Me and the CIA

I keep getting comments and quips from people about how I possibly might be working for the CIA, so I thought I’d actually write a full post for the FAQ about it and settle this issue once and for all.

But before I can do that, I have to tell you a story.

You’re Not Mexican!

Many years ago when I was working in the United States, my phone rang and on the line was a gentleman with a thick accent. I realized right away that he had mistakenly dialed the wrong number and was actually looking for a different department.

I guessed by his accent that his native language was Spanish so I asked him (in Spanish) if he indeed did speak Spanish. In those days, my Spanish skills were much better (they’re now quite rusty as I use Romanian far more often) and so I continued the rest of the (short) call in Spanish.

My boss happened to be walking by my office (as bosses tend to do) and heard me on the phone. My boss froze in his tracks and then rapidly entered my office. After I finished helping the man on the phone my boss and I had this conversation:

Boss: What was that??
Me: What was what, boss?
Boss: What were you just doing there?
Me: Oh. Yeah that was just someone who called the wrong number. He was looking for X department so I just told him their number.
Boss: No, but you were speaking some kind of foreign language or something.
Me: Yes, I was speaking Spanish to the guy.

Boss: But… but… *splutters* you’re not Mexican!
Me: Yes, that’s true. And you’ve never been to England in your entire life. So it goes.

Boss: Sam, tell me and be honest. Are you some kind of spy?

Yes, that’s a true story. There are millions of Spanish-speaking people in the United States as almost everybody in the entire hemisphere (North, Central and South America) speak it. I didn’t think it was a really big deal that I could converse in Spanish, although it’s true I’m not Mexican. I took several years of Spanish in my ordinary public high school and I imagine that millions of non-Mexicans in America did too.

And yet my boss, who was just as American as I was, had to have known all that. I believe that later he even told me that his daughter (who was in high school at the time) was taking Spanish in school herself. Yet somehow in his mind being able to hold a short conversation in the language meant that I was “a spy”.

All of that happened years ago and since then I’ve noticed that many people, not just my old boss, equate someone having specialized knowledge as being a “spy”, as if only intelligence agents ever learn foreign languages or know things.

Since very few people have ever met a real spy, I’m guessing that this assumption must come from movies or television shows. I once had a person in Italy ask me if I was a surfer after learning I was from America. I guess the idea of Americans surfing also comes from TV/films as well but the question made me laugh as not only have I never surfed in my entire life but I also didn’t even know anyone back in America who surfed. I still don’t.

I don’t watch a lot of movies so I don’t know what’s being said about the CIA in the fantasy media but I do know about the real agency.


During World War 2, the United States created an intelligence agency called the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). You have to understand that the OSS was the only spy agency that the government had and it covered everything from intercepts of enemy military communications to the recruitment of undercover agents.

Americans are absolutely obsessed with acronyms and so the interception of radio transmissions and telegrams (and to a far lesser extent, telephone calls) became known as SIGINT, meaning “SIGnals INTelligence”. Information from secret agents became known as HUMINT from “HUMan INTelligence”.

The OSS only existed for three years as it was disbanded at the end of the war. But in terms of strategy, things were pretty good. Polish cryptographers and the British genius Alan Turing (who did all the heavy lifting for the mathematics which allowed the creation of the computer, the device you are using this very minute to read this) early on figured out how to decipher Germany’s (and later Japan’s) military communications.

This meant that the Allies (to include the United States) spent the entire war intercepting and reading the enemy’s communications, so the OSS had very good SIGINT to work with. As the war was being fought between governments with state-run structures (military), the “enemy” was clearly composed of armies and navies and so the target of SIGINT was easy to define.

Likewise, both Germany and Japan were militarily occupying dozens of countries and both nations (at the time) tended to think they were superior and above everyone else and so they treated the inhabitants of those occupied lands rather poorly. People, in general, don’t like having foreign soldiers in their country bossing them around and so there were lots of disgruntled people who were more than happy to provide HUMINT to an agency that was working to remove those high-handed occupiers.

Furthermore, both Germany and Japan were run by a fanatical leader who did a lot of really stupid and megalomaniacal shit that career officers didn’t approve of. So there were plenty of insiders who were willing to betray their leader and provide HUMINT to the OSS. Hitler was nearly killed by some of his own officers, which is fairly substantive proof that internal resentment was running high.

