Andre LeGallo joined the CIA in 1961 when Allen Dulles was director. He served for more than 30 years and saw many directors come and go, including George H.W. Bush, William Casey, and John Woolsey. He particularly enjoyed his time with Richard Helms. He emigrated from France with his parents at 11 years of age, and got a degree from Lehigh University before joining the intelligence agency. He has also attended Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Study and the National War College. During his tenure at CIA, he completed assignments on both sides of the Arab-Israeli issue. He served as the National Intelligence Officer for Counterterrorism and now lives in California with his wife, Cathy. I spoke with him last week about his first novel, The Caliphate.
FCE: Do CIA agents ever really retire?
AL: Our primary mission was to obtain otherwise unobtainable information. I left in the mid nineties [during the Clinton administration]. We had no resources and it was just too risky. They asked me to help recruit some after 9/11 so I helped them out. I visited some campuses here in California.
We'll get back to life in the Clinton Presidency in a moment. Are things better generally now since the Cold War and, more recently, 9/11?
During the cold war, we were dealing with communism and the threat of nuclear war with another superpower. The threat is different now. WMD are still on the table but the focus is more on actions of individuals. A religious zealot. A radical fundamentalist. A small cell group. The Cold War was like being in a room with an 800-pound gorilla. Today's situation is like being in a room filled with poisonous snakes — and a lot of the snakes are in Washington, D.C.
The Vietnam experience confronted us with the difficulty of identifying an enemy who fought a different kind of war. Have we made adjustments any better in the war on terrorism?