But when he turned 50 in 2003 and found himself eligible for retirement, McManus said, he realized he wanted to do something else.
Now, as vice president of training and education at Abraxas, he spends much of his time training others in the law enforcement and intelligence world. Among his contracts is one with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which hired him to lead a four-day class that covers an introduction to terrorism.
According to government contracting documents, in a separate four-day period in 2006, McManus made nearly $40,000 for leading a seminar for immigration officers in “detecting deception and eliciting responses.” A year later, he secured a $238,000 contract to perform guest lectures. Pretty soon, more contracts began rolling in.
McManus said he is well compensated for his work at Abraxas. One of his first big purchases in post-agency life: a black Maserati GranTurismo, which retails for $160,000.
Helms, Abraxas’s founder, declined to be interviewed. In 2009, the privately held firm had an estimated 470 employees and annual revenue of $90 million. Late last year, Cubic, another defense contractor, acquired Abraxas for $124 million.
Many former CIA officers say they are surprised at their worth in the private sector. Some are surprised the private sector wants them at all.
At a 2009 conference hosted by the Digital Government Institute, John Sano, former deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and now a director of business development at Cisco, cracked a joke about his background.
“Let me tell you about my technological expertise: I have none,” Sano told conference attendees at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington. “I just figured out how the spring on this pen works. That is the limit to my expertise.”
If he didn’t bring technical expertise to Cisco, Sano, a 28-year veteran of the agency, did bring something else: the ability to help the firm navigate the sometimes mystifying layers of bureaucracy in Washington.
The same can be said of countless other CIA veterans. A top-level official with experience at the agency might know the right people on the right committees or be able to help identify federal employees who play a key role in awarding a lucrative intelligence contract. They also know how the intelligence world works.
“If you worked on the seventh floor of the agency, you have a view of everything that’s going on in the world from Marrakesh to Bangladesh,” one former operations officer said. “That knowledge is invaluable to companies working internationally.”