The alienated fly fisherman
“The connection is really bad, it must be the NSA surveillance program,” Richard Barlow says jokingly when speaking to a reporter on his cellphone from his motor home outside Yellowstone National Park.
“I’m out here with the grizzly bears,” he says. “But this is where I’m comfortable. I’m a 58-year-old seriously damaged, burned-out intelligence officer.”
Barlow says he suffers from chronic PTSD, which makes it hard for him to deal with stress and sometimes other people. He finds comfort in his three dogs: Sassy, Prairie and Spirit.
His supporters say that shouldn’t be surprising considering what he went through.
Barlow started his career as a rising star tasked with organizing efforts to target Pakistan’s clandestine networks for acquiring nuclear materiel. He won the CIA’s Exceptional Accomplishment Award in 1988 for work that led to arrests, including that of Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan.
He testified before Congress under direct orders from his CIA superiors, but he says he later became the target of criticism from some people in the CIA who were supporting the mujahideen (including Osama bin Laden at the time) in efforts to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
He says he chose to leave the CIA, and in early 1989, he went to work as the first weapons-of-mass-destruction intelligence officer in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. Barlow continued to write assessments of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program for then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. He concluded that Pakistan already possessed nuclear weapons, had modified its F-16s to deliver these weapons and had continued to violate U.S. laws.
The intelligence would have legally precluded a sale of $1.4 billion worth of additional F-16s to Pakistan.
But in August 1989, Barlow learned that the Defense Department had asserted that the F-16s were not capable of delivering Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Barlow said that Congress was being lied to, and he objected internally.
Days later, he was fired.
“Back then I was disgustingly patriotic and I thought the government is allowing Pakistan to develop and spread nuclear weapons and I got destroyed for trying to stop it,” he said.
He was 35 at the time. His marriage to his 29-year-old wife, who also worked at the CIA, was shattered.
After a 1993 probe, the inspector general at the State Department and the CIA concluded that Barlow had been fired as a reprisal. The Defense Department maintained that the Pentagon was within its rights to fire Barlow. A 1997 GAO report largely vindicated Barlow, and his security clearances were restored. But, he says, he was unable to get rehired permanently by the government because his record was smeared.