'Old spook' finds refuge from cold in Blue Hill
Monday, July 11, 2005 - Bangor Daily News
BLUE HILL - Piano music drifts pleasantly through the air and then suddenly stops short as Dick Gay rises to answer the door at the private entrance to Auberge Tenney Hill.
Tall, with graying hair and goatee, Gay runs the small bed and breakfast inn where he also teaches foreign languages around a large wooden table. He collects first edition books, stamps and coins, and reads science fiction. He picks out arias from well-known operas on an electric piano and has an old jukebox that he's fixing up in the barn.
And he's a spy.
A Bar Harbor native, Gay spent almost 20 years working in the intelligence service, recruited after graduating from the University of Maine with a degree in foreign languages.
Gay admits to being a mediocre language student in high school until motivated to learn the language because of a romance with a young Quebec girl he'd met on a school trip. He still occasionally uses the French form of his name, Guay, which he picked up in Quebec after leveraging a somewhat thin French heritage to get into Lavalle University briefly so he could be near her.
He can now speak a dozen or so languages, ranging from French to Thai, Russian to provincial Chinese. It was his facility with languages that first interested the National Security Agency, which hired him in 1957. Then he was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency's clandestine operations division in 1960.
"I was prepared for a career in international trade," Gay said recently. "I had no idea in the world that I would work as a spy. But I have to say I was eminently qualified. Sometimes, I think I was born to be a spy."
Gay won't disclose his age. "It's classified," he said with a wry smile. But he recalled listening as a young boy to the news that the Germans had invaded Poland. He refused to discuss certain aspects of his past, and cringed when he heard the tired cliche, "If you tell me, you'll have to kill me, right?"
He said he prefers a different maxim, which he uses regularly: "Those who don't know talk; those who do, don't."
Gay speaks with a cockiness that it seems would translate into confidence and self-assurance in the field. He's had to shoot his way out of tight situations - although he stressed that CIA operatives (the FBI has agents) rarely go into the field with a weapon.
He's also had to flee to save his life, one time diving off a two-story balcony in order to escape being caught in a hale of gunfire between rival gangs.
But, mostly, his job was to gather information, and to do that, he had to blend in in a number of foreign lands.
"I was a good spy," he said. "Some of my product ... went right to the top."
Part of his success was due to the fact that he was what he called "a triple threat."
"There were the languages. And I had the ability to access places, to get in and out of places. I also had analytical abilities. I could analyze things and usually get it right.
"The French have a phrase, 'coup d'oeil.' It means 'at a glance.' I had the ability to evaluate things at a glance and usually get it right. That's important when time is of the essence."
Gay's first job with the CIA was a 30-day temporary duty assignment in Southeast Asia that lasted three years. He doesn't discuss the specifics of his work there, but it was in the early 1960s during the early years of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and Gay speaks with the assurance of firsthand knowledge when he discounts former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's assertion that the U.S. government had no experts in Asia to consult.
There were experts in Asia at the time, he said, and they - and he - were providing high-level intelligence for the country.
"The CIA was against the Vietnam War from the beginning," he said.
He draws a parallel with the present-day war in Iraq and the blame that was laid on the intelligence agencies after the invasion failed to produce weapons of mass destruction. Operatives knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, he said. But as that intelligence information made its way through the department, it moved farther away from the source. Political pressure resulted in that information being altered as it moved up the line.
"And who was at the top? The DCI [George] Tenet," he said. "He was the one that said [finding WMDs] was a slam dunk."
Gay is careful about what he says and doesn't say. Under the terms of the National Secrets Act, he must clear anything he writes for the public with a pre-publication board. And he can't talk about his cover.
"People may still be using it. That could put them at risk and their agents at risk," he said.
Although he admits to regularly battling with his computer, he uses it to continue to gather information from a variety of sources. He's a member of several organizations and serves as vice president of the CIA Retirees Association and as special assistant for historic projects to the president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.
Gay, who regularly refers to himself as "an old spook," drew on his long connection with the intelligence community to write three articles for a recently published "Encyclopedia of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence." The articles include an explanation of intelligence collection methods; a profile of Anthony Poshepny, also known as Tony Poe, a special paramilitary expert who worked in Southeast Asia from the 1950s to the 1970s; and a profile of Vitaly Yurchenko, the highest-ranking KGB officer to defect to the U.S., who, after just months in the U.S., slipped out of a Washington restaurant and defected back to Moscow.
Gay said he particularly wanted to write the Tony Poe article because, although he was not a paramilitary operative, he had worked with Poe on several occasions in Southeast Asia.
"He was a real legend in the CIA and a real hero. He was the bravest man I ever knew," Gay said.
Gay has written on intelligence matters before, particularly regarding the German spies who landed at Hancock Point in Maine during World War II. He currently is working on a book about other German spies who sneaked into America, some of whom were never caught.
Asked if he missed the invigorating life of a spy, Gay paused briefly, and admitted that, although there was an element of isolation in being a spy that forced him to keep secrets even from his family, he loved the work.
Gay has four grown children. He and his third wife, Mardi Byers-Gay, live in the rambling 1869 Tenney Hill home.
"We've been married for 21 years, and there are things I do today that I can't tell her," he said.
Besides, he said, he is not fully retired.
"I'm not completely out of it. Ever since 9-11, I still do some stuff."
And, of course, he can't talk about that. If he tells you, he'll ...
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