‘Spy Sites’ offers espionage tour of nation’s capital

Posted on Feb 27, 2017 in Alumni News and News

In the wake of a ceaseless stream of headlines and social-media chatter about international espionage, Georgetown University Press’ recent publication of Spy Sites of Washington, DC, the latest installment in a series of espionage history books written by retired CIA officer Robert Wallace, g’68, and historian H. Keith Melton, could not have come at a more opportune time.

Thanks to public fascination with the topic, the Washington Post recently promoted the book to its politically minded readership with an attractive, graphics-laden package featuring many of the sites Wallace and Melton featured in their book.

“I was surprised. I had no idea it would catch the attention of somebody there,” Wallace says from his Virginia home. “I think it was one of the cases where you just kind of catch a news cycle.”

Bob WallaceWallace, a former CIA station chief who ended his long career at the agency as director of its Office of Technical Service, began his writing career, and partnership with Melton, with the authoritative and fascinating Spycraft [Kansas Alumni magazine, issue 2, 2008], which brought to light countless previously untold chapters in the thrilling history of the CIA’s spytechs, with their ingenious devices and courageous exploits.

Wallace and Melton continued with, among others, The Official C.I.A. Manual of Trickery and Deception and Spy Sites of New York City. As with the New York book, Spy Sites of Washington, DC is designed with a dual purpose in mind. It can be enjoyed at the reader’s leisure at home or, with its extensive maps and photographs, dropped into a backpack to serve as a guidebook to explore sites where notable espionage once took place.

A favored tour for Wallace is a stretch he’s dubbed the “Spy Mile,” featuring 25 spy sites that stretch from the Mayflower Hotel, down 16th Street to the White House, then east to the International Spy Museum on F Street.

“Having the information in front of you and then being at the site is the difference between watching the Jayhawks play in Allen Field House and watching them on a television in some bar,” he says. “You get the same information both ways, but you experience it totally differently.”

Wallace says he was surprised to learn during his research for this book—which he describes as “much more substantial” than Spy Sites of New York City—about ceaseless foreign involvement in American affairs across the entire span of our country’s history.

“Not only in terms of foreign countries attempting to, quote, steal American secrets, the information side, but also the influence side,” he says. “Foreign governments, through their intelligence organs, have consistently, regularly, always attempted to influence American politicians, influence American policy, influence the American public, and, by extension, either directly or indirectly, the American vote.

“I was surprised by that. I didn’t have a previous awareness of how consistently that played out over the years.”

Given that those are exactly the charges currently being bandied about in the early days of the current presidential administration, Wallace suggests using caution to draw exact parallels: “The dynamics of any particular age are of that age,” he says.

Instead, Wallace says, Americans should use that history to learn more about how such foreign efforts were dealt with in earlier times.

“What history teaches you is that maybe you shouldn’t be so surprised and shocked when things happen, because there’s probably historical precedence. But, maybe you can draw some lessons learned in terms of how similar situations were effectively, or not so effectively, dealt with.”

—Chris Lazzarino

Additional coverage:

100 Percent Chance There Is a Spy Site in Your DC-Area Neighborhood | NBC Washington

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Alumnus and former CIA officer helps tell story of secret communications that reached POWs held in infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’

Posted on Apr 24, 2015 in Alumni News and News

The thrilling story behind clandestine communications that linked U.S. prisoners of war in North Vietnam with military and intelligence officials in Washington, D.C., will be told in a “first-ever report” to be broadcast April 27 on the Smithsonian Channel.

Bob Wallace“The Spy in the Hanoi Hilton” will feature interviews with veterans of the secret operation, along with commentary by Robert Wallace, g’68, a retired Central Intelligence Agency operations officer, chief of station and director of the CIA’s Office of Technical Services [“Cold War Wizards,” Kansas Alumni magazine, issue No. 4, 2008].

“The program is a Smithsonian Channel exclusive,” Wallace writes in an email to the Alumni Association, “a first-ever report on the clandestine network inside the POW camps of the Vietnam War, linking Americans imprisoned inside Hanoi directly to the Pentagon and the CIA. Secret for 40 years, this story is told through historical film clips, reenactments, and interviews of former POWs.”

Wallace, who earned a KU master’s degree in political science before serving as a U.S. Army Ranger in Vietnam and eventually joining the CIA, recounted his agency’s involvement in the POW communications network in his 2008 history of the Office of Technical Services, Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs from Communism to Al-Qaeda.

In his book, written with intelligence historian H. Keith Melton and approved for publication by the CIA, Wallace described the daring and brilliant work by CIA Technical Services Division officer Brian Lipton, who spent long, late-night hours toiling in secret—even from his colleagues—to devise ways to send and receive coded information in letters and photographs exchanged by Sybil Stockdale and her husband, prisoner James Stockdale, a future vice admiral and Medal of Honor winner who was then a U.S. Navy captain who had been shot down over North Vietnam in 1965.

“Over the time that I worked at night on the project, I had the deeply satisfying personal pleasure of seeing how grateful the military was that they had this channel,” Lipton told Wallace, as recounted in Spycraft. “For years, it had been unknown what happened to many of the guys, whether they were KIA or MIA or POWs. After we had the communications link, not only did the military know, but a lot of these families also began to get reliable information about their sons, fathers, and husbands.”

Lipton was later declared an honorary “prisoner of war in Vietnam” by an association of American POWs.

“A heck of a lot of the guys came up to me and said, ‘I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for what the CIA did. That’s what kept me going,'” Lipton told Wallace. “That’s how I was able to go in and work all night long, then come back and work the next day. I knew that we were doing things that really made a difference; not only in military value, but for those warriors and their families.”

The Smithsonian Channel’s broadcast coincides with nationwide commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the 1965 start of the Vietnam War. “The Spy in the Hanoi Hilton” premiered for a standing-room-only audience April 22 at the U.S. Naval Academy.

—Chris Lazzarino

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