Just what's involved in being a spook? "I think people out there think it's a James Bond world. It isn't," John Pavich told me when I asked about his life as a CIA officer.
Pavich, who turned 30 Sunday, is the Democrat running for the 11th congressional district House seat held by Republican Rep. Jerry Weller in the district south and west of Chicago.
President Bush on Wednesday said cultivating more CIA officers was critical to the fight against terrorism. He made the comment at the swearing-in for Gen. Michael Hayden as the new CIA director.
Bush tipped his hat to the people who "penetrate closed societies and secretive organizations" and "master foreign languages and deal with unfamiliar cultures" while keeping their real jobs secret.
Pavich, who speaks Russian and some Serbian, was one of them.
He lived a few miles from CIA headquarters in suburban Virginia, assigned to "clandestine operations." An attorney, Pavich was at the International Criminal Tribunal in the Netherlands when he was hired by the CIA.
Pavich is a graduate of Thornton Fractional South High School in Lansing, St. Norbert College and Loyola's law school.
An edited conversation with Pavich, at the CIA between January 2003 and March 2005:
Q. How did you find out about working at the CIA?
A. My wife came across an advertisement on Monster.com for the CIA clandestine service, as it was known at the time.
Q. So much for cloak-and-dagger recruitment. What was the next step?
A. A phone interview. A questionnaire. A personal one-on-one here in Chicago. To Washington, D.C., for a series of additional interviews, psychological exams and physical exams and, at least for me, they began the background check.
Q. Clandestine service. Does that mean undercover?
A. The technical term for members of the clandestine service is not spy. They run spies, who are foreign assets, other people that have been recruited to give information. We're actually all called officers.
Q. What in your psychological test told the CIA you had the ability to live a double life?
A. The questionnaire had 400 or 500 questions. Everything from are you afraid of spiders to have you ever harmed animals.
Q. No pen with a secret camera?
A. I never got that. They do have some neat gadgets, depending on the operation you are involved in.
Q. Where was your first posting?
A. I was a headquarters-based officer. But I did travel to Europe and the Balkans for operations. Bosnia and Slovenia were mainly my accounts.
Q. What was your cover?
A. Initially I was brought in non-official cover, finished up in official government cover. I am not exactly comfortable at this point saying what my cover was.
[Official cover means posing as a U.S. diplomat at an embassy. Non-official cover is pretending, for example, to be a business executive.]
Q. Was most of your emphasis dealing with terrorist suspects?
A. I worked counterterrorism and the Baltic states.
Q.A reason for you joining the CIA was the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
A. My wife and I lost a college classmate at the World Trade Center. [This] gave me an opportunity to fight back a little bit.
Q.What if a neighbor saw you driving into headquarters?
A. You've got to come up with an excuse.
Q. The CIA directors you served under?
A. Porter Goss, I have a less-favorable opinion of. To a certain extent, he definitely tried to politicize the agency.
Q. Why did you leave?
A. I did not like the direction it was going. I was very concerned the agency was becoming politicized.
Q. How easy is it to lie?
A. The difficult part is certainly telling your friends and extended family you are doing one thing when you are actually doing another. [He was able to tell the truth to his wife, parents and siblings.]
Q.Did you ever meet Valerie Plame?