THE BOOK OF HONOR -- EPILOGUE
FROM AROUND the nation they came, arriving at CIA headquarters shortly before 11:00 A.M. -- mostly widows, fatherless sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, dressed in the somber colors of grief and remembrance. Some cradled flowers, others photographs of long-departed loved ones. What they had in common was that their losses were now represented with a star on the Wall of Honor. It was May 14, 1998, a cloudless and sticky-hot Thursday. This was the Agency's twelfth annual memorial service to its own.
Family members had been told not to bring cameras or recording devices. There would be no reporters, no foreign dignitaries, no curious outsiders. Indeed, if the Agency had its way, no one beyond Langley's 258-acre compound would ever know such a convocation had taken place. No one was to speak of it afterward. A year later a warning was added to the program: "Due to cover considerations, we ask that no details of this ceremony be discussed outside of this building."
The invitations had gone out six weeks earlier in plain envelopes, sent by the CIA's Office of Protocol. Family members were met at the entrance and led to the rows of folding chairs that had been set up in front of the Wall of Honor inside the cavernous marble lobby. Already Agency staffers had begun to congregate in the upper lobby. They would have to stand -- a token of honor due those assembled below.
Among the earliest to arrive was the family of John Merriman. His name appears in the Book of Honor beside the year 1964. It was Merriman whose plane was shot down in the Congo and whose injuries went untreated for days while he waited for the Agency to rescue him from a remote air base. To this day his death certificate records that he died in a car crash in Puerto Rico.
On this morning his widow, Val, carried an arrangement of pink lilies, white and lavender delphiniums, and three large mums. In her other hand she clutched a photo of her husband dressed smartly in a commercial pilot's uniform.
Sons Jon and Bruce, now adults, stopped in the men's room to wash up. A man with a trumpet wandered in and practiced playing "Taps," his instrument muted with a cap. When they left the bathroom, they noticed the clock on the wall said 3:45. They wondered if it was broken or perhaps it was the time in Moscow or Beijing. Then the Merriman brothers took their seats some eight rows back.
Soon after, Michael Maloney's widow, Adrienne, and sons Michael and Craig arrived and quietly took their places in the second row of the middle section. Michael Maloney had died in a chopper crash in Laos in October 1965. For thirty-two years his death was marked by an anonymous star. His widow had asked that his name be inscribed in the Book of Honor, but her requests always seemed to get lost in the bureaucracy. Now she had come from Connecticut to at last hear his name read aloud, a final tribute to Michael Maloney and a final act of emancipation from the secrecy that had smothered them all.
But the CIA's secrecy often defied explanation. There was no such lifting of the veil on the identity of the man who sat beside Michael Maloney on that fateful helicopter mission in Laos. For yet another year Mike Deuel's name was to remain in the limbo that befalls most nameless stars. Not until 1999 was it added to the book. Dick Holm, one of Deuel's closest friends and Agency colleagues, and the man who later married his widow, attended the ceremony in remembrance of Deuel. It was Holm who was himself disfigured in a fiery plane crash in the Congo but whose scars now seemed to melt away after a moment's conversation. He had gone on to a distinguished CIA career clouded at the last by a bungled covert operation in Paris.
Not far off sat Janet Weininger. She was seven when her father, Thomas "Pete" Ray, and three other Alabama Air National Guardsmen lost their lives in the fiasco known as the Bay of Pigs in 1961. For thirty-six years she had waited for the Agency to acknowledge that her father and the others had flown for the CIA and to publicly pay homage to their sacrifice. For decades the government lied and dismissed them as mercenaries. Now at last, the Agency was about to speak the truth, to recognize that he and the others had died in service to country and to the Agency in particular. She and her children had come from Miami just to hear her father's name read aloud.
Sitting close to the podium was Page Hart Boteler, sister-in-law of Bill Boteler, the handsome twenty-six-year-old covert operative killed by a pipe bomb in a cafe in Nicosia in 1956. Odd memories flooded her mind -- the four wisdom teeth he had pulled, his jazzy little sports car, a last dinner together. Now he was one of the named stars, though like so many others, his name would mean nothing to those who daily passed by the wall.
