The shades were drawn. A rectangular red sign, “SECRET,” was slid into a bracket on the front wall. An instructor stepped to the podium.
I remember him saying something like: “This is the only thing in the Army that you can volunteer for and then get out of if you change your mind.” That’s because we had signed up for something illegal, even immoral, according to some people, he said.
It was called espionage. We were not going to be turned into spies, he explained, but “case officers” — the people who recruit foreigners to be spies. Put another way, he went on, we were going to persuade foreigners to be traitors, to steal their countries’ secrets. We were going to learn how to lie, steal, cheat to accomplish our mission, he said — and betray people who trusted us, if need be. Anyone who objected, he concluded, could walk out right now.
He looked around. One man got up and left. The rest of us, a little anxious, stayed put.
And then we were off. Espionage training, it turned out, was a gas — a boy’s life, really, what with running around Baltimore planting “dead drops” under park benches, eluding spy catchers, practicing “brush passes” on city streets, writing messages in “invisible ink.” We learned how to send an agent behind the Iron Curtain and get him back out. On my final training exercise, I slipped into Connecticut via submarine, en route to my target in a Midwestern city.
Alas, with the Vietnam War raging, Berlin (where “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” was set) wasn’t in the cards. After a year in language school, I would ship out to Da Nang. I spent a year living undercover and running a spy net. But other than connecting briefly with a secret courier on a deserted beach every few days and slipping into decrepit hotels for meetings with my top spy, it wasn’t anything like the scenario we had been trained for, to dispatch agents into Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe from West Berlin.