In a quiet brick office park just beyond the gourmet grocery stores and high-end salons that mark McLean's business district, David Tittle spends his days scoping out the best-of-the-best intelligence experts and code breakers.

Demand for people schooled in the fine art of extracting and analyzing sensitive information has never been greater, said Tittle, a headhunter who co-founded the Paul-Tittle Search Group 30 years ago.

When asked if he recruits spies, Tittle answered vaguely, saying it really depends how you define the term. He acknowledged that his clients have included the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Furthermore the vast majority of Tittle's customers are government contractors in the intelligence business.

But he said the intelligence game has changed significantly over the years and so has the type of expertise the government needs. In the old days, "there were good guys and bad guys," said Tittle, his way of describing the emphasis on having human intelligence experts (aka spies) on the ground talking to people, developing sources around the world.

But today, "if you look at the billions of dollars being spent on intelligence, most of that is on electronic elements," that is, better and faster technology, and on people who can design or use that technology and analyze the data collected, he said.

"The vast majority of the intelligence community are analysts," Tittle said. Thus the biggest demand coming from his clients is for technology experts who can build and manage databases or design programs to analyze mass amounts of information -- not for James Bond.

"These people are changing the way warfare works," he said.

How the government finds qualified workers to perform closely held and critical tasks has come under fire in recent weeks, with the revelation that civilians employed by Arlington-based CACI International Inc. were hired as interrogators in Iraq. That fact didn't surprise Tittle, because he said the intelligence community is now "largely defined as the contractors" who are willing to fill any role the government wants them to fill.

Tittle got hooked on this shadowy world as a self-described Army brat who immersed himself in spy novels as his family moved around the country. His first job after graduating from Duke University was with the National Security Agency, a position he accepted without first asking for a job description. Tittle stayed with the NSA for three years and learned cryptology, or code-breaking, before going back to graduate school. He later did a stint with Army intelligence and then started his headhunting firm in 1974 with Paul Allen, an executive recruiter with General Electric Co.

Paul-Tittle's focus over the past three decades closely reflected the evolution of the Washington region's technology sector. As government contractors sprung up around the Beltway, Paul-Tittle acted as a pipeline for executives who wanted to move back and forth between public and private sector jobs.

Then Paul-Tittle followed the dot-com boom that hit the region. It invested in a start-up, Career Rewards Inc., which operated out of Paul-Tittle's offices. The company paid people for job candidate referrals. That venture failed.

But Sept. 11, 2001, sparked renewed interest in the intelligence world of Tittle's earlier life. Government contractors, desperate to find qualified workers with security clearances to do military and homeland security related work, have fueled the growth of a cottage industry of headhunters like Tittle.

"Four years ago, having a clearance in the [information technology] world was meaningless because nobody wanted to work in the government," said John Capozzi, founder of Crossroads Consulting, a District firm that also specializes in defense contractor staffing. The market has done a complete turnaround, Capozzi said, because contractors continued to hire while telecommunications, dot-coms and other commercial firms handed out pink slips.

The demand has also given rise to Internet sites like ClearanceJobs.com and IntelligenceCareers.com that act as matchmakers for government contractors and job seekers. (CACI's efforts to recruit interrogators brought it to IntelligenceCareers.com, where it now advertises opportunities for "Interrogators, Linguists, Military Planners" and promises applicants "career advancement opportunities and an active role in America's future."

When Tittle wants to fill a classified job, he first reaches out to his network of friends and associates in the intelligence world. He tries to find out which of his client's competitors currently employs the best person for the job. Once that person is located, he launches a series of e-mails and phone calls, offering tantalizing salaries.

He said the big salaries lure many. But others are drawn to the job that most appeals to their patriotism, he said. "When I first out of college, it was the Kennedy administration. There was a strong sense of patriotism, going to work for the government was the thing to do," Tittle recalled. He says that feeling has somewhat returned, with some job candidates telling him that "more important than the money is the opportunity to make a difference."

Meanwhile Tittle thinks the next big push will be for fewer techies and more James Bonds. "You can only get so much from technology," Tittle said with a smile.

Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every other Thursday. Her e-mail address is mccarthye@washpost.com