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The Other 'Top Secret America'

By Douglas Valentine
July 24, 2010

Editor’s Note: The Washington Post’s series on the gigantic size of the new post-9/11 “counter-terror” apparatus represented a worthy attempt to quantify the newest federal bureaucracy dedicated to national security, as it joins its powerful older brother, the “military-industrial complex.”

The new price tag for this intelligence-dominated enterprise is officially listed at $75 billion, 2 ½ times the pre-9/11 intelligence budget, but – as author Douglas Valentine notes – the CIA’s expanded hall of mirrors has other implications for a free society:

After Dana Priest’s and William M. Arkin's three-part series, “Top-Secret America,” appeared in the Washington Post, pundits began falling all over themselves in a rush to describe the size and implications of the elephant in the living room, though few saw fit to even notice the elephant before.

More important, however, is the fact that the elephant has dimensions that Priest and Arkin don’t touch upon. Let me tell you a story.

In 1985, I was contacted by Larry, a CIA officer who had had a breakdown and wanted to talk to me. He had served as a deep-cover agent overseas for over 15 years at that point.

He had been recruited from the Marines in Vietnam, and given a fake life in which his father had been an Australian soldier in World War II, and his mother a Filipino who died in childbirth. The Australian soldier had abandoned the mother before she gave birth. 

The father had later died in World War II, and Larry was adopted as an infant by a couple in the United States. 

In the legend created by the CIA, Larry's foster parents told him about his real parents while he was a Marine in Vietnam. Larry took advantage of his proximity to the Philippines to travel there and claim his right to Filipino citizenship. In this way, the CIA established an agent in the Philippines, with impeccable credentials. Larry eventually was even elected to public office.

To make a long story short, after Larry's breakdown, the CIA got him a job as a manager of a Playboy club in Detroit. Later, they transferred him to Washington, D.C., as manager of a posh restaurant off DuPont Circle. When I met him there, his Filipino wife and entourage were staffing the facility, along with a CIA associate who handled finances.

This restaurant was the fanciest place I had never been in my life. It was a place where State Department officials, foreign dignitaries and business tycoons enjoyed the finest wines and the most haute cuisine. Each lavishly appointed room had its own dining table and waiter. 

As I sat in a leather booth in the wood-paneled basement bar with Larry, he explained that each room was bugged by the CIA.

As we were talking, a group of well-dressed younger people in the company of one older man took the booth next to us. The rest of the basement bar was empty. They ordered drinks, but remained silent and alert as Larry explained the ins and outs of his CIA experience to me. 

At one point he nodded to the older man at the other table; then he informed me that the young people were junior officer trainees from CIA headquarters at Langley, who were also listening to the conversation.

Larry explained that the CIA manages a parallel society to American society, where deep-cover agents like him, as well as retired CIA officers and their agents, are provided with comfortable employment in their retirement years, or when they otherwise need recompense for their service.

Many of these agents have no résumé that is suitable in the modern professional world. So there is this parallel universe that they are folded into, as managers of the local Ford dealership, as proprietors of a Chinese restaurant or a hotel, or in hundreds of other jobs.

Think of it as a sort a witness-protection program – and since 1985 it has grown substantially. It is, of course, another piece of Top-Secret America, a subculture of highly trained operatives with a dangerous set of skills.

As John Lennon said, "Imagine."

Douglas Valentine is author of The Phoenix Program, which is available through Amazon, as well as The Strength of the Wolf and the new book Strength of the Pack. His Web sites are,,  and

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