Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

George Hocker broke through barriers as one of the CIA’s first Black spymasters

By 37ci3 Jul4,2024


When George Hawker underwent grueling training to become a CIA spy, much of America was still isolated. This means that Hawker, as a black man, could not go to restaurants in Virginia or meet with agency instructors who acted as foreign informants.

Various exercises had to be prepared for Hocker. “I had to meet by car, while my classmates could go and have a nice meal at a restaurant,” she said.

Out of a class of 75, Hocker was the only Black. He passed the course and went on to blaze a trail as one of the CIA’s first employees. Black secret officersthe first to open a C.I.A Station abroad and the first to head a department within the Directorate of Operations.

Along with a handful of other African-Americans who joined in the 1960s, Hawker’s pioneering experience at the intelligence agency has been largely overlooked until recently, in part because of the secrecy it demanded. C.I.A that officials serve anonymously.

But the agency recently installed an exhibit in its museum dedicated to Hawker C.I.A headquarters, and he is now writing a memoir in which he says he wants to pass on the lessons he learned about grit and determination as a “Black Spy.”

George Hawker and former CIA and FBI director William Webster.
George Hawker and former CIA and FBI director William Webster.CIA Archives

In an interview with NBC News, Hawker, 84, spoke about the discrimination he faced throughout his career and his sometimes harrowing missions abroad.

While a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1957, Hawker joined the CIA’s records division and later rose to become an analyst at the CIA. But he was afraid to enroll in the spy training course.

Seeing no African-American role models at the agency, he planned to go to the Department of Labor to work as an economist.

“I pretty much decided this wasn’t where I wanted to make a career,” he said.

Hawker then participated in the historic March on Washington in 1963, where he stopped only 100 yards short of Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream” speech. He was deeply moved by what he saw and heard that day, including black and white Americans walking peacefully together for a common cause.

It was a defining moment for me, Hocker said, and I decided that I would not let bigotry and discrimination define me and that I would become a Black spy for my country.

He then applied to and was accepted into the junior officer training program. After completing officer training, he enrolled in the agency’s paramilitary course, the first Black accepted, which included stands in simulated “jungle” conditions in various Southern states.

It was amid confrontations and violent clashes in the South, where civil rights protesters faced police dogs and fire hoses. But the topic didn’t come up among his colleagues, Hocker said.

“The only Blacks I saw every day were the ones who fed us and cleaned our rooms. “My classmates never talked about what we were going to see on TV at the end of the day when we ate or drank beer, and I didn’t bring it up,” he said.

As Hawker’s espionage career began, he was sent to Africa for a series of tours. In his first job, in an unnamed country, the white agency officer he replaced broke customary practice and refused to help Hocker in his new assignment, leaving without introducing him to key contacts. Hawker had to start from scratch.

His first job was to pick up a listening device in a foreign embassy that was no longer transmitting, and CIA leaders were worried that an enemy of the United States might intercept it.

Hawker took control of the building where the device was placed and went with a colleague to retrieve it from the cleanroom. But when they tried to catch him, the guard of the building asked them what they were doing there.

Pointing to his Hawker camera, he said he was a photographer and writer for a magazine trying to find a “good angle” to photograph the city from a window. He asked the security guard for his opinion and to take some pictures.

The guard was happy to help Hawker. “I moved it from one place to another while I signaled to my roommates to come in and get the equipment,” he said.

He won praise for recovering the device and went on to other posts in Africa as the United States and the Soviet Union battled for influence on the continent.

During a tense moment of the Cold War in the late 1970s, Hawker was found to arrange the emergency escape of a KGB spy who had valuable information for US intelligence. After a planned dead drop went wrong, Hawker was ordered to organize an emergency “exfiltration” of a Soviet agent, set up a flight with a cover story, and choose a rendezvous point at an off-road airstrip in the West. An African country that is not yet allowed to be named.

During the nerve-wracking wait for the plane to arrive for the secret rescue, Hawker, the KGB spy and other CIA colleagues sat in the dark in a car near the runway. Hawker, sitting behind the wheel, warned the group to be quiet until the plane arrived.

As dawn broke, the plane appeared and the KGB defector was hurriedly put on board. The Russian said goodbye to Hawker, kissing him on each cheek and giving him a grateful hug.

George Hawker and former CIA director William Casey.
George Hawker and former CIA Director William Casey.CIA Archives

When the plane reached an altitude of about 600 feet, the local police drove up. They asked about the plane that had just taken off.

“I explained to them that I had an American who had been bitten by a bat. “I was worried that he might have rabies and we needed to get him to medical attention right away,” Hawker said. He told the police that senior officials in their government had given permission for the flight and the police were satisfied and left.

Hawker returned home that morning. The next day he had a regularly scheduled doubles tennis match with a Western diplomat and two Russian diplomats who were actually KGB officers. But Hawker had developed an unusually severe case of the hiccups during the stressful operation, and he worried that it might make the Russians suspicious.

He got a shot from the doctor for hiccups, and he arrived at the tennis match looking relaxed. The Russians had no idea what Hawker had been up to for the past 48 hours.

Hawker and his tennis partner won the match.

Hawker then awaited recognition and a possible medal for the successful and unprecedented operation. “But all I got was a very weak ‘big job’. And I never heard about it again,” he said.

Despite her consistent success, she said promotions or other professional opportunities were often incomprehensibly slower than those of her white counterparts.

As he completed a series of tours in Africa, including setting up a new CIA station in an African country, headquarters offered him a job as an instructor training new recruits in the United States. Hocker politely but firmly declined and said it was time for a job in management.

The agency offered him two more jobs that his superiors deemed vital to national security. However, each time Hawker made it clear that he needed experience as a manager after numerous tours abroad.

On the fourth attempt, he succeeded. Hawker was informed that he would be assigned to oversee the collection of intelligence on Soviet and Eastern European operations in Latin America, the first black branch director in the Directorate of Operations.

Less than two years later, during the Carter administration, Hocker was selected to serve as a special assistant to then-CIA Director Stansfield Turner, becoming the first African American to serve at that level.

Hawker was in the room for historic discussions on covert missions, including the failed attempt by President Jimmy Carter’s administration to rescue American hostages held in Iran’s US embassy in Tehran. He remained in the Reagan administration as a special assistant to Turner’s successor as CIA chief William Casey.

The spy agency has moved on from the days when it was almost exclusively dominated by white male graduates of Ivy League schools, Hawker said, and CIA leaders now understand the importance of recruiting people from different racial, ethnic, religious or educational backgrounds. But there is still work to be done, he said.

“I believe progress is being made,” Hocker said. “It’s been slow everywhere, but I think the agency is realizing the importance of having a diverse workforce, not just in terms of color, but in terms of experience, resilience and the ability to navigate different environments.”

Barry McManus, who joined the CIA in 1977 and later became the first Black chief investigator and polygraph officer, said promoting diversity remains an ongoing task at the agency and other organizations. But Hocker said it’s an example for others to follow.

“I think the thing I learned from him the most was persistence, determination and having drive. If you have that drive and determination, then things will go your way,” he said.

During one of Hawker’s first tours in Africa, a man he knew to be a Soviet spy tried to explore his feelings as an American facing racial discrimination at home.

The Soviet said, “You black Americans have a lot of problems in your country. How does that affect you?”

Hawker said he was determined to send a clear signal to the Soviet agent that he was not open to recruitment. Hawker said he responded, “You know, we have a lot of problems, but we’re working on them as a nation. And everything will be fine with us.”



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