Star Agents: The anonymous stars in the CIA's Book of Honor memorialize covert operatives lost in the field. These are no ordinary deaths: Loved ones left behind mourn secretly and live tethered to bogus cover stories. In their struggles lies a remarkable strand of the agency's history
By Ted Gup
Sunday, September 7, 1997; Page W06
The Washington Post
They arrived at CIA headquarters in Langley just before 11 a.m. on May 22. Those invited were instructed to leave cameras and tape recorders at home. There would be no press, no public acknowledgment that such a convocation had even occurred. Eventually, some were told, they might receive a vetted transcript of the day's remarks, but only those portions pertaining to their loved ones.
Parents, widows and widowers, fatherless sons and motherless daughters -- they all took seats in the cavernous headquarters lobby, their places reserved on folding chairs arranged in a horseshoe pattern. Not far away, each of the CIA's 17 former directors gazed out from individual oil portraits, a gallery cordoned off by a velvet rope. Ahead of them, the guests stared directly at the Wall of Honor, a field of black stars chiseled into a sheer white face of Vermont marble, flanked on the left by the American flag and on the right by the agency's banner. There were 70 stars in all -- one for each life lost. Above them, in gold block letters, read the inscription: "IN HONOR OF THOSE MEMBERS OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY."
Those assembled could see a slender case jutting out from the wall just below the field of stars. Framed in stainless steel and topped by an inch-thick plate of glass, it held the Book of Honor, like some reliquary containing a splinter of the true cross. The book's cover was of black morocco goatskin, its rough-cut pages handmade and thick with rag.
Inscribed on its pages were the 70 stars, arranged by year of death. But only 29 stars had names beside them. Some of those were overt employees of the agency. Others had had their cover so badly blown that no semblance of secrecy was left to protect. Among those listed were pilots who died testing the U-2 spy plane, and William Francis. Buckley, a CIA station chief in Lebanon who was abducted and tortured by terrorists. His remains were discovered in 1991 in a plastic sack on a roadside leading to the Beirut airport.
The rest of the stars in the Book of Honor, 41 in all, were nameless. For years, their identities have been among Washington's most poignant and intriguing mysteries. The Book of Honor itself provides no clues beyond the number of clandestine agents who died in a given year. There are no specific months or dates of death, no indications of where the victims perished or why.
But there are, of course, the families they left behind. At five minutes after 11 on that May morning, Pegge Hlavacek, a fashion writer from Omaha, swept into the lobby in a lavender silk blouse and white linen jacket, husband in tow. She took her place in the front row, an arm's length from Acting CIA Director George J. Tenet. At her approach, he lowered his head in respect. Forty-seven years after her first husband's death, Pegge should have been an old hand at this, but she was not. She felt a fresh grief welling up in her throat. Far to her right sat Teresa Freedman. Widowed at 41, she had made the long drive from Fayetteville, N.C., to help commemorate her husband. There were more than a dozen others, each one a story of loss.
There was something both bizarre and wrenching about that morning's observance. It began with a woman in a tuxedo standing at her seat and singing "God Bless America" in a soprano so shrill that even Tenet could not conceal his discomfort. Then the director stood to deliver his remarks.
"Here, before the memorial wall, we remember our agency family -- the men and women who distinguished themselves by their valor, their patriotism and their commitment to this agency," he said. "Every one of those men and women served this country honorably and with great distinction. Every one was loved by family and colleagues."
Tenet singled out four covert officers who were to be posthumously honored that day. Names behind the anonymous stars were read aloud. They were uttered slowly, in cadence. Two uniformed Marines stepped forward in martial precision and set an all-white floral wreath against the Wall. There followed a moment of silence. Then taps resounded through the marble foyer. After half an hour, it was all over. There was a brief and stilted reception in the upper lobby -- some pastries and punch -- and then the families dispersed to their distant homes, carrying with them the twin burdens of grief and secrecy.
An `Unusual Sacrifice'
Even in Washington, a city of monuments, the CIA's Wall of Honor stands apart. The FBI, the State Department, and even Amtrak have their own memorial walls listing officers and employees who died in the line of duty. The lowliest grunt has his place of honor on the Vietnam wall. Only the CIA remembers its dead with nameless stars. If the CIA's wall is a memorial to the agency's martyrs, it is also a monument to its culture of secrecy.
In truth, few within the CIA know the identities or stories behind all the stars. Such information is compartmentalized. Even those few privy to the names often know little more. "Most of the names didn't have any resonance with me," says former CIA director Richard Helms. "I didn't know who they were. I wouldn't have necessarily known because, after all, I would be reading dispatches and telegrams from the field and they were always under a different name." The CIA's fallen sacrificed both life and identity. "It's part of espionage," says Helms. "You learn it from day one. You may ask yourself, `Why does anybody serve in a service like that?' Everything in the United States is about celebrity or recognition."
For years, when it lost one of its own, the CIA dispatched Ben DeFelice, former deputy director of personnel, to console family members and help them through the necessary paperwork. When the deceased died under cover, the procedure was complicated. A CIA veteran of 34 years, DeFelice was known for compassion. Still, he reminded the next of kin not to speak to the press or anyone else about what they knew.
DeFelice would draft a letter expressing the personal condolences of the CIA's director; it would be signed and hand-carried to the surviving spouse or parents, usually after the funeral. But because it was seen to pose a security risk and a potential embarrassment, the letter had to be read in the presence of a CIA officer and promptly surrendered. Ultimately it would be placed in the official personnel folder of the deceased at Langley. Medals, too, were often held in custody. "We didn't want to impose an unnecessary burden on the widow," DeFelice explains.
In fact, family members of CIA employees killed in the line of duty can pay a steep price for the secrecy surrounding their relatives' deaths. In some cases, they have been lied to about the circumstances in which their loved ones died. Some have been forever tethered to bogus cover stories. Their grief can be prolonged by uncertainty over what happened or by the inability to speak openly of their loss to friends or neighbors. This lack of closure sometimes passes from one generation to the next, a dour patrimony.
What follows are the stories of six of the men and women behind the CIA's nameless stars -- who they were, how they lived and died, and the consequences of their deaths for those who knew them. Between the first anonymous star and the last stretches nearly half a century, from 1950 to 1996. Taken together, they form a remarkable strand in the history of the CIA, which this month marks its 50th anniversary.
The CIA declined to cooperate with this story. Its officials have for years followed a general policy of refusing to identify any covert operatives. The policy is designed to protect agency "sources and methods" as well as operatives in the field. Some family members and friends of the agency's dead who agreed to tell their stories can see no conceivable national security concerns about what they know. Similarly, many current and retired agency employees -- more than 100 were interviewed for this article -- believe that, especially in cases decades old, it makes no sense to perpetuate secrecy.
For its part, The Washington Post decided, in the course of preparing this story, not to publish a completed profile of one of the nameless stars who died within the past two years, after the CIA argued that identifying the deceased covert officer might endanger other agents still in place.
Certainly, the job of a covert officer is replete with risk. Over the years, across five continents, terrorists' bombs, machine-gun fire, snipers' bullets, plane crashes, land mines and torture have all added stars to the Book of Honor. The stories told here are but a sampling.
The Wall of Honor is an important part of the CIA's culture of secrecy, which many at the agency see as necessary and even heroic. "The clandestine service calls for unusual sacrifice," says Adm. Stansfield Turner, CIA director from 1977 to 1981. "It is not just the anonymity but the lack of credit for what you do. People know you're Joe Jones. They think you're a second secretary or some other position in some government bureau, but you never get very high, you never get to be the top person. You are always under cover doing a different job, and to others who don't know what you're really doing, it appears you're not terribly successful."
Family and friends of the CIA's nameless stars know that what's true of a clandestine life can be doubly true of a clandestine death.
`They Fired Three Shots'
A grave: In a place called Shigarhunglung, along the Tibetan border with China, a pile of stones really, nothing more, and a crude wooden cross that marked the spot where a young American fell in a volley of bullets on April 29, 1950. Over the decades, the grave vanished beneath the Himalayan snows. So, too, did nearly all memory of the man. The first nameless star in the Book of Honor belongs to him.
In February 1947, Douglas S. Mackiernan was a 35-year-old Army meteorologist, a lanky Henry Fonda look-alike, working in Nanking, China. He was about to make a career move that seemingly defied logic -- he volunteered for the State Department's most remote outpost on the planet. It was called Tihwa. Today it is known as Urumqi in Xinjiang, the wind-raked frontier of far western China. His salary was to be $2,160 a year, his duties those of a clerk. The State Department snapped him up, noting he was "ideally qualified for . . . this wild territory."
It was a place he knew well. During the final years of World War II then-Lt. Col. Mackiernan had overseen the U.S. Army Air Force's weather station at Tihwa. He reported on emerging meteorological patterns that would soon pass over the Pacific, data vital to planning B-29 bombing runs over Japanese-held territories.
Mackiernan's move to the State Department in 1947 was merely a cover. His true employer was the CIA. The outpost he was assigned, not far from the Soviet-Chinese border, was at the geographical and political vortex of what would later be viewed as one of the most monumental series of events of the 20th century: the fall of China to communist forces and the start of the Cold War.
Mackiernan was born in Mexico City in 1913. His taste for adventure was foreordained. His father, Douglas Mackiernan Sr., ran away from home at 16 to become a whaler. Later he roved the world as a merchant seaman and twice went on aborted expeditions to the North Pole. Douglas Jr. was the eldest of five sons. In Mexico, he attended a German school. By 8, he was fluent in English, German, Spanish and French.
The family moved from place to place, settling in Massachusetts, where the senior Mackiernan bought a filling station. Doug Jr. pumped gas after school. He was a wizard in science. He would go on to study and teach meteorology at MIT and conduct advanced research on hurricanes.
After the war broke out he showed a genius for encryption. By 1942, not yet 30, he was named chief of the Cryptographic Cryptoanalysis Section at Army Air Force headquarters in Washington. Soon he was to add Russian, Mongolian and Kazakh to his inventory of languages.
This was the man who, so far as the public record showed, now aspired to be a clerk. In May 1947 he arrived in Tihwa. He ordered sophisticated scientific equipment and spent hours behind his closed door transmitting encrypted messages. By day he often took horseback rides into the countryside. He also maintained close contacts with a regimen of virulently anti-communist White Russians.
Within months Mackiernan was promoted to vice consul. A declassified State Department memo notes his expanding duties: "He will assist with increasingly heavy load of code work to be expected; make extensive trips, collecting politico military and economic information and weighing data obtained . . ." Nor was he to be interfered with: "All field assignments outlined will have to be left to him for development without any advice or assistance until completed, decisions during operation depending entirely on his own judgment."
Two months after Mackiernan's transfer, an attractive American freelance journalist named Pegge Lyons arrived in Tihwa looking for stories and photographic spreads. Mackiernan persuaded her to assist him. He showed her how to use his Leica camera, which she carried with her to the Russian border. She took pictures of trucks and soldiers and anyone with a gun. To escape suspicion, she dressed in bobby socks and played the role of a bubbly American tourist. Her pictures would later be published in newspapers, but not before they were analyzed in Washington. It was part of Mackiernan's mission to monitor Soviet aid and materiel crossing the border and bound for Chinese communists.
Lyons and Mackiernan were soon married in a civil ceremony. And on September 30, 1948, Pegge Mackiernan gave birth in Shanghai to twins, Mary and Mike. A picture records Mackiernan cradling his swaddled son. But six weeks later, on November 10, 1948, with the Chinese communists now sweeping to power, the State Department ordered Pegge and her twins to evacuate. She tucked them in a laundry basket, covered them with a blanket and boarded a Pan Am flight for California.
In the ensuing months, she received many letters from Doug. He described the deteriorating political situation and his efforts to ensure that his meager paychecks were reaching her. He still hoped she and the twins might rejoin him. "I am sporting a beautiful (to me only probably) curly black beard," he wrote, "and as soon as I get my photo stuff set up will send a picture of me in my hirsute glory. Have sworn a great swear not to shave it off till you arrive, so hurry before I have to braid it (like a Sikh)."
He also sent hints that he might be contemplating an escape as the communists took power. He asked her to send two books, one he called "List of the Stars for the 60 Degrees Astrolabe," the other the "1949 American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac." Both might be useful for plotting position.
Unaware of the full scope of his mission, Pegge wrote an influential friend, Claire Boothe Luce, asking if perhaps she could help get him transferred to a safe post. Luce replied: "I cannot possibly promise to get your husband moved to a Consulate a little more accessible to a mother and twins than Chinese Turkestan -- but I just might be able to get him transferred to a spot as wild and woolly but a little more on the flat for an approaching caravan with cradles!" Nothing came of it, however.
On August 16, 1949, the State Department ordered that the Tihwa consulate be closed. Its personnel were to leave the country immediately. But Mackiernan received different orders. He was to stay behind, destroy all crytographic materials, continue monitoring the situation and aid as he could the anti-communist factions.
Years later, Pegge would surmise that her husband might have had yet another reason to stay behind -- to listen for a possible first Soviet atomic test. It is a theory only, but based on an intriguing confluence of events. Who better, after all, than a meteorologist stationed along the Soviet border to pick up traces of radioactive debris from an atomic device? He had much advanced equipment, some of which was secreted in the surrounding foothills. If that indeed was part of his mission, he did not have long to wait. On August 29, 1949, the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb, dubbed Joe-1 by the United States. On September 23, President Harry Truman announced that the Soviets had the bomb -- the nuclear arms race had begun.
Days later, Mackiernan left Tihwa. By then, conventional routes of escape had been severed. He decided to flee south, a tortuous overland trek to India. He estimated it would take three months. With him went Frank Bessac, an American Fulbright scholar then in Tihwa, and three White Russians. One of these was Vassily Zvanzov. Before setting out, Mackiernan ordered Zvanzov to torch several armfuls of classified materials in the kitchen fireplace. The party set out with a jeep and 22 horses heavy with provisions. Mackiernan holstered a pistol under his arm and packed a light machine gun.
In the harrowing months that followed, they would exhaust their food supply and live on horse meat, wild deer and anything else that strayed across their path, according to Zvanzov. Mackiernan and his men went days without water. In the mountains they warmed themselves over fires of dried yak dung. Unable to shoe the horses, they eventually traded them for camels or watched them starve to death. Mackiernan had brought along a copy of Tolstoy's War and Peace; they used it for toilet paper. Caught in the grip of a Himalayan winter, they spent three months in a yurt beside a remote lake, waiting for the mountain passes to clear.
Along the route, Mackiernan dutifully set up his radio to transmit his position. To check the accuracy of his compass, he converted an old camera into an octant. Washington closely tracked his progress. As he neared the Tibetan border, U.S. officials asked Tibet's Dalai Lama to send messengers to the border guards to arrange a safe crossing for Mackiernan.
Eight months and 1,000 miles later, Mackiernan and his bedraggled party stood in sight of the Tibetan border. They had crossed the Takla Makan desert and the Himalayas.
When they reached the border, Mackiernan and his men began to put up their tent. Just then they heard shots and dived for cover.
Tibetan border guards were firing at them. As Zvanzov lay on the ground he tore a strip of white cloth from the tent and tied it to the barrel of his rifle, waving it as a flag. The shooting stopped. Zvanzov suggested that they make for higher ground and then have one member of their party approach the guards.
But Mackiernan argued that they should approach the guards as a group. He stood up and ordered the others to do likewise. Hands raised, he and the others slowly walked toward the guards. "As soon as we came within close range, 50 meters or so," remembers Zvanzov, "they fired three shots at the same time." Mackiernan and two of the Russians fell. Zvanzov, wounded in the left knee, threw himself behind a boulder.
Half an hour later, the guards arrested the survivors. Leaning on a stick, Zvanzov hobbled to where Mackiernan lay on his side in the snow. Blood was coming from his mouth and nose. His chest had been pierced by a single bullet. He was dead.
Two days after the incident, the Dalai Lama's courier arrived carrying a message that Mackiernan's party should receive safe passage.
As he convalesced, Zvanzov passed the time making wooden crosses to mark the graves of Mackiernan and the two slain Russians.
It took two months for a "SECRET" memo to reach the secretary of state, informing him of Mackiernan's death. Not long afterward, Pegge remembers, a broad-shouldered government official knocked on her door and told her that her husband had been killed. The official "was a tower of strength at a terrible time for me," she recalls, but he was also there to protect the CIA's interests. "He said, `Say nothing to the newspapers. Keep your own counsel. Be so grief-stricken that you cannot speak to anyone, and if you have any problems let me know.' "
Efforts to quash news stories failed, however, and on July 29, 1950, Mackiernan's death was reported on the front page of the New York Times. The headline read "U.S. Consul, Fleeing China, Slain by Tibetan on Watch for Bandits." Later, survivor Bessac would sell his own story to Life magazine. But Mackiernan's status as an undercover CIA agent was never revealed.
On October 18, 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson presented a posthumous medal of service to 15 diplomats killed in action. Among those honored was Douglas S. Mackiernan, vice consul, Tihwa. Today his name appears on a plaque in the State Department lobby, his cover story intact.
`You Have Some Questions'
Barbara Annette Robbins would not have found a leading role in the novels of Ian Fleming or Tom Clancy.
She was a workaday secretary, a GS-5. Her father was a meat cutter. When she was born on June 26, 1943, in Vermillion, S.D., her father, Buford, was halfway around the world, aboard the USS Chincoteague. By the time he returned home, his daughter was 14 months old. What he remembers most about her was that she had a mind of her own. Early on, she told people she would be a missionary.
In 1948, at the age of 5, she was playing in her front yard in Sioux City, Iowa, when she saw the trolley coming, bringing her father home. She raced across the street to greet him, into the path of an oncoming car. Her ankle and foot were mangled. After that, she limped and wore a metal brace that fit into her shoe, hinged at the ankle, and fastened with a leather strap under her knee. Her injury slowed her down, but kept her from nothing.
She graduated in the top 10th of her high school class in Denver and attended Colorado State University. In the summer of 1963 she was recruited by the CIA. A year later she announced to her parents that she had volunteered for Vietnam. Her father remembers: "I went into her bedroom and sat on her bed and said, `Hey, why Vietnam? That's kind of a mess over there.' " His daughter expounded on the "domino theory," the view that communism would march from one nation to the next. "When they get to West Colfax [a Denver thoroughfare], mister, you'll wish you'd done something," she told him.
On August 5, 1964, six weeks after her 21st birthday, she arrived in Saigon as a CIA secretary in the U.S. Embassy. Her cover was as a State Department employee. But her life in Vietnam was singularly devoid of intrigue.
At 10:55 a.m. on Monday, March 30, 1965, a black Citroen sedan was observed parked on a street beside the embassy. A policeman ordered the driver to move on. Shots were fired. On the second floor of the five-story building, Robbins heard the commotion and rushed to the window. At that moment, 250 pounds of explosives detonated in the car. She was killed instantly, impaled by the steel grating that surrounded the window. The bomb left 22 dead and 186 wounded. Robbins was one of two Americans killed.
Among the telegrams read aloud at her funeral was one from Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Another came from President Lyndon Johnson. The city of Denver was staggered. Until then, the war had seemed an abstraction to many. The day after the bombing, the Denver Post's lead editorial, titled "Embassy Blast Hits Us All," observed: "The many Denverites who knew Miss Robbins can now have no doubts about the seriousness and the bloodiness of the war in Viet Nam."
Following the attack, U.S. and Vietnamese fighter-bombers unleashed a furious assault against a North Vietnamese air base. It was not, U.S. officials insisted, in reprisal for the previous day's bombing. Hardly anyone believed them.
In June 1965, Robbins's parents and brother were flown to Washington to take part in a memorial service at the State Department. Rusk presented them with a posthumous "Secretary's Award." Later they were escorted to the CIA, where they dined with Deputy Director Richard Helms and the chief of the Far East Division, William Colby.
Robbins was the youngest person honored with a star at the CIA. Thirty years after her death, in May 1995, her father, Buford, then 73, and mother, Ruth, 77, returned to the agency for a memorial service. They wondered why their daughter's name was still not inscribed in the Book of Honor. "I asked about that," says Buford Robbins. "They said certain things had still not been declassified. It's a little strange. You really don't know what to think. We are naturally proud of Barbara but at the same time, you feel like you have some questions. I think her name should be in the book."
`Chasing a Ghost'
Adrienne met him at a mixer in the gym at Connecticut's Fairfield University on November 20, 1959. The broad-shouldered sophomore persuaded her to ride with him on the back of a motor scooter. She was shy, but not too shy to accept. They dated throughout college and were married on October 5, 1963, in St. Mary's Church, Ridgefield, Conn.
Mike Maloney was a husky 5-foot-9 with a voracious appetite, a passion for sports and a knack for having a good time. But he ached for something more than the ambitions that stirred his classmates.
First and foremost, he wanted to be like his father, Arthur "Mal" Maloney. Not an easy task. A graduate of West Point, Class of '38, and a World War II veteran, his father had, at 32, risen to full colonel in the 82nd Airborne. Among his many honors were a Distinguished Service Cross, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. The last was awarded for a wound suffered in the D-Day invasion. Because of it, Maloney walked with a limp and wore a brace on his left leg. In 1947 he tried to reenlist but was turned down because of his injuries. So he joined the fledgling CIA and became a covert case officer, serving over the years in South and Central America, as well as Vietnam.
In college, friends remember Mike Maloney showing them a book that referred to his father's wartime exploits. "He wanted to emulate his father so much that I think that was the number one thought in his mind," says classmate Michael Touhey. After college, Maloney attempted to enlist in the military. But he was rejected because of asthma. So he, too, joined the CIA. After six months of paramilitary training at Camp Perry in Virginia, he was ordered overseas -- to Laos.
In September 1965 Mike Maloney, Adrienne and their 11-month-old son, Michael, moved to Bangkok and rented a house. She was already pregnant with their second son. In early October, Maloney kissed her goodbye and set out for his inaugural mission. New to the region, he would need some breaking in.
One week later, on October 12, 1965, Maloney boarded an H-34 helicopter operated by Air America, a CIA-run company. Along with him went a veteran of clandestine operations. The two were to train indigenous peoples, organizing them into "roadwatchers." Code-named "Operation Hardnose," the objective was to use Laotians to monitor and disrupt the flow of supplies to the Viet Cong along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Not long after the chopper took off, it suffered engine failure and plummeted into the jungle. Word of the loss went to Langley and on to Maloney's father, then stationed in the Panama Canal Zone. Mike Maloney's sister, Erin, then 14, remembers the phone ringing twice that night. The first was to say Mike was missing. The second would report that a team of commandos from the Air Rescue Strike Force had searched for survivors and instead found bodies.
In Bangkok, Adrienne was still waiting for her husband's return. "I was expecting him any day," she remembers, "and I saw this car pull up and I thought it was Mike, but it was two officials from the embassy and the wife of a friend. They told me instantly. I learned of it standing on the front steps . . . It was like the sun burst apart. Everything got very bright and we went inside."
Maloney's link to the CIA was not disclosed. In the few news accounts of the day, it was reported that Maloney had been an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development helping to resettle refugees in Saravane province.
Maloney's mother, Mary, tried to have her son buried at Arlington National Cemetery but was refused because he had not served in the military. Instead he was interred in Lakeville, Conn., without military honors.
The Maloney family's grief was enveloped in secrecy. "All we ever heard was that he died in a helicopter accident," recalls his son Michael. "That was it. There was no mention of the Vietnam War. I got most of my information because I snooped in my mother's drawer one day and there were all these certificates and stuff. Mom has always been very tight-lipped about the agency. We were not allowed to talk to other people about it." Mike Maloney's name would not even appear on the Vietnam wall.
After nearly 25 years with the CIA, Maloney's father, Mal, retired in 1971. "He adored Mike," recalls Adrienne. "The spark went out of that man's life when Mike died." Stricken with Alzheimer's, he returned to the agency only once, on May 29, 1991, to attend a ceremony honoring his son. He died on August 18, 1994.
Mike Maloney's sons coped with the loss of their father amid uncertainty about who he had really been. It was particularly hard on Craig, born four months after his father was killed. "Because his father had never seen him, it affects him," says Adrienne. "I always made a big deal out of the fact that his father had chosen his name and could feel him kicking in me." On Craig's bedroom dresser is a picture of his father and the jump watch he used when sky diving. Craig applied to the CIA, then reconsidered. "I just came to the realization that I was doing it for the wrong reasons," he says. "I was chasing a ghost."
Now 31, he works, ironically, for an insurance company in the field of risk management. Over the years, his longing to know more about his father has intensified. "The void that has been in my life has grown as I have gotten older," he says. Thoughtful and introspective, he wrote the CIA many times asking for information about his father.
Four years ago, the agency relented and allowed Craig and Michael to examine their father's files. They were led into a room and seated at a table. The files were stamped "TOP SECRET." Some things had been removed, others blacked out. Maloney's sons pored over the papers searching for clues about their father. What they found was his CIA application, his essay on why he wanted to join the agency, his college transcripts.
Michael, 32, also considered the CIA, but missed his interview after contracting the flu. "I took it as a sign from God that I wasn't supposed to do it," he says half-jokingly. Today he teaches kindergarten in Arlington.
Maloney's widow, Adrienne, is now 56. She never remarried. Her wedding ring, inscribed "FOREVER M.A.M. TO A.L.M.," was set into the base of a gold chalice and given to a church to be used in sacraments. Several years ago she gathered her husband's letters into a pile and burned them, as if that might free her from the past.
Last year, she attended an agency memorial ceremony. As she stood before the Wall of Honor she became aware of a man standing beside her. He was in his thirties and holding the hand of a little girl, perhaps 5 years of age. "He pointed to the star," she recalls, "and I heard him say, `That's Mommy's star,' and it just chilled me."
Following the memorial service, Adrienne was introduced to then-CIA Director John Deutch. She asked him why, after 30 years, her husband's name could not be inscribed openly in the Book of Honor. Was there really some compelling national security reason to keep his name secret?
"He simply didn't understand," says Adrienne. "He looked at me and said, `Well, why isn't his name there? Why don't you write me a note? Don't put down any explanation, no song and dance, just a note.' " Adrienne Maloney did just that. "I sent it registered mail so I knew they had to sign for it." Months later she called to find out the status of her request. She was told they could not find her letter.
"I never heard from them again," she says. "I would say it's a lost cause. I really would love to see it happen, to see his name in the book, just for the sake of closure for the boys."
Deutch does not remember Adrienne Maloney, but does not dispute her account. "These things unfortunately happen," he says. "Certainly there is a lot of mail that comes in there. I regret very much if something of that importance was misdirected. Not only is it a bad reflection on my office but on the system as a whole. I am sure it was unintended."
"It's 30 years ago," Craig says, "and I can't help but think of what kind of rhetorical crap and political crap it is that they can't release his name. His name deserves to be there. We write letters and they never go where they should. I think it's completely unjust."
Not long ago, Maloney's son Michael wrote a poem for his brother, now framed on Craig's bedroom wall. It is titled "Your Father's Son." It reads, in part:
Faded Stories, Secrets Told,
A Marble Star To Behold,
Her Pictures Gathered In One Place;
To Suffice For One So Bold?
Track The Ghost Who Wears Your Face
Through The Halls Of Time And Space.
`I Am Going on a Trip'
It rained on the October day in 1984 when they lowered Richard Spicer's mangled body into the grave. It was a sloppy rain that carried off the fresh dirt and swept everything clean. By the time the sod was replaced, there was no evidence a grave had even been dug. Nor did the gravediggers lay their usual temporary aluminum marker to locate the grave while they waited for a permanent marker. "The government man who came here told me not to mark the grave," at least for a time, recalls funeral director Donald McKinney of Youngsville, Pa.
The local obituary noted that Spicer was 53 and had died in "southern Florida." McKinney remembers being told by "the government man" that Spicer had died in a car accident in Miami.
Notwithstanding the CIA's efforts, Spicer's death made front page news around the nation. He and the three men who died with him in a plane crash over El Salvador were the first known U.S. casualties in Central America since the Reagan administration began funding a secret war there in the early 1980s. Within days, newspaper reporters found Spicer's grave and began trying to reconstruct the circumstances of his death.
Spicer had been part of the shadowy but publicly acknowledged U.S. government support for Nicaragua's contra rebels, who mounted violent resistance to Managua's Soviet-backed, leftist Sandinista government. The contras received arms, training, money and political support from Washington, channeled in substantial part through the CIA. They were one of a number of anti-leftist forces worldwide that the Reagan administration supported to keep the Soviet Union off balance.
Spicer's death certificate noted he had been a pilot and had died on October 18, 1984, at 8:30 p.m. It was signed by the U.S. vice consul in El Salvador. The CIA acknowledged that two of the men on the plane, Scott Van Lieshout and Curtis Wood, were its employees. Those two would later have their names inscribed in the Book of Honor. But Spicer's death was different. He had been covert. Within a day of the crash, though there was no hope of concealing his identity, the agency continued its quixotic efforts to keep his name out of the press.
Spicer himself was a vague and private figure. He had grown up on farms in Arkansas and California where his father raised crops and managed the land. His mother, now 87, remembers that, as a child, he was captivated by planes. "I'm going to fly one of those one day," he would say each time a plane passed overhead. At 17 he dropped out of school to enlist in the Army. Later he spent 10 years with the Air Force.
He was married three times and was the father of three daughters and two sons. But, as his elder son, Richard, says, "He couldn't hack being a father." He was unemotional. An arch-conservative, he converted from the Baptist faith to Catholicism but grew disaffected with the church, suspecting it had come under leftist influence.
Closest to him was his younger brother, Carroll, now a retired Tulsa firefighter. The two spoke often. "When he went with the CIA he called me and swore me to secrecy," Carroll recalls. "I was not to tell any family member what he was doing." Spicer was fascinated with the technical capabilities of the aircraft he flew on agency missions. "He would tell me they were flying a Merlin twin engine, that it was a flying laboratory. Their mission was to search, locate and report. They were to fly over Nicaragua using infrared sensors, look for pack trains, mules, horses -- and X-ray them to see what they were carrying, if it was, in his words, `contraband.' They were then to radio ahead. They [also] had listening devices" they could use to intercept conversations on the ground, Carroll says.
Often the conversations with his brother were cryptic. "The night he called me was the night before he left for the trip that killed him. `Carroll,' he said, `I am going on a trip. Let's hope you don't hear anything bad on the news about a guy by the name of Dick Brinks, with an "s." ' I said, `That's your old Air Force buddy,' and he said, `That's Dick Brink.' And with that I understood that that was the name he was going to use on that trip." Carroll says his brother was with the agency less than four months before he died.
The CIA took care of all funeral arrangements, shipping Spicer's body, already embalmed, to Youngsville on Eastern Air Lines. Everything was prepaid. With the casket arrived a neatly folded U.S. flag.
Spicer's brother Carroll isn't sure what to believe. He still does not buy the agency's explanation that the plane crashed into a mountainside. His brother was a crack pilot with 27,000 hours in the air. He isn't even convinced his brother is dead. He wonders if perhaps his brother is not somewhere on assignment under deepest cover.
After attending a memorial service at Langley, Spicer's son Richard was promised he would receive a photograph of Spicer's widow, against a backdrop of the nameless stars, holding an award certificate his father received posthumously. When the picture arrived, he says, it had been doctored so that the words on the certificate were blurred and no longer legible.
Today Spicer's grave is openly marked by a bronze tablet. On it is written: "Richard C. Spicer SSGT [Staff Sergeant] U.S. Air Force."
`Look in the Mirror'
In some ways, Lawrence N. Freedman was an unlikely candidate for the career he chose. Born into a devoutly Jewish home in Philadelphia, he brazenly declared himself "SuperJew," a nickname used by his colleagues in Delta Force, the elite counter-terrorist unit headquartered at Fort Bragg, N.C. His sister even made him a Superman-like cape with the Hebrew letter for "S" that he wore at parties. On Friday evenings he would sometimes say the blessing over the Sabbath candles, but he could also be as obscene and profane as anyone on base.
He was deliberately over-the-top. A notorious flirt and rogue, he tested all who came in contact with him, taking their measure and weeding out the squeamish. He was only 5-foot-9, but armored with muscle from years of pumping iron, running five miles a day and keeping his survival skills sharp. When he wasn't on a mission he was often cruising down the highway on his Harley Davidson FXRT, 1340 cc, the fringe of his black leather jacket and chaps flying. To the outside world he might well have been mistaken for an aging truant, but many who got close enough to know him saw him as a man consumed by the military's ideals of duty and honor. "He believed in everything we all believed in -- red, white and blue, John Wayne, apple pie," says former colleague Ron Franklin.
Freedman sought out risky assignments around the world. First it was as a Green Beret in Vietnam, where he married his first wife, a Vietnamese woman, and adopted her two children. Then it was Central America. He was there for Desert One, the aborted 1980 mission to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran, a journey that took the lives of eight of his fellow soldiers. From 1986 until 1990, he helped train the Delta Force. Then he retired -- at least that was his cover story. In fact, he signed on with the CIA's Counter-Terrorism unit.
As a soldier, Freedman was many things -- a medic, a "bomber" trained to defuse explosive devices, an intelligence officer, an expert in hand-to-hand combat, and a communications, or "commo," man. But as a sniper he was nearly without peer. Once, remembers Gale McMillan, a maker of specialty weapons, the two of them were testing night scopes at Camp Perry. It was a night so dark it swallowed up the faces of their watches. Freedman lay down, steadied his arm on a sandbag, and fixed his scope at a target no larger than a quarter at a distance of 250 yards. He squeezed off five shots. When they examined the target they found a single ragged hole through which all five bullets had passed, McMillan says.
In 1992, Freedman sought an assignment in Operation Restore Hope, the campaign to deliver food to Somalia's famine-stricken population and to restrain the country's warring factions. He was a 51-year-old grandfather. Some 10 days before shipping out, he visited McMillan in Phoenix. The visit was part personal, part professional. Freedman appreciated weapons. He always carried a Colt .45, its grip customized to fit his hand, its works "tuned to combat" -- retooled so the clip would feed faster. In Phoenix, he bought a tactical scope for his .308 rifle, a 10-power built to click each time he adjusted his aim for distance. The day before Freedman left, he and McMillan had a long talk. "I was telling him," recalls McMillan, " `Look in the mirror and see the silver in your temples. That ought to tell you it's time to slow down and let the young guys take the risks and do the dirty work. You've already done everything expected of you.' He kind of laughed and said, `If there's any way I want to go, it's doing it.' "
His wife, Teresa, remembers the last phone call she got from him. "His voice was different. It was more like a real goodbye. It was more like this was a journey he was going on and he wasn't going to be returning. I sensed the fear that possibly this time he would not be back."
At 6 a.m. on December 23, 1992, Teresa's doorbell rang. It was the CIA's liaison officer at Fort Bragg. His message was stark, if incomplete: Larry had been killed the day before. Teresa screamed, then collapsed in his arms.
Only days and weeks later would she be given any details. She was told Freedman had driven over a Russian-built mine near the town of Bardera. His body had been helicoptered to the USS Tripoli, where a medical officer filled out the death certificate. The blast had caused severe head trauma, blown off his lower right leg and opened his chest. Death was "immediate." Three men with Freedman, all listed as "State Department Security Personnel," were also wounded. One of them died, she was later told.
A former CIA officer who worked with Freedman says that while the precise nature of his mission in Somalia was not known to him, it was essentially to perform a liaison role between the U.S. Embassy in Somalia and the U.S. military forces then arriving in the country. Freedman was part of a "pickup" team, an elite paramilitary unit whose job was to provide the agency and the resident ambassador with a stream of intelligence to guide specific military operations.
Freedman's funeral was held at Fort Myer Chapel in Arlington. Col. Sanford Dresin, then the senior-ranking Jewish chaplain in the armed forces, gathered Freedman's immediate family together to observe a time-honored ritual of grief -- the rending of the black cloth known as keriah. But they could find no black cloth, so Dresin improvised and used black paper. Such a field expediency would have been appreciated by Freedman, he remarked.
During the service, Dresin referred to the tradition of Jewish warriors, such as the Maccabees who two millenniums earlier had valiantly struggled with the Syrians. The service was attended by family and friends, among them beefy members of Delta Force and a cadre of dark-suited men behind mirrored sunglasses, some of whom arrived by limousine. In the days after, Teresa received many expressions of condolence. One of the callers was President George Bush, who telephoned from Camp David.
To the public, Freedman was identified as a civilian employee of the Defense Department. On a Pentagon casualty list, his name was even misspelled and he was given the wrong middle initial. Hardly anyone recognized the error, much less the man.
On December 31, 1992, CIA Director Robert M. Gates awarded Freedman a posthumous Intelligence Star for exceptional service. The citation recognized his "superior performance under hazardous combat conditions with the Central Intelligence Agency."
It took three years for the agency to send Teresa the medal and citation. With it came a letter and a warning: "Those persons who may be told of these awards will be left to your judgment; however, please do not disclose the details on which the awards were based. In addition, please do not release or cooperate in the release of any publicity concerning these awards."
Following Freedman's death, contributions in his honor were made to a Fort Bragg museum dedicated to special warfare, supporting construction of the "Sergeant First Class Lawrence `SuperJew' Freedman Memorial Theater."
Teresa retains a photograph of two Belgian paratroopers standing at an American-built bridge in Somalia near where her husband fell. Stenciled in white paint on a steel plate at the entrance to the bridge is written "Lawrence R. Freedman Bridge." (Again the middle initial is wrong.) And at Fort Bragg, in the plaza that honors heroes of the Special Operations Command, Freedman's name appears on a plaque, listed as a State Department casualty.
Today Freedman's grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Section Eight, No. 10177, is marked by a jet-black tombstone. On it is the Star of David, the wings of a paratrooper, a Green Beret and an inscription: "The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."
`The True Believers'
Outside the agency's Old Headquarters Building is a memorial garden consecrated last year in "remembrance of those whose unheralded efforts served a grateful nation." A tiny waterfall spills into a pool where koi take refuge in the shadows of lilies. The garden was created as an oasis of quiet contemplation where CIA employees can come to restore themselves "in those rare instances when we are tired and discouraged," as former director John M. Deutch put it during the dedication.
These days, of course, such instances of disillusionment are not so rare. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CIA's mission has become mired in ambiguity. America's enemies are less recognizable and the threats the country faces are more diffuse. Respectable public figures question the CIA's relevance and suggest it should be abolished as an independent center of power. Such arguments have been bolstered lately by ugly betrayals by two prominent career officers, Aldrich H. Ames and Harold J. Nicholson. Five directors in seven years have failed to clarify where the CIA is going.
Amid this drift and uncertainty, the old culture and the old ideals persist, at least rhetorically. "God, honor, duty, country," Richard Helms intoned as he dedicated the memorial garden. "This was once taken for granted. No longer. But this change in the public attitude need not daunt you, the true believers. The country needs you."
As it prepares to observe its 50th anniversary, the CIA has shown a renewed interest in its nameless stars, perhaps to remember past glory, or to draw from their anonymous sacrifices some revitalized sense of purpose and identity. But it does so within the same uncompromising code of secrecy that has always defined its culture and character. Such secrecy rests upon a circuitous logic: that only the few privy to such secrets are in a position to judge whether such strictures are necessary. The agency's unwillingness to inscribe the names of its anonymous stars in the Book of Honor, particularly those dead 20, 30, even 40 years, contributes to a perception, among some family members, that the CIA is an institution mired in bureaucracy, a vast machinery that finds it easiest to classify first and ask questions later -- if ever. The families of the dead have no institutional clout at Langley. The questions they ask about the need for continued secrecy often are just brushed aside, their appeals to common sense and compassion left unanswered.
But even those who chafe at the secrecy do so quietly, out of respect for the loved ones lost and the institution they served. For those at the memorial service on May 22, what often mattered more were the individual memories that had brought them all together. The day before the service, as Larry Freedman's widow, Teresa, prepared for the trip to Langley, she shared with a visitor her stash of treasures -- her late husband's personal belongings. From behind the headboard of their king-size bed she removed dozens of small velvet-lined boxes and spread them across the comforter. Inside were countless ribbons and medals, among them a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. In another box was an old buck knife, dog tags from Vietnam strung beside the Hebrew "chai" for "life," and a medic's kit.
As she walked through her tidy brick rambler, she stopped to point out a photograph of Freedman that hangs on the wall in the den. It was taken in Somalia five days before he was killed. In the photo, Freedman is wearing a khaki shooter's vest, a Harley Davidson hat, and dark tinted glasses. He is carrying his customized .45 and a machine gun. His salt-and-pepper beard is thick, his hair long and shaggy, his face radiant with satisfaction. That is how Teresa chooses to remember him.
A thousand miles away in Omaha, Pegge Mackiernan Hlavacek readied herself for the same journey. Twice before, she had attended CIA memorial services for her first husband. This time, the agency told her that Douglas Mackiernan would be singled out for special mention. Indeed, she fielded numerous calls from an agency speechwriter who was drafting Director Tenet's remarks.
In the 47 years since Mackiernan's death on the Tibetan border at the dawn of the Cold War, so much had changed in the lives of those he left behind. His mother died in 1986 at the age of 99. Three of his brothers survive. Mackiernan's daughter from his first marriage, Gail, inherited an interest in science. Today she lives in Silver Spring and heads a marine ecology project at the University of Maryland. Mackiernan's twins both live in California. His son, Mike, goes by his adoptive father's name, Hlavacek. He has little attachment to Mackiernan, a man who last looked upon him when he was 6 weeks old. Mike's sister Mary is a doctor. She was adamant about keeping the name "Mackiernan." At home, buried in a bedroom drawer and wrapped in tissue paper is her father's State Department medal and a tiny black-and-white photograph of the twins in the laundry basket the day they were spirited out of China.
As for Pegge, she never really had time to grieve fully. "I went into a whole new world of coping for twin babies," she says. The U.S. government got her a job as a press attache in Karachi, Pakistan, provided her with Mackiernan's pension and with financial assistance for the twins' education. She arrived late to the May 22 memorial service, first misreading the agency's map and then losing her plastic visitor's badge in the frenzied dash to the ceremony. She found her seat and listened.
"Those stars remind us that we should be grateful for their sacrifice," Tenet said during his speech, itself classified. "They speak with the very same words that are inscribed at a British military memorial in India. The words are simple and elegant:
When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today."
Pegge Hlavacek feels no bitterness toward the agency and is resigned to its obsession with secrecy. "I guess security is something like oxygen that you breathe in and out," she says. Still, she was surprised when, two weeks after the ceremony, she received an envelope from the CIA. Inside was a transcript of Tenet's remarks about her late husband.
She couldn't help but notice what was missing. The dates, the country and the names -- the director's, Mackiernan's, even her own -- had all been deleted.
PETE RAY, NO.22
When Janet Ray Weininger was a child growing up in Birmingham, Ala., her father would sometimes go off for "training." Janet was told she would have to write to him in Chicago using the name Joseph Greenland. His real name was Thomas Willard Ray, though everyone knew him as Pete. His death at age 30 -- on April 19, 1961 -- was wrapped in intrigue. There was a funeral but no body.
Janet was forbidden to speak of her father's death even in her own house. She learned what little she could by hiding under the bed and catching snippets of conversation between her mother and grandmother, or eavesdropping with a cup to the wall. In such denial was born obsession.
This much is known of Pete Ray. He and three other pilots in the Alabama Air National Guard joined what was then an ultra-secret CIA operation, a plan to liberate Cuba from Fidel Castro. The mission was a stunning failure that resulted in the death or capture of 1,200 men. It was forever after known as Bay of Pigs and, for many, became a symbol of the CIA's arrogance and fallibility.
For Janet, it was a mission of nobility. Her life has been consecrated to finding out what happened to her father and to promoting Cuba's liberation. As a teenager she interviewed Cuban refugees on the streets of Miami searching for clues to his fate. She flooded the CIA with Freedom of Information requests, but was rebuffed.
For years she deluged Castro with hundreds of letters and telegrams seeking information. Not once did he reply. In official Washington and Havana, she was seen as a pest and a pariah.
Finally, 12 years after Ray's death, on November 14, 1973, CIA Director William Colby secretly honored him with the agency's Distinguished Intelligence Cross. The citation praised his "exceptional heroism" on an "extremely hazardous mission of the highest national priority."
Still, the full truth about his death was not forthcoming. Janet had been told that her father died when his plane crashed. In 1978 the agency admitted to her that he survived the crash and was killed in a gun battle. Janet suspected that even this was not the full story, that instead, he had been coldly executed.
For years she worked to retrieve his body. From Cuban emigres, she discovered that his corpse had been preserved, frozen in a morgue -- a trophy of war. The FBI confirmed the fingerprints of the cadaver were indeed those of Pete Ray. In 1979, the Cuban government returned Ray's body, wrapped in white gauze and shipped in a gray pine box. But Janet was not content to bury him. She insisted on an autopsy. She had to know how he died. On December 6, 1979, a coroner examined his bullet-riddled body and recovered several fully jacketed lead slugs. The pooling of the blood, Janet believes, indicated her father survived the initial fusillade and died from a final shot to the right temple.
The day following the autopsy Ray was buried in Birmingham with full military honors. His was the 22nd star to be added to the CIA's Book of Honor. It remains nameless. "Every year," says Janet, "they have a ceremony and nobody ever calls us."
Former Washington Post reporter Ted Gup is a visiting professor of journalism at the University of Maryland and lives in Bethesda.
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