Cynthia Sharpe wrote the following:
“Day 136. It’s story time.
Over my (wacky) career I have gotten to go some amazing places and see incredible things. I was on the set of the X-files, popped out of Flukeman’s sewer, and sat on Scully’s autopsy table (no, really). I’ve held artifacts that were touchstones of my childhood (Rolf!). I’ve chatted with celebrities and gotten to give them V/O direction (are you kidding me). But absolutely none of that has held a candle to what I consider one of the most important and transformative relationships I’ve been privileged to have as a direct result of my career.
17 years ago, there was an article in the paper about the best exhibit you’ll never see – a display of pop culture spy ephemera collected by a guy named Danny Biederman, that was showing at CIA headquarters. Naturally, you can’t just swan into Langley. My boss at the time said ‘find out more about this!’
So I cold called the CIA.
This is not something I recommend doing, by the way.
Fortunately, the museum director was (and is) a kind, generous soul, and called me back. I’ve been honored to know her and her team for all these years. She has welcomed me into the halls of Langley (….after some background checks) and guided me through a fraction of their collections. The objects she has shown me have prompted speechless amazement – and wracking sobs when I’ve been back in the privacy of my hotel room. You can see some of the objects on their website, and that will have to suffice for the vast majority of folks.
But what I want you to understand is this. As a visitor, you cannot walk into a quiet exhibit space and see the Holy Bible used in the memorial service for Mike Spann without walking through the lobby. You cannot see a crate of lapis lazuli used by al Qa’ida as payment without walking through the lobby. You cannot see the military service ribbons, still stained with jet fuel, worn by a service member in the Pentagon on 9/11 without walking through the lobby. You cannot see the ephemera the agency made for ‘Studio Six’ and the articles about ‘Argo’ they got into Variety to give the cover story legitimacy without walking through the lobby.
You cannot see the letter that OSS Officer Richard Helms wrote to his three year old son on Hitler’s personal stationery without walking through the lobby. The letter reads, in part, “Dear Dennis, The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe — three short years ago when you were born. Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins. He had a thirst for power, a low opinion of man as an individual, and a fear of intellectual honesty. He was a force for evil in the world. His passing, his defeat — a boon to mankind. But thousands died that it might be so.”
I keep mentioning the lobby of the old headquarters building because it is one of the most sacred, holy places I have ever been. It is boxlike, and rather plain. The CIA logo on the floor. As you enter, on the south wall, the white marble has a single star carved into it, memorializing all who gave their lives in service to the American intelligence community as part of the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA. On the north wall, there are (currently) 117 stars, each one commemorating a CIA officer who gave their life in service to our country. Before it sits a beautiful, simple, terrible book- the Book of Honor. It is a list of years, and stars, and next to some stars are scribed the names of the dead.
There are only 84 stars with names, because to identify 33 of the fallen is to put others at risk, to reveal sources, to compromise efforts, to get someone killed. Every year, the CIA reassesses whether it is ‘safe’ to reveal a name. There are blank entries older than I am.
There are leaders who are mincing around the issue, saying that *legally* the President has the right to reveal classified information to foreign powers.
There are 33 names unidentified.
I guarantee you, after yesterday, there will be new lines with gold stars, and no names next to them. Because people will die as a result of the president’s breathtaking narcissism, Mitch McConnell’s craven desire for power, John McCain’s unwillingness to take a stand, Paul Ryan’s thirst for victory- the list goes on and on.
For all that have made the ultimate sacrifice, and for all who will as a result of this breathtaking, unimaginable hubris, this full on assault on everything we as Americans should be and should stand for, you know what you need to do today.”