#10 Darrel Blocker- What the CIA truly looks like from the inside out
This transcript was exported on Mar 09, 2021 - view latest version here
Darrell Blocker: ISIS has done a really good job of recruiting people. So what they're looking for, there's a lot of disenfranchised people out there. People who feel like no one understands their position, whatever their position happens to be. No one has ever really listened to them in their lives. No one has ever shown them anything that makes them think that, "I see you. You exist. You're someone that matters to me."
Ashley Rivard: Hey guys, I'm Ashley Dawn Rivard. And you are now into the Dawn, a provocative podcast that looks at all things taboo, such as suicide, grief, sex, addictions, and more. Each week I talk with experts who successfully investigate their areas of interest. And if you like what you hear, please remember to subscribe. Following a 28 year career as a CIA operative, Darrell Blocker was awarded the distinguished career intelligence medal, and retired as the most senior black officer and the director of operations. After nearly 30 years chasing terrorists and living in 10 different countries, he has now turned his CIA experiences towards battling criminal networks, targeting youth and foster care and trafficking youth and women in the global slavery and sex trade. Since October 2018, Darryl has worked as an ABC news contributor and COO of Mosaic, a crisis management intelligence and security advisory firm. It's like a phenomena and people are like, "Oh wait, I know what that is," but they don't.
Darrell Blocker: What I've seen is one of two reactions. People are either over the top like, "Oh my God, that's really cool." Or they're just repulsed by it. They're just-
Ashley Rivard: Repulsed?
Darrell Blocker: Yeah. I mean, Hollywood has not done us a favor in terms of how they depict us. So people think of the CIA and immediately their brain goes to one of two places. Wow. That's awesome. Or wow, those guys are the worst people on earth.
Ashley Rivard: Let me ask you, what is the number one taboo or misconception the general the public has regarding what the CIA is and what it isn't.
Darrell Blocker: Probably one of the best things I read pulled off the cia.gov website was the 10 myths that are commonly believed about the CIA. The first one is of course that we spy on Americans. We on it. We don't really care what Americans are doing.Our job has to do with an international nexus. What are the Russians doing? What are the North Koreans doing? What are the terrorists doing? Not what Americans traveling abroad might be doing or saying. It's not our mandate. Maybe about 20% of CIA people are undercover, and the other 80% can write down on their applications when they're applying for a mortgage that I work at CIA, I could never do that because I was under state department cover. So for 28 years, I could never say, "Hi, my name's Darrell Blocker. And I worked for the CIA." Then it was, "Hi, I'm Darrell. I'm a diplomat with the state department," And never revealed the CIA. And I retiredton.
Ashley Rivard: A lot of rules.
Darrell Blocker: There are a lot of rules.
Ashley Rivard: With your job specifically in like collecting data, you were undercover?
Darrell Blocker: I was.
Ashley Rivard: Let me just back this up for a second. What made you want to go into the CIA?
Darrell Blocker: I entered a newspaper ad. I was an intelligence officer at the time in the air force, but I was an analyst meaning analyzing the information that was being sent to me by CIA, NSA, other military components. And then my ex-wife saw a newspaper ad and cut it out and mailed it to me of course, is back in the late 80s. And I wrote a 1500 word essay on... They said write a 1500 word essay or less on something you feel strongly about. I wrote about the Intifada, which was going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians at the time. And someone read it, saw that I could put together a sentence that I had reasoned thought, and it started a year long, security and vetting process for getting my clearances
to issue a job offer.
Darrell Blocker: I was already in the intelligence community, but I was doing a different job in
terms of analyzing. And at that time North Korean issues, because I spent my
first year in South Korea at 87, 88, the year before the Olympics, and got an opportunity
to meet and engage with a whole bunch of different alphabet soups within the U.S. Government, including what I now know to be CIA officers. But at the time I had no idea that they were. So that's the life that I chose and that's the life that I lived for 28 years.
