It might be true that everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone needs the CIA’s approval to do it.

It might be true that everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone needs the CIA’s approval to do it.

In James A. Everett’s case, that meant a delay of a quarter century.
Everett, a retired public relations executive, Independence resident of nearly 40 years and weekly Examiner columnist, has just published a book on his 15 years in the Central Intelligence Agency.

The title, “The Making and Breaking of An American Spy,” alludes to his recruitment into the CIA in the late 1950s, his service overseas and his frustrations when things went badly. He also says there is a message for the agency and the country it serves. His aim is to improve the CIA, where he wants officials “to understand that honor is an admirable quality in any institution, even in espionage.”

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His career with the agency began when he was recruited in 1958.

“My job was to go out and build myself a legitimate cover as a business,” he said. He was in importing and exporting and later in public relations. His real job was to recruit and train what the intelligence community calls assets, that is, people in valuable positions around the world who could provide information or help in other ways. That work took him overseas, including seven years in Sweden and four in the Netherlands.

The job meant being ready to meet those people, when needed, at the drop of a hat.

“I could literally be packed in 15 minutes and be off to the airport,” he said.
There was a close call or two. The worst was in Europe in the early 1970s. The Cold War was still on, and Everett was to meet with a Soviet official. His job was to play himself as a naive American businessman trying to reach behind the Iron Curtain to see what connections might be made. In reality, the CIA was reaching out to the Soviet official.

He took his rental car to pick up the man, but trouble started right away. The other man insisted on driving. That would make it harder for others in the CIA to follow them, keep an eye on things and protect Everett and his wife. The man drove, headed for a restaurant. Everett glanced behind them.

“Sure enough, we’re being tailed, only it isn’t my tail. It’s the Russian tail,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’”

Dinner can be a long affair in Europe, so the evening dragged on. At a nearby table sat four men Everett took to be Russians. And another four at another table – all to make sure Everett’s Russian didn’t say or do anything out of line.
They leave for a nightclub, and the eight Russians tag along. And so it goes through the night. Obviously Everett isn’t going to get what he came for, and now he wonders how they’ll get through the night safely.

“All I know is we are under their control,” he said.

At last the evening of wining, dining and not much espionage comes to an end. The Everetts head for a safehouse.

“So finally we show up at 3 in the morning, and (the CIA officials) were so happy,” Everett says. “And we were so happy, and my wife said, ‘Don’t ever, ever do this again.’”

His time with the CIA came to an end in 1973. His cover was blown when his name came up during the Watergate hearings. But he says the agency that gave him dangerous duties and promised to take care of him – and others – didn’t when it really counted. The agency, under some fire during the Watergate investigations, looked to its own security first, he said, and just let him go.
“They don’t worry about protecting the individual,” he said.

Officials told him apologetically that he  got a raw deal. Others said he could have sued for millions. He couldn’t think of it. He loved – loves – his country, had come to love the agency and believed in its mission.

“Our country – every country – has to have an intelligence agency,” he said.
He came to Independence in 1974 and started a public relations company – drawing on skills he had learned in the agency. He did that for close to 20 years.

But he still had something to say. He wrote his book in the 1980s. But there’s a hangup, the CIA’s Publication Review Board, which has to sign off on anything anyone connected with the agency publishes. Its biggest concern is revealing information – even from decades ago – that might harm American interests.

He would send a manuscript. It would come back with black marks through sections. The phone would ring. They would haggle. It’s “the fight that just goes on and on and on,” Everett said.

He understands the drill.

“They’re simply doing their due diligence,” he said.

Still, friends had told him clearly: Don’t fight the CIA.

“And it’s true,” he said. “It makes you feel like a little ant to be squashed.”

Finally, the agency must have concluded that “this Everett is a fighter. And we don’t need fighters,” he said. The book is good to go, in substantially the form in which he originally wrote and, for the record, with no security breaches. He does add, “They don’t like the fact that I’m naming names in certain instances.”

Everett still sees a need for reform, starting with the CIA’s intense rivalries with the FBI and the U.S. State Department.

“The biggest enemy of the CIA is the FBI and the State Department,” he said.
Traditionally, the CIA only operates overseas, and the FBI only operates within the country, but he says the CIA now has agents in every American city, “and it’s illegal.” Why does the agency do that? Because the FBI “is too damn dumb.”

Meanwhile, the FBI slipped legislation through Congress to allow it to have agents in “every capital in every country in the world.”

“Now why are they doing that? Because the CIA is too damn dumb,” he said.

The CIA also needs to address some contradictions, he said, such as in the current controversy in which the U.S. is trying to claim after-the-fact diplomatic immunity – and therefore the immediate release – of an American with CIA ties who recently shot and killed two people in a murky incident in Pakistan.

“We can’t have it both ways,” he said.

Also, the agency’s drones being used to kill terrorists in that country are also killing innocent civilians.

“It is part of our policy, and it’s not honorable,” he said.

So are the right people at the agency reading the book and paying heed?

“I don’t know yet,” Everett said. “All I know is it seems to be selling briskly.”
For Everett, now 82, just getting the book written and finally published is a victory.

“It’s given me a lot of satisfaction,” he said. “Maybe that’s part of my ego. I don’t know. I don’t care.”

There are little ironies, too. The agency called one day, wanting to include his passages about training in the agency’s official history. Everett agreed on the spot.