Page Boteler introduced herself to a young woman who sat behind her. The woman said her last name was Bennett and that she was two years old when she lost her father. William E. Bennett had been a thirty-six-year-old covert operative working under cover as a political officer in Vietnam. He was reported killed on January 7, 1975, in an explosion at his home in Tuy Hoa on the central coast.
Many family members either could not make it to the ceremony or did not receive invitations. Sylvia Doner, sister of Larry Freedman, who was killed by a land mine in Somalia in 1992, spent that morning at her office desk. Antoinette Lewis, mother of James Lewis, who died in the 1983 bombing of the Beirut embassy, was at home in San Diego, having her morning coffee and toast. On son Jimmy's birthday and on the anniversary of his death, she has the priest read Mass for him and his wife, Monique, who died with him in the blast. Nor was anyone at the ceremony to represent the family of Richard Spicer, a nameless star killed on October 19, 1984, in a plane crash in El Salvador while on a covert mission. It was said at the time that he died in a car crash in Florida. Few were fooled.
Buford Robbins, a Denver butcher, had hoped to live long enough to have daughter Barbara's name inscribed in the Book of Honor, replacing the nameless star that tormented him. The twenty- one-year-old CIA secretary had been killed in the 1965 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Three weeks before this memorial service, on April 22, 1998, he died of liver cancer. "I wish I had an answer," his widow, Ruth, would say. "It sounded like they were still trying to protect someone or something. I didn't know how to interpret it. If they have a good reason, I guess it's something we will never find out."
At precisely 11:30 the memorial service began. As Director Central Intelligence George Tenet took his seat, many in the audience sensed that the air-conditioning had finally come on. An African American woman, Keesha Gibbons, moved slowly to the front of the room and sang a gospel song, "Beams of Heaven." A soprano, she sang a cappella and the power of her voice brought all whispers to a halt. Then Jack G. Downing, deputy director for operations and overseer of the clandestine service, introduced Director Tenet.
This was not a day that Tenet looked forward to. An emotional man, he knew it would be hard to get through the service. Some of those in the Book of Honor behind him were much more than mere names to him. Four of the stars, two named and two nameless, had been lost on his watch.
"We stand together before this sacred wall of stars," he began, "united in fellowship as we remember our fallen colleagues. This silent constellation is the most eloquent testament we can give to CIA's half century of devoted service to the nation.
"We will never forget that each one of these stars also symbolizes a family's loss -- the irreparable loss of a parent, a husband, a wife, a brother, a sister, a child, a grandparent.
"Each star, too, represents the loss of a friend, a colleague, a mentor."
While he spoke, an Agency camera mounted on a tripod was recording the event. It focused not on Tenet, but on a woman dressed in pink who was using her hands to capture Tenet's words in sign language for the deaf.
Then Tenet spoke of those singled out for honor this day. He mentioned a young man, an Arabist named Matt, who sported a roguish mustache, detested filling out travel vouchers, and was once arrested for driving the wrong way down a one-way street. There would be no last name offered. His identity was still cloaked in secrecy.
But the Matt of whom he spoke was no secret to the family of Matthew Gannon who sat arrayed before Tenet -- eight brothers and sisters, his mother and father, his widow, Susan, and his daughter Julie. It was Matthew Gannon who had lost his life in the bombing of Pan Am 103. Tenet nearly choked on his prepared remarks as he read that Matt's young widow, Susan, had insisted that he open his Christmas presents before he left for Beirut.
With the Gannons sat Tom and Kay Twetten. It was hard for them to hear about Matt, the polite young case officer who had married their daughter. Tom had come from his quiet home in the far north of Vermont to be here in this place where, only a few years before, he had overseen all covert operations.
