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Tony on a Career in Espionage

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

“Until the end of my career, my wife and kids never really knew what I did. They thought that I was just some researcher at the Library of Congress. I would wake up, put on a good looking suit, and head out for the day. When I came home and my wife would talk to me about work, I’d say, don’t ask so many questions. She probably had an idea that I wasn’t really just a researcher, but she never said anything about it. That is how things work in intelligence. Sometimes you work on things that are so sensitive that even your family can’t know. When my group was disbanded in 1979, I could finally tell her. She wasn’t surprised to learn that I had spent my career working in espionage.

“After I got out of the Navy in my early 20’s, I went to Clark University thanks to the G.I. Bill. I am one of ten kids and the only one to go to college. Where I grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, they didn’t prepare us for college. Of my class of 85, only five went to college. I was one of the lucky ones, as we were destined for the factories. At Clark, I learned a language, Russian, which made my career. Remember, this was the 50’s and everyone who was interested in international politics was learning about the Soviet Union. During college, I applied to the CIA, but they rejected me because my parents were born in Poland. I took a job with the Defense Intelligence Agency, and spent most of my career working with CIA people. I have learned that funny things happen in this world.

That is how things work in intelligence. Sometimes you work on things that are so sensitive that even your family can’t know.

“At Defense Intelligence, I was on a team that was tasked with finding Baikonur, which was the Russian space facility, which launched Sputnik, and where they developed and tested their missiles. We had no idea where it was, but we knew where it was in reference to other places in the Soviet Union. Problem is that we didn’t know where those places were either.

“Our team was housed at the Library of Congress and filled with academics, military guys, and Soviet and Eastern European defectors. We spent years pouring through the library’s collection of Russian maps, texts, and materials looking for any evidence that could help us understand the Soviet terrain better and piece together this puzzle. We also had a secret, secure room there where we compared what we found in the books with intelligence. Once we went through all of the books in Washington, we went to libraries in New York, Dartmouth, Chicago, Kansas City, and Palo Alto to try and find the information we needed.

“We finally got our breakthrough when they started sending the U-2 planes up over Russia. Powers, the CIA pilot who was eventually shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, was our best source into what was happening there. I was one of the guys who sat and went through all of his film once it came back. I remember when we finally discovered Baikonur. It was an incredible feeling to put this whole puzzle together.

“While working on Baikonur, I also witnessed the Cuban Missile Crisis unfold. I saw the missiles being developed  and prepared for shipment. Thing is that because my work was so compartmentalized, I had no idea that the missiles were being shipped to our doorstep in Cuba. It was only later when I pieced it together. Many people don’t realize how close we were to a third World War then. Had the Soviet Union not turned the ships around, Kennedy would have been forced into a war that would have made World War II seem easy. Thank God, they turned the ships around.

“I ended my 30 years of government service in 1986. While I was disappointed that I wasn’t still working when the Soviet Union collapsed, I still feel honored that I played a small part in it. I made a lot of sacrifices, as did my family, but I did it because I love my country and it provided me and my parents with so many opportunities. Now, you see veterans and people who work in the government who complain all the time. Back then, we didn’t complain. We did our jobs and that was it. Period.”

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  1. I love these old guys who worked hard and never complained. Tony in particular sounds like he had a pretty amazing career.

    Comment by Spy Girl — September 22, 2010 @ 9:14 am

  2. BETTER DEAD THAN RED! Thanks for your service Tony.

    Comment by Matt — September 22, 2010 @ 10:31 am

  3. I never ask, but am always curious, how do you meet these people?

    Comment by Sarah Sullivan — September 22, 2010 @ 10:38 am

  4. @ Sarah Sullivan. I meet most of the people just walking around different neighborhoods of the city. I met Tony in Rock Creek Park. He was walking around with a putting iron and a bag of golf balls. I went over to ask him questions about playing golf in D.C. Turns out that he wanted to talk about Sputnik and his work as an intelligence analyst. We sat on a bench for 30 minutes and he told me the above story. I am constantly amazed at the incredible people I meet and the stories I hear in this city. Thank you for reading. – Danny

    Comment by People's District — September 22, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

  5. My grandfather was a U-2 pilot in the 60’s. He died when I was little. I always wanted to ask him about his service and what it was like to be up there alone for so long. It’s nice to read this story because in some way, it makes me feel closer to my grandfather. Thanks for posting.

    Comment by RCM — September 23, 2010 @ 12:04 am

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keila H. and KMunoz, Danny Harris. Danny Harris said: New PD Story: Tony on a Career in Espionage […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Tony on a Career in Espionage « People's District -- — September 25, 2010 @ 12:16 am

  7. Another good one, Danny! Keep ’em coming.

    Comment by Greg Beck — October 6, 2010 @ 10:37 am

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