Rogue Agent's Book Did Double Duty For CIA Recruits Back in 1975, Philip Agee's Inside the Company revealed coups, assassination attempts and the names of secret agents. But while top officials were decrying it as the work of a traitor, CIA recruiters were using it to lure young talent, says former agent Robert Baer.
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Rogue Agent's Book Did Double Duty For CIA Recruits

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Rogue Agent's Book Did Double Duty For CIA Recruits

Rogue Agent's Book Did Double Duty For CIA Recruits

Rogue Agent's Book Did Double Duty For CIA Recruits

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After he left the CIA in disgrace, Philip Agee wrote an expose called Inside the Company. That book, which revealed assassinations and the names of other agents, was later used by the CIA as a recruitment tool. Agee (shown in Cuba in 2000) died two years ago in Havana. Jose Goitia/AP hide caption

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Jose Goitia/AP

Back in 1975, rogue CIA agent Philip Agee wrote a book called Inside the Company that revealed coups, assassination attempts and the names of secret agents.

But while top officials were decrying it as the work of a traitor, CIA recruiters were using it to lure young talent, says former agent Robert Baer.

Baer, now an author and frequent Middle East and CIA commentator, tells NPR's Guy Raz that in the late 1970s, he was studying Chinese and hoping to become an analyst for the agency when he met with a recruiter in a San Francisco hotel room.

"At the end of this recruitment pitch, he said, 'You know, without an M.A. or a Ph.D., I don't really think we have a place for you as an analyst. But how about being an operative?' " he says. "And I had no idea what he was talking about."

Baer says the recruiter pulled out a copy of Agee's book and told him to read it and share his thoughts. Rather than an attempt to scare him away, Baer guesses it was probably used to test his open-mindedness.

"It's a good opportunity for the CIA to call out the people on the margins, as far as I can tell."

Back in his room, Baer dove into the book. He was fascinated.

"It opened up a world that I had no idea existed," he says.

Cuba And The KGB

What Baer didn't know then was the troubled life Agee had led before writing the book.

"His life had fallen apart, and he didn't know what he was going to do when he got out [of the CIA] in 1968," Baer says.

Divorced and facing financial problems, Agee started spending time in leftist circles in Latin America. Eventually the CIA discovered that Agee had worked for both the Cuban government and the KGB after leaving the agency.

Baer says it's not Agee's criticism that makes him angry — it's that he betrayed fellow agents and his country.

"I think you can be as critical as you want of the CIA. I'm critical of it for incompetence, for missing 9/11 and so on. ... Disagreeing with American policy does not necessitate betraying your country," he says. "[But] giving away secrets, identifying covert operatives ... he's gone beyond the pale, that's the problem."

Agee's Defense

In a 1987 interview with NPR's Robert Siegel, Agee defended his actions. He argued he was not guilty of treason, but the CIA was.

"It happens that I feel the CIA and these presidents who have used the CIA for secret interventions in other countries ... are not following in the best traditions of the United States," Agee said.

The disgraced spy died in Cuba in 2008, and his widow sent his papers to New York University, which put them on display last week. But Baer says he doesn't think the newly revealed collection will change Agee's legacy.

"It's like an op-ed piece ... you wanna know who's paying the writer's bills," he says. "The fact that the Cuban intelligence and the KGB paid Agee's bills all these years, I would like that noted in his papers. And I don't think that's there."

Either way, he says he's not reading them.

"The man was a fraud and a liar and a paid traitor," he says. "And I can't bring myself to."