Not long after I joined the CIA in 1970, Brenda was also hired on. In the mid-70s her job was secretary to the Chief of Security for the Clandestine Corps.
It was at a time different security clearances were designated on Hqs badges by color letters at different locations around the badge-holders picture, which was centered on the badge.
You were working on a closely held Soviet project, say, you might have a red M in the bottom left corner, or if you were working on a very private matter in Asia, you might have a green K at the 3 o’clock position.
Since I was a new hire with only a couple of overseas tours, I just had the newbie badge with my mug-shot picture and at the bottom, a badge number. No old-sage assortment of security clearances around the outside.
Brenda’s badge on the other hand – because she worked for the Chief of Security – looked like Christmas decorations with a solid ring of colorful letters around her smiling face.
It was embarrassing walking down the halls of Hqs with her. You’d see people approaching doing sort of a passing badge check and then looking up at this person with almost more letters than most anyone in the building. Their eyes always said “Wow!!!” In our insulated work environment, she was a very rich lady.
Now I don’t know what they were looking for in that job she had, but they sure got their money’s worth… She lived and breathed the security mantra of “need to know.” We’d be driving the short distance home after work and she might say something like…. “just the most interesting thing happened with…. Oh I’m so sorry, I can’t discuss that….”
I’d be driving along, trying not to let that bother me, but it did and soon I’d say something harsh like she was my wife, for Christ sake, and what was it that happened. She’d never argue, because she said it took two to argue and she’d not be a part… she just wouldn’t say anything. There were no words I could put together to get her to talk, anything other than I’m just so sorry I started that, but I can’t tell you. I love you and all, and I don’t want this to end our marriage, but I can’t tell you. I’m just stupid for piquing your curiosity. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. But now get into the turn lane.
And after a while it’d blow over. That “need to know” thing had been hammered into us new hires to the point that it was like some statement of basic CIA behavior. So I’d understand, but still…
Anyway after returning from Vietnam in 1975 we were walking down the hall by the credit union going through that uniquely amazing thing in the CIA Hqs building of people in passing, gawking at Brenda’s multi colored-letter badge…. When coming down the hall was Larry R.
I stopped dead. My mouth open.
It was like seeing someone return from the dead.
He had on a staff badge with one or two prominent letters and this enormous smile when we locked eyes.
Who told me personally that he had been kicked out of the Agency almost 5 years before…
We were both recruited into the OSS-like IUJEWEL program and in doing some of the ops training together had become friends.
In college he played point guard for the U of San Francisco basketball team – he was the “top jock” in most any training exercise – but he distinguished himself early for an incident during the mountain climbing phase of escape and evasion training.
He had come in after a grueling, cold day of mountain training, closed his eyes and stuck his face in over the camp fire to warm up. He straighten up and looked around at the other guys, who fell down laughing at his wide white eyes peering at them out of a smoke blackened face, asking, “What? What? What’s so funny?” Larry R. Our own Mr. Blackface.
But Larry liked to laugh and didn’t take offense, ‘cause among other things he could make any of us look silly doing anything that called on some degree of hand-eye coordination.
He had troubles in the ops tradecraft course, especially in the agent recruitment and agent handling phase of training. A major league sweater, his shirt would sometimes be drenched with under-arm sweat before training assignments where he had to meet an instructor playing an agent candidate.
I’d look up at him and say, “Larry, it’s no big deal. Really, you see the guy you want to make contact with, you saddle up beside him, smile, open your mouth and say something about the weather.
That’s all. ‘Nice day, huh?’ That’s all you say. He’ll smile and respond with something – that’s his job, he’s a role player, that’s what he’s paid to do. Talk. He’ll respond, if he understands your question.” I paused… “Either that or take a basketball and start dribbling it like you can. Maybe he’ll notice. Hell, people dribble basketballs at cocktail parties all the time.” Larry would say something like, “You shut up, Pendy.”
That was my training alias, Jim “Pendy.” He was Larry “Rush” I think… something like that.