With conditions like these, recruiting people to spy is rather easy.


The birth of the CIA

The war ended in 1945 and the OSS was disbanded. But in 1947, President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act which completely transformed the entire American government. Among other things, it changed the name of the “War Department” (an apt title) to the “Defense Department”. And it also created the Central Intelligence Agency, better known today by its initials (CIA).

Right away, the CIA became an unmitigated disaster. I have a book on my shelf entitled Legacy of Ashes, written by Tim Weiner, and I highly recommend anyone interested in the CIA should read it.

A man named Chalmers Johnson, who was an “outside consultant” for the CIA for six years, reviewed this book. Here are a few choice passages from that review:

Weiner, a New York Times correspondent, has been working on Legacy of Ashes for 20 years. He has read over 50,000 government documents, mostly from the CIA, the White House, and the State Department. He has read more than 2,000 oral histories of American intelligence officers, soldiers, and diplomats and has himself conducted more than 300 on-the-record interviews with current and past CIA officers, including ten former directors of central intelligence. Truly exceptional among authors of books on the CIA, he makes the following claim: “This book is on the record — no anonymous sources, no blind quotations, no hearsay.”

From its inception the CIA has labored under two contradictory conceptions of what it was supposed to be doing, and no president ever succeeded in correcting or resolving this situation. Espionage and intelligence analysis seek to know the world as it is; covert action seeks to change the world, whether it understands it or not.

The historical record is unequivocal. The United States is ham-handed and brutal in conceiving and executing clandestine operations, and it is simply no good at espionage; its operatives never have enough linguistic and cultural knowledge of target countries to recruit spies effectively. The CIA also appears to be one of the most easily penetrated espionage organizations on the planet. From the beginning, it repeatedly lost its assets to double agents.

I’ve known about how incompetent and stupid the CIA has been for years, so whenever someone jokes or half-jokingly inquires if I work for the CIA, my response is always, “No, I’m not stupid enough”.

They truly are an organization composed of retards. You might remember from my article on the CIA torture prison in Bucharest that they did not have a single person who spoke Romanian well enough to even go down to the local shop and buy food. That’s not some aberrant exception or oddity. The CIA almost never has anyone who understands the local language/culture.

After World War 2, the next great conflict for the American government was the Korean “War” (officially not a war, just a “police action”). The newly-created CIA wanted to obtain spies from the enemy (North) Korean side. Here’s what happened (from Chalmers Johnson’s review of Legacy of Ashes):

After the Chinese intervention in the Korean War, the CIA dropped 212 foreign agents into Manchuria. Within a matter of days, 101 had been killed and the other 111 captured — but this information was effectively suppressed. The CIA’s station chief in Seoul, Albert R. Haney, an incompetent army colonel and intelligence fabricator, never suspected that the hundreds of agents he claimed to have working for him all reported to North Korean control officers.

That’s right. Not a single CIA agent ever managed to provide a solitary drop of HUMINT during that entire war. The North Koreans, often portrayed in American (and western) media as a land of “crazies”, outwitted the entire American intelligence operation against them.

The reverse is definitely not true. As Chalmers Johnson said in the quote above, foreign countries have easily penetrated the CIA and other American intelligence organizations.

If you ever go to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, you’ll see the U.S.S. Pueblo, an American spy ship that the North Koreans easily captured thanks to intelligence they got from a Russian spy named John Anthony Walker, an American citizen who spied for the Soviet Union for 17 years completely undetected.

The story of what happened to the U.S.S. Pueblo also has an interesting connection to Romania today, which you will see below.

The Rise of the 15

In 1961, in yet another complete disaster, the CIA sent an army of dissidents into Cuba to try to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro, an event now referred to as the Bay of Pigs invasion. Again, the foreign government in question easily routed the CIA’s agents and the entire thing was a PR nightmare for the United States.

In response, the American military decided it could no longer rely on the CIA and so created their own intelligence agency known as the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency). The DIA still exists today, along with five other military agencies for each branch (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard).

Other new intelligence agencies began popping up like mushrooms, including the NSA (now famous thanks to Edward Snowden) as well as the NRO and NGA. These three agencies deal primarily in SIGINT or using computers, satellites and other modern technological means to spy on people, corporations and governments around the world.

