"We Must Have the Greatest Immorality, and We Must Have the Greatest Morality"

The tragedy-cum-farce that has enveloped General David Petraeus calls to mind my beginning days at the CIA in the fall of 1954, when we were treated to a series of orientation briefings, as new members of the Junior Officer Trainee (JOT) program, by the great and near-great of the Agency, a lineup which, though lacking the piquancy of "Smiley's People," had a certain elitism -- one might say CIA Gothic -- to it:

Matt Baird, the Zeus-like figure who headed the JOT program, a former Air Force Colonel whose chin looked like it had been cut from a cleaver, and who, much later in life, and failing, decided to swim out to sea at Bethany Beach.

Willet C. Eccles, Baird's colleague, a former headmaster, to whom I had the witlessness to utter the adage, "Those that can, do, those that can't, teach," which was by way of saying that I had wanted to join the Agency, in order to get into a more action-oriented business.

Peter Brownback, an assistant of Eccles, who came earlier in 1954 to Richmond, where I was working as a journalist, and dazzled me with vignettes of what life would be like in the CIA. I signed up. The dynamic and therefore called "Bullet Bob" Amory, the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. From Boston, Milton Academy, Harvard and Harvard Law School and a decorated combat veteran in World War II. Hugh Cunningham, the schoolmasterish Director of Training, who presented us a formula which, though it has a certain starry-eyed quality of the early CIA, has stuck in my mind ever since: "We must have the greatest immorality, and we must have the greatest morality."

By which Cunningham meant that we must exercise immorality (for what can otherwise be immorality than persuading a person to betray his country), but in our personal life we must exhibit the highest standards of morality.

This meant particularly when it came to finances, since money is a CIA stock in trade and must be managed with probity (which is why, perhaps, that Mormons seemed to proliferate as finance officers in the Agency); or when it came to love, which in all the wrong places could lead to embarrassment or worse, blackmail. (In this regard, some CIA officers, like those in other métiers, have proven unequal to the task of overcoming the force of nature, without which society falls apart).

Some years later, I mentioned the Hugh Cunningham formula to a group of beginning Career Trainees (CTs, formerly known as JOTs), and the officer of a mish-background who had invited me to speak at the CIA training site ("The Farm"), admonished me that I shouldn't say such things to young officers. But the fact is, if you didn't want to manipulate people you didn't belong in the Operations Directorate of the CIA.