He was a good writer; I read some of his reports and while they were sometimes lacking in substance, they were always well written. If this was painting, you’d say that’s nice Larry. You did all that coloring within the lines. Good.
Although once I remember his assessment of an instructor/target was that the man was “stupid.” I said, “Larry, Larry, listen to me, you gotta game this a little bit. The person playing the target, he’s going to read your report. And I don’t think he wants to be called “stupid.” Just don’t mention it. He might take it personally, not training related, you know what I mean?”
I think Larry changed the wording from “stupid,” to “dumb.”
We were all sorry when he didn’t attend the little gradation session from the ops course. This told us he had not passed tradecraft training and was being dropped from the Directorate of Operations.
End of the day the CIA is still a US gov’t bureaucracy. You have to be certified to do sly intel ops work. Espionage isn’t for everyone. There were many good people in our class who did not graduate.
I called him from home the first week-end after we finished at the farm. He said he planned to return to the west coast and work with his brother who ran a bar. Good guy. But sure enough, Mr. “What? What? What’s so funny?” Mr. “Blackface” was gone.
Our celebrity athlete, out the door.
But here almost five years later walking down the hall in Hqs was the famous Larry R…. wearing a staffer’s badge.
He explained that not long after he had gone back to California he was called by the office of security and asked if he would consider returning to staff and work a very sensitive operation.
He agreed… the operation had come to an end and he was back in the general CIA population, now a security officer.
(Now due the nature of intelligence work, this may be true, or not so true, or it may be something in between. Larry could have been approached about the “very sensitive operation” while in training and opted for it, rather than continue with general intelligence work. He could have been told to tell his friends that he was out of the agency to cover his tracks… but then again, those sweaty shirts before training meets with instructors… how he hated that type stuff… chances are he did flunk the course and was asked out of the intel collection business… maybe not…)
Of course, standing there in the halls with Brenda, I asked him about the sensitive program. He said if it ever went public, if the CIA ever admitted to doing this thing that he had been a part of, he’d give me some atmospherics. And he smiled, because we were professionals and he knew I’d understand – I didn’t have a “need to know.” He had been good to his word so far and he certainly wasn’t going to compromise security now. So I understood and smiled back. I think I called him a prick anyway.
He knew Brenda and when he came over to our house that next Saturday, he sat in her kitchen and they talked. Larry was a little shy with the ladies but was a sincerely nice guy with a great personality and Brenda wanted to fix him up with one of her girlfriends. A lot of their conversation had to do with dating, marriage and kids. Larry said it was a non-starter because his sweat socks stunk after exercise; he was not good groom material.
“I sweat,” he explained, “and I leave my dirty clothes scattered around my apartment. What woman wants that? My apartment smells like a locker room.”
“Nope,” he said, “I like it this way. Don’t want to change.”
Larry and I ended up that afternoon when he first came over down in the basement watching junk sports on ABC and drinking beer. And that man could watch sport with some authority.
About nightfall I yelled up to Brenda that we were going out for more beer and we left through the sliding glass doors downstairs.
And he brought me back to the house around 4am the next morning.
This was before cell phones. When we left a bar in downtown McLean to go to one in Georgetown, I didn’t call Brenda from the phone in the bar or a pay phone outside and then time just got away from us. I mean it had been a long time since I had seen my buddy. 4am actually slipped up on us.
The next morning, Brenda was not pleased. In fact, she stomped around the house. Said nothing to me that Sunday. Nothing. Nada. Next morning more of the silent treatment. That Monday night she called me into her kitchen and said that she had given this thing with Larry considerable thought and this was her conclusion. I was a weak person. Weak. Clearly dominated by the big, big jock Larry R. She had no idea where we had gone and what we had done until 4am in the morning and she did not want to know. She wanted no part of it. And she wanted no more of Mr. Larry R. He was Persona Non Grata at the Parker home. Never again was he going to come into her home and take advantage of her weak little husband. I was to tell Larry to stay the hell away from Brenda’s house.
And by the end of the week, she was back talking with me and things were OK.
