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Sex and the CIA
Spies aren't apt to be philanderers---even if there are plenty of both at the Agency.
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A former colleague from Istanbul has written an intriguing piece for the New Republic called “Spy Sex: Inside the Randy Culture of the CIA.” Reuel Marc Gerecht, who served with the Agency in Turkey and France before finding a more satisfying perch targeting Iran at the American Enterprise Institute, makes the claim that as CIA officers are “bottom feeders” and basically accomplished liars, the most successful officers will inevitably have both the inclination and the ability to exploit those skills in the form of extramarital relationships. And he is not alone in his belief that CIA officers are particularly prone to deviousness. A former CIA Chief in Rome used to say that his best officers possessed the lack of moral restraint and deceitfulness of a used-car salesmen.

To support his case, Gerecht cites the example of a married former instructor at The Farm, the CIA training center in Virginia, who used to flaunt his conquests of female students on his officer door in notes written in Gothic calligraphy, including one that claimed that “a cock has no shame.” He might have also mentioned that there is a venerable tradition of promiscuity at CIA. Its first civilian director, Allen Dulles, had “at least a hundred affairs” including while serving as Director of Central Intelligence.

I even know the instructor Gerecht refers to—a colleague when I was teaching at The Farm, and later we served together in Spain. He was not regarded as particularly effective by his peers either at the training center or in the station. Everyone used to joke about his non-stop libido and pity his long-suffering wife, though one suspects he would have been little different if he had been in any other profession where there are a number of younger women available who are ambitious enough to dally with an aging mentor. In other words, his philandering was the constant that defined him, not how he made a living.

But Gerecht’s account got me thinking about the CIA clandestine services culture, which has certainly changed dramatically since 9/11 but which used to be as difficult for an outsider to penetrate and comprehend as a group like Opus Dei. Indeed, Opus Dei is a good measuring stick, as some CIA officers, in their more lucid moments, saw themselves as holy warriors defending the United States against evildoers. A former Chief of the Counter-Terrorism Center used to describe it as “doing God’s work.”

Gerecht is correct that infidelity at CIA was regarded fairly lightly except by the spouses who were on the receiving end. He is also right to note that the argument generally made against having affairs, that it would make someone vulnerable to blackmail, in practice was never an issue. That is because having affairs in the overseas diplomatic community was so common that it was barely worth a mention. The Soviet overseas missions were particularly prone to musical beds, and to approach a KGB officer and seek his cooperation based on his peccadilloes would undoubtedly have produced gales of laughter. CIA stations in places like Vienna would sometimes dangle prostitutes in front of Eastern European diplomats in so-called “honeypot” operations. A good time was had by all, but no one of any significance was ever recruited.

But Gerecht greatly exaggerates the prevalence of infidelity in the Clandestine Service. I contacted some alte kameraden from places I served in, and we all agreed that most stations and larger bases generally had one spectacular philanderer and a few wannabes, but that there was little actual playing around. And for those who would argue that the transgressions were secret, enabled by CIA tradecraft, I would note that the lack of any opprobrium meant that those who philandered were fairly open about it. In Rome, the most active womanizer was the admin officer, who had nothing to do with the operations side. He used to boast that when he met a new woman who was too unattractive to contemplate as a conquest he would immediately lower his standards.

During my time in Hamburg, the philanderer was the chief of base, a woman, admittedly single at the time, who reportedly had worked her way through the married senior officers of European Division at headquarters to obtain her assignment. In Turkey it was a secretary who was assiduously trying out every Turk in the consulate motor pool, and a first-tour female officer who once invited the Chinese Consul General to a party at her house and met him at the door in a bikini. Both were single. As Gerecht would no doubt attest, the two most senior officers in Istanbul during our tenure in that city were respectively a dim bulb who would have had trouble unzipping his trousers, let alone having an affair, and a burned-out WASP who was so laid back that he had trouble finding his coffee cup in the morning.

Real spies, the agents who collect information and pass it on, are not notably promiscuous. CIA officer Aldrich Ames, FBI agent Robert Hanssen, and U.S. Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, all of whom spied against the U.S., were, if anything, sexually repressed. Among the case officers who run the agents there has always been a lot of salacious talk, not unlike in a college fraternity, but relatively little hanky panky, possibly due in part to the fact that so many officers were Catholic and already carrying a full boatload of guilt from catechism class and the confessional. An obvious source of potential philandering, sleeping with one’s foreign agent in a safehouse, only rarely provided an easily exploitable opportunity to cavort in secret because nearly all agents overseas are men, as are most case officers. Women case officers in most instances are sensible enough to realize that turning the relationship with a male agent into a sexual romp would be very dangerous indeed, both in terms of personal security and one’s career.

Gerecht fears that the Petraeus affair will change the moral climate at CIA, making it even more straitlaced and risk averse, taking the fire out of the loins, metaphorically speaking, of its case officer corps. He writes, “we should all want the typical philanderer to serve in the Clandestine Service, free from the fear of reprisal.” But fear of reprisal in a system that traditionally has had zero accountability just might instill a bit of caution and result in fewer blunders like the January 2010 double-agent bombing at Khost Base in Afghanistan, which killed seven CIA officers.

Apart from the sexual aspect, Gerecht also correctly notes that the Agency has changed in the past ten years for the worse, with fewer characters and eccentrics who are capable of thinking and acting outside the box and many more officers who have become timid because of the increasing burden of rules and regulations regarding conduct. I too had noted in my last years in Langley, around about the time of 9/11, that an increasing number of MBAs and folks with law degrees were joining the ranks and there were fewer case officers who could translate The Dream of the Rood or read Sanskrit.

Gerecht concludes somewhat lamely that CIA’s leaders should not “equate fidelity to a spouse with fidelity to a nation.” That is the point precisely. The two issues are not related, just as infidelity to a spouse does not make one a more effective CIA case officer. Gerecht might well have also considered looking at alcohol consumption, which has traditionally been even more prevalent as a defining characteristic of CIA officers than libidinous behavior has been. When the CIA set up its Station in Kabul at the Ariana Hotel shortly after the fall of the Taliban, one of its first moves was to reestablish the hotel bar. Surely drinking a lot makes one more inclined to behave audaciously and take risks, as it deadens one’s normal sense of restraint. But it does not make one a better spy—quite the contrary.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: CIA 
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  1. not having any experience as a CIA employee abroad or in Langley; it would be silly to comment on any possible culture of infidelity which ‘can neither be confirmed, nor denied’. that said; I have worked in four person small business offices, Fortune 500 corporate headquarters, and any number of bars, country clubs, and high schools; and I think it is safe to assume that martial infidelity and sexual misconduct is a common thread that unites just about every workplace – heck, history tells us it’s not uncommon at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave and Capitol Hill. I suppose the Mata Hari and James Bond narratives enhance the salacious angle, but at the end of the day; homosapiens (especially those in positions of power) have never demonstrated any proclivity for monogamy.

  2. Just to think, that was my first choice after my Master’s Degree.

  3. “…and remember. If you are caught in the bed of a Russian prostitute, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.”

    There’s a very good reason Tom Cruise was an excellent choice for the Mission: Impossible films…

  4. Why am I not surprised. Actually the betrayal of spouses is indicative of a wider infidelity, that to general principle. So easy to assassinate, launch coups etc. Those with genuine ideals need not apply, they’ll end up like Bradley Manning (even though, obviously, he wasn’t CIA, but rather a military intelligence analyst.)

    If there’s no loyalty to family, then there’s not much left than personal careerism. Ross Perot was right.

  5. spite says:

    I don’t know what the author is trying to prove with this lame article (this is not 1950 something anymore), perhaps to paint the maverick CIA spy as some kind of likable James Bond character. What more people would probably would like to know from this author, is what kind of conversations he has with his colleagues that are involved in stuff like foreign assassinations, torture, meddling in elections and other such unpleasant activities.

  6. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "Andrew"] says:

    Tom Cruise was an excellent choice for the Mission: Impossible films…

    I don’t think mentioning of this (Mission Impossible) so called “spy movie”, even with sarcasm, is appropriate in any thread related to a professional intelligence service. Tom Cruise, on the other hand, is as good of a “spy” as he is the “F-14 pilot”. Just joking;-)

  7. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Clearly, we should sack the lot of them. What an amoral, useless, hack-strewn money pit the CIA is and has been from its inception.

    “…around about the time of 9/11…there were fewer case officers who could translate The Dream of the Rood or read Sanskrit.”


  8. This is old news…old news. How old is it???

    Moses comes down from the mountain. He tells the Israelites, “I have some good news and I have some bad news”. The Israelites have been wandering in the wilderness, lousy food, no water, scorpions. “Give us the good news, we need good news” they say.

    “Well, I got him down to just 10 commandments”, says Moses. The Israelites respond “Ten, just ten! We can do 10, that’s good that’s grea… uh, what’s the bad news”.

    Moses looked at the Israelites and said “He wouldn’t buldge on adultry”.

    The joke is old also.

  9. Thos. says:

    “Surely drinking a lot makes one more inclined to behave audaciously and take risks, as it deadens one’s normal sense of restraint. But it does not make one a better spy—quite the contrary.”

    In fact alcoholism is strongly correlated with treachery, at least among those traitors we tend to catch or tumble.

    Philby was theatrically dipso, ditto the other Cambridge spies. Pollard was a drunk and a doper, as was Boyce, Ames a drunk … the list is very long. Hanssen is interesting as an exception, but the stats on traitors generally run to something like 80 or 90 percent.

  10. After reading the article and subsequent posts on the matter


    I a bit too prudish for the likes of the CIA

  11. m says:

    Departmentalizing morality, I think this is a cause for rot to set in…it need not be present at the time in one area; however in time untreated it will devour all. Moral rightness is the best policy period. Our nation deserves people who have a high sense of moral rightness; to evolve upwards it is mandatory.

  12. kristin says:

    “…seek his cooperation based on his peccadilloes would undoubtedly have produced gales of laughter” C’mon, we all know blackmail isn’t used for mere “peccadilloes” anymore. It’s the old lure to the coke ‘n’ underage child in the dark rooms party, photos and/or video used as evidence to ensure cooperation that ensure NO gales of laughter shall ensue.

  13. I would think it would be an asset for an intelligence agent to be able to seduce information out of a government official. The Christine Keeler affair comes to mind.

    On the other hand I would never hire someone who can be bribed. This must be why Putin put many of his former KGB colleagues in charge of sensitive industries.

  14. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I disagree with this article because most CIA people are conservative. They are quite shy and keep their distance. I know this First Hand. In the old days of Ground Floor and Old Guard CIA there was No Need to bother with Prostitutes. They were shielded from such because to be tempted by an out sider is to risk Intelligence Information falling into the wrong hands So the CIA like the military back then, had it’s secret ways of boosting CIA morale. In this Morale booster organization it was a close knit community of people who were bonded together. It was sort of like being a part of a primitive tribe.

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