From the ex-Girlfriend Diaries….
By Nate Thayer
June 9, 2017
This renewed brouhaha over government spies leaking classified U.S. documents to reporters reminded me (a journalist) of my ill-fated romance with a spy for the National Security Agency or NSA, otherwise known as No Such Agency, because it’s very existence is a secret even though it has the largest budget of any agency in the entire U.S. government, though that is a secret, too.
Everyone knows that American spies these days use all kinds of James Bond toys and other tricks to snoop into the communication devices and private lives of mostly law-abiding, upstanding citizens such as myself.
But spies are not always the incarnation of Dr. Evil and one can find oneself smitten with their charm and other non-work related attributes when they are not sneaking around checking what kind of no good one is up to.
I am quite sure my spy ex-girlfriend, who had a top-secret security clearance and worked for a government agency that can monitor a toilet flushing in Mongolia, now shakes her head and asks herself: “What the heck was I thinking??!!??.”
When a journalist and a spy share an interest in exchanging smooches and other things it is often, but not always, what Chinese communist dictator Mao Tse Tung called an “irreconcilable contradiction.”
My otherwise rather fun-packed relationship crashed and burned after a remarkable longevity of a couple of years, during which it was not without unique stressors.
For my spy ex girlfriend, I suspect the headaches in our relationship were mostly, I like to think, attributable to my profession and her profession, and perhaps a smidgen to me being not always the sort one wants to introduce to one’s mother (who was also an NSA spy), spooking the spy ex-GF into never wanting to have anything to do with my kind–ever–again.
And before the NSA says yes to one of their secret spies having a boyfriend or girlfriend, they first give the potential sweetie pie (that would have been me) a thorough background check.
I am never comfortable when spies do thorough background checks on me because they have many spy toys that can do God knows what and find out all sorts of things you have not told your mother.
These NSA background checkers (who are usually government contractors who occupy cubicles in large windowless buildings in industrial parks in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, which is infested with spies and former spies) are not always the sharpest pencils in the box.
The Einstein’s at NSA who did the background check on me did not believe my spy girlfriend that I had once interviewed Pol Pot. “He is lying. Pol Pot is dead,” they told her. Apparently googling one’s name and reading Wikipedia is not part of the super secret, never to be revealed “sources and methods” used by spies doing background checks to allow non-spies to canoodle with spies.
This impression was strengthened when it came time for her to renew her top-secret clearance and she had to undergo a background check refresher by her fellow spies. Ex-GF spies, and other spies are required to provide suggested references to the spies doing a background check, and the girlfriend gave them my name, and they called me on the phone.
Clearly reading from a list of written form questions, the background checker asked me “Have you any reason to believe she might be passing secrets to a foreign government?”
This did not make me feel safer from the Russian threat.
“No,” I told him confidently. “She won’t even pass me secrets and she sleeps in my bed sometimes. I am pretty sure she doesn’t give secrets to secret Russian spies, either.”
The GF was constantly flummoxed as to how I was aware of information that she was not certain was classified, and therefore if she could talk about it, so we would have to regularly put the conversation on hold until the following week so she could check with her control officer, and this rarely contributed to having relaxed chit chats on topics of mutual interest because she was not allowed to talk about them. Or more accurately she was unclear on what she was or was not allowed to chat about. Spies take these things seriously because miscalculating the correct answer can result in your spy GF spending the rest of her life in a cage if she tells her non spy boyfriend things.
“How do you know about that?” she would ask, alarmed. “I don’t think you are allowed to know that.”
“But I read it on the internet,” I would say.
But spies are not allowed to talk about a lot of things that are on the internet. If one is a spy, you are forbidden to read anything on Wikileaks on the internet, for example, despite that the rest of the planet can, because much of what is on Wikileaks on the internet is still not declassified by the U.S. government and one can be arrested for, technically, espionage.
Like all spooks, my career NSA ex girlfriend was required to get permission from her NSA security officer to have me as a boyfriend BEFORE she engaged in things boyfriends and girlfriends do, as it were. Spies are required to inform their spy bosses that they are considering entering into a more than friendly relationship with someone who does not have a top-secret security clearance (that would be me) for permission to smooch and take walks on the beach and carry on with other related things.
But I am quite sure that my spy ex girlfriend was not unique in that by the time she consulted with her NSA security officer, that horse had already long escaped from the barn.
