Not long after veteran missionary William Carlsen returned home from Thailand for furlough he received a call from a woman in Pittsburgh. She identified herself as an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and made an appointment to visit him in Sharon, the western Pennsylvania town where he was staying. The visit lasted eight hours. Carlsen answered questions based on his knowledge of the sometimes troubled tribal areas of northeastern Thailand, and he offered his observations on American policy matters.

Such an interview is called a “debriefing” by the CIA. Until rather recently many missionaries were routinely debriefed, either on the field or—as in Carlsen’s case—after they returned home on leave (Carlsen’s interview lasted longer than most). A spokesman for Overseas Crusades, based in Palo Alto, California, says that at one time virtually all OC personnel were being debriefed, even administrators returning home after short overseas trips. Now the practice has virtually ceased, says the official. (OC has 150 missionaries, the majority of them Americans, serving in Asia and Latin America.)

Spot checks indicate a similar trend among other mission groups: not as many missionaries are being approached by intelligence officers as formerly. An ex-CIA case officer in an interview said that much of the information gleaned from missionaries “is not very valuable.” Thus in light of the current budget crunch, interviews would tend to be more selective. David A Phillips, former head of the CIA’s Latin American operations, confirmed that CIA-missionary contacts have diminished in the past few years but he did not specify why. He noted that such contacts had been going on for twenty-five years in Latin America “to mutual advantage” ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: