The CIA Burglar Who Went Rogue

Douglas Groat thought he understood the risks of his job—until he took on his own employer

“I’d come back from an op and couldn’t wait for what happens next,” says Douglas Groat (shown in a reenactment with tools of the trade). (James Quantz Jr.)
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“On the issue that preparations for that entry had not been properly made, we did find there was merit in his complaint,” Hitz says. “His grievances had some justification in fact. He felt there was sloppiness that endangered himself and his crew, the safety of the men for whom he was responsible. We felt there was some reason for his being upset at the way his operation was prepared.”

Given the tensions rising between Groat and his managers, the IG also recommended that Groat be transferred to another unit. Hitz says he is fairly certain that he also urged that steps be taken to avoid a repeat of the problems Groat had encountered and that “we expected this not to happen again.” But the recommendation that Groat be transferred created a problem: There was no other unit like the Shop. Groat says he was given a desk at a CIA building in Tysons Corner, in Northern Virginia, but no work to do—for 14 months. In October 1992, he says, he was moved to another office in Northern Virginia but still given no duties. He worked out at a gym in a nearby CIA building and went home by 11 a.m.

By then Groat was at the end of his rope. “I was under more and more pressure” to quit, he says. “I was being pushed out and I was looking at losing my retirement.” He called the inspector general, “and he told me to find another job because I wasn't going to get my job [at the Shop] back.”

The way Groat saw it, he had risked his life for nearly a decade to perform some of his country’s most demanding, valuable and risky work. He was the best at what he did, and yet that didn’t seem to matter; some bureaucrats had forced him out of the Shop for speaking out.

So he decided to run his own operation. Against the CIA.

In September 1992, Groat sent three anonymous letters to the ambassador of an Asian country revealing an operation he had participated in about a year and a half earlier to bug computers in an embassy the country maintained in Scandinavia. “It was a last-ditch effort to get the agency to pay attention,” Groat says. Clearly, he knew he was taking a terrible risk. At least one letter was intercepted and turned over to the CIA. But one or more may have gotten through, because the bugs suddenly went silent.

By early 1993, CIA counterintelligence officers had launched an investigation to find out who wrote the letters. The FBI was brought in, and its agents combed through the library at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, dusting for prints on a list of foreign embassies in case the letters’ author had found the address there. The FBI “came to my house two or three times,” Groat says. Its agents showed him a form stating that his thumbprints, and the prints of two other people, were identified on the page listing the foreign missions. Of course, that didn’t prove who had written the letters.<

Groat was called into CIA headquarters and questioned. “I knew they didn’t have anything,” he says. “Since I thought I was still in a negotiation with the Office of General Counsel to resolve this whole thing I wasn’t going to say anything. I wanted them to believe I had done it but not know that I had done it. I wanted to let that play out.” When he refused to take a polygraph, he was put on administrative leave.

By the summer of 1994 his marriage was disintegrating, and that October Groat left home. He later bought a Winnebago and began wandering the country with a girlfriend. Meanwhile, he began negotiating a retirement package with the CIA and hired an attorney, Mark Bradley, a former Pakistan analyst for the agency.

In a letter to James W. Zirkle, the CIA’s associate general counsel, Bradley noted that Groat “gave the CIA 14 years of his life....His numerous awards and citations demonstrate how well he performed his assignments, many of which were extremely dangerous. He gave his heart and soul to the Agency and feels that it has let him down.” Groat wanted $500,000 to compensate him, Bradley added, “for the loss of his career.”


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