Likewise, different non-military branches of the government such as the Department of Energy (DOE), which handles, among other things, nuclear reactors, and the Treasury Department created their own intelligence agencies. The FBI, which had previously been restricted to only spying on Americans, also created an intelligence branch.

As of right now, there are a total of 16 “intelligence” agencies. Some are purely concerned with military objectives. Others are focused on SIGINT, which then gets funneled to various other parts of the government. A few are specialized, such as the DOE, and have a very limited scope.

On top of all of these 16 is the “mother ship”, which is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a hideously Orwellian agency that primarily monitors and directs the activities of all of the 16 “children” agencies. The one exception to that is the CIA, which continues to remain independent, performing secret tasks that few people in the government know about, costing billions of dollars of taxpayer money, doing things that are almost never reviewed by anyone.


The last of the 16 agencies is the INR, a subset of the State Department, which is America’s diplomatic corps.

According to Wikipedia, there are about 50,000 employees in the State Department with embassies and consulates in nearly every country (and major city) around the world.

During their regular course of business of speaking to foreign leaders and politicians, State Department employees are privy to a lot of information. This gets funneled to the INR, which combs through this vast amount of data (called “analysis”) and is thus in a prime position to make very accurate intelligence assessments from HUMINT. It’s not really so much about spies and secret agents as it is about being “on the ground” and speaking to important people on a regular basis.

Out of all of the intelligence agencies in the government, the INR is probably the only one worthy of the title “intelligence”.

What does the CIA actually do?

The CIA used to have a very clear mandate, consisting of three parts:

1) SIGINT (intercept phone calls, radio transmissions, etc)
2) HUMINT (recruit spies and informers, as well as place their agents in positions to gain secret information)
3) Analyze #1 and #2 and provide coherent intelligence to the President

Nowadays the majority of SIGINT is done by other agencies and the CIA is horrifically inept at obtaining HUMINT. They do still have a kind of primacy over information gleaned from the other 15 agencies but many people, from Tim Wiener to former CIA directors speaking on the record have admitted that 80-90% of its “intelligence” comes from public sources.

In other words, if you read a lot of newspapers, you’re about 90% as well informed as the CIA. Nonetheless, the CIA loves its cloak-and-dagger reputation and still covets its position as being the one to condense this information into acronym-filled reports that it can then give the president. A blogger (such as me) doing that on their own time just doesn’t have the same sexy mystique.

And so all the CIA has left to do is a waste a ton of money from their enormous secret budget. A lot of it goes towards unbelievably stupid shit like luxury apartments for its agents or setting up sham corporations to renting out planes at exorbitant cost from real companies so that they can fly kidnapped people to secret torture prisons. The rest of it goes towards hiring (real) journalists to write propaganda pieces in the newspaper or paying armed thugs in foreign countries to cause mayhem.

In other words, regime change. When a policy decision is made in Washington to “replace leader X with Y”, the CIA goes to work. First they pay for propaganda to appear on the radio, television or in newspapers (and these days, online) to advocate that Mr. X is bad and Mr. Y is good. Then the CIA pays unemployed young people to go to peaceful protests and fire bullets or damage property to discredit the legitimacy of the protestors. Then they contact Mr. Y and his people and urge them to overthrow Mr. X and his people and promise everyone a lot of money if they comply.

When “necessary”, the CIA kidnaps people off the street and beats them up or kills them or flies them around the world in order to torture them. They’ve done this (in recent years) not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan but also here in Europe, including in Macedonia and Italy. And because the CIA is composed of retards, they are always caught and their supposedly “clandestine” and secret movements easily discovered.

Everyone always acts surprised when the CIA turns out to have been colossally stupid and yet it happens again and again. You can read this Wired article from 2007 about the CIA’s kidnapping of a man in Milan, Italy:

The CIA needs to get a Q. James Bond’s gadget guru surely would have warned the agency about how easy it is to track calls made via cell phone.

Now 25 of its agents are facing trial in absentia in Milan, Italy, this summer — undone by their pathetic ignorance of technology. It seems that cellular data exposed their operation to carry out the “extraordinary rendition” (read: illegal abduction) of an Egyptian cleric suspected of terrorist involvement from a Milan street in 2003.

