May 5, 2018 – On Monday, April 9, students filled the Rhea County room to hear a lecture organized by the Bryan Center for International Development (CID). The featured speaker, a former CIA officer, spent her life serving the secretive organization. Due to the sensitive nature of her work, we are unable to include her name and photo.
Following the presentation, students expressed a sense of confusion and had difficulty reconciling such a sweet woman with their vision of a CIA officer. But that is what the students saw. A short, sweet woman who, even though she spent her life serving the CIA, did not conform to what the students suspected her to be: cold and distant. Such a situation speaks to a broader issue: the distrust between the public and the CIA.
Part of the distrust springs from a misunderstanding of what the CIA does. But, put simply, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) collects intelligence, whether openly or covertly. Collecting methods vary. After collecting, analysts siphon through the information, discerning what is true and false. The CIA will also “work on fostering relations at our host country at every opportunity,” the former CIA officer said.
“It does make us sad that we are misunderstood or maybe not appreciated, but it doesn’t affect how we do our work because the work is really important.”
Another aspect of the distrust springs from what the public can know. “The public is not allowed to hear about our successes because all of them are classified information,” she said. “Occasionally, the failures become headlines because of course they become big news when something bad happens.” The public does not hear about any of the successes but only hears of the failures.
This distrust also results from the public viewing the CIA as the government. “Most people don’t trust government. They view the CIA as government. And we’re really not. We don’t govern anything.” As a part of the Executive Branch, the CIA does work for the government, but she explained, they are not the government.
“There are a lot of flaws with [the US government],” she said. “But I love my country with a passion. I would give my life for my country in a heartbeat if I thought it would amount to anything worthwhile.” Most of the CIA and definitely her colleagues, felt that way, she said. “We were doing God’s work. We always joked about that. We are doing God’s work because we are keeping our country safe.”
This love for her country seeps out of her at Independence Day celebrations. American Embassies celebrate the Fourth of July by hosting huge events, and at these events, she said, “I always got teary-eyed when we began with the National Anthem.”
Not only did she and her colleagues have a love for country, but they had a sense of humor, she explained. One day, she was walking by the logs office in headquarters and looking to her left, she saw Mr. Tenet, her boss. He was having a bad day, she said. He had been testifying on the Hill. “He looked haggard.” So, he decided to check out the logs department, only to find it was run by younger people. When he walked in, they froze. And he joked saying, “Is there any adult supervision here?”
Another time, she was given complete access to every cable that oversaw Russia. She went to her bosses’ office, and leaning against the door, she said, “By the time I get to my car, I’ll have forgotten everything.” And so, they responded, she said, by saying, “That’s why we chose you.”
Responding to this notion that CIA are cold and distant, almost robots, she said, “They are humans. I worked with humans only. You have to have a sense of humor because life can get you down.”
When she was stationed in Tel-Aviv, Israel during the initial Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was bombing them. To handle the stress, she would bake cakes. Then the next day, she would give them to her colleagues.
Another aspect of the distrust comes from many drawing a comparison between the CIA and the KGB, Russia’s security agency. “The CIA does not operate in the same way as the KGB,” she said. “We don’t poison people. We don’t kill people. We don’t do that kind of thing.” And even though both are security agencies, “The CIA cannot be compared to the KGB.”
At its founding in 1954, the KGB “quickly assumed responsibility for arresting, imprisoning, and executing ‘enemies of the state.’” The Bolshevik government wielded the KGB to be “sword and shield of the Communist Party.”
The CIA, however, was founded in 1947 by the National Security Act under Harry S. Truman’s administration. In the early days of the CIA, the former CIA officer said, many worked without a paycheck because they were already wealthy and wanted to serve their country. Legend has it that the heir of the Campbell Soup company served with the CIA. He supposedly never cashed any of his checks, she said.
What students saw in the Rhea County room was not what many of them assumed they would see, but instead, the students saw a cheery, humorous, woman who spent her life serving the CIA.
Written by Nathan Ecarma ’19, Christian studies: bible option, journalism minor
Edited by Britney Wyatt, director of marketing