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Open Manifesto

Without a trace.

A conversation between Larry J. Kolb and K.F.

{18th of August 2009}

 

Until your early twenties you resisted the secret world that your father was part of. Eventually Miles Copeland, one of the founders of the CIA, convinced you to join the agency, but you did so reluctantly. What changed your mind and was this a decision you came to regret?

 

Miles Copeland changed my mind. He was just so damned interesting, and charming. And by the time he finally let me know why he’d been spending so much time with me, what he really wanted from me, we were such close friends that I almost couldn’t conceive of saying no. Beyond that, he made what he was inviting me to do seem fascinating, which it certainly was. Regrets? I suffered some because of my decision, I learned some hard truths. But, no, I have no regrets.

 

Intelligence agencies employ covert tactics and personnel to gather information. What is it like to be a spy or a covert operative in today’s world? Is it as gritty or as glamorous as the popular culture stereotypes lead us to believe: James Bond, Jason Bourne, Alias and Hollywood films depicting spies and CIA secret agents? Is there even a shred of truth in these depictions?

 

Espionage requires patience. What’s it really like? Vast, truly vast, stretches of mind-numbing boredom interspersed with some very interesting and sometimes heart-pounding moments that are absolutely not boring at all. In those moments—not the waiting, but the doing, in those interesting moments—a sort of hyperaware calm always came over me. I felt totally aware of everything, everything, that was going on around me. On the surface, I seemed my normal self, at least I hope I did. But beneath the surface, it was almost as if I was in some sort of altered state.

 

(The rest of this article is available, in print, in Open Manifesto #5)

Biography

Larry J. Kolb is the son of a senior American intelligence official and was recruited by the CIA when he was twenty-two years old, but he declined. Instead he became a businessman, and the following year was featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. 

 

His book America at Night recounts an investigation which, in 2004, he ran for the Department of Homeland Security. Kolb’s memoir, Overworld: The Life and Times of a Reluctant Spy, is now required reading for new recruits at the clandestine arts schools of at least two important American intelligence services.