CIA Burglar
October 9, 2012 4:53 PM   Subscribe

"The six CIA officers were sweating. It was almost noon on a June day in the Middle Eastern capital, already in the 90s outside and even hotter inside the black sedan where the five men and one woman sat jammed in together. Sat and waited. They had flown in two days earlier for this mission: to break into the embassy of a South Asian country, steal that country’s secret codes and get out without leaving a trace. During months of planning, they had been assured by the local CIA station that the building would be empty at this hour except for one person—a member of the embassy’s diplomatic staff working secretly for the agency." [The CIA Burglar Who Went Rogue]
posted by vidur (25 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
You guys can just keep the spy stories coming. I really won't mind.
posted by Krazor at 5:08 PM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


When the goverment and its agencies are full of bad bureaucracy and run like a for profit business stories like this feel like the norm and not the exception.
posted by chasles at 5:23 PM on October 9, 2012


On paper, Groat seems like a bad-ass. Special forces, CIA black ops, etc. But reading the article I found I had little empathy or sympathy for the man.

I did love the story of stealing the safe in Nepal only to find it empty of what they sought.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:31 PM on October 9, 2012


$50k a year, every year, no work required, you're free to spend your time as you please, until you retire, then full retirement benefits?

But he thought he could get more...
No dude, your lawyer is right - that is a very fair deal.

(Albeit complicated by their requirement that he take a polygraph)
posted by anonymisc at 5:42 PM on October 9, 2012


I assume he believes the polygraph is a random output device, but treated as non-random by the employer and courts. So it's not to his advantage to take it, because the outcome is unpredictable.
posted by zippy at 5:49 PM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I found it hard to believe that so many foreign embassies would be empty and unguarded, so much.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:11 PM on October 9, 2012


The Ecuadorian embassy is NEVER unguarded!

All embassies should equip themselves with an Assange.
posted by anonymisc at 6:18 PM on October 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


it's not to his advantage to take it, because the outcome is unpredictable.

Perhaps more to the point, the outcome could either be an error, or it could be incriminating. He did the crime.
posted by anonymisc at 6:20 PM on October 9, 2012


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by cavalier at 6:21 PM on October 9, 2012


I cannot believe the US Attorney seriously argued that it is extortion to tell your employer/former employer that you're going to go work for a competitor if you don't get more money. Criminals, all of us!
posted by wierdo at 6:23 PM on October 9, 2012


It's a cool, fantastic story, but we really can only rely on Groat for the details (for example, the CIA spends a lot of its time breaking into foreign embassies), because the CIA is sure not going to say much.

A telling detail that cropped up in the story multiple times is that Groat, after getting sidelined, was motivated for a retirement payout. It looks like he's now looking for a book deal to make that a reality.

Great, ripping yarn, but probably bears about as much resemblance to the truth as a Bourne novel.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:24 PM on October 9, 2012


Not too much sympathy for him. Having worked for the CIA, he would have been aware of the reaction of his former employer to blackmail.
posted by arcticseal at 6:49 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


the cia can't afford a friggin black sedan with A/C??
posted by spicynuts at 7:27 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I cannot believe the US Attorney seriously argued that it is extortion to tell your employer/former employer that you're going to go work for a competitor if you don't get more money.

He wasn't just looking for a new job, he was threatening to sell his previous employer's confidential information to a whole list of competitors if he did not recieve hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for his silence. That sure sounds like extortion, even apart from the fact that his employer was the CIA.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:04 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I found it hard to believe that so many foreign embassies would be empty and unguarded, so much.

I lived in Oslo for a while and stayed among a bunch of embassies when I first arrived in the city. While the American embassy was a frankly ludicrous fortress and the Russian Embassy was an enormous compound, a lot of the embassies from smaller countries were simply nice houses with maybe a decorative-type fence around them. I'd regularly chat with the Pakistani ambassador when he was out emptying his trash or otherwise doing mundane house things and occasionally bump into some of the other ambassadors out doing the mundane business of any normal person without any kind of entourage save family/friends.

I'm not saying I could break into them easily, but I'm also not an ex-SF operator/CIA dude with secrets to steal.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:40 PM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: "He wasn't just looking for a new job, he was threatening to sell his previous employer's confidential information to a whole list of competitors if he did not recieve hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for his silence. That sure sounds like extortion, even apart from the fact that his employer was the CIA."

It's a wonder anyone is ever re-employed in their field at all if using the skills acquired at one job can't legally be taken with the employee to another.
In January 1997 he telephoned Zirkle and said that without a settlement, he would have to earn a living as a security consultant to foreign governments, advising them on how to protect their codes.
That doesn't seem anything like a threat to disclose specific secret information, but a threat to use his skills to help others increase their security.

Shady guy I'm not terribly sympathetic towards? Yep. Shady prosecution I'm even less sympathetic towards? Yep.
posted by wierdo at 8:49 PM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]




It's a wonder anyone is ever re-employed in their field at all if using the skills acquired at one job can't legally be taken with the employee to another.

Which is why many employers try to get you to sign a non-competition agreement as part of your terms of employment: it's your presumptive right to use your expertise as you see fit. You can only lose it insofar as you sign it away, and that only under threat of civil action, not criminal.

This prosecution sounds like a punitive move designed to crush him with legal fees, as it's obvious even to us internet lawyers the case holds no water. I'm assuming some sub rosa quid pro quo between the DOJ and the CIA here.
posted by clarknova at 10:56 PM on October 9, 2012


Movie deal in 5...4...3...2...
posted by Artaud at 11:03 PM on October 9, 2012


I did love the story of stealing the safe in Nepal only to find it empty of what they sought.

Assuming this is true, they were probably burned -- and some East German diplomatic underling went to prison. At least the wall fell not long afterward.

I'm assuming some sub rosa quid pro quo between the DOJ and the CIA here.

Eh? They're not supposed to protect the government's interest here?

Rule of law, etc., but you can't have a spy agency overseen with a light touch. It seems naïve to expect otherwise.
posted by dhartung at 12:15 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eh? They're not supposed to protect the government's interest here?

Rule of law, etc., but you can't have a spy agency overseen with a light touch.


Well that's my point. This isn't the rule of law. It's like a frivolous lawsuit, but instead it's a frivolous prosecution, which is orders of magnitude worse. Federal security services must look out for their own interests to be sure, but you can't have the CIA using the justice department and the courts as a billy club. And that's really what this looks like here.
posted by clarknova at 12:30 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


After many years of doing a high stress job he flipped out at his supervisors and was subsequently reassigned to a desk job where he could just chill out. Oh the terrible injustice.
posted by humanfont at 3:05 AM on October 10, 2012


Well that's my point. This isn't the rule of law. It's like a frivolous lawsuit, but instead it's a frivolous prosecution, which is orders of magnitude worse. Federal security services must look out for their own interests to be sure, but you can't have the CIA using the justice department and the courts as a billy club. And that's really what this looks like here.

Of course it's the rule of law. Do you really think there's no law against an active CIA agent "sending three anonymous letters to the ambassador of an Asian country revealing an operation he had participated in about a year and a half earlier to bug computers in an embassy the country maintained in Scandinavia"? That's not the kind of stuff that's going to get you into major legal trouble? Really?

"The rule of law" is precisely what gets you prosecuted for that instead of the more dire alternatives.
posted by Amanojaku at 11:32 AM on October 10, 2012


I read the article and the bit about the independent ... judge? ... finding his complaints to his superiors to be merited, indicate more than flipping out in a high stress job. They indicate instead he had legitimate grievances, and in the context of his work the grievances were for things that could have gotten him and his team tortured or killed.

Further, the story describes how he tried to address these concerns through the chain of command: his supervisor, and his supervisor's supervisor, but they were not addressed.

If this were some dude at a regular job complaining about stress, he could just take another job (ideally) and that would be the end of it.

Here, lives were on the line and further, his employer went to great lengths to make him marginalized (an assignment with nothing to do. Surely an agency that large has non-field jobs he could do) and further ensured that he could not use his existing job skills anywhere else.

I think he did some straight up dumb things, but what was going on was more than just job stress. It was more, I think, about an employer that made possibly life-threatening missteps and then failed to address them.
posted by zippy at 12:16 PM on October 10, 2012


I think we can agree that he was dangled out there and put at risk, possibly more than the unwritten contract of his job called for, but there are almost certainly more socially-acceptable and career-friendly ways to deal with that -- these weren't the only thing he could do, they were specific things he was trained for. But at best it's a messy, dangerous business.

The other end of things, though, is where it goes off the rails for him. He literally tried to shake down the government, assuming you can take him at his word when he says he wasn't intending to go through with it. That's going about as rogue as possible without becoming an out-and-out enemy of the state. Remember, these are people who are as close to bad actors as you can get and still be, in a limited context (loyalty to your own flag) a good guy. These are guys with "a very particular set of skills ... acquired over a very long career" as the Taken line goes, and once activated you want them on a short leash if they aren't working for you directly. Look at Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (or perhaps the upcoming 007, Skyfall, which has a similar sort of betrayal at its story core) for how an agency reacts to one of its own that it no longer trusts and the white-faced terror it has in the face of one it no longer controls. Or even the Bourne analogy of a human weapon, which isn't so far-fetched in the sense of how it's viewed internally.

For a real-world example look at Bradley Manning, who by comparison to this guy was a low-level functionary and a bit of a wide-eyed simp. Before that, you had the Falcon and the Snowman case. Those are both just people with access to information. You can argue all you want for transparency and a MAD approach to information control, but ultimately the government is not going to want to use a minimalist approach with people like that, as the risks are far too great if they fail to "encourage the others" properly.

This guy, though, was a real point-of-the-spear type and could, if he wanted, do considerable damage, and it sounded like he might if he thought it could save his own skin. It doesn't have to be ideological, and pretty often it isn't. If you get yourself into a situation where you're pointing your gun back at your own agency I don't know why you would expect anything less than a full-bore legal assault if they didn't try to kill you first (not that the CIA still or ever does that, but you have to assume it's an option). We're way past the World of Barney here, a place where right and wrong cease to have much objective meaning. You just have to assume it's a nice-guys-finish-last cage match when "gentlemen" spy on each other, and if you're in that world you probably have few illusions.
posted by dhartung at 1:15 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


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