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Jewish World Review March 27, 2000 / 20 Adar II, 5760

Chris Matthews

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The secret life of a CIA wife -- JOE KIYONAGA was an unknown American patriot.

Born in Hawaii of Japanese descent, he dedicated his life to his country, first as an officer with the "Go for Broke" 442nd regiment in World War II, then as an operative with the Cold War CIA.

Joe's first bit of renown came after his death in 1977. A New York Times obituary cited his direct descent from a famous Japanese woodcut artist, his service in the highly-decorated 442nd and his career with the Central Intelligence Agency in Japan, El Salvador, Panama and Brazil.

It was this last item that made history. Joe Kiyonaga was the first CIA operative ever to be "surfaced" in this way, to have his career of heroic undercover service to be exposed in the press.

His wife, Bina, knows a story of even deeper subterfuge: that of a CIA operative's spouse. A neighbor of mine, she shared Joe's life as an operative in Japan, then as a station chief in El Salvador, Panama and Brazil.

"We lied about our husbands' jobs, stalled inquisitive policemen, befriended ministers' wives, kept our ears open at parties, deflected the children's questions and worried in silence, alone. We were the CIA wives. You never even knew us."

Obeying her husband's dying wish, Bina has just ended the mystery with "My Spy," her first-hand account of those trying, exciting years undercover.

"Here I was, serving on charity boards and attending ladies' lunches. You keep your eyes and ears open, even at something as mundane as a school tea."

What Bina Kiyonaga also did was raise children who could keep secrets as well as their parents.

"They experienced the extraordinary patriotism of an American posted abroad, even if they couldn't say what their father did."

As for her own feelings about the dangers that daily faced her Japanese-American spouse?

"A deep-cover wife lives with the knowledge that her husband is expendable. If he is caught, neither the U.S. government nor the CIA will rise to his defense. He's in deep trouble unless he can talk his way out of it."

The United States did not deserve the old Central Intelligence Agency -- the CIA. We in the United States were too unsophisticated, too democratic, too open -- and too dumb -- to realize that for a secret agency to succeed it had to be just that, secret.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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