the drive, Ms Guilsher said the CIA was ready to dispel any fears that being foreign-born or of a different ethnic group could be a disadvantage in a long-term career in the agency. Some young Asian-Americans question whether they will have a future in sensitive US government departments following the detention of federal nuclear researcher Lee Wen-ho. Taiwan-born Lee is to face trial this year for improper handling of weapons secrets during more than two decades in working in Department of Energy laboratories. One former senior officer acknowledged that in the 1960s the agency used to fear that agents posted to countries where they had family roots could find themselves under extra threat and surveillance. Experience showed, however, that they could still function in ways other officers could not, and they were now vital. 'We have a competitive advantage . . . it is one of our strengths being a nation of nations,' Jack Downing, the only officer to be station chief in both Beijing and Moscow, told the Washington Post recently. 'Whether it is the Near East or Africa, Latin America or Asia, to have people who have the language and look the part and have that cultural feel, even if it's second generation, is a terrific operational advantage. We have used it on many occasions. We just need more.'