Caribbean Cruises for Spies?

I must admit, at first I thought this was a spoof, especially when I read the tag line “There’s no such thing as an ex-spy. There are only spies who pretend they have retired. Or so they tell you.” But, no; this BBC Caribbean article by focuses on a 7-day Caribbean cruise held in November 2010, where former U.S. spies held a seminar to spread the word about the role of intelligence. Journalist Tom Mangold got to mingle on this “ship of spies.” Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

Take Bart Bechtel for instance—an ex-CIA operations officer, a specialist in domestic and international terrorism matters and a US Navy veteran with 31 years of espionage and counter-intelligence experience—a spy to his fingertips. It was Bart Bechtel who decided to organise a seminar for spooks – past, present and future – and their wives, girlfriends and interested parties. But instead of hiring a dreary university lecture hall in a Washington suburb, he invited students to come on a seven-day Caribbean cruise (for which they would pay) and spend most days on lectures, briefings and rubbing shoulders with the principal speakers.

And the big draws? Top of the bill were no less than Porter Goss, former head of the CIA from 2004-2006 and his successor Gen Mike Hayden who ran the super-secret National Security Agency (US equivalent of GCHQ – the UK’s secret intelligence agency) for six years before taking over the CIA from 2006-2009. He is the highest ranking and most senior former spy still alive in the US.

[. . .] Can you imagine their British equivalents joining a huge 2,000-strong cruise ship, mixing with ordinary passengers, spending hours of face-time with reporters, and speaking frankly about such walking-on-broken-glass subjects as targeted assassinations, water-boarding, the torture of enemy combatants, and extraordinary rendition? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

“This is not a pleasure trip for me,” Porter Goss told me. “This is a trip to spread the message about how important the intelligence function is.” [. . .] The spook seminars with about 120 students took place in three dedicated lecture rooms on the promenade deck, spaces squeezed between the huge ship’s shopping mall and an even larger casino area where the one-arm-bandits sang out day and night.

[. . .] On shore excursions, both former spy chiefs merged imperceptibly with fellow tourists. I was part of a tourist group with Mike Hayden that wandered lazily around the old town of San Juan in Puerto Rico. The general wore a large-brimmed baseball hat, pulled well down over his forehead, and became unrecognisable.

But back on board, both men spoke freely to those tourists who recognised them. Gen Mike Hayden explained why he felt a need to be open. “We exist in a society that distrusts secrecy and power most of all. In order to be successful espionage services have to be only two things – secretive and powerful. So you’ve got that cultural tension and I feel a certain sense of responsibility to try to defuse that.”

[. . .] Obama supporters were in short supply – I found only one in 120 people. The seminar was no place for beards, sandals, liberals or Wikileakers. But I admire Mr Bechtel’s initiative in sugaring the pill of a fairly politicised seminar with a general jolly around the sunny Caribbean on a luxurious liner.

Who says spies can’t have some fun too?

For full article, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/caribbean/news/story/2011/01/110114_cruise_cia.shtml

For more information about Spy Cruise (and photo), see http://spytrek.com/spycruise.html

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