Among the Gannon brothers was Richard, who had himself survived the bombing of the Beirut embassy. He sat next to a small woman leaning on a cane. They introduced themselves to each other. "Hello," she said softly, "I'm Christina Welch and my husband was Richard Welch." Her husband, the CIA station chief in Athens, had been ambushed outside their home in 1975.
Tenet completed his remarks about "Matt," then spoke of the newest star on the wall. It belonged to a Japanese American named Chiyoki "Chick" Ikeda, killed in the explosion of Northwest Airlines flight 710 on March 17, 1960, over Indiana. A few hours after the plane took off an anonymous caller claimed a bomb was on board. Ikeda, one of sixty-three fatalities, was listed simply as a civilian employee of the army. Tenet noted that Ikeda had been a veteran of the OSS, but he would say nothing of his work with the CIA, even thirty-eight years later.
"The work Chick did building strategic liaison relationships for the Agency," he said solemnly, "must still remain unspoken, for it continues to yield valuable dividends today."
What Tenet did not say was that on the day Ikeda was killed he was escorting a prominent Japanese visitor named Masami Nakamura, chief of the security division of Japan's national police, who was also on the Chicago to Miami flight. In the spring of 1960 the United States fretted deeply about Communist activity in Japan. Nakamura was in the United States for training, presumably in methods of crowd suppression and control, as well as intelligence-gathering techniques. At that very moment, Khrushchev's agents were believed to be busy in Tokyo preparing to disrupt a long-planned visit by President Eisenhower. In June 1960 the presidential trip was scuttled for fear of Communist demonstrations.
None of this was in Tenet's remarks. And none of it mattered to Ikeda's widow, Mildred, and two sons, John and George, who sat in the front row closest to the door. For Mildred Ikeda it was enough that her husband had finally been recognized.
Tenet was nearing the end of his remarks. His voice cracked with emotion.
"The families of our seventy-one heroes and heroines have to show courage in equal measure to that of the ones they lost -- the courage to go on after a devastating personal loss, the courage of a single parent, the courage of a child growing up without a father or a mother, the courage to bear great grief in silence, and the courage to keep faith with our government for years, if necessary, until their loved ones' contributions can be acknowledged.
"In truth, we may never be able to reveal the name behind every star."
His remarks were then addressed to the Agency employees now clustered in the upper lobby.
"And so I say to the busy men and women of this Agency:
"Do not hurry past this Wall of Honor. Do not lower your eyes when you walk by. Slow your pace, pause for a moment, and gaze up at these shining stars.
"Take it from me, your worries will recede into perspective, you will feel even closer to your families and your colleagues, and you will return to work with a deepened sense of purpose. And before you continue on your way, linger just one moment more and say a silent prayer. Say to the men and women behind those stars.
"'Thank you, friends. While I have the power to live and act, may I be worthy of your sacrifice.'"
With that, Tenet took his seat. His impassioned final words had been more than a rhetorical flourish. He was reaching out to the entire Agency community, much of which was laboring under a malaise of uncertainty and doubt. The Cold War had brought the Agency into existence in 1947 and now was relegated to history. Many believed the Agency might soon meet a similar end. What was to be its raison d'etre in an era in which America was the sole superpower, in which Communism had not spread but imploded, and in which Moscow had been reduced to a wary but needy ally?
Against the backdrop of the Wall of Honor, Tenet's words were intended to counter a withering barrage of criticism. The Agency's mission, its competence, and its loyalties were all being questioned. The day before the memorial service, the headline in the Washington Post read, "CIA Missed Signs of India's Tests, U.S. Officials Say." Satellite imagery was said to show that a nuclear test was afoot, yet no one at the Agency issued a warning. The White House and Congress were flabbergasted.
Other intelligence failures followed. On August 20, 1998, the United States launched a cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. The assault was based on CIA claims that soil samples gathered at the site offered incontrovertible evidence that the plant was used to manufacture deadly chemical agents. Within days of the deadly attack, doubts began to surface. Had the United States mistakenly obliterated a legitimate pharmaceutical plant? Agency analysts privately began to distance themselves from what increasingly appeared to be a questionable call.
