After his resignation from the Central Intelligence Agency’s Latin America Division in 1969, Philip Agee became its implacable foe and, because of his relationship with the KGB and its surrogate, the Cuban Dirección General de Inteligencia (DGI), can be described as the agency’s first defector. Agee had left the CIA after a messy divorce and complaints about his behavior and poor financial records. Probably an incident in which he was reprimanded by his station chief in Mexico City, Win Scott, and the ambassador over his abduction of his children from their home in the United States acted as a catalyst, and in 1970 he volunteered his services to the KGB rezident in Mexico City (who initially turned him down).
He then teamed up with the DGI to visit Cuba in May 1971 and research a devastating exposé, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, published in London in January 1975, in which he named 250 of his former colleagues still active in the Agency and many of their sources.
Although not named in his book, Agee was blamed for having betrayed Col. Jerzy Pawlowsky, who was convicted of espionage in Poland and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. In June 1977, Agee was deported from England and the following year helped found Covert Action Information Bulletin, a publication dedicated to exposing CIA personnel operating abroad under cover and produced with help from two other former CIA employees, Jim Wilcott, a former finance officer, and his wife Elsie, once an Agency secretary. Agee also wrote Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe, naming more than 700 CIA officers, and then worked on Dirty Work II: The CIA in Africa, which brought the total number of CIA personnel compromised to about 2,000. Congress was sufficiently alarmed by Agee’s continuing vendetta to pass the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in June 1982 to outlaw the disclosure of the names of serving CIA officers. Although this helped dissuade Agee from inflicting further damage, he had revealed enough to force the withdrawal of a
large number of officers and reduce the pool of experienced officers who could be sent on missions abroad. In terms of operational effectiveness, Agee had caused the Agency to pay a tremendously high price, including the life of Richard Welch, the chief of station in Athens who was shot dead outside his home by terrorists in December 1975 soon after his name and true role were publicized.
The Agency’s apparent impotence in the face of an attack orchestrated by Agee and masterminded behind the scenes by the KGB, as later revealed by Oleg Kalugin and the defector Vasili Mitrokhin, undermined the CIA’s authority and its ability to conduct operations away from the hostile scrutiny of the local security apparatus in any particular country. The last epithet any clandestine collection service seeks is “the world’s most notorious spy agency,” yet that is what the CIAachieved through the attention brought to it by its renegades, and the result was a loss in confidence on the part of potential collaborators who might otherwise have been willing to establish a covert relationship with the CIA.
Agee was never prosecuted by U.S. authorities and won a legal challenge to his right to a U.S. passport. He continues to visit the United States and runs a successful travel business in Cuba.