by Terry Hussey
"A C.I.A. agent must be very versatile. He must able to fit in. He must be able to change his looks, change his role, and fall into a new role easily. I enjoyed it," said Dick Gay, speaking to a meeting of the Milbridge Historical Society on December 10.
Gay himself is the epitome of versatile, with a fluency for language that opened many doors. He was an interpreter for trainees, and he sent secret agents into various places. He has assumed different personas on call. "I impersonated a French tourist once. I took Lyndon Johnson shopping for jewelry in Bangkok, when he was Vice President," he said. "I addressed the full cabinet of the Tai government as a representative of the American Ambassador," he said.
Gay attended the University of Maine where he was a language major, with a minor in European History. Later he learned Korean, then Laotian. There was no one anywhere to teach him Tai, so he researched old texts and taught himself Tai, sitting in the Library of Congress.
Fresh out of college, Gay's first job was with the National Security Agency. When the recruiter came to the campus to offer him a job, "He never did tell me what agency he was from," said Gay. "In fact, the very name of the agency was classified information until 1976."
The agency had no building, no address. "I worked out of series of temporary offices, and there were some pretty exotic places," he said. "Next to the Reflecting pool, in a building called only temporary X, at a desk in the Library of Congress."
The agency had taken over Arlington Hall School for girls in Virginia. For a while he went to work there, through the arched entrance with that name on it, but in fact it was National Security headquarters. If people asked where he worked, what he did there, he had to invent an answer.
His first assignment was in Poland in the late 1950's. "After that, things were staring to get jumpy in south east Asia," said Gay. Recognizing his facility for languages, C.I.A. offiC.I.A.ls arranged for his transfer into the C.I.A. and into action in Laos.
Gay explained that in those days, the C.I.A. was charged with foreign intelligence, and the FBI, an arm of the Department of Justice, was restricted to domestic operations. At that time, the two agencies shared nothing. "There's a lot more cooperation today between the two agencies than there ever was," he said.
"I was in Laos when it was still a paradise," said Gay. He said there were only a handful of Americans there and a couple of good French restaurants. "It was just a wonderful life for a while," he said. "But, I just happened to still be over there when the Viet Nam War broke out, and that wasn't so lucky."
"I knew a lot of people. I had a lot of contacts. We had done a lot of work over there," said Gay. " [Secretary of State John] McNamara never asked us. He never came over. Our advice was to stay out. We had nothing to gain and everything to lose. But he had his own agenda."
"Until our men are trained to carry artillery on their backs and to live a week on a bag of rice, we don't belong in that kind of war," said Gay.
Gay said that the government has just de-classified over 44,000 cubic feet of information. The material is all from the 1950's, 60's, and 70's. "There is a tremendous amount of stuff
There are people waiting in line, just to get in there and catalog the information. Then they can sell their indexes to people who want to read all these old files."
Gay said that the agency has never recovered with the Church investigation of the 1960's. That investigation was charged with looking into all the foreign intelligence operations within the United States. "What did they turn up? Who was involved?" asked Gay. "A whole lot of people in the entertainment business. People from Hollywood and Madison Avenue. The investigation opened a weak door, and press jumped in." He said that there was a lot of animosity against the investigation. People didn't want to hear about it." He said the agency is still undergoing reorganization.
"When [Director William] Colby took out the dirty laundry to air it, the secrecy of the agency was lost. "To have an intelligence operation, an agency has got to be secret," he said. "Secrecy pays off, but you have to do it right," he said. "It's hard to have a secret agency in a democracy, but it can be done," said Gay.
"I'm not in love with everything the C.I.A. ever did," he said. "After 1976, the agency turned from good intelligence to something very disorganized.
Gay said, "Much of intelligence is analysis. There are zillions of high level people, sitting at desks, developing high technology systems to find and analyze information. They are always seeking the very best mathematicians in the country to work for the C.I.A.."
"Milbridge, Maine seems to remote from all that you are talking about," said one listener. "Is this vast intelligence operation going on here?"
"Don't kid yourself," said Gay. "Maine has always been a key location. "I don't feel comfortable in talking about all the things that are going on in this area, but believe it."