cia officer barry broman

Guest Blog: Writing About Life in the CIA.

Casemate author Barry Michael Broman spent many years serving as a CIA case officer. In this blog, he writes about how he used to recruit agents and his experience writing fiction and nonfiction titles.

My Story

I am a photographer by choice and a writer by necessity.  I began writing as a way to help sell photos for magazine articles and later books while still in government service.  In recent years I wrote a memoir Risk Taker, Spy Maker: Tales of a CIA Case Officer published by Casemate in 2020. It largely dealt with my years as a photographer for the Associated Press in Southeast Asia while still a teenager, my time as an infantry officer in combat in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, and my decades as an officer in the Clandestine Service of the Central Intelligence Agency. In April 2023, Casemate published my first novel The Spy From Place Saint-Sulpice, a story set in Paris and based on my years as a CIA officer assigned to France in the 1980s.

My Writing

The Spy From Place Saint-Sulpice book

For me writing non-fiction is easier than fiction in that it only requires a presentation of facts shaped into stories that are interesting as well as entertaining.  Since much of my recent writing has dealt with my years as an intelligence officer, my stories need to be cleared by the CIA as part of my secrecy agreement I signed with the Agency when I retired in 1996.  Mainly I am enjoined from divulging “secrets and sources”, some things should remain secret .

I find writing fiction more liberating and fun as it allows much greater freedom in storytelling unconstrained by facts.  But I also found that fiction is much more difficult as it requires a plot filled with twists and turns, detailed character development, and setbacks when describing the ups and downs of the life of an intelligence officer living under cover and seeking to make spies out of enemy targets.  The success or failure of the effort rests with the opinion of the reader.

The Perfect Recruitment

CIA case officers invariably have a favorite agent, someone they have recruited or ‘handled’.  In my case my favorite agent was a European man who had the unique ability to visit places of operational interest to the CIA but were often off limits or too dangerous.  He was a charming fellow who met with senior targets and was often befriended by them.  I was initially skeptical of the man; he seemed too good to be true.  He was able to convince me of his abilities by showing me photos of himself in “denied area” where it was dangerous for CIA agents to survive let alone provide useful intelligence.

When I made my ‘pitch’ the fellow smiled and said “I’m glad to finally learn that you work for the Central Intelligence Agency.  I was afraid you might really be a State Department.  But I do have one condition.”  I was wary; maybe his condition was a game breaker.  “What do you want?” I asked.

“I will only accept missions that are life threatening,” he said.

“That might be arranged” I said not really knowing if it really could be arranged.  I had never faced such a situation before.  Nor had I heard of it happening.

“What about salary?” I asked feeling that he might also want more money than we could afford.

“Money is not important” he said.  Another unusual situation.  Money is often the critical issue in negotiating with a prospective secret agent.

“Not a problem” I said, feeling more confident with this answer than my last.  “What do we do if you get killed on a life threatening operation?”

“Bury me where I fall” he said.  I felt like I was in a film scene, not a real CIA recruitment.  He went on.

“I have no family and need no insurance.  I have a girlfriend but she cannot know about my work for you and you will never see her or contact her.  OK?

“OK” I said and concluded the recruitment.

We looked around for a trial mission for the fellow and came up with an excellent test for an East Asia Division station that needed just such an asset to meet with a high profile target and report on his illegal activities.  I broached the idea with the agent and he knew of the target and welcomed the mission.  It succeeded beyond the expectations of the station and EA Division was generous when the agent made it back alive.

The Aftermath

This began a long and fruitful career with my agent  who continued his good work long after I turned him over to a new case officer when my tour was over.  Over the years the agent became something of a legend for his work all over the world.  I was contacted in the early 1990s while serving in Langley by an officer who informed me that my old agent was still alive and active.  He was also nearing retirement and was being given  a rare award for excellence for his years of outstanding service.  I was invited to contribute to the citation of the award and also to be at the presentation.  It was a great pleasure to see the old fellow again and witness the presentation ceremony on the 7th floor at CIA headquarters.  I was also invited to an elegant retirement dinner that evening for the agent attended by some of the officers who had ‘run’ him over the years.  He had a sendoff unlike any other I know of by a grateful agency.

Thank you to Barry Broman for providing this unique look into the secretive world of the CIA. Read his memoir Risk Taker, Spy Maker to learn more about his incredible career. His debut novel The Spy from Place Saint-Sulpice is available now.