In the 1950s, teenage lifeguard Jack Devine protected North Wildwood vacationers from the Atlantic Ocean’s threats. He never dreamed of a career in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where he would cross that same ocean to protect the United States from international threats.
He says, “Ironically, both were one-dimensional careers with surges. I calmly watched swimmers on the beach until an emergency. Then my adrenaline pumped and I felt jubilant after saving someone. At the CIA, I calmly studied, analyzed and read until I sprang into action.”
Devine has recounted his action-packed career, from 1967-1999, in Good Hunting: An American Spymaster’s Story. He wrote the 324-page book with veteran defense and intelligence reporter Vernon F. Loeb.
Serving in multiple leadership positions, Devine supervised thousands of CIA employees involved in sensitive international missions. His titles included:
• Head of the Afghan Task Force (1985-1987)
• Head of the Counternarcotics Center (1990-1992)
• Chief of the Latin Division (1992-1995)
• Acting Deputy Director of CIA Operations outside the U.S. (1993-1995)
He worked under 11 CIA directors and six presidents—from Richard Nixon through Bill Clinton—and Devine notes positive traits for each Commander-in-Chief. He especially admires former President George Herbert Walker Bush, the CIA Director from 1976-1977.
“President Bush’s stellar public service career boasts decades of achievement. He also epitomizes a truly humble, caring person who always defended the CIA,” he says.
In his book, Devine fondly describes the agency he believes protects America so well, filling the pages with James Bond-type spy information and covert action tales. According to Devine, “Spying is sleight of hand. It looks natural, but really requires taking advantage of opportunities.”
FROM PHILLY TO THE WORLD
How does a Southwest Philadelphia boy with Jersey Shore ties become a high-power CIA official? Devine’s interest in history, an undergraduate degree from West Chester University and a Master’s degree from Villanova set his course.
He says, “While teaching high school government economics and American history in 1966, my wife Pat gave me the book The Invisible Government. In the 1950s/1960s, the CIA was only in the lingo if someone worked in Washington or the government. She encouraged me to apply and someone resembling a stereotypical Hollywood spy interviewed me.”
All potential top-secret personnel undergo rigorous investigation and polygraph testing, so Devine’s background check took several months. Special projects required additional clearance.
The couple relocated to seven countries—including Chile and Italy—during those years, and their six children attended American schools. They are fluent in Spanish and Italian.
Chile and Vietnam were hot-button issues in the early 1970s. Good Hunting details the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. In the 1980s, the U.S. focused on the Russian retreat from Afghanistan.
“The Soviet Union fell for three reasons,” Devine says. “First, its stale international Communist movement ideology faded after World War II. The American Dream motivated foreigners to help crush them. Second was a failing economy. Finally, their Afghanistan defeat destroyed morale.”
Using that era’s technology proved critical to their success. Devine states, “I tweeted way before my grandkids. Cables had to be pithy; longer messages were mailed. Greater broadband in the mid-1970s improved our communications.”
Ironically, today’s technology presents unintended consequences and often eliminates human factors. Modern GPS, video and encrypted cell phone messages may create greater challenges for analysts to decipher.
Devine says, “During the Cold War, we found and talked to targets at public places. Understanding why something happened is priceless. To learn this information today, we have to rely more heavily on tribal leaders and surrogates. Foreign governments must hire locals who blend into the crowds.”
This is especially true for the blurred borders of the Middle East. Devine estimates ISIS has a limited lifespan over time, saying the terror group will “eat itself alive.” He supports greater containment and claims the U.S. needs help to ultimately destroy it.
Some circumstances compelled Devine to order serious covert CIA actions and he always understood the underlying moral and ethical questions of these decisions. He states, “Dual work and personal life standards surrounded us. There was a dichotomy between legal, acceptable actions outside the U.S. and those within our borders. In our grey work world, we made our best moral judgments and thoughtfully applied force.”
Devine, a practicing Catholic, does not call himself a “pious” man. However, after meeting him at religious events, Camden Diocese Monsignor Michael Mannion (Father Mike) praises Devine’s inherent goodness.
“Jack has always committed himself to follow a moral compass for justice and protecting innocent lives, as each society should. Goodness is a journey, not a destination. We near holiness when deciding issues of life, justice, compassion and selflessness, using our God-given talents,” declares Mannion.
WRITING THE BOOK
In 2011, Loeb persuaded Devine to chronicle his career and introduced him to the Andrew Wylie literary agency in New York City. After submitting proposals to several publishers, Devine received multiple bids. He selected Sarah Crichton, a publisher within Farrar Straus and Giroux.
Devine interviewed 80 people, including old colleagues. “Old soldiers never die; they only fade away unless they have a pen. I negotiated content boundaries with the CIA. Writing the book took three years.
“The hardcover’s release in June 2014 has resulted in good sales. Both Amazon and Parade magazine recommended Good Hunting for summer reading. The paperback was published in April 2015. Audio and e-book versions are now also available, but only the hardcover includes photos,” says Devine.
To complement the “cloak and dagger” action, Devine humanizes his CIA career with anecdotal family stories. One example is how he explained his job to his children.
“I waited until they were teenagers. I disclosed my work while crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge towards the Jersey Shore and had 90 minutes to answer questions. Overseas, the temptation to tell their friends would have been too great.”
He also discusses his personal angst following the 1994 arrest of his friend, Aldrich “Rick” Ames, for espionage. The 31-year CIA counterintelligence officer had accepted money from the KGB to identify 11 CIA sources within the Kremlin. All were killed. Ames is serving a life sentence without parole in federal prison.
“I explore what motivated Rick to inform on our precious resources and betray his country,” says Devine.
Acknowledging potential professional challenges within Washington’s hyper-political environment, Devine praises the CIA personnel. Unlike politically-appointed ambassadors or the director who brings a small personal staff, CIA government employees offer objective advice. Devine confirms he never knew the politics of 90% of the staff because they rarely took a political direction to please a White House.
Like the rest of us, CIA employees also become emotionally invested in their jobs. On average, operational staff retire in their late 50s; civil servants at 65. At 54, Devine reached his most senior CIA position, but retired at 59 in 1999. During his tenure, Devine received the CIA’s Distinguished Medal and several meritorious awards.
“I didn’t dread retirement, but it is a genuine separation since we cannot visit or call. I even escorted some retirees out who were too emotional to leave on their own,” says Devine.
Looking to his next career phase, Devine co-founded an international intelligence consulting firm in New York City in 2000 (see sidebar). He has frequently written articles and discussed important issues on television and radio.
Devine considers the Iraq War a major foreign policy mistake. He remains mystified as to why the U.S. took military action without sound pre-war intelligence.
“Everyone, including the CIA, believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction [WMDs]. However, no hard intelligence predicted the imminent threat that he would use them against the U.S. national security,” says Devine.
He urges the robust use of the CIA before putting boots on the ground and opposes nation building. In this era, technology and terrorism have heightened the different dangers in today’s world.
“I understood the stakes in the Cold War game. Today, a new, more lethal level of violence is harder to overcome. I advocate using drones, but reject torture of any kind,” says Devine.
Today, after an amazing professional life, Devine has happily returned to his roots with Pat. They bought their Ocean City vacation home, north of Wildwood, in 2000.
He says, “I live in New York City, but never really got the sand from between my toes. I have completed the circle back to the Jersey Shore. Now married 52 years, Pat and I enjoy our leisure time with our clan of six children, their spouses and 13 grandchildren. I remain active and still row competitively for the Ocean City Beach Patrol Alumni.”