The Espionage Lesson

The class, now in its third year, had been commenced as a seminar on Thursday afternoons for some of his staff plus young officers who had been recommended to Harlot* as potential to draw upon for his projects. Those were Low Thursdays, but once a month, on what soon came to be called the High Thursdays, important guests showed up by invitation, as did visiting professionals whose Company labors had brought them back to DC from various lairs abroad.

On all occasions we would meet around the conference table in Hugh Montague’s outer office, a commodious room on the second floor of the yellow brick villa that Allen Dulles used for his headquarters. Situated on E Street, well away from the Reflecting Pool and Cockroach Alley, it was an elegant building larger than most of the foreign embassies in Washington. Harlot was one of the few high-ranking officers to work in such proximity to Dulles, and so an added zest was brought to the occasion by the importance of our surroundings. Indeed, Allen Dulles would keep popping in and out, a beeper in his breast pocket prodding him back to his own office, and once, I remember, he made a point of letting us know that President Eisenhower had just called him to the phone.

The lectures on High Thursday were, of course, the most exceptional. Harlot’s voice became even more commodious then, and he could not have been more unabashed in his use of rich syntax. How much one learned directly, however, is not easy to measure. He gave no assignments. He might recommend a book from time to time, but never pursued our diligence, no, it was more a matter of sowing the seeds. A few might sprout. Since the Director himself was not only our peripatetic guest, but had obviously given his imprimatur, and would often nod at the sheer wonderful glory of the subject—ah, one could almost hear Mr. Dulles say, “this wonderfully shrewd and metaphysical and monumental world of Intelligence itself!”—it took no vast acumen on my part to recognize that come a High Thursday, Harlot would teach our group from the top down. His preference was to stimulate his equals: On such occasions, the rest of us could scramble how we might. Low days were of more use to us. Then, the course served, as Harlot once remarked, to rev up the Mormons.” There were five of them, Ph.D.s from State Universities in the Midwest and they were always taking notes, always in crew-cut, white shirt with short sleeves, pens in the breast pocket, dark thin ties, eyeglasses. They looked like engineers, and I recognized after a time that they were the galley slaves over in Montague’s counterespionage shop at TSS, marooned in prodigiously demanding tasks of cryptography, file searching, estimate vetting, etc. To me it reeked of the Bunker, although obviously more purposeful, more lifelong—you could see it in their faces: They were signed up for a career of the highest level…

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