Memorial Service Honors Four Who Fell in Service to CIA
On this Memorial Day, the nation honors the sacrifices of brave men and women in uniform, especially those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another group also deserves a salute today -- the 87 Americans who have lost their lives while serving as clandestine agents and employees of the Central Intelligence Agency.
A week ago in a little-noticed ceremony, CIA employees gathered in the agency's headquarters lobby before the Memorial Wall, where 87 stars are carved in marble. Four of the stars were added this spring.
The 87th star was engraved in memory of Rachel A. Dean of Stanardsville, Va. She joined the CIA in 2005 as a support officer, and died last September in a car accident while on temporary duty in Kazakhstan. She had volunteered to help move the U.S. Embassy there.
"Rachel stepped forward as she always did when someone needed a hand," CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said at the memorial ceremony.
A graduate of Randolph-Macon Women's College, Dean majored in international studies and lived abroad while her father served in the Navy, Hayden said. Her first assignment was in Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous, central Asian country that was once part of the Soviet Union and that the CIA director called "a difficult, unfamiliar place."
Dean "was an adventurer, though, and tackled the job with trademark enthusiasm. She quickly became known as a support officer who got things done, no small praise in a country where modern conveniences are hard to find," Hayden said.
"Rachel embraced the challenge; she worked hard -- but always with a smile. Everyone in the tight-knit embassy community loved her. Simply put, she was a joy to be around."
Of the 87 who have died in CIA service, the names of 33 have not been made public by the agency. One of stars added to the Memorial Wall this year commemorates an employee whose identity will remain secret, at least for now.
The CIA refuses to disclose the names behind these "silent stars," citing concerns about the sensitive nature of their work or their assignments as covert agents. Many of their names and accounts of their lives, however, have been revealed, including in "The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA," by Ted Gup.
Gup, a former Washington Post reporter who teaches at Case Western Reserve University, said the annual Memorial Wall ceremony gives the CIA a sense of continuity, particularly as the agency emerges from controversies over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Iraq war.
"For the families who have lost loved ones, it provides some comfort and recognition. For people at the agency, at times of great challenge and demoralization, it provides a bit of uplift and a reminder of the stakes and sacrifices that others have made, and it gives them a certain constant reminder about commitment," Gup said.
This year's ceremony, the 21st, was attended by family and friends of more than 30 of the fallen, and dozens of retired CIA communication officers, the CIA said.
The retired officers played key roles in researching the deaths of two others added to the wall this year: James J. McGrath of Middletown, Conn., and Stephen Kasarda Jr. of McKees Rocks, Pa. Both were communications officers -- part of the staff responsible for developing, maintaining and operating the CIA's communications networks in the early days of the Cold War.
McGrath was electrocuted in January 1957 while repairing a broken transmitter in Germany. Kasarda was killed in May 1960 in Tibet, while climbing across a roof that carried a lethal current from an improperly grounded wire.
"They served with distinction a half-century ago, as our nation worked to contain communism," Hayden said. "Their contributions can now be recognized."
Of those whose names remain secret, Hayden said: "They are each models of integrity, loyalty and courage. Duty bound them together on Earth. Honor joins them for all eternity."
Stephen Barr's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.