When that happens, it requires spies to pretty up the edges of the narrative they deliver to their NSA security officer, whose job is to keep track of potential enemy agents trying to sneak into the inner workings and steal super secret spy stuff and give them to the Russians.
And when one pretties up the edges to one’s super secret NSA spy security officer, whose job is to make sure you are not an enemy spy, that can cause all kinds of problems threatening a spies job security.
All spies, even without journalist boyfriends, are required to regularly get hooked up to the dreaded “black box” which sometimes goes beep, alerting your spy bosses that you are a Russian spy.
A Black Box is a polygraph machine where they hook wires to your body attached to a machine, where ink infused needles swerve and pivot and have epileptic like fits and spit black ink on to a roll of paper while you sit on a hard chair in your already scary windowless interrogation room equipped with one way mirrors, which makes spies very nervous.
When one is hooked up to a black box and you pretty up the edges of the answers to questions about what you did with your boyfriend the previous Saturday night, an incorrect answer results in the machine beeping and spurting black ink onto the white ceiling. This tells your bosses you are a Russian spy.
This can happen when asked the trick questions “Have you ever had any unauthorized contact with anyone” or have you been “less than honest about your interaction with any unauthorized persons” (which would be me because the horse had left the barn before she was authorized to mount the horse and go for a ride, as it were, and she didn’t get permission first).
In the weeks prior to a scheduled polygraph test, she would be a nervous wreck at the mere mention or thought of the dreaded ordeal and was never amused (though I was) when I would ask about it, mainly just to amuse myself.
“So, honey, you feeling comfy and all relaxed about going on the box on Tuesday? Are you going to tell them about the time we did such and such, which I thought was really enjoyable by the way, late that one recent night after a few drinks, but the cops wouldn’t have given it did not happen in the privacy of our home?”
She failed all three polygraph tests while she and I were an item, when “the ink from the box would hit the ceiling”, in spy parlance, when asked certain questions.
However, somehow, I managed to get a green light or perhaps a “proceed with caution” yellow light and me and my NSA spy sweetie pie had permission to hold hands and walk down the beach enjoying the beautiful sunset.
Then there was the difficulty of enjoying a routine weekend gathering of friends over dinner. I am a journalist. I have lots of foreign friends. But when one is a super secret spy one has to report every encounter with a foreigner and get permission to continue any interaction with said foreigner.
Once a Serbian dentist, who hailed from Kosovo who was living in America, came to stay for the weekend. My NSA spy sweetie pie and the girl dentist hit it off chit chatting about very not spy things. Of course the Serbian dentist did not know she was engaging in whatever it is girls talk about with an American spy. The entirely unremarkable conversation apparently went well, and the GF requested permission from NSA security officers to continue an email correspondence with the Dentist, who lived in Washington, D.C.
But the dentist had a Serbian passport and, apparently, Serbia is on some list and they are some category of enemy, and she was denied permission. So that put the kibosh on future weekend visits or sharing a cheeseburger at McDonald’s.
Inevitably, the relationship was not meant to be.
This happened when I got arrested while driving her car, with her in the passenger seat, at 0230 hours in the morning, going 81 miles an hour in a 35 mile an hour speed zone, technically drunk, and failed the breathalyzer test. The law enforcement officers placed me in handcuffs, and they searched me and discovered I was in possession of–I will be delicate and intentionally vague here–a sufficient quantity of illicit substances to be criminally charged with “intent to distribute” which carried a possible five year sentence in a cage for being naughty.
The rural county where those deputy sheriff’s had jurisdiction was normally very sleepy. The officers appeared to think they had just arrested Osama bin Laden.
My NSA spy girlfriend, was not amused, either, and may have told the cops, if it was anything resembling what she told me, that I was Osama bin Laden.
Even less amused, including with her, were her secret spy bosses, who my former spy GF most definitely had to, in detail, explain why she had found herself in an adversarial pickle with other armed agents of the government.
That was when she made the rational decision to cut her losses and end our doomed from the get-go romance.
I remember she was rather leisurely taking her time retrieving me from the jail cell which I occupied until sometime the next day.
Today, my sources at the NSA are not great as a result, not that they were any good before I met her.
But, on the bright side, she was very nice.
Her mother, who was also an NSA spy and with whom she lived, was another matter. She never approved of the relationship from the start.
Everyone should listen to their mother.