The woman’s account is a rare window into the deep strains that the agency’s ethos of secrecy can exert on operatives’ marriages. Divorces involving spies are often just as clandestine as their work. The details are typically buried in documents sealed by the courts. Only a handful of people get read-in, so to speak: divorce lawyers, marriage counselors and sometimes the agency’s attorneys.
Unlike the Pentagon, which studies how often service members split up, and knows, for instance, that 29,456 of 798,921 military couples divorced last year, the CIA does not keep official tabs on its employees’ divorce rates.
One retired CIA senior paramilitary officer, who served for more than two decades and lives in Virginia, said he was told several years ago that the divorce rate for the agency’s operations division was astonishingly high.
The officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his family’s identity, said he asked the agency’s human resources office for the numbers in 2005 because he was managing a Middle East operations group and was worried about the post-Sept. 11 pressures on CIA officers and their families. When he learned how many marriages were imploding, he said, he urged his officers not to take back-to-back unaccompanied tours.
Shortly after Gen. Michael V. Hayden became the CIA’s director in 2006, he and his wife, Jeanine, also heard stories about many marriages falling apart in the clandestine service. They wanted to know the scope of the problem.
“But privacy laws prevented us from getting accurate information,” said Hayden, who served as CIA director until early 2009. “The real answer is we don’t know what is true about the divorce rate.”
While plenty of CIA marriages last for decades, the agency acknowledges that its high-risk jobs “take a toll on relationships,” CIA spokesman Preston Golson said.
Through its Family Advisory Board and Employee Assistance Program, the CIA tries to do everything it can to help families, especially when a loved one is serving in a war zone, Golson said. The agency provides counseling and mental health support for employees and their families and offers briefings for spouses and partners on the CIA’s mission, benefits and overseas security services.