The next Saturday, early afternoon, the doorbell to our house rang. Brenda answered and it was Larry on his knees holding a bouquet of flowers. He kept saying “I am so, so, so, sorry. Please forgive me.”
And of course Brenda did.
Now what follows is a true story. You will find yourself doubting if this really, really happened. It’s true. I promise. Ask Brenda or Larry.
So we ended up back in the basement watching junk sports. And we ran out of beer again about nightfall. So I told my son Joe, who was hanging around, to go upstairs and tell his mother that we were going out for some more beer and we left through the sliding glass door downstairs.
And Larry dropped me off at the house around 6am the next morning… the sun was coming up as I tip toed in.
All my clothes were dumped by the front door and Brenda was behind the locked bedroom door.
So I got the kids — Joe and Mim — and we went to a local International House of Pancakes for breakfast. And in reading the paper I noticed an ad in the classifieds about pinball machines and juke boxes for sale at a guy’s house.
So the kids and I went there, bought a working commercial pinball machine and a working juke box filled with popular 45 rpms and the guy followed me home with the two machines in his truck and helped me moved them into the middle of the living room, where the kids began selecting different oldies on the juke box – played loud – and began the world series championship of pinball.
With all the noise and the yelling, Brenda was drawn out of the bedroom… and she liked to dance… and there were some great be-bop songs playing on the juke box. And she danced with Joe, and then she showed Mim how to move her feet in the Myrtle Beach shuffle and eventually – without all the drama of the previous week – things got back to normal.
Although I had to hang up all my clothes.
Soviet Submarine of the type Glomar Explorer set out to recover
The story of the CIA ultra Top Secret efforts to recover a sunken Soviet sub in the Pacific through a specially fabricated ocean-going platform called the Glomar Explorer, ostensibly financed by Howard Hughes, became public knowledge sometime thereafter and the CIA testified in front of Congress. Larry came up to me in the CIA cafeteria later and said that was his job; he was part of the crew.
I said, “and…”
That when he joined the program the US Navy in the Pacific was goin’ bunkers because the whole Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet had spread out, was just juking and jiving around US space in the Pacific, scouring the ocean… for what? Why?
The US Navy Pacific command asked Washington what to do, and Washington said, well, cool it. They came back with “Cool it? Cool it? The Russian Navy is between Hawaii and California – like the whole frigging Commie Navy is inside the US… and we’re supposed to cool it?”
They did not know that the Soviets had lost one of its most developed, most modern missile-carrying sub… which had sunk due an internal explosion. The CIA knew where it lay, in a hole on the ocean floor… and the Russians didn’t, so they were frantically looking everywhere, including between Hawaii and California…
At a time we were in a fighting war in Vietnam… and the Soviets were acting mighty strange. Why?… Trying to distract us? Sword rattling related to Vietnam? Lot of internal US gov’t angst among those not in the know. This was a major thing, and Washington said “Cool it”?
The CIA wanted that sub. Wanted the code books and a chance to look at the missiles it had on board to see how much of a threat this type Russian sub posed to the US mainland. So the CIA and the Navy in Washington kept the secret… briefing only the very top echelon US Navy people.
When the Russian Navy finally pulled back to Vladivostok – having had no luck in finding their missing sub – they positioned some of their satellites to cover all the US Navy deep dive salvage rigs, plus other commercial boats big enough to go after their sunk sub… so the CIA got the nod to go it alone in recovering the code books, and missiles…
The Glomar Explorer was built in the US northeast ostensibly to Howard Hughes specs was perfect cover… he had the money, the entrepreneur spirit and there was no worry he’d tell the secret, hell he didn’t talk with anyone.
“There were two crews.” Larry R. said. “Most were Cajun shrimpers out of Louisiana. Selected because they were clannish, didn’t talk with the eastern press or keep diaries. That kind of thing. And they were great sailors. Great. I was in one of the crews and not even the CIA engineer operatives and managers on board knew. An ace in the hole like you read about in spy thrillers. Great assignment. Great adventure. I was on The Glomar Explorer crew that recovered the sub.”
“That’s it.” And he had nothing more to say about it.