The worst was yet to come. On May 7, 1999, at the height of NATO's assault on Yugoslavia, U.S. planes dropped laser-guided bombs on a Belgrade building said to be the Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement. The decision was based on CIA maps and intelligence. It turned out that the building had for years been the Chinese Embassy. At least three people were killed. Twenty were wounded. Beijing was livid. 1t was a foreign policy disaster and an intelligence failure of the first magnitude. The CIA's George Tenet could speak only of "faulty information." This was paired with scandalous accounts of Chinese spying at U.S. nuclear weapons labs and the wholesale theft of America's most sensitive secrets.
A string of internal betrayals also shattered public confidence in the Agency. CIA officer Aldrich Ames's treachery is believed to have led to the execution of at least a dozen foreign agents who had served the Agency. The CIA's Douglas F. Groat attempted to blackmail the Agency, demanding $1 million in exchange for not disclosing how the United States intercepted foreign communications. Senior CIA officer Harold James Nicholson also sold out to Moscow. For all its obsessive secrecy -- indeed, perhaps because of it -- the CIA could not protect its most sensitive secrets. "If we guard our toothbrushes and diamonds with equal zeal," once observed former national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, "we will lose fewer toothbrushes and more diamonds." As if to prove that very point, even a former director of Central Intelligence, John M. Deutch, had to be stripped of his security clearance in the summer of 1999 after it was discovered that he had placed sensitive national secrets on his unsecured home computer.
Public trust of the Agency remains at a low point. Allegations in the press, no matter how spurious, implicate the Agency in the introduction of crack cocaine to South-Central Los Angeles.
In the midst of such turmoil the Agency is attempting to rebuild itself. Since 1991 thousands of its most experienced officers, a quarter of its workforce, have retired or quit. New recruits were suspect. Many seemed as concerned with benefits and retirement plans as service. Old hands in the clandestine ranks mused that they never assumed they would live long enough to enjoy such rewards. The Agency seemed rudderless, losing four directors in six years.
That was why George Tenet urged Agency employees at the memorial service to linger at the Wall of Honor, hoping that they might draw strength from the collective memory of the Agency's past. A year earlier the CIA had put in a reflecting pool and garden dedicated to those killed in service. But its real purpose was to offer a place of refuge to an increasingly troubled cadre of employees.
Ironically the secrecy that had failed to protect the Agency from Soviet penetration had prevented Americans from coming to terms with their own past. In 1995 President Bill Clinton vowed to declassify vast amounts of Cold War documents, but three years later the C1A reneged on its promise to release accounts of major operations from that very period. The State Department, too, chastised the Agency for withholding materials vital to America's diplomatic history. The U.S. Archives has next to nothing from the Agency, which seems bent on controlling what little of its history it chooses to reveal.
In the Agency's own archives are an estimated 65 million classified documents more than twenty- five years old. That same compulsive secrecy enshrouds the Book of Honor. Douglas S. Mackiernan was killed on the Tibetan border in 1950. His star remains nameless. So, too, does that of Hugh Francis Redmond, who died in 1970 after nineteen years in a Chinese prison. In both instances the Chinese knew they were C1A spies. Only the American public did not.
In Washington the demand for Agency reform grows. Some call for its dismantlement. But though the Cold War is over, it is not a safer world. In lieu of the Soviet Union, the CIA continues to monitor foreign powers hostile to the United States but also targets the four "counters"-- international narcotics, crime, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism. Its mandate is broader than ever; some would argue too broad to be effective.
But this was a day not for recriminations, but for remembering. Tenet completed his remarks and returned to his seat. "Would you please rise for the roll call?" asked Jack G. Downing, the CIA's spymaster. One by one, the names of those inscribed in the Book of Honor were read aloud:
Jerome P. Ginley, William P. Boteler, Howard Carey, Frank C. Grace, Wilburn S. Rose, Chiyoki Ikeda, Thomas "Pete" Ray, Riley Shamburger, Wade Gray, Leo Baker, John G. Merriman, Eugene Buster Edens, Edward Johnson, Mike Maloney, Louis A. O'Jibway, Walter Ray, Billy Jack Johnson, Jack Weeks, Paul C. Davis, David Konzelman, Wilbur Murray Greene, William E. Bennett, Richard Welch, James S. Rawlings, Robert C. Ames, Scott J. Van Lieshout, Curtis R. Wood, William F. Buckley, Richard Krobock, Lansing H. Bennett, Frank A. Darling, James Lewek, and John Celli.
