By Brad Newsham
Special to The Washington Post
In the summer of 1969, when I was perhaps the youngest CIA agent in history (I was 17), and Jack Valenti was beginning his long
tenure presiding over the American Motion Picture Association, the two of us almost brought our fragile government grinding to a
Let's back up. "Agent" might actually be a stretch.
Officially I was a $2.50-an-hour clerk-typist cataloguing films in the film library at CIA headquarters in Langley. The CIA kept a large vault of films and shipped them to its spooks worldwide who might be looking for some non-lethal way to pass the time between
Much of my summer was passed in screening-room reveries in the company of a white-haired, crew-cut film library lifer named
Marco. (Certain names have been changed in the interest of national security, and because I can't remember half of them.) Marco
kept a stash of some of the better movies (I remember one much-rewound scene involving the young Angie Dickinson and no clothing
worth mentioning), and most of my summer-hire pals thought I had life pretty good.
Once a week Marco and I drove into Washington to make the rounds of film distribution agencies. Our mission (and we always chose
to accept it) was to return batches of borrowed films and pick up new ones. We would take an unmarked CIA cruiser from the motor
pool and after stopping for cigarettes for Marco drive downtown to meet our "contacts."
Upon my selection to the operations team, I'd been briefed by our boss, Mr. Monopenny: "Marco sticks with the vehicle. Bradley,
you enter the building, give the receptionist the name of our contact, make the exchange, exit the building, reenter the vehicle."
But I was no dim bulb they hadn't hired me merely because my father had been a real CIA agent for 30 years, I swear-and I'd
spotted a hitch in the plan.
"What should I say if someone asks where I'm from?"
"You say, 'I work for Mr. Monopenny.' "
"What if they ask who you work for?"
"You say, 'Mr. Monopenny works for Mr. Cox.' "
"What if they ask who Mr. Cox works for?"
Monopenny was getting exasperated, but I thought that it was an important point.
"Say, 'Mr. Cox works for Mr. Beatie.' "
Ah, yes, Mr. Beatie. He was the head of our entire division and the invocation of his name stopped my questioning cold.
For weeks Operation Film Drop went smoothly. Marco seemed to enjoy driving and smoking his cigarettes and telling stories about
World War II and Korea. My favorite part was saying, "Cover me, Marco!" as I'd slide on my shades and exit the vehicle. Marco
Get lost, kid!" would circle the block. I'd make the swap. No one ever asked me where I was from.
One afternoon, our contact list grew to include a Mr. Brown from the Motion Picture Association.
"Cover me, Marco!" We had stopped for the first time at the association offices. The receptionist said that Mr. Brown should be
Moments later a man in a magnificent gray suit swept in. Not for a moment did I assume this was Mr. Brown. He took some message
slips from the receptionist, noticed me on the nearby sofa, and walked over.
"May I help you?"
Jack Valenti is notoriously un-tall, but I can still see him hovering overhead like Ursa Major.