The CIA comes to Sewanee

By Sam Scott
Staff Writer

Don’t worry, it wasn’t a bust. Instead, ex-CIA agent Pete Palmer came to Gailor Auditorium on September 30 to share some of the lessons he learned both in the field and as a security advisor in Mexico. Far from a towering Man in Black with sunglasses hiding a harsh stare, Palmer,a fatherly little old man with thinning white hair, wore wire-rim glasses and a camel suit that was closer to white than black.

He has advised for 1/3 of the Fortune 500, in addition to working as a media consultant and spending his spare time writing a novel. He opened by asking how many in the audience had ever seen a spy before (a surprising number of hands went up, but some of those people were counting him).

He explained that he had worked with the CIA for twenty-eight years without ever carrying a weapon. “All the exotica and weapons you see in 007,” he said, “none of it’s true except the sex.” Though he did not have much to say about his CIA experience, he did offer the insight that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has found that not only is American espionage cost-effective, it has actually saved money by preventing international threats. Mostly, Palmer focused on his experience in the security industry. He got involved in that line of work through his friend, who kept a database of every Mexican newspaper he found that was a valuable resource for anticipating threats. He soon made a new career out of it, training clients in safe behavior, with a focus on preventing kidnapping in Mexico City.

Palmer also offered some advice to prospective agents, impressing on them the importance of practical experience. He made it clear he was not speaking just of military experience, but an education in persuasion – to be a spy, a history
selling used cars can be just as useful as fighting for the army. In response to a question from the audience, Palmer weighed in on the CIA’s increased military presence: “my prayer for my former employer – who I love in spite of itself – is to get back into the spy world.”