Dear kids: Daddy’s a spy


Most fathers worry what their children think of them. But it’s a particularly delicate issue when you are a spymaster for the CIA. I’ve run clandestine agents in seven countries, including Chile, Argentina and Italy. I was involved in some of the agency’s most high-profile operations — the overthrow of Allende, the ouster of the Russians from Afghanistan and the Iran-Contra scandal.

By day, we were an embassy family, raising our kids in foreign cultures and foreign languages. Our children’s lives were fairly normal: schools, parties, trips. But my night job was as a CIA operative — a second life my kids couldn’t know about until they were in their mid-teens. We needed to cut them in on the secret when they were old enough to handle the responsibility of keeping it to themselves but still young enough that they hadn’t stumbled across information that might disclose my true mission and then, unthinkingly, share it with their friends. Operatives try to find just the right age, when a kid’s judgment can be trusted not to compromise any operational cover, and by extension put their parents or their sources at risk.

Living undercover contains a touch of troubling deceit, and all parents worry how this will be perceived. I guess you could say I was lying, but I viewed it more narrowly as playing a cover role, and when my children were brought in on the clandestine activities, they usually took the news in stride and didn’t see it as a malicious deception. They understood secrets had to be kept to protect our country and the spies working for us. It left no lasting distrust and didn’t alter our relationship. In fact, I might have moved up a tiny notch in their estimation.

But breaking the news to children is an art form and, as a father of six, I didn’t always get it right.

My operational strategy was to talk to my kids over the summer, after school got out and while we were posted back in the States. Sometime in June, I would orchestrate a one-on-one car ride..

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