The Agency

An intelligence expert for the CIA and FBI slows it down and makes Memphis home.



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I’m not going to say there wasn’t pressure, but I don’t think it was as overwhelming as people think. It’s about how you deal with it,” Philip Mudd said in a recent interview of his serving as an intelligence analyst for more than two decades in Washington, D.C. Then he added:

“When I came down here to Memphis back in the fall to talk to Michael Cook, CEO of SouthernSun Asset Management, one of the things he asked me to do was talk to the boys at Presbyterian Day School.” Mudd remembered, oddly enough, feeling the pressure of that assignment. “There must have been several hundred boys there, ages 6 to 11. I’ll tell you, talking to that range of ages and making it engaging . . .  I thought more about that talk than I sometimes did about congressional testimonies.

Describing pressure as self-imposed, Mudd added, “If you go into a congressional briefing and you’re going to crack, it’s not necessarily the environment or the fact that senators aren’t happy with you. It’s because you cracked. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I’m saying you can teach yourself over time to deal with it. Pressure is not my thing.”

It isn’t now, now that Philip Mudd is director of global risk at SouthernSun. And it wasn’t then — back when, in the aftermath of 9/11, Mudd was on the ground early in Afghanistan and acting as CIA liaison to diplomat James Dobbins. And it wasn’t back in 2003, when Mudd was working with CIA director George Tenet on the speech that Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered to the United Nations before America’s entry into Iraq.

Or back in 2009, when President Barack Obama asked Mudd to head intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security.

Is the book a tell-all? Is it full of secrets that can only now be revealed? Is it politically motivated? Is it a chance for Mudd to settle old scores? No, on all counts.

Mudd ended up declining the president’s offer, but his decision wasn’t made in the face of the tough grilling he was sure to get from congressmen during the confirmation process, and it wasn’t made because of the interest in what Mudd knew of the CIA’s rendition and detention of suspected terrorists. As Mudd said of the matter:

“The committees conducting the hearings were putting out the word that these hearings are going to be ugly. My personal view was: Okay, you want ugly, let’s bring it. But my professional view was: I’ve never even met the president. He had the courtesy to nominate me for a job. The appropriate way for me to think was: I don’t want to embarrass the guy. I don’t want to deflect from whatever else he’s got going on. I don’t want the president’s office to have to defend somebody they don’t even know. That didn’t seem right.

“So, it was the right decision,” he said. “I have no regrets about pulling out. I’d been ‘game on, let’s go.’ But I knew it wasn’t going to be appropriate for me to go through a hearing process that I think would have been front-page news and with the president saying, ‘I don’t know this guy. How did this happen?’ So I thought, I’ll pull out. But that appointment would have been a life-changing experience. You know the prospect of it happening again is not high. I’d say it’s near zero.”

And what were the chances, back in 1985, that Philip Mudd would join the CIA as a neophyte intelligence analyst? One would think those chances weren’t high either, maybe near zero.

As Mudd relates in the opening pages of his memoir, Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (University of Pennsylvania Press), he left the University of Virginia with a master’s degree in English literature and stepped into work in Bethesda, Maryland, for a small newsletter publishing company. (“Not much of a career, wearing my dad’s old suits, wide 1970s lapels and all . . . and making $13,500 a year.”) But when a friend of his father’s saw an employment ad in The Wall Street Journal, Mudd’s father called his son to suggest he answer it. The CIA was growing rapidly under Reagan. It needed people. So Mudd, age 23, responded to the ad the only way he knew how: by driving in his worse-for-wear Chevrolet Chevette to the guard station of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, with résumé in hand. A résumé for what? Mudd didn’t even know. His knowledge of the CIA was limited to what he’d read in books or seen in movies. But the guard redirected Mudd to an anonymous building across the Potomac from Georgetown. He dropped off his résumé with a secretary, who told him they’d be in touch.

 

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