A brave life of patriotism, moral dilemmas
Mike Brown

I just sat down to write this column vaguely knowing what I wanted to say about James Olson, the Texas A&M professor who was one of the featured speakers at Rockdale’s eighth annual Tejas Fest a couple of weekends ago.

So I flipped open my notebook to review what I’d written down as he talked. On the third page I’d scribbled, boldly, in capital letters.


That’s about it. You can turn to the garage sales now.

Well, maybe just a couple of things more. Professor Ols0n and his wife, Meredith, spent 31 years in the CIA, spying for the United States in some extremely hot spots around the world. Like Moscow.

How hot? The death threat letter he got from a terrorist group began: “Dear Infidel Dog.”

The threat came to the family’s home address. Think about it. That means the terrorist group knew where they lived.

James Olson, now a Texas A&M professor, and 3-year veteran of the CIA. James Olson, now a Texas A&M professor, and 3-year veteran of the CIA. That the Olsons are brave goes without saying. But they are also proud. Proud they got an opportunity to serve their country and that’s exactly the way he put it.

And proud of their children, to whom they were forced to lie about their true profession until circumstances— the death threats—forced them to reveal everything.

The kids stayed with the family until the Olsons finished their mission.

He didn’t sugarcoat anything either, in his talk at Tejas. Spying is a sometimes brutal, always gut-wrenching, business full of moral contradictions.

In fact, he lists 50 of them in his book which is titled Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying.

What exactly do you do if there’s, say, a bomb set to go off in the middle of a city, you have in custody a person who knows when and where and they’re not talking?

Art by Tiffany Turpen, a junior at Rockdale High School. Art by Tiffany Turpen, a junior at Rockdale High School. What if you could save those many lives about to be lost by—well let’s just say it—torture?

What’s the right answer? See why that “moral dilemmas” is in the title of Professor Olson’s book.

After his talk I looked around at the other authors and thought about how they were, and are, free to write whatever they wish because of people like the Olsons. It’s not the life for everyone. In fact, Olson noted the family lost some friends when they “came out” as spies.

People didn’t appreciate being lied to all those years. Moral dilemma.

Not everyone in our society, of course, is supportive of what’s euphemistically called “intelligence gathering.” That’s spying.

Olson says CIA campus recruiting for the next generation’s spies is confined mostly to the south, southwest and midwest because they simply aren’t welcome on so many campuses.

He told me later—and you could see the pride— that the number one campus for future unrepentant patriots is his, Texas A&M.

I graduated from a place in Austin with a tower, so all of my fellow ‘hook-em horns’ brothers and sisters are just going to have to live with what I’m about to say.

Thank God for Texas A&M.

And thank God for the Olsons.

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2014-04-03 digital edition

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