Today it is my privilege to welcome Eric Burkhart, author of Mukharabat, Baby!: My Life as a Wartime Spy for the CIA, to my blog. You may think I’ve posted duplicate posts, but the first is my review of Eric’s memoir and a giveaway (you’ll want to be sure to visit there!).
In this second post, Eric shares with us what it’s like to be a CIA Case Officer. I’m sure we’ve all assumed the movies and TV get it just as it is but Eric’s take may be a little different. After all, he has first-hand information.
Eric, welcome to Puddletown Reviews!
A Snippet of What It’s Like to be a CIA Case Officer by Eric Burkhart
At times during my career, I was obliged to fly frequently. For the most part, CIA Case Officers spend the most useful part of their careers overseas. For an officer working in Brussels, traveling from one country to another was simple; you just hopped on a high street train and you would be in Paris in four hours, Vienna in eight.
Frequent operational travel could be tricky, though. Identity is a huge part of a Case Officers daily preparation. When undercover, the officer must have a wallet and picket litter that supports the identity. It’s also a good idea to review your birth place, date, and living address. I can recall a few instances where I couldn’t recall my address. I was in line, waiting to get my passport stamped, and it would have seemed normal for me to review my documents. But I would allow paranoia to take over, and convince myself that if I took a quick peek at my address, I would look suspicious! The truth is, I never once had any trouble with different identities during my career. It’s all about taking the job seriously, and being prepared. I spent some time in Africa during my career, and identity issues were the least of my problems with some of the Airlines I frequented. In fact, unless I was traveling to or from South Africa or Kenya, I don’t think the security personnel gave a rats ass about my name. But when it came time for the requisite tip, these characters can become the height of professional. It’s my understanding that the bribe issue has really decreased in African airports, as travel becomes more accessible and terrorism more international.
Along with confirming that all the appropriate ID is in order, Case Officers must rely on their training every day in order to successfully complete an assignment. In order for a Case Officer to gain access to information of interest, that officer must first locate the person with access, and then use their skills to create justification for a friendship to begin. Lying about shared common interests is a popular way to guarantee additional meetings, and once the relationship has started, it normally doesn’t take long for the target to begin to understand his new friend’s real motivation. Once an understanding exists between the two persons that information will be provided, then it becomes the job of the Case Officer to create meeting arrangements that are timely and safe.
Since the authorities of whatever country we are in cannot be allowed to learn about the relationship, the Case Officer must leave no stone unturned in creating sound meeting arrangements. The Agency takes this detail very seriously, and the training is thorough and well-vetted. I can assure you, every Case Officer who has conducted clandestine meetings will agree that you never forget the risks involved for the person who has agreed to this new relationship. Many times the motivation for these persons is a desire to support the United States and its history of freedom and Democracy. I find it interesting that Hollywood has perpetuated the idea that if an officer discovers that he is being followed, then the officer should get aggressive and try and “lose” surveillance. In fact, getting aggressive is the last thing a Case Officer wants to do. Getting aggressive provides the local service with the confirmation they needed that you were in fact an intelligence officer and that you were operational. The Case Officer wants to appear as normal and “boring” as possible, so surveillance will drop off and the officer can proceed to the meeting safely.
This is the story of a young American who would eventually fulfill his dream of becoming a CIA Case Officer, only to have a promising career cut short after having been purposely poisoned by a contact.
Eric Burkhart was raised in Europe in a bilingual household, and accepted a job in Africa right out of college. Upon his return to the United States, he was hired as an Immigration Agent in Laredo, Texas, working Inspections on one of the busiest port-of-entries connecting the United States and Mexico. This experience is detailed in this humorous, occasionally heartbreaking memoir about choosing to be a survivor.
In 2000, Burkhart accepted a position as a Case Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. The book includes details of both the notoriously arduous hiring process and the rigorous training program, including Burkhart’s eventual successful completion of the Espionage Course taught at the famous “Farm”. Burkhart’s first overseas working experience was in war-torn Kosovo, where he was unwittingly poisoned by an unstable intelligence contact. Burkhart would struggle with the repercussions of this episode for the remainder of his career, and eventually be obliged to accept full medical retirement from the CIA. Read more here…
Title: Mukharabat, Baby! My Life as a Wartime Spy for the CIA
Author: Eric Burkhart
Genre: Nonfiction | Memoir | Autobiography
Publisher: Booklocker.com, Inc.
Release Date: May 4, 2015
Format: Kindle, 300 pages
About Eric Burkhart:
Eric Burkhart was born in North Carolina in 1965, and raised in France by his mother while his father was serving in Vietnam. Eric’s parents retired to San Antonio, Texas in 1978, and Eric has considered himself a Texan since that time.
After completing college, Burkhart relocated to South Africa for a job in community planning and design. After returning to the United States in 1994, Eric started a career in federal service by becoming a Federal Agent. In 1999 he moved over to the CIA, which became his passion and focus in life. After being poisoned by while working in Kosovo in 2001, Burkhart was eventually obliged to medically retire, but not before extending his career to include tours in Iraq and Africa. Mukhabarat, Baby! is Burkhart’s first book.
The tour schedule can be found at the author’s iRead home page.