Time after time after time, whether it’s the 1950’s Korean War or the recent “War on Terror”, the CIA’s operations have continued to be utter and total failures.

Are there CIA agents in Romania today?

I don’t know. All I know is that I’m not one. I’ve never worked for these morons (even as an outside consultant) in my entire life. But I do know that it’s relatively easy to find them, even when they’re not kidnapping people in broad daylight.

In fact, there’s even a handy online guide on how to do it.

The State Department and the CIA

Some CIA agents work and live in the United States and do all of their “intelligence” work from safely behind a desk. Others take advantage of the fact that important foreigners come to the United States to do business and so they can do all of their “spy” activities safely on American soil.

But what do you do when you want to send an agent to a foreign country? Well, you need to provide them with some “cover”. In other words, you need for them to pretend to be someone they’re not and that is a very difficult thing indeed.

As John Marks said in his 1975 article:

The Agency [CIA] has learned over the years that it is much more difficult and expensive to set up an operative as a businessman (or as a missionary or newsman) than to put him in an embassy.

As a “private” citizen, the operative is not automatically exposed to the host country’s key officials and to foreign diplomats, nor does he have direct access to the CIA communications and support facilities which are normally housed in embassies. Moreover, as an ex-CIA official explains, “The deep cover guy has no mobility. He doesn’t have the right passport. He is subject to local laws and has to pay local taxes. If you try to put him in an influential business job, you’ve got to go through all the arrangements with the Company. “

Therefore almost all CIA agents abroad are pretending to be State Department employees. This gives them a reason to be in the foreign country, diplomatic immunity should something go wrong, and (less important in 2014 than it was in 1975) gives them a safe and secure place to keep secret documents and then communicate with headquarters back in the United States.

In fact, there’s a very famous case of a CIA agent named Valerie Plame who was “outed” in 2003 by the Washington Post. Let’s take a brief look at her career:

Plame served the CIA at times as a non-official cover (or NOC), operating undercover in (at least) two positions in Athens and Brussels.

While using her own name, “Valerie Plame”, her assignments required posing in various professional roles in order to gather intelligence more effectively. Two of her covers include serving as a junior consular officer in the early 1990s in Athens [Greece]…

A former senior diplomat in Athens remembered Plame in her dual role and also recalled that she served as one of the “control officers” coordinating the visit of President George H. W. Bush to Greece and Turkey in July 1991.

A “junior consular officer” is a member of the State Department and is precisely what is described in the guide on how to spot a CIA agent that is linked above. If you look up the personnel lists for the State Department for those years, you’ll see she is listed as a State Department employee.

Later on in her CIA career, she moved back to Washington and did all of her spy work while safely on American soil.

Now for some fun!

Again, I don’t work for the CIA (or any government agency, American or otherwise) so I have zero inside knowledge of who might or might not be an American spy here in Romania today but let’s take a look at who works in that armored compound down in Bucharest and find out who is who.

If nothing else, I think it will be educational for my readers, whom I imagine have no idea whatsoever who is (legitimately) working for the United States and implementing their strategic goals of colonizing Romania.

From the American Embassy’s own website:


Right now there isn’t an ambassador, which is okay as ambassadors are always political appointees and never the CIA spy. The guy running the show at the moment is DCM Duane Butcher, whose biography is linked to on the site.

Using our handy guide, we can probably rule him out as a CIA spy. For one thing, he has a long and continuous career in the State Department and is far too senior, having held several important posts including the one he has now (DCM). Secondly, although the official biography doesn’t tell us this, a little research shows us that his wife is from Azerbaijan, which matches his posting in Baku from 1994-1996. Considering he graduated in 1987 (presumably at age 21-22), that means he probably met her when he was about 30, so it all makes sense. Lastly, he graduated from a tiny university so I rather imagine it’d be easy to track down his school records.

Since nobody else on the list has an official biography, we’re going to have to do some research to find out more about them.

Next up is Bruce P. Kleiner. We can see that he was a DCM as well, formerly at the embassy in New Guinea as well as Paraguay. He also had a really active Twitter account (along with his photograph), which gives him a lot of public exposure, not something you’d expect a CIA agent to want to do (plus it’s time consuming). He seems like an intelligent guy, so I feel safe in ruling him out.

