The Agency

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



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Philip Mudd

To Mudd’s surprise, they got in touch a few weeks later. Interviews followed. And to the question of there being convicted felons in the family, Mudd answered honestly. Yes, his great-great-grandfather was Samuel A. Mudd, the doctor who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth after Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln and jumped to the stage of Ford’s Theater.

The CIA’s investigation of Mudd’s background continued into 1985, the year that Mudd himself felt like a felon after he was photographed, fingerprinted, and put in a holding cell in rural Maine. He’d been stopped and arrested on July 4th by a police officer during a spur-of-the-moment road trip with his brother. The charge: misdemeanor speeding, driving without a valid registration, and evading an officer, who claimed to have been in pursuit of the speeding car. Mudd was freed on bail and by mail pleaded no-contest. End of story.

But seemingly no end to the CIA’s clearance program, which took nine months of psychiatric evaluations, polygraphs, and interviews with Mudd’s close friends and neighbors. But he passed clearance eventually. The big question for Mudd once the CIA hired him for a job in intelligence: What is an intelligence analyst? And what do they do all day?

Nearly 25 years later, after various positions at the CIA and the FBI, Takedown tells you. But 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.

It is, according to the book’s preface, the story of what Mudd saw — “one bit of history that might help create a mosaic among hundreds of thousands of other stories, and just one angle on a complex counterterrorism campaign that is now into its second decade and that has defined the U.S. intelligence community and U.S. foreign policy.”

“This work is really interesting,” Mudd said of his new position. “And the people, from the CEO on down, are not only good at what they do, they’re fun. I like coming to work.

A snapshot then: “one slice of what it’s like to be on the ground floor of something so big that no single person will ever see or understand all the angles.”

Mudd may have started on the ground floor, but he didn’t stay there. In addition to James Dobbins and George Tenet, he’s worked during tense times with demanding company (Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, FBI director Robert Mueller). But he’s unfailingly enjoyed the experience: putting his analytic (and writing) skills into the President’s Daily Brief on that morning’s intelligence findings; digging through mountains of incoming data for the day’s “threat matrix” (much of that data, in Mudd’s words, “trash” or “junk”); supplying Washington policymakers and the media with the information they needed; and, most important, anticipating a terrorist event on U.S. soil and when the possibility of such an event is uncovered, asking: What does it mean? Who’s behind it — higher-ups, sleeper cells, or one-off plotters? And, critically, what do we not know?

The list of Mudd’s government service is long — too long to review here — but it includes leading positions at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, the White House National Security Council, and the FBI’s National Security Branch. He still acts as a member of the Aspen Institute’s Homeland Security Group and is on the advisory board of the National Counterterrorist Center. But these days, he’s also a Memphis midtowner and happy to be one. And he couldn’t be more satisfied with SouthernSun, where he’s exercising his analytic skills and encouraging co-workers to exercise theirs. He’s also relieved just to be slowing down.

“This work is really interesting,” Mudd said of his new position. “And the people, from the CEO on down, are not only good at what they do, they’re fun. I like coming to work.

“We have a business to do, but we don’t want to be in New York. We want to sit back here, out of the hurly-burly, and reflect, slow down a bit. Work is part of life. It is not life.”

Memphis is also not Washington, D.C., which Mudd described as tight and tense, a city that operates on the mantra: More work hours means better hours.

According to Mudd, “More work hours isn’t better hours. It just means you don’t operate efficiently or you don’t delegate. So figure it out.

“I’m 51 years old. It’s hard to explain how different it is here in Memphis, but for me it’s like a new world. I get to learn a new world.”

A world that includes the city’s historic neighborhoods, its restaurants and coffee shops, its pace and politeness. Mudd picked up on the vibe immediately and said to himself: “This is cool.”

And to those Memphians who can’t see the forest for the trees, take it from a former intelligence officer who’s traveled the globe and known some serious situations:

“People ask me, ‘Why are you here?’ I feel like saying, ‘Well, why are you here?’ I’m here because I want to be.”

 

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