Posted on

C.I.A. secrets unveiled in CC author’s research

California writer returns to hometown for book signing

Press photos by Kate Hayden Author Karen Paget meets Charles City readers during a book signing at the Sherman House Bed and Breakfast.
Press photos by Kate Hayden
Author Karen Paget meets Charles City readers during a book signing at the Sherman House Bed and Breakfast.


By Kate Hayden

It took Charles City author Karen Paget over fifteen years to make sense of an early encounter with the Central Intelligence Agency. It was still early on in her marriage when Paget and her husband visited a undisclosed location in northwestern Washington D.C., where the self-described “daughter of three generations of lawyers” signed a security oath with the C.I.A. before learning vague details of her spouse’s work.

Now, decades later, Paget’s book “Patriotic Betrayal” attempts to lay as bare as possible the C.I.A.’s secret project, using National Student Association members as Cold War intelligence assets –– inside the U.S. and outside; sometimes with their knowledge, and sometimes without.

“It is hard to lay out in a few words how complicated these (actions) were,” Paget said Tuesday night, addressing a crowd at Sherman House Bed & Breakfast, which hosted a book signing.

The book was an enormous undertaking right from the beginning for Paget, now living in Emeryville, Calif. Paget started with a 1998 Open Society Institute fellowship; since then, she estimates she’s worked in 35 archives throughout the U.S., and has combed through 50-60 percent of the Hoover Institution archives in California alone. Over 20 former Association students contributed to more than 150 interviews with Paget; the declassified documents were released to her with request after request under the Freedom of Information Act, and the type of patience only a political historian can endure.

And along the way, Paget, her lawyers and her Iowan family kept a wary eye on the C.I.A., whose intentions remained as cloudy as always, she told the Sherman House crowd. But in Paget’s eyes, her legal right to write was never in doubt –– Paget herself was never actually an employee of the C.I.A. –– and she never cleared the book with the agency before publishing.

“Everything was discoverable if you were willing to put in fifteen to seventeen years of effort,” Paget joked. “If you made this up in fiction, they’d say it was a contrived plot.”

Paget expands on the original research of Ramparts Magazine’s 1967 story, and the book, published in March 2015 by Yale University Press, is drawing national recognition; it was the basis of a nearly ten-page 2015 story by the New Yorker, “A Friend of the Devil”, which briefly explored the highlights that Paget and Ramparts unearthed.

“Both the experience and the book has been a hell of a journey,” Paget told the crowd.

Is she planning another book anytime soon, an audience member wondered?

“Not anything with footnotes!” Paget said.


Karen Paget and her book "Patriotic Betrayal".
Karen Paget and her book “Patriotic Betrayal”.