Now we get to Henry Leighton. He has no official biography on the website but in a PDF newsletter from October 2012 (on the Bucharest embassy website) he lists his lengthy career in the State Department, which began in 1988. He speaks Arabic and German and has held several senior posts so he’s far too important and too intelligent to be CIA.

Debra Hevia is the current political counselor, which is usually too important a post to be wasted on a fake employee (CIA agent). Although most people think of the ambassador as the most important person in an embassy, usually in terms of policy and strategy it’s the political officer. Also, she too has a long career with the State Department, including having served in Bolivia and Holland. Plus she speaks Spanish (as you can see for yourself here), so again far too intelligent to be CIA.

Susan Garro also has a long career with the State Department (since at least 2004) having formerly served in Holland and Brazil. She’s also regularly in the news doing her job (promoting trade), hardly something for an undercover CIA agent to be interested in.

Matthew Werner again has a documented career with the State Department (albeit shorter), having previously worked at the embassy in the Republic of Georgia and doing the same thing (management counselor). He’s also on the board of trustees for the American International School of Bucharest, which means his children probably go there. Spies don’t bring their kids with them on assignments as a matter of course.

Kenneth Wetzel has a very lengthy career at State, working everywhere from Croatia to Poland to Bosnia to Spain starting in 1996 as well as being a lieutenant colonel in the military. He’s also been a Public Affairs Officer (his current job) since 2007 so he’s far too high-profile (and too high ranking in the military) to be an undercover CIA agent.

Marjorie Stern is a little harder to track down as she has a common name but her picture is easy to find as is her biography. Having previously worked for the Peace Corps and USAID (which is sometimes used as a cover for the CIA, but not often) she began working for the State Department in 2002 in Honduras. Her daughter Eden Stern is all over the internet talking about her mother’s career so it’s hardly likely that she’s an undercover CIA agent.

Likewise Deborah Thomas has an extremely common name but she’s volunteered her time at the “English Speaking Union Romania” in 2013 as one of the judges who rated (Romanian) children’s performances during a public speaking competition. She’s also the human resources officer, meaning she has to handle payroll and other things and hardly likely to have the free time to be an undercover CIA agent.

Both Colonel Roderick Dorsey and Glen Lawson are career military men who have had active commands over troops, making them far too high-ranking to be CIA agents.

Stephan Notarianni is probably the most interesting person on this list, having been born originally in France but moving to the United States when he was young. He spent several years working for the DOE’s medical team in the Marshall Islands and is keenly interested in the story behind the U.S.S. Pueblo, the American spy ship the North Koreans captured. Far too intelligent and educated to be a CIA spy.

We’ll skip over James Cunningham for the moment and get right to Timothy O’Malley, a fine Irish name and quite common. Nonetheless, with a little research it’s easy to establish that O’Malley actually works for the FBI, not the CIA, and is in charge of coordinating the FBI’s activities on the ground here in Romania.

Likewise Darren White works for a branch of the American (federal) government in law enforcement, the Secret Service. Most people think of them (from movies and TV I suppose) as the people who protect the president, which is true. But what few people realize is that they started out as an agency to combat counterfeit currency, something they still do. They also work on related tasks such as credit card fraud and the online security of banking transactions, which means that Mr. White has plenty of legitimate Secret Service work to do here in Romania.

Philip Nazelrod likewise tends to focus his time on “cyber” threats. Unlike Bruce Kleiner above (New Guinea, near Australia), Nazelrod used to work out of the American embassy in Guinea (Africa) where he was extremely active in writing reports for the State Department. I’d say he’s too old and been working for State too long in too senior a capacity to be an undercover agent.

Jay Golden is a lawyer from his Mississippi, which makes it extremely easy to verify his background. Likewise, his wife (also a lawyer) is here in Bucharest with him and they have a very public presence on the internet. What’s very interesting though is that the Goldens are very active members of the same Anglican church in Bucharest that Aliston Mutler attends. Well, it’s good to see she finally has a friend!

And last but not least is Michael Henney, who actually lives in Poland and is rarely even in this country.


We have two advantages in 2014 that researchers in 1975 didn’t have. The first tool at our disposal is the internet, which is now ubiquitous especially amongst professional Americans. It would be quite suspicious for an undercover agent NOT to have an online presence.