They died in places far away and unnervingly close to home -- the China Sea, Cyprus, Germany, Nevada, Indiana, Cuba, the Congo, Laos, Vietnam, China, Greece, Lebanon, El Salvador, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia. Lansing Bennett and Frank Darling had been cut down at the Agency's front gate in Langley, murdered on their morning commute by an AK-47-toting Pakistani named Aimil Kansi. The date was January 25, 1993.
Of the seventy-one stars, only thirty-three names were read aloud. The identities of the other thirty-eight remain classified.
Among those nameless stars is one representing Freddie Woodruff; who was shot to death in August 1993 in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The forty-five-year-old son of a professor, he was an ordained minister who could read ancient Greek and speak Russian, German, Turkish, Armenian, and several other tongues. He had been in Georgia under cover as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy. His mission was to train the security force assigned to protect that nation's embattled leader, Eduard Shevardnadze.
Also unnamed was a young woman who died a violent and selfless death in 1996. An anonymous star in the Book of Honor, her name is withheld from this book. The Agency made a compelling case that to identify her would put others at risk.
After the reading of names, a wreath was set before the wall. Then came a moment of silence and, finally, the mournful sound of a trumpet playing "Taps." When the last note had faded, it seemed that no one knew what to do next. Families fidgeted nervously, awaiting some cue. At last, someone took to the podium and indecorously declared "It's over," and with that came an awkward laugh and a sigh of relief.
Afterward, some family members posed before the Wall of Honor as an Agency photographer took their pictures. Each person offered to give the photographer his or her name and address. But the photographer declined, smiling coyly. "We'll get them to you," he said. "We know who you are." In the past, some photographs arrived blurred or doctored so that individuals were not identifiable.
Following the ceremony, the families attended a brief reception on the upper lobby, sipping lemonade and nibbling on crackers and cubes of cheese, star fruits and grapes. Then the families went their separate ways.
Some went to the Agency museum and saw a tiny camera disguised as a matchbox, a walking cane that fired .22-caliber rounds, and an alarm clock once attached to a bomb that never went off. Its intended victims were CIA officers in the Mideast.
Others went to the employee store and bought souvenirs -- a key chain, a shot glass, a paperweight, all bearing the Agency seal.
Many found time to walk along the gallery corridor pausing before the formal oil portraits of the Agency's past directors, each presented in a statesmanly pose. With pipe or spectacles in hand, these former directors looked almost infallible. These were the men in whom their loved ones had entrusted their lives They were cordoned off by a velvet rope, their reputations only as secure as the secrets they kept.
Some family members planned to lunch together. They shared photographs and memories, exchanged addresses and phone numbers. On this day they could find some measure of relief as if the silence to which they had been sentenced had been momentarily commuted.
Before leaving, most paused to take a final look at the Book of Honor, to press their finger against the glass, intone a silent prayer, or whisper a parting message to the star for which they had come so far.
Much of the story of the CIA is contained within these stars, but it is a story the Agency holds to itself. In the end the CIA and the families who gathered this day are both hostages to history. Whether the Agency will ever release its past and whether it will find for itself a meaningful future are both in some doubt. As from the beginning, the dilemmas it faces are not entirely of its own making. Those who daily enter the old headquarters lobby must still pass between the scriptural verse etched into the marble -- "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" -- and the cautionary Wall of Honor across from it. Between these two walls, between the values of an open society and the demands of a craft rooted in deception and betrayal, the CIA is asked to steer an uneasy, often irreconcilable course.