Ashley Rivard: For 28 years, you were sworn to secrecy? I'm sure you still are, right? You're like
you can't talk about certain things. Wow. I mean, okay. So what is it like? Training for that position and what does that do to your emotional life?
Darrell Blocker: The CIA has five directorates, operations which is the director of operations where I spent my 28 years. And my job was to recruit spies. My job was to go out and find those people who could give us the information that the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans never wanted us to have. And my job was identifying those people who had access to that and recruit them to provide that information to us.
Ashley Rivard: Is that mean that you would go to that country and recruit people?
Darrell Blocker: Right? You're typically assigned to... Because I spent the lion's share of my career on the African continent in West Africa, North Africa and East Africa. You go to where the embassy... You're working out of the embassy. And of course the American Embassy is there, the Chinese Embassy, the Russian Embassy, all the embassies of countries that we're interested in as potential sources of information. And it was my job to figure out who within that embassy had access to that information and do everything I could to move them over to the CIA side.
Ashley Rivard: Tell me if I'm going in the wrong direction with this, and this could be a misperception then, so if somebody... I thought like you would go to a different country, you would pretend to be somebody else. It may be befriend people there that are civilians or that you've done research on, and they know this or that, is that correct?
Darrell Blocker: It is but it's not like the FBI be an undercover like Donnie Brasco. Donnie Brasco had to become a Mafioso in order to be accepted by the Mafia. So he had a completely different life and name and everything else. My name was only my name, the name I was born with, Darrell Maurice Blocker and never traveled under another name, never lived under another name. The only thing that I had was that I was a state department cover, but really a CIA officer. And that distinction is when you're living abroad, the fewer people who know you're CIA, the easier it is to operate and gain people's trust. So, it sounds like undercover, but then the undercover is more, I have to say that I worked for the state department, I'm a Political Officer, Economic Officer or Consular Officer, but not infiltra ting Al-Qaeda and I become a terrorist in training so that I can go find Al-Qaeda in Pakistan or in Afghanistan. It wasn't anything like that.
Ashley Rivard: But you're also more way behind the scenes?
Darrell Blocker: Way behind the scenes, like a puppet master.
Ashley Rivard: That's what I mean. Yeah. Like you know everything that's going on and what
needs to happen in order for the goal.
Darrell Blocker: Oh you should, that's the goal. Yes.
Ashley Rivard: Did you ever feel unsafe?
Darrell Blocker: I never felt unsafe. I got that same question from both of my children when they
got to the ages where I was able to tell them who I worked for. Pakistan was dangerous, but it was in the middle of... It was probably one of the worst years in U.S. history in terms of how we were engaging the enemy. In 2006, 2007, when I did my year in the war zone, we were not fairing well in Iraq. We were not fairing well in Pakistan. We were not fairing well in Afghanistan. And there was a very big fear that we could lose this war on terror. And confluence ofevents, we were able to change things and I just happened to be there at probably one of the most pivotal points in recent U.S. history. But Pakistan was utterly fascinating, they were our partners.
Darrell Blocker: People need to understand that when we're abroad, we are working side-by side
with the people of the country and where we're assigned, if you're in Bulgaria, of course you're working with... If you're in Sophia, you're working with the Bulgarians. If you're in Lima, you're working with the Peruvians. If you're in Seoul, you're working with the South Koreans, side-by-side with them chasing targets, training, talking about world issues. So yes it is. It's a complete, the perfect example of collaboration as you could possibly think of as the intelligence service and intelligence community.
Ashley Rivard: Wow. Interesting. So let's just break down real quick. What defines a terrorist?
Darrell Blocker: There is an accepted United Nations definition of terrorists. There's a U.S. Government definition of a terrorist. And it's essentially anyone who has a politically motivated reasoning for wanting to attack you for your policies. And politically motivated being the keywords there. But history has shown us that one person's a terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. Our founding fathers to the Brits were terrorists. The founders of Israel to the Brits were terrorists. The most recent example of a terrorist leader becoming, going on to be the leader of a country as Yasser Arafat, who the Israelis chase for decades, and then signed essentially a peace agreement with him and treated him as a statesman.
Darrell Blocker: Terrorist is a leading thing because in order to get Bin Laden, guess what? We
had to talk to people who were in Al-Qaeda. In order to find Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former leader of ISIS. We had to deal with people who are ISIS. We don't have the luxury of being able to say good, bad, and everything in between is-
Ashley Rivard: Are they forthcoming with you?
Darrell Blocker: Over time, they are. It's about trust. I'll give ISIS as an example because it's probably fresh in a lot of people's minds, the caliphate within the Islamic Ummah within their psyche. And this is where we're going to be able to build this great Islamic Kingdom, is a very real thing in Islam. And so when this man arises as possibly their savior or so to speak, there are people who answered the
call and who in good faith left the UK, left Canada, left the United States, left France or Belgium or wherever they were coming from and arrived in a place where they thought they were going to be moving towards one goal, and recognized that be heading people burning people alive in cages, mass abuse and raping of Yazidi women.
Darrell Blocker: These were things that people came there and said, "This is not what I signed on
for." And then those people start looking for an out and that out might be an Iraqi Intelligence Officer, that they happen to have in the family or a British MI6 Officer who's in Erbil or whoever it happens to be, those people are looking for a way out. And the intelligence officers are trained to look for those people, trained to look for those motivations, trained to look for those folks who might have philosophical differences with whoever they happen to be aligned with.
Ashley Rivard: To answer why are terrorists radicalized, it's really because of a political standpoint
and different views.
Darrell Blocker: ISIS has done a really good job of recruiting people. So what they're looking for, there's a lot of disenfranchised people out there, people who feel like no one understands their position, whatever their position happens to be. No one has ever really listened to them in their lives. No one has ever shown them anything that makes them think that, "I see you, you exist. You're someone that matters to me." And a lot of it is done online. And what they're doing is they have contact. And then over a period of months, days, weeks, and months, they start introducing concepts to them. Oh, the Americans are... There's a war against Islam and it's not, or look at what... And then they just slowly start introducing beheadings and videos, and what they're doing is the same
AshleyRivard: Brainwashing them, right?
Darrell Blocker: They're brainwashing them.
Ashley Rivard: But they build the trust.
Darrell Blocker: They build trust.
Ashley Rivard: They get them like, "Oh, I feel seen, I feel wanted."
Darrell Blocker: People feel like every human interaction boils down to Maslow's hierarchy of
needs. They really do. And when ISIS is there to provide whatever it is that the people that are under their control didn't get from whatever governments they were working with, whatever institution or families they are working with. That's the folks that they're able to find.
Ashley Rivard: Wow. Interesting. How does building your life, deceiving people, lying, how does
that affects your emotional and mental health? Were you able to decipher? Were
you able to turn it off?
Darrell Blocker: That's what we would call compartmentalization. The same thing that you might
read on your front page of your New York Times, your Washington Post, your LA Times, is the same thing that CIA is dealing with, but how that information was collected, the sources and methods involved in the collection of that information is as important as the information. So you have to go through life trying to remember, "Oh, did I see that on Fox last night? Or is that something that I read in
the CIA?" Because they're talking about the same issues, but the depth of it is little.
Darrell Blocker: You go through your life weighing which arguments you're going to get into a bar
or in a family discussion. And you know that there's more to the story, but because that information is classified, you just have to swallow that down and basically there's more to the story. And not one of those, I know something that you don't know type of thing, but you're really protecting whoever, because a human being on the other end, whether the other end is inside a Moscow, Beijing, or Baghdad, put their life on the line to give you that.
Darrell Blocker: Analysts are looking at it and say, "Where could this information have come from?" Maybe it only came from one or two places and one of those two places, two or three people, that's not a lot of people to go through to be able to figure out who leaked this or who provided this. So we're careful about revealing sources and methods. That is the most important thing about being in a spy/spy handler relationship. And if I could, CIA officers are not spies, we recruit spies.
We handle spies.
Ashley Rivard: So spies are not CIA?
Darrell Blocