Cover image for Spies' wives : stories of CIA families abroad
Spies' wives : stories of CIA families abroad
Chiao, Karen L.
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Publication Information:
Berkeley, Calif. : Creative Arts Book Co., [2001]

Physical Description:
xx, 240 pages ; 23 cm
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Material Type
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E839.8 .C5 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Since the publication of their book, authors Karen Chiao and Mariellen O'Brien have been interviewed for the London Times, the London Daily Telegraph, and have had articles published in numerous newspapers and magazines around the world. They were welcomed to the Princeton University bookstore for a taping on C-Span's BookTV and appeared on CourtTV. Shortly after September 11th, they were invited to the Baltimore Book Festival where many young people in the audience wanted to know how to join the Central Intelligence Agency.

Honored to be the keynote speakers for the CIA Retirees' Association this past fall, Chiao and O'Brien are also scheduled to speak at the Virginia Book Festival in Charlottesville and the Hampton Roads Women's Book Festival. A movie script about these women and their stories is currently in the works.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

"You know you are a CIA dependent when... [y]our husband tells you he's going on a trip and can't tell you where and you don't even wonder why," says one such dependent. Paging through old address books, Chiao and O'Brien, who have lived in many far corners of the world as the wives of spies, tracked down other women like themselves around the globe, leading to "numerous luncheons, afternoon teas, telephone calls, e-mails, conversations and then, this book," a collection of more than 90 true accounts many hilarious, others frightening by 30 spouses and daughters of CIA agents. (Only 16 contributors are credited, since many wished to remain anonymous.) Experiences here include culture shock, cover jobs, hardships, espionage, embassy attacks, evacuations, typhoons, secret love affairs and drunken parties. Particularly poignant are tales of teens suddenly surprised when told the truth by their CIA dads. Most incidents fill two or three pages, and some get only a sketchy paragraph. The contributions have been regrettably fragmented into thematic groupings, so any sense of personalities and cohesion is absent. The unfortunate final effect is that of a distractingly incomplete, unsolvable puzzle, as the reader riddles over which abbreviated anecdotes were once joined together. The book concludes with a two-page glossary explaining such terms as "compartmentation" (being told only what one needs to know) and "dead drop" ("a concealed site established for transfer or passage of clandestine material, information or equipment"). (Mar. 15) Forecast: Although a useful training manual for spies' wives-to-be, this hodgepodge will have little appeal beyond the most espionage-addicted readers. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One LD[FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS     Life overseas for Spies' Wives was very exciting, very boring, and sometimes frightening. We left some of ourselves behind in each post. Tragically, for some of us, we buried babies in distant lands and lost husbands through divorce and death. We came home older, wiser, and often jaded. Then came a new assignment, and the excitement started all over again. No matter how many times we packed up, resettled and reoriented ourselves to a new place, the adrenaline would start to flow again. New cultures, languages, targets, agents, political situations, dangers to conquer. That was probably the secret to our lives abroad. Starting over and loving it. You might think us just like any other government employee and his or her family overseas. But there was, and still is, one major difference: We could never reveal the true reason for our assignments overseas or the exact nature of our business. We seldom shared specifics, even with fellow CIA employees; compartmentation was a necessary part of espionage.     We often had only an outdated post report to find out what was needed in our new post. Some posts required shipping extra canned goods, diapers, and clothing for children's growing needs. Just imagine trying to guess how many diapers one would need for an infant. It was an overwhelming task, but we did it. Added to this was the fact that the agency really would have preferred not to have officers married. "If we wanted case officers to have wives, we would have issued them one!" said one senior agency employee.     When we began collecting stories for this book, we found a serious reluctance on the part of many women to share their experiences or reveal a lot of themselves to the world. So many years had been spent in the background and hiding the truth that it was painful to come out of the closet, so to speak. Some women could not bring themselves to recount their fears and sorrows. Some did. A generation that will never be again. Things have changed and are more progressive within the agency today. Married and overseas with a career of one's own is now a reality. We hope we've paved the way for much of the progress that has been made. Join us along this journey through the dark alleys and silent rooms of CIA life overseas.     She was flying upcountry on the Air America Courier flight to her new home. She glanced at the information sheet she had picked up at the Embassy. It read "In Danang one finds many things reminiscent of back home. Fishing and beaches equal to those of Florida. The French style restaurants recalling memories of New Orleans. You will find a home away from home in the U.S.O. and Special Services to provide facilities for relaxation. Yes, you will enjoy Danang." How right they were, but for all the wrong reasons. This was her first tour overseas. She fastened her seat belt and prepared for the ride. From the Post Report for Danang 1964 The Emperor Who Waved     "Marry me," my wasband (former husband) said, "and I'll take you on a fabulous honeymoon through Europe." This is my man! Yes! Conveniently, he forgot to mention that the end of the trip would be Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Where? Africa? Ethiopia? So off we went--me, a twenty-four-year-old who had never been north of New York City or south of Florida and he, a brand-spanking-new CIA Career Trainee (CT), Class of `66.     The minute the plane landed and doors opened, we knew we were some place other than Mom's kitchen. The stench of the place was so startling it took your breath away--a mixture of beriberi spice, human waste, and general garbage. There is no such thing as trash removal in Ethiopia. Off to the Hotel Ethiopia, the only hotel (and I use that word "hotel" loosely) in the city (and I use the word "city" loosely), where the next morning we awakened itching and scratching from Ethiopian fleas, which were in the mattress by the millions. Husband was whisked off to the office while I was left to my own devices to entertain myself for eight hours. No TV, no newspaper, no room service, so I mustered/gathered/summoned up my courage, opened the door, and ventured outside. At once I was surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of begging children and lepers with various forms of disfigurement. The children were chanting "no mother, no father" and the begging lepers were removing various dirty rags from their deformities to shove them in my face. Not a pretty sight! After realizing the situation I was in, with no help around and being pushed, shoved, jostled, and touched by people with diseases, I ran screaming into the lobby, where the bellboy announced, "Not safe for you, Missy!" Now he tells me.     After a month of living in the hotel, we moved into our own house, which was surrounded by twelve foot walls with broken glass and barbed wire lining the top. The wall kept out humans, but the monkeys roamed freely and the vultures would perch on top waiting for something or someone to die. I decided not to be the next meal! Many months later, after we became acclimated to the post and often ventured out into the countryside, we would see vultures by the hundreds sitting around dying donkeys and cows, waiting for them to lie down.     Our maid spoke five languages but still had the habit of saying "yes" to everything, even when she clearly did not understand what we were saying or asking her to do. Saying yes was a way of "saving face," which was a big priority, and rather than admit that they did not understand, the servants would just let you think that they did. Before we had left for Ethiopia, we had read the State Department Post Report, which told us to ship in bulk any supplies that we would need for our two-year tour. A hair setting lotion, Get Set, was something I could not do without so I shipped a case over in the household effects. After several months, I realized that I could not find my Get Set until one day I happened to come home early and found the maid with a bottle of Get Set in one hand and a rag in the other. She thought Get Set was Windex and had been using it on our windows for months.     The office in Addis Ababa was located at the top of the one good road in the city. The Emperor's palace was at the bottom of the same road, and every day, Haile Selassie, Lion of Judah, would ride up the hill in what looked like a two-block-long Rolls Royce to the top of the mountain for prayers. He would make this trip each day at noon just as we were on our way home for the two-hour lunch break. When the Emperor passed by, we had to get out of our cars and bow. Daily we encountered the Emperor on his way to prayers; and daily we would get out of our cars to bow. After a while, I would peek up as I bowed and give the Emperor a little wave. He in turn would give me a little smile and a small wave.     We were permitted to use the Emperor's weekend retreat, and so several times a month, a group of us would drive over the dusty rutted roads to Galila Palace where there was an actual swimming pool. Before swimming, however, we would have to clean out the thousands of bugs that lived on top of the water. Often the Emperor was also at the palace, occupying one wing, while we had the rest of the palace to ourselves. Many times he, surrounded by bodyguards, would come down to the pool to watch us have fun in the water. When we spotted him and scrambled out of the water, he would give us a shy smile and a "carry-on" wave. He loved Americans. The Emperor would leave his retreat at about three in the afternoon to return to Addis. He had two guard cars ahead of his Rolls Royce, which was followed by another guard car. We Americans, frequently drunk from our afternoon at the swimming pool, would follow behind, so the caravan was a very long one. The Emperor threw clean white cotton cloth out of the window to the villagers, who would make themselves new shammas (native dress robes) out of the material. We Americans wearing plastic pith helmets threw candy and beer cans out our windows. The villagers loved cans of any sort and used them for many things. Nothing like the versatile can. Nothing like drunk Americans! No wonder these people never understood us.     Being a newlywed in Ethiopia definitely had its drawbacks, especially if you did not know how to cook. We lived on ungarnished Spam and Dinty Moore beef stew for most of our meals. I swore after that tour that I would never again eat either of these delicacies, and I never have. The commissary was one room about the size of a double garage. Most of the time the shelves were empty except for flour, which came in twenty-five pound bags and had to be debugged before you could use it. Fresh meat was flown in from Kenya once every six weeks, and the choices were usually only huge frozen fish or water buffalo roasts. Very tough! During our second year, a new ambassador arrived who actually felt sorry for the "troops" and had a load of fresh turkeys flown in for Thanksgiving. He invited all the American personnel to the residence for a good old-fashioned home-cooked dinner, and since most of us had not had turkey and all the trimmings for eighteen months, we pigged out. That night, every one of us got ptomaine poisoning to the point where we prayed for a quick death! The ambassador, who also got sick, called everyone to explain that the servants had stuffed the turkeys the night before and had left them out on the counters overnight!     We went on to other assignments, but I will always remember this one as the one where an Emperor waved at me every day. Along for the Ride     When I was asked to share some of my stories of life inside the highest intelligence organization in the world, it brought back a flood of memories that I could not control. When I started to write them down on paper, I could not write fast enough.     It started thirty-four years ago the first week in September, with my first international flight, and only the second flight of my life, to Bonn, Germany. This was the land of the killers of European Jews (my mother had told me the stories of the Holocaust), and I was frozen with fear! Everything I had was on this massive jet. Three precious little boys, ages three months, two years, and five years, and my best friend, my husband of six years--a brand-spanking-new JOT (Junior Officer Trainee) barely out of spy school! I had packed mounds of cloth diapers (no paper ones in those days), baby lotion, pacifiers, rattles, baby clothes, and all the other paraphernalia for the baby; plus toys, books, and other distractions to keep the older two happy during the long flight. Under my seat was a box marked Colt. 45--an anniversary gun given to my husband by his father as a going away gift with the warning, "Ya never know when you're going to need this, son!" I was twenty-four years old and in total shock. I silently cried, trying to keep my face turned so that my husband and my children could not see the tears sliding down my face. I was petrified that we would crash into the Atlantic, since the plane was bouncing all over the sky and we had been advised to keep our seatbelts tightened. "Maybe this is normal," I thought, but how was I going to live through all this? I was scared. How would I cope? But I knew that I had to be brave for the sake of my babies and my husband. After all, he would take care of everything; he always had. He had the college education. I didn't, and he knew what was best for us, or so he told me. I was just along for the ride!     Arriving in Bonn to pouring rain and gray skies, we were stuffed into two taxis for the long ride to our hotel. I began to think that we had no clothes on because of all the stares and gawkings from the Germans. I could hear the word "Amerikanish" said with distaste and disgust. I felt intimidated and embarrassed. Fear gripped my throat--maybe we were not supposed to be here. Had we done something wrong? Were we going to be arrested and taken away somewhere? Was the war really over--did they still gas people? All these thoughts were running through my mind until I thought that I would go mad! I drew my precious bundles closer to me. No one spoke to me except my husband who fortunately also spoke German. He told me that everything was fine, and I finally began to relax a little. I became fascinated with how different everything looked--the gingerbread houses just like the ones in the Hansel and Gretel story, the cars that went very, very fast, and flowers everywhere. My God, I was so naive and had so much to learn. It was only the beginning! It's Not Easy Being Green     As a young working wife with two small children, the anticipation of an overseas assignment seemed like a blessing in disguise. A wonderful chance to see the world at Uncle Sam's expense, to be able to stay home with the kids and save money for a "rainy day." All of these goals were accomplished with a few deviations, disappointments, and some embarrassing moments.     At our first posting in Manila during the Vietnam War, I made many discoveries and my share of mistakes. I had never flown before and had never been away from my family for more than two weeks at a time. I had no idea of what lay ahead for me.     The twenty-hour flight from Washington, DC, was broken up with a five-day stay in Honolulu. This short vacation was wonderful after the hectic time of packing, getting our shots, and saying goodbye to our loved ones. It also helped with the jet lag caused by crossing twelve time zones. After a relaxing time in Honolulu, we flew what seemed like halfway around the world, and arrived in Manila in the middle of the night. What a shock! There was a burned-down airport with only a runway and a makeshift terminal. Four hundred Filipinos greeted us at the plane--they were looking for jobs as ayahs (nannies), gardeners, and drivers. Arriving with a one-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter put my family in demand. Everyone was pressing forward trying to touch my daughter's blonde hair--it is supposed to be good luck, so I was asked by the officer who met us not to be offended by it. I would take care of my own children; I did not need a nanny. I managed to survive the first week of adapting to the temperature, the surroundings, and my new status as an overseas wife. It soon became apparent that, given our social schedule, I would need to hire a nanny, and while I was at it, I needed a maid and a gardener, too. I hired and fired several before we found a staff that we liked and felt comfortable with.     Our first command performance was a welcome party for new arrivals, which was held at the ambassador's residence a week after we arrived. Fortunately, I had purchased a long tropical flowing dress in Hawaii that seemed appropriate attire for this party. I will never forget the look on our children's faces as we left them in the very capable hands of the newly hired nanny I was never going to have! So much for resolve. The embassy driver picked us up and delivered us to the residence. I had arrived! Small-town girl no more, I thought as the car door was opened by the white uniformed servant. If my family could see me now!     As we mingled with some of the people we had met at the embassy, I was overwhelmed with the luxurious house and its grand furnishings. Embassy cocktail parties could be overwhelming, especially to a young wife new to overseas life. You stand around waiting for anyone to come and talk to you, and you get the feeling that you are standing there naked and everyone is staring at you because you have no friends. I had very little experience with drinking, so I felt intimidated when the houseboy approached to take my drink order. I cannot remember to this day what I ordered, but whatever it was, it gave me the courage to move away from my husband's side and mingle with some of the other wives. I joined a conversation about where these ladies had lived. Oh, this one I could handle. One of the more seasoned women in this group had just arrived in the Philippines from Vienna. I got enough courage to speak: "Oh, really, I lived near Vienna." Now that I had her attention, she asked me where I had lived. "Alexandria," I replied. "Vienna, Austria, my dear, not Vienna, Virginia," she cried, looking down her nose at me. I said no more that evening.     I have been in many other places and have attended countless cocktail parties and am no longer green. Since that day I have always tried to seek out the women who have felt naked at cocktail parties, and I have not given them a geography test. I am no longer an agency wife and do not travel as I once did. I saw parts of the world I never imagined in my wildest dreams, got to stay home with my children during their formative years, saved some money for a rainy day and, thanks to the efforts of other agency wives, I can now enjoy a substantial allotment based on my ex-husband's retirement that all former spouses now get.     All in all, a marvelous experience. Excerpted from SPIES' WIVES by KAREN L. CHIAO AND MARIELLEN B. O'BRIEN. Copyright © 2001 by Karen L. Chiao and Mariellen O'Brien. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Introductionp. xvii
You Know You are a CIA Dependent When...p. xix
Chapter I Fasten Your Seatbeltsp. 1
The Emperor Who Wavedp. 3
Along For The Ridep. 7
It's Not Easy Being Greenp. 9
Sawadiip. 12
Unpaid Servitudep. 16
First Tourp. 18
Sixth Cataract On The Nilep. 24
Give Me Three Scotchesp. 26
Surprise! Surprise!p. 28
She Just Kept Ironingp. 29
From Washington to Udornthanip. 30
Chapter II The Hidden Side of Life Overseasp. 35
Tradecraft, African Stylep. 36
Friendshipsp. 37
Cover Doesn't Coverp. 39
Looking For Troublep. 40
The Bomb and the Zombie in Saigonp. 42
I Led Two Livesp. 46
Three Weeks With Olegp. 49
The Big Pursep. 53
Chapter III I Don't Think We're in Kansas, Totop. 61
Heads Or Tailsp. 62
Walk In My Shoesp. 63
Ladies Of The Nightp. 65
Repairsp. 67
A New Kind of Pastap. 69
It Hurt to Laughp. 71
A Cambodian Refugee Campp. 73
Hardship Postp. 78
It's My Mediterranean Bloodp. 81
The Frustrated Sinkp. 82
Beads, Borders, and Batikp. 83
A Guardian Angel in a Foreign Landp. 85
Driving Woesp. 88
The Big Onep. 90
Island Feverp. 92
Passports, Pleasep. 94
Say What You Mean or Mean What You Sayp. 95
I Remember Her Wellp. 96
Who Is the Blind One?p. 97
Oh, Thank Youp. 98
Cops and Robbersp. 99
Cell Block Cp. 101
Keep Your Pecker Upp. 102
Who Is the Non-Conformist?p. 103
The Best Laid Plansp. 104
A Life of Contrastsp. 107
Chapter IV Master and Madamep. 109
Life in Mogadishup. 110
A Picture Is Definitely Worth A Few Wordsp. 113
X Rated Helpp. 115
More Than One Way To Kill A Germp. 117
Polish It Until It Shinesp. 118
Hot Stuffp. 119
Sweets Before Saltp. 120
The Joys of Household Helpp. 121
Thi Hai--Guardian of Childrenp. 124
Hostess With The Mostestp. 126
Malesh, My Footp. 128
Army Of Pigsp. 129
Baby Of The Housep. 130
Chapter V The "Shrinking Bird" Diseasep. 131
Hidden Passionp. 132
Booze and Boysp. 134
Bald-Faced Lies and Cambodian Skirtsp. 137
Chapter VI Happy Holidaysp. 141
Three Happy Holidaysp. 142
The Partyp. 145
Thanksgiving Memoryp. 155
Chapter VII See Spot Runp. 157
The Roaches Wore Wedding Dressesp. 158
The Cobra Who Came To Dinnerp. 160
But My Dog Doesn't Bite!p. 161
These Boots Are Made For Stompingp. 162
Jallep. 163
Dinner Entertainmentp. 164
Charliep. 165
Rome, The City Of Catsp. 166
Oh Rats!p. 167
Chapter VIII Contract Wivesp. 169
Hearts, Minds and Orange Sodap. 171
The Lost Opportunityp. 175
From The Ground Upp. 179
Honey, I'll Be Latep. 181
Chapter IX Pink Slips and Other Dirty Laundryp. 183
The Halloween Massacrep. 184
Marry Me And You Are Firedp. 190
Chapter X Women and Children Firstp. 193
Be Prepared For Eight Hours Of Inconveniencep. 194
Evacuationsp. 200
Somalia Under Siegep. 201
Chapter XI Out in the Coldp. 205
Eulogy For Eva G.p. 206
Confessions Of A Deep Cover Wifep. 209
Under Cover Child--Life Outside the Embassyp. 213
Chapter XII The Next Generationp. 215
The Agency Bratp. 216
Laos Showersp. 220
Lucky Thirteenp. 222
Wishful Fishingp. 226
My Dadp. 228
Lies and Truthsp. 230
Contributorsp. 235
Glossaryp. 239