In Memorial Wall, A Tribute To Fallen CIA Agents

The CIA commemorates its dead at a memorial wall at in headquarters in Langley, Va. Ted Gup, author of The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA, says the wall, which came into being in 1974, was, besides recognizing the sacrifices of its agents, an effort to restore a sense of faith, purpose and self-esteem within the agency.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The bodies of the seven CIA officers killed in Afghanistan arrived yesterday at Dover Air Force Base. Several of the dead have been named in media reports, but the CIA itself has not released any information. It's citing the sensitivity of the mission and ongoing operations.

The CIA commemorates its dead at a memorial wall at the agency's headquarters in Virginia. Carved into the wall are 90 stars, each representing a life lost in the line of duty. And under the stars is "The Book of Honor," which lists some but not all of the names of the fallen. "The Book of Honor" and the unnamed operatives in it are the subject of a book by the author, Ted Gup. Earlier, I asked Ted Gup about the history of the memorial.

Professor TED GUP (Journalism, Emerson College; Author, "The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA"): It really came into being about 1974, which if you'll remember, was a time when the agency came under pretty severe attack because of nefarious activities which were revealed by congressional hearings. The agency was licking its wounds and losing pride and suffering in recruitment. And I think to some degree, it was an effort to restore a sense of faith and purpose and self-esteem. It was certainly also intended to recognize the ultimate sacrifices of those that died in the line of duty.

NORRIS: In the course of working on this book, and we should say that you actually wrote this book 10 years ago, what did you learn about the way the agency handles deaths?

Prof. GUP: The agency attempts to handle deaths with a great deal of compassion, but that compassion is always balanced against the need for security. It's a very complicated matter, as you can well imagine. There's a certain inherent contradiction in the notion of a memorial wall to remember the deeds of heroism of those whose names you don't know and whose deeds you don't know, which is not to challenge the legitimacy of the memorial - it's quite moving.

The issue is, how do you remember someone and preserve the sources and methods, which potentially could be compromised by the release of the names? Sources and methods refers to how the agency gathers its intelligence. The manner in which it gets that information and the people from whom it gathers that information, both of which are spoken of as the crown jewels of the agency and are jealously guarded.

NORRIS: I'm curious to know, Mr. Gup, what you heard from the families that you've interviewed for the book. What was it like for them to have to maintain a certain level of secrecy about the deaths of their loved ones?

Prof. GUP: Well, you can imagine if you've lost a loved one that that grief is exponentially compounded by the fact that you can tell no one the circumstances of the death or what it was that the person died for. If you ever say anything about your loved one, you must stick to the cover story, which is to say, you must tell a lie.

Historically, some very interesting things have happened in this regard. There was a gentleman who was the liaison between the agency and the grieving families named Ben DeFelice, a wonderful human being whose heart really went out to the grieving families. He would draft the letter of condolence, take it to the director, who would sign it - the head of the agency - and then deliver it to the widow or widower. And that person would then read the letter. And when they were finished reading the letter, Ben DeFelice would then request -indeed, insist - that the letter be returned to his hands.

They were not allowed to keep it because it was evidence of the CIA connection. And that letter was then placed in the casualty's personnel file. The same treatment was given to many of the medals that were awarded because the agency wanted no evidence linking them to the staff.

NORRIS: Now, there are 90 stars on the memorial wall, and presumably, seven now will be added for those killed in Afghanistan last week. When do you think the names of those killed might be added to that book?

Prof. GUP: You know, that's a very good question and it's pure speculation on my part. The world has changed because of Facebook and the Internet. It's much harder to keep a secret. My guess is that there's going to be a lot of pressure on the agency to come forward with these names, much faster than they have historically.

NORRIS: Ted Gup, it's been a pleasure to speak to you. Thank you very much for your time.

Prof. GUP: Thank you.

NORRIS: Ted Gup is the author of "The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA." He teaches journalism at Emerson College in Boston.

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