Just about everyone we’ve discussed so far has a fairly large “footprint” on the internet, whether that’s a Twitter account or a Facebook page or (more commonly) a LinkedIn profile. Furthermore, news aggregators easily let you find when someone has appeared in the press. There were dozens of examples of Marjorie Stern (the cultural officer) appearing in the press when she attended public events (dealing with culture). That’s normal and what you’d expect.

Likewise, while the “principal staff” down at the American embassy are listed on their page, it’s relatively easy to find a much more comprehensive list online (PDF) of junior staff as well. Some of those names are the same and some aren’t but I’ll skip all the boring details as I’ve gone through each one and found more or less that each person seems to be who they say they are (although I’d say John Trimble is most likely the INR guy in Bucharest, which technically makes him an intelligence agent, just not one who works for the CIA).

The second tool that we have now that didn’t exist in 1975 are the 250000 State Department cables that Chelsea Manning gave to Wikileaks. Anybody of importance in an embassy is going to be regularly appearing in those cables, such as Philip Nazelrod during his time in Conakry.

Therefore you can cross-check both the public online presence of someone (their profiles, appearances in the media, other public records) as well as seeing their activity in previously classified cables from 2002-2010 via Wikileaks.

What we’re looking for is the footprint of a Valerie Plame, a young person recruited out of university and then seemingly employed as a junior member of diplomatic mission. The other person we’re looking for is someone has a job but doesn’t ever seem to be doing it.

And so now we get to the case of James Cunningham, officially the “Commercial Attaché”. That’s a fancy way to say that he’s in charge of promoting trade ties between countries (in this case, America and Romania).

My first problem was noting that he’s never in the press (in the capacity of Commerical Attaché) since he’s been here in Romania. There are dozens of articles mentioning him but they’re all about the same event, when he said that Cluj could be the next “Silicon Valley”. There are photos of all the other senior people at the embassy at workshops and conferences and government meetings but no record of James doing anything except the one appearance.

Secondly, he (allegedly) held the same position at the American Embassy in Mumbai, India (2005-2008) before getting assigned to Romania in 2011. Again, almost no appearances in the press. For a guy who is supposed to be the public face of promoting trade, he is conspicuously absent from the media. He’s also (allegedly) worked at other American embassies as some kind of trade specialist/representative since as far back as 1995.

Of course it’s hard to distinguish THIS James “Jim” Cunningham from all the other hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of James Cunninghams out there on the internet. I must have spent two solid hours last night trying to find a trace of this guy (and not all the people who share his name).

This is what I managed to cobble together of his CV:

1990-1991: Office of the USTR, Executive Office of the President (Washington, DC)
1991-1995: International Trade Office of Antidumping Investigations (Washington, DC)
1995-1998: U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service (Los Angeles, CA)
1999-2001: Commercial attaché at the embassy (Mexico City, Mexico)
2002-2005: Principal Commercial officer at the embassy (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
2005-2008: Commercial Consul for the consulate (Mumbai, India)
2011-present: Regional Senior Commercial officer (Bucharest, Romania)

Wait a second! What happened between 2009-2011? That’s completely missing from his professional career. Allegedly he had a “special assignment” in his home town of Cincinnati, Ohio (he graduated from nearby Miami of Ohio University), during part of which he was given “Romanian language training”.

Now what in the hell is that? There isn’t a single American down at that embassy that I’ve ever spoken to that speaks Romanian. As you can see from my research above, all of these career State employees get rotated around every few years. What’s the point in receiving Romanian language training? Even Victoria Nuland (discussed in-depth by me here) worked in Russia for years and doesn’t speak any Russian (and badly mispronounced “spasibo” or “thank you” at her swearing-in ceremony) and that’s actually a major language useful around the world.

Also, Cunningham has to be at least 45 years old (starting work in 1990 combined with the fact that he has a post-graduate university degree) and suddenly now he’s going to learn a new language?

Very weird. And what disturbed me the most is that there isn’t a single mention of Cunningham in all those State Department cables. Not one. And yet other cables clearly deal with important trade deals, such as when the ambassador in Romania complained that the (Romanian) government wasn’t doing enough to help Coca-Cola. And India is a major source of trade, so you’d think Cunningham would pop up at least once if that’s why he was really there.

Furthermore, it’s a little odd that his first (major) job after university was working in the office of the president, something you’ll never be able to verify. Remember our guide on how to spot a CIA officer:

Finally there is another almost certain tip-off. If an agent is listed in the Biographic Register as having been an “analyst” for the Department of the Army (or Navy or Air Force), you can bet that he or she is really working for the CIA. A search of hundreds of names found no legitimate State Department personnel listed as ever having held such a job.

Well the USATR isn’t part of the military but it is in Washington, so all we really know is that this guy spent a few years in Washington. We also know from Valerie Plame’s career in the CIA that when she wasn’t a (fake) junior member of the State Department, she was a (fake) trade consultant.

Because of what I found, I did even more research. Here is an official American government website again showing Cunningham as the head of the Commercial (Trade) division:


Right away you’ll notice Cunningham, a woman named Katja Kravetsky and then a slew of Romanian names. There’s no surprise that Romanians are doing all the real work as the embassy always hires locals to do anything that’s difficult. Cunningham we “know”, but who is Katja Kravetsky?

First off, her name sounds Slavic so you might think she’s some kind of local person but both the spelling of her first name with a “J” as well as her maiden name of Stangelin tells you that she’s American but of Swedish ancestry.

Here’s her CV:

1987-1991: University of Georgetown (Washington, DC)
1992-1994: University of Arizona
1999-2001: Monterey Institute of International Studies (California)
2002-2008: Department of Commerce (Washington, DC)
2008-2010: U.S. Commercial Service at the embassy (Moscow, Russia)
2011-2012: U.S. Commercial Service (Portland, Oregon)
2013-present: U.S. Commercial Service at the embassy (Bucharest, Romania)

But wait a minute, what happened between 1994 and 1998? First she graduates with a master’s degree from the University of Arizona and then she drops off the map. Then she gets a second master’s degree (in International Policy Studies) and moves to Washington, DC. What was she doing in between those two things?

Turns out she was teaching English in Chisinau, Moldova. Maybe she liked it (she did stay four years after all) but maybe the pay was too low so she went back to school, got a new degree and then began her career working for the Commercial Service, including two stints working out of the embassy. And maybe somewhere along the line, somebody realized she spoke a little Romanian and so that’s how she got the job in Bucharest.

Her career is pretty transparent, including the fact that she graduated from Plainedge High School in Massapequa, New York and she’s in public federal documents from her time working for the Commerce Department in Washington, D.C.. If she does indeed speak a little Romanian, it probably helps her do her job in managing the half-dozen Romanians who work under her. She’s also appeared frequently in the media as part of her job.

What I suspect is that she’s the real head of the commercial section and that James Cunningham is the most likely person to secretly be the undercover agent here. He’s based right out of the embassy, has diplomatic immunity and credentials and has a million legitimate reasons to interact with people in this country and travel around. He’s also low-key enough that nobody pays any attention to him, which would be perfect for a real spy.

Please understand though that all of this is just conjecture. I don’t have any concrete proof that anyone is anything other than who they say they are. I could be completely wrong and the real spy is someone else (or no one at all, since there’s little need for regime change in Romania). All I can say for certain is that I’m not a spy, and frankly that’s all I care about.

So, can we finally agree to stop making jokes about how I “must be” working for the CIA?

20 thoughts on “Me and the CIA

  1. Head of the commercial section is not “low-key enough that nobody pays any attention to him”. It’s heading the section that anyone would call who has questions about trade with US-American companies, setting up a business in the USA or investing in the USA. At least from a certain volume of a proposed deal upward, callers would expect/insist on talking to the section chief.
    The same applies to US companies who want to invest in/expand to Romania or carry out due diligence on Romanian contractors.

    A full-time spy would never want to have such a high-profile position as cover. You’d have to decline invitations to all sorts of events all the time or fake the cover job so well that you don’t have time for spying.

    Your search is based on the unfounded premise that somebody listed on the Embassy personnel roster is working for the CIA. But there are plenty of people who may not be listed at all, or whose cover job is something completely different, whether for the US government or a private company or as a lawyer or a university researcher. It could also be someone with a Romanian name, whom you’d not even suspect of being a US-American.


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