Episode 32



Vanessa Kirby meets Barry Broman, a CIA case officer who recruited foreign spies for the US. Working alongside a suave MI6 officer, Barry was tasked with bringing a high-ranking communist over to the West. To succeed, they had to make him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Read the transcript →

True Spies Episode 32: The Dreams-Come-True Business 

NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? This is True Spies Episode 32: The Dreams-Come-True Business. What’s your price? Sure - you’re not for sale, right? Incorruptible. Me too. But we all have dreams. And who’s to say, if it really came down to it, what we might do to make them come true?

BARRY BROMAN: We're in the dreams-come-true business. Everyone has a dream and a good intelligence officer can make a target's dreams come true.

NARRATOR: This week’s True Spy spent over 30 years doing just that.

BARRY BROMAN: This is Barry Broman speaking. I served in the clandestine service of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1971 to 1996.

NARRATOR: This is a story about relationships: building them, keeping them, using them. These are the skills that make a successful intelligence officer. And the best thing about them is that they work everywhere. Because people, either at home or abroad, high-powered or low-ranking, are always just people. In the early 1970s, Barry Broman was stationed in Cambodia. It was his first posting with the CIA’s clandestine service.

BARRY BROMAN: Now, the clandestine service actually only comprises about 5 percent of CIA personnel and we're the sharp tip of the spear in the sense of recruiting foreign agents.

NARRATOR: His mission? To gather intelligence for the USA through a hand-picked network of enemy informants. Because Barry was not a spy. Spies, after all, are essentially sources of information - they commit espionage. Remember, in most countries that’s a crime. Barry was a case officer.

BARRY BROMAN: So, a case officer makes spies. He hires spies. Once you're recruited, you're a spy. The person that handles you is a case officer.

NARRATOR: At the time, Cambodia was in the grip of a bloody civil war between the American-backed government and the communist Khmer Rouge. It would prove to be a baptism of fire for the rookie case officer.

BARRY BROMAN: It was a nasty, tight little war. Not many people know about it because there were so few people there. The US embassy was limited to 200 people.

NARRATOR: Today, the history of the conflict in Cambodia often takes a backseat to the war in Vietnam. But both events were part of the same ideological struggle playing out across Southeast Asia in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. East versus West. Communism versus capitalism. America versus Russia. The Cold War. By 1975, the Khmer Rouge was gaining ground in Cambodia. Likewise, the Communist North Vietnamese were overwhelming American forces in Vietnam and Laos.

BARRY BROMAN: It became clear that the Americans were going to withdraw.

NARRATOR: Back in the USA public opinion had long since turned against the war. After two long decades of violence, the American government cut off further aid to the region.

BARRY BROMAN: And basically Americans abandoned our allies and the war ended.

NARRATOR: The Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, had been surrounded by the Khmer Rouge for over a year. Barry’s own house had been hit by rockets four times during his stay in the country. Now, the mission was officially over. The will to fight was gone. The CIA arranged a hasty exit for the American personnel on the ground.

BARRY BROMAN: The airport was within mortar range of the Khmer Rouge so it was a very dicey operation getting in and out of the country, but we drew down the embassy to a small cadre toward the end and I left on the last fixed-wing plane.

NARRATOR: The spartan aircraft chugged above the cratered rice paddies below on its way to the relative safety of neighboring Thailand. Barry had escaped the fall of Phnom Penh, but only just. Not everyone was lucky enough to make it out. Throughout Cambodia, CIA officers were stationed in the provinces reporting on the situation outside the capital.

BARRY BROMAN: We had one man and he had a radio operator, a young Cambodian woman who spoke French. French was the language we used out there, so this girl was on the radio.

NARRATOR: The radio operator would contact the CIA in Phnom Penh daily with reports on enemy movements. Now, the Khmer Rouge was closing in on her position. This is the true distinction between a case officer and their informants: risk. A case officer is, in most cases, able to stay at some remove from the consequences of their operation. A spy has no such luxury.

BARRY BROMAN: And her case officer goes on the radio in Bangkok and he said: 'Look, you got to get out. You know, you've done your job. We want to save you, want to keep you alive.' She said: ‘I cannot leave my radio.’

NARRATOR: For the American public the war in Cambodia was an expensive skirmish a long way away. For the native Cambodians who opposed the communist incursion, it was a fight for the soul of their nation. The radio operator stuck to her post.

BARRY BROMAN: She said: ‘They're in the city… ’ And a short time later, she said: ‘They're in the building.’ And then her final dispatch, she said: ‘They're in the room. Goodbye.’ And that was the end of her. So that's how it was in Cambodia.

NARRATOR: The evacuation had been an inglorious end to a brutal conflict. In the years to come, the triumphant Khmer Rouge would be responsible for between one and two million deaths on the killing fields of Cambodia. Even for a life-long patriot like Barry, the abandonment of the Cambodians stands out as a black mark on the USA’s record.

BARRY BROMAN: It was an unmitigated disgrace and disaster, what the Americans did to the Cambodians, to the people who had their confidence in us.

NARRATOR: Because, like many of the intelligence operatives we encounter on True Spies, the core values of service and loyalty were in the blood. Let’s find out a little bit more about Barry’s path to the CIA.

BARRY BROMAN: Two great advantages I gained from my father's service in the Air Force. One was the chance to spend four years in England when he was the base engineer at RAF Manston, an airbase right on the English Channel from 1954 to 1958. And the second big boon from my father came when he was assigned in 1962 as an adviser to the Royal Thai Air Force, building runways in northeastern Thailand for the coming war in Vietnam.

NARRATOR: And Barry’s father, who had served as a glider pilot in the Second World War, was keen for his son to experience a life of adventure too

BARRY BROMAN: He allowed me to drop out of university after my first year... had a scholarship to the University of Illinois, which I gave up when my father invited me to come out with him to Thailand for one year... And it changed my whole life. Okay. So here I am in Bangkok, 1962. Eighteen years old. Enjoyed myself immensely playing tennis all day at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club and partying all night.

NARRATOR: Like most parents, the senior Mr Broman wanted more for his son than a life of directionless tropical luxury.

BARRY BROMAN: And after about two weeks, my father said this wasn't exactly what I had in mind for your year out of college. So if you don't get a job, you go back to school in the fall.

NARRATOR: Fortunately, Barry’s extracurricular activities weren’t limited to tennis.

BARRY BROMAN: So at the University of Illinois I'd been a photographer for the Daily Illini, our newspaper. I had some clippings. I took them down to the Associated Press office in Bangkok and asked for a job. I wasn't very hopeful but I was giving it a shot.

NARRATOR: It was the early 1960s, and the struggle for control of Southeast Asia was gaining pace. There was a lot of news to cover and the resources of the Associated Press were spread thin. Barry was in the right place at the right time.

BARRY BROMAN: So the bureau chief looked at my clippings and said: ‘Can you go to Korat tomorrow?’ Korat Air Force Base up in northeastern Thailand, where US military troops were coming in as partners during the Laos crisis of 1962.

NARRATOR: Still a teenager, Barry worked as a photographer for the Associated Press for a year before returning to the USA to pursue an undergraduate course at the University of Washington. In 1967 he took a commission with the US Marine Corps, who decided that he should take a Master's degree in Southeast Asian Studies. Smart, patriotic, worldly, and adventurous, Barry was becoming a near-perfect candidate for the CIA.

BARRY BROMAN: And toward the end of my time in grad school one of my professors, an old gentleman, asked if I'd ever thought about joining the CIA when my time in the Marines was up. I said: ‘Never. Never thought about it.’ So he said: ‘Look, I know a chap, a recruiter. He'd like to talk to you.’ So I met with this fellow. And he's a well-known CIA recruiter on the West Coast. And he said: ‘Look, you're getting a Master's degree. You've got time in the area. You're a specialist. You could be either a clandestine service officer, ops officer in the field, or you could be an analyst in Washington and become an expert, a world-class expert in your field.’

NARRATOR: Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? But at the time, Barry was set on a different path.

BARRY BROMAN: And I said: ‘Look, I'm a Marine officer and when I get my Master's in a few months I'm going to go to war.’

NARRATOR: The recruiter didn’t bat an eyelid. He was willing to play the long game.

BARRY BROMAN: He handed me his card and he said: ‘Here's my card. If you live, call this number six months before you get out of the Marine Corps.’ So I took his card. I went to war. I lived.

NARRATOR: Three years later, Barry had risen to the rank of Company Commander at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in California. He had done his duty, and more. Now it was time for a new challenge. With one eye on the future, he dug out the card that the CIA recruiter had given him.

BARRY BROMAN: I didn't think the guy would remember me, but I called the number six months before I got out. And the same man came on. He said: ‘Let me get your file.’ Came back on. He said: ‘Okay, meet me at the Coronado Hotel in San Diego, California, on Thursday at seven o'clock. I met him down there and he recruited me.’

NARRATOR: From photographer to Marine to CIA case officer. As it turned out, Barry’s first two roles had prepared him well for his third and final line of work.

BARRY BROMAN: There's a lot of similarities between journalism and intelligence collection. Everybody wants to get the story. They want to get it right. In the AP, you go out and you find your source, your person that you need to get the story from, and it's the same in the CIA. You look for people who have access to intelligence that the United States government wants to know, and we have the advantage in CIA of paying our informants. If you're back in AP, you don't pay people for the news. You get it for free. So that makes life a little easier.

NARRATOR: And the Marines? How does open conflict prepare you for a life of covert ops?

BARRY BROMAN: So then going into the Marine Corps as an officer, an infantry officer in combat, you've got to lead men in battle. The Marine Corps trained me well to do that and I survived the war and I came away with a different set of skill sets and to my benefit. And again, you're dealing with people. It's a people-to-people kind of relationship.

NARRATOR: Barry’s languages, people skills, and connections in the region made him an ideal candidate for the Cambodia posting. But after the bloody fall of Phnom Penh, it was time to return home, at least for a little while. As he made his way back to the United States, Barry had some reservations about the change of scenery.

BARRY BROMAN: When you're an officer in the clandestine service, you spend your time most effectively in the field. The good officers don't want to come home and the bad officers don't want to go to the field. Among my peers, the longer you spent out, the better.

NARRATOR: But there were certainly upsides to a cushy desk position in Washington, DC. As Barry had learned in Cambodia, the risks of operating in the field were all too real.

BARRY BROMAN: If you make a mistake in the field, you go out to recruit someone and they say no, and they report it. You can be thrown out of the country within 48 hours. Persona non grata, that's called. PNG. This is very bad career-wise. So there's always a threat. You can be shot. There's a lot of bad things that can happen if you're a CIA officer in the field. So when you're back in Washington, actually in Langley, Virginia, across the Potomac River, you can relax and you can enjoy life and you can do American things.

NARRATOR: And it’s not like a stint on home turf was - all TV, barbecues, and baseball games. The calmer pace of life in DC allowed case officers like Barry to up their game in preparation for their next international posting.

BARRY BROMAN: Well, when you're home, when you're at headquarters, you're not running operations. You may be guiding them if you're on an area desk. You might be guiding operations and things like that so you're in support. That's good. I mean, these are the guys that supported you so now it's your turn to support them. Or you could go onto a staff. You could be under counter-narcotics, for instance. You could be in counterterrorism, for example. And then this gets you into a different area of expertise. Or you could go off for another language training in preparation for your next assignment. This is all productive time.

NARRATOR: Barry had no idea just how productive his time back home would turn out to be. Not least because his proximity to the core of the US government gave him the opportunity to work on joint operations with other intelligence agencies.

BARRY BROMAN: And this is what happened when I was tapped to work on a CIA-MI6 operation.

NARRATOR: MI6. If you’re a regular listener to this podcast - or if you’ve enjoyed a James Bond movie in the past 60 years - you’ll know what that name means. The British Secret Intelligence Service.

BARRY BROMAN: I get called in one day at my desk and I'm told that I have an opportunity to work in the field with MI6. And this came as a great surprise. And even today, I'm not sure how it came that I was tapped for this assignment because it was a career-changing operation that I was involved with and, looking back, I think that one reason they tapped me was I'd had a good record so far, clean, in Southeast Asia.

NARRATOR: No, Barry had never been PNG - persona non grata. He’d never had his cover blown, never been chased out of a posting. He’d been highly effective during his time in the field. But that wasn’t all…

BARRY BROMAN: Secondly, I had a background. I had four years in prep school at East Kent where I learned to play cricket and became an expert on British Colonial stamps and Colonial history and became a great fan of Winston Churchill and became an Anglophile.

NARRATOR: In other words, he was one of us. But think about it. There must have been other operatives with glowing track records, and if you’ve ever watched the coverage of a Royal Wedding you’ll know that American Anglophiles aren’t exactly thin on the ground. Looking back, Barry thinks there was another factor at play.

BARRY BROMAN: Also the fact that I was relatively junior. The fact that I knew nothing at all about the target that was selected to chase now brings me to mind that, if they'd sent in a more senior experienced officer with a specialty in that area it might have caused some friction dealing with the British MI6 officer who was, in fact, an expert in the field.

NARRATOR: Even the world’s most powerful secret services can’t escape the specter of office politics. So then, this was a British-led operation taking place on American soil. The two countries have a historic bond, it’s true, but that didn’t mean that the CIA was willing to let a foreign intelligence agency operate in their backyard without oversight.

BARRY BROMAN: Well, when the way the rules work... And I don't want to overstep here... when 6 [MI6] is active in the US It's only in a liaison capacity so that... if they want to come in, like in this case, if they want to come in they have to share it.

NARRATOR: On paper, the mission itself was a relatively straightforward one - Barry and his MI6 colleague were to locate and recruit a foreign dignitary who was visiting the USA.

BARRY BROMAN: I can't be too specific because it's a sensitive operation. And all I can say is that it was a hard target.

NARRATOR: A hard target, in the argot of the Cold War intelligence community, signifies a target who hails from a ‘denied area’ - a communist country, basically. That included the USSR, Red China, and any of their less influential allies. Nearly 40 years on, Barry is still sworn to secrecy about the specifics of this operation. But he was able to give us a little more detail about the MI6 agent he was assigned to work with.

BARRY BROMAN: He was described to me by my supervisor as the perfect case officer. In other words, the best of the best, and this gentleman could have been my father, old enough... he and my father were in World War II, although the Brit was younger than my father. He had a distinguished war record.

NARRATOR: The British agent even had a highly appropriate celebrity look alike.

BARRY BROMAN: If you're a fan of John le Carré and especially Sir Alec Guinness… This officer looked like Alec Guinness portraying George Smiley, one of le Carré's famous characters. He was tall. He was urbane. He was sophisticated. He spoke foreign languages fluently. He had literally written a book on espionage. He was a senior MI6 officer. And I was the guy he was sent out into the field with to chase and recruit a hard target.

NARRATOR: For the purposes of this story, we’ll refer to this Smiley lookalike as ‘Alex’ - close to Alec, but not quite. And for Alex, this operation was more than a professional undertaking. It was personal.

BARRY BROMAN: Alex had known of this case for almost two decades. Alex wanted this for his own, take this scalp for himself. This was his career winner.

NARRATOR: Barry met with Alex and the mission began in earnest. MI6 had acquired the target’s travel itinerary. Needless to say, this was a very good start.

BARRY BROMAN: It was a sort of an international, let's say, delegation or something like that. It was... these guys are officials and some of them are quite senior officials. So it wasn't you know, it's not going to be in the newspaper, but certainly these people had to have visas. Okay, and so it would come immediately to the attention of the FBI.

NARRATOR: In another sterling example of cross-agency collaboration, the FBI - America’s domestic intelligence agency - had played their part too. With this crucial piece of intelligence in their possession, Barry and Alex began a four-week road trip, tracking their target across the USA. Almost immediately a distinct power dynamic revealed itself.

BARRY BROMAN: Since it was in the States, technically I was in charge although it became clear to me that Alex was the guy that was going to make this thing work or not work. He knew what to do. He knew how to do it. And he did it. And I was taking notes.

NARRATOR: It had been a while since Barry had been anyone’s junior partner. Fortunately, his ego didn’t bruise easily. If his tours in the field had taught him anything it was that in his profession there was always more to learn.

BARRY BROMAN: Alex and I spent a lot of time talking about things and he taught me a lot. And one of the things that I always taught my junior officers when I became a chief of station and whatnot, as Alex put it to me, we're in the 'dreams-come-true business'. Everyone has a dream and a good intelligence officer can make a target's dreams come true.

NARRATOR: So, you’ve identified your target. You know roughly where he’s going to be. But how do you convince them to come over to your side? Case officers can spend months, even years, building up a relationship with an informant. In this case, Alex and Barry didn’t have that luxury.

BARRY BROMAN: So now this is what we call a ‘cold pitch’. Okay? Typically, I mean, I've recruited dozens of people in my career, and every one of those people - and I'm not counting this one - every one of those cases I knew the person personally. We were friends. They liked me. They trusted me. I knew what their dreams were. And I was in a position to make them come true.

NARRATOR: How would you identify which buttons to push? Remember, time is not on your side. Fortunately, a target’s nationality and cultural background can be a useful broad-brush indicator of what might work for them.

BARRY BROMAN: Typically, let's say Americans, you know, their dreams, they want money and they get it, and hopefully they get caught when they spy. It's more… nebulous, for foreigners. Some want money. Some want a better life. They see how it is in the West and they want to join that. Some want revenge - Russian cases in particular. Grandpa was killed on the gulag. Daddy died in a Stalinist purge. And so they want revenge against the regime.

NARRATOR: This target had been on Alex’s radar for two decades. They’d never met, but he knew enough about the man to hazard an informed guess at what might motivate him. The hard part was finding a moment in their target’s hectic schedule to make their approach.

BARRY BROMAN: We came to a town where the group that our target was with had some time off. We saw the pattern that was coming forward. We saw when they had downtime the chaps could wander off to a bookstore or whatever. And so we just watched them. We were right with him every step of the way. He didn't know it. All we had to do was to look at his schedule on an hour-by-hour basis, and see when he might be free, and then to hone in and grab him for 30 minutes, which is all it took.

NARRATOR: Eventually, the moment that the two men had been waiting for presented itself. The target was isolated. Barry can’t tell us exactly where the approach was made but use your imagination. Maybe it was between the shelves of one of those charming little bookstores he mentioned. Maybe it was in the booth of a diner, or a dimly lit hotel bar. Wherever it was, it would need to be relatively secluded. Foreign governments have measures in place to thwart the recruitment of their staff by enemy agencies.

BARRY BROMAN: These guys have their own security guys watching them so they don't defect. And that was another issue that we had to contend with.

NARRATOR: Alex and Barry had to move quickly. The unnamed delegate’s security detail would not leave him exposed for long.

BARRY BROMAN: I was very excited. Alex, of course, it's hard to tell if he's excited because he's a smooth old Brit and he's done this before.

NARRATOR: Necessarily, Alex was a difficult man to read. During his long and decorated career, he’d perfected a cast-iron poker face which made the next words to come out of his mouth all the more surprising.

BARRY BROMAN: So then he says to me: ‘Now, before we make the approach. I feel I should tell you my secret instructions.’

NARRATOR: Secret instructions? Barry was stunned. Imagine the scenarios that might flash through your brain in this moment. Was this a recruitment mission at all? Were these instructions even from MI6?

BARRY BROMAN: So I'm a bit surprised. I mean, I don't know, he's got secret instructions. Why tell me? And I said so. And he said: ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I feel you should know.’ I said: ‘Alex, what are your secret instructions?’

NARRATOR: The older man looked Barry in the eye. A flicker of a smile darted across his distinguished features. He spoke again.

BARRY BROMAN: He said: ‘I was told not to let this case come to recruitment. Don't pitch him.’

NARRATOR: Barry hadn’t seen this coming. If Alex and MI6 had known all along that they were not supposed to be recruiting this target, why go to the effort of driving around America for a month? Why waste everyone’s time?

BARRY BROMAN: So now I'm surprised. I say: ‘Alex, what the hell, what are we doing? Why are you here?’ He said: ‘I'm here because MI6 wants to recruit this guy unilaterally. Just us, not with the Americans.’

NARRATOR: Ah. So MI6 wasn’t against recruiting the target. They were just against sharing him with the USA. Remember, MI6 had to liaise with the CIA if they were working on American soil. This meant that the British would lose exclusive access to the target if he was recruited. It would mean red tape, delays, and quibbles over how the asset was used. And no matter how close the relationship between the USA and the UK is, both countries are duty-bound to act in their own interests. Alex had been tasked with deliberately failing the assignment. If a recruitment on American soil failed then MI6 would be free to pursue the target another time in another place and on their own terms. But Alex had his own agenda, independent of his employers.

BARRY BROMAN: He said: ‘I'm telling you this because we can get him.’

NARRATOR: After 20 years of chasing, Alex wasn’t about to let internal politics stop him getting his man. He continued…

BARRY BROMAN: This is a rare opportunity. I've been after this chap for two decades. We can get him now. And I said: ‘Yeah, but you've got these secret instructions.’ And he said: ‘Ah, well, you don't know that. I'm just giving you this as background.’ And I said: ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ He says… what the quote was: ‘Let's be robust.’

NARRATOR: Exciting as it was, the MI6 man’s zeal presented a conflict for Barry. After all, Alex wasn’t the only one who’d had an unofficial caveat added to his mission briefing.

BARRY BROMAN: So then the ball shifts to me and I say: ‘Alex, I wasn't going to say this, but I, too, have secret instructions from my supervisor.’ And so he was surprised. He said: ‘Can you share that?’ I said: ‘Yeah. My boss told me that whatever happens on this operation, don't piss off the Brits.’

NARRATOR: Realization dawned. If this recruitment went ahead both men would be in open defiance of their orders. A positive outcome would, in fact, ‘piss off the Brits’. Put yourself in Barry’s position. Would you recruit the hard target? On one hand, you have enormous respect for your colleague. He’s older, wiser, and considerably more experienced. In the month you’ve spent on the road together, you’ve made a good friend. Your gut says to trust him. On the other hand, you know this mission could be a professional turning point. If a successful recruitment has negative consequences for the relationship between MI6 and the CIA, you could risk jeopardizing your career prospects - however underhanded the behavior of the British agency had been. In some ways, life in war-torn Cambodia had been less complicated.

BARRY BROMAN: And so now here we go. What are we going to do? And Alex said: ‘Listen, you don't know my secret instructions. I don't know your secret instructions. Let's just go get him.’

NARRATOR: Then again, what’s one more little secret? Time to be robust. The two men, bonded by adrenaline, made their move. But oddly enough, the hard target didn’t seem all too surprised…

BARRY BROMAN: He knew what was going to happen. I mean, he could see it coming.

NARRATOR: Ah. This could mean one of two things. Option One: The hard target has been tipped off. Perhaps his own people had noticed the two men on their tail. Or maybe somebody within MI6 didn’t quite trust that Alex would follow through on his secret orders and had thought of a contingency plan. Option Two: The target has been in this game for a while. He knows how these approaches are made. And he’s not altogether opposed to them. Naturally, option two was preferable.

BARRY BROMAN: The fact that when we got him alone in a room... he knew that something was happening. And especially when, you know, these foreigners are speaking his language fluently and then have knowledge of his job and his family. I mean, normally a guy like that would be running for the door.

NARRATOR: But the foreign delegate didn’t run. Alex made his opening pitch. The target listened. This was a good start. Even listening to an approach from a hostile intelligence agency could have dire consequences.

BARRY BROMAN: These guys, they get briefed by their own counterintelligence people. If someone approaches you, you have to, you know, don't talk to them. You have to report it immediately. I mean, he'd have been shot, if he was caught.

BARRY BROMAN: And it was a measure of Alex's skills that he didn't get to the door. He didn't try to get to the door. You make your own luck in this business.

NARRATOR: Alex finished his spiel. He had offered the target his heart’s desire. Barry can’t tell us exactly what was on the table. Maybe money. Maybe revenge. Maybe the chance of an all-American retirement in some sunny corner of the States. But at that moment, it didn’t matter.

BARRY BROMAN: He rejected the pitch. He turned it down. He said: ‘It's... it's too dangerous. I can't do it.’

NARRATOR: Maybe this was for the best. After all, they’d followed their secret orders to the letter. The recruitment had failed but Alex had one more trick up his sleeve. Remember, he knew every detail of this man’s life. He knew where to apply pressure.

BARRY BROMAN: And so, knowing the dream the target had, he was told: 'If your wife knew what we were offering you and she knew that you turned it down she would kill you.'

NARRATOR: The target had been preparing to make his exit. Now he stopped. He mused for a moment, visibly conflicted. Who presented the greater danger? Who would he rather betray? His country or his wife? Weighing up the options, his choice was clear.

BARRY BROMAN: And he said: ‘You're right. I'll work for you.’ And he did. So in a nutshell, the guy was recruited.

NARRATOR: At CIA headquarters in Langley this was cause for celebration. Barry, despite operating outside of his Southeast Asian comfort zone, had brought in a high-level asset. The response from MI6 was more muted.

BARRY BROMAN: I had an accelerated promotion for my role in this operation and Alex was retired, and I felt very badly about that. And I still do.

NARRATOR: But Alex didn’t mind. Even if his bosses at MI6 were unhappy, he’d finally completed a mission that had spanned a good chunk of his career. Who needs a faultless operational record when you’ve achieved that?

BARRY BROMAN: Now Alex was a heavily decorated fellow. I can't tell you the particular decoration because that would give him away. All I can say, as this was Alex's big case and it happened and I felt so good - glad for him. It didn't really bother him. You know, after I saw him, we discussed this several times. It didn't bother him that he'd been retired because of this. I think there was some in-house politics or something like that, but certainly Britain got great intel that we shared with Americans. It's kind of a win-win.

NARRATOR: Alex became a friend and mentor - the James Bond to Barry’s Felix Leiter. They stayed in touch for years after their first operation together, and Barry’s admiration for him runs deep even today. In 1996, Barry decided to join his old friend in retirement after a long career that had eventually returned him to his first love, Southeast Asia.

BARRY BROMAN: My last posting was chief of station Rangoon, Burma, which I enjoyed very much. And since retirement... I have a consulting firm. I'm on the board of several companies, but I did 14 books, mostly photo books and nine documentary films, all of them in Southeast Asia, so I keep my hand in.

I’m Vanessa Kirby. Join us next week for another encounter with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former head of training at British intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com.

Guest Bio

‍Barry Broman’s father served in the US Air Force so he grew up in Illinois, England and Thailand, picking up work as a young photographer for the Associated Press. He later joined the Marine Corps as an infantry officer and saw combat in Vietnam before joining the CIA as a ‘head hunter’ of spies.

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