Partying Down at the CIA

Posted December 6th, 2010 at 8:51 pm (UTC+0)
4 comments

The CIA held its annual holiday reception Friday. Who would have thought that they were a bunch of party animals?

OK, it’s not exactly “Spies Gone Wild.” But the annual party is always a first-class event with lots of excellent food, good wine, and fascinating company – although some of the guests may be understandably reluctant to have a conversation.

Held in the main lobby of the CIA itself, the guest list of several hundred included spies, diplomats, and a smattering of journalists covering security matters – the kind of mix you’d usually find at a guest house on the Afghan border. CIA director Leon Panetta and his wife greeted guests who, after the formalities, made a beeline for the two bars or the eight or so food stations scattered across entrance hall.

I spotted three former CIA directors – including Michael Hayden, James Woolsey, and Stansfield Turner – Senate and House leaders, ambassadors, and so many two-, three-, and four-star generals (American and otherwise) that you’d think you were not at CIA but at MGM, the film studio that use to brag that it had “more stars than there are in heaven.”

So how do you talk to a spy? Well, sometimes very carefully. The overt intelligence officers are easy but still wary conversationalists, with every other sentence seemingly beginning with, “now, this is a social function, so we’re off the record, right?” WikiLeaks seemed to be a popular target of talk

Talking with the real spies, the clandestine folks,  is harder. But they are ironically easier to spot. Say, you’re standing at a table munching your food and drinking wine (an excellent Oregon Pinot Noir, I might add). Some fellow joins you at the table (there are only a few there in the lobby). The polite opening gambit is, of course, to introduce yourself.

“Hi, I’m Gary Thomas from VOA News.”

“Hi. I’m Fred.”

The lack of a last name usually means (a) it’s probably not his real name anyway, and (b) he’s a working spy. The dead giveaway is when he immediately grabs his plate and scurries away to some corner like you have Ebola virus. The last person a real spy wants to have a conversation with is a journalist.

But the party still gives one a chance to mingle with the glitterati of the intelligence world. And the food is awfully good. But when I asked the chef for one of the recipes, I was rebuffed. He said it was secret.

I wonder if there’s a WikiLeaks cookbook…

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4 responses to “Partying Down at the CIA”

  1. CB Webb says:

    Mr. Thomas is entertainingly erudite! His unique background affords an interesting paradigm of current events, and an epicurian one, at that.

  2. KD says:

    Great read.

  3. Fred says:

    This is a perfect little piece. Great tone and style.

  4. Lal Narang says:

    WELL…INTERESTING. …JUSTT FEW WORDS FROM LE CARRE’S UNPUBLISHED BOOK…

    ‘HULLO,VILLEM’…..
    ‘HULLO,MAX’…

    GOOD…WILL GARY THOMAS CONSIDER WRITING A BOOK LIKE MR.LE CARRE’ HE SEEMS ABSOLUTELY QUALIFIED….WITH FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE IN ISLAMABAD, BANGKOK AND HOST OF OTHER COUNTRIES….LOOKING FORWARD TO IT

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About this blog

Gary Thomas

Gary Thomas is VOA senior correspondent and news analyst. He has spent more than 30 years covering a wide range of stories on political developments, war, and civil unrest. From 1990 to 1994 he was VOA’s bureau chief in Islamabad, and has made numerous trips back to the region since then. He was also Southeast Asia bureau chief in Bangkok from 1996-2001. He is now based in Washington, providing background and analysis on issues of intelligence, security, and terrorism for VOA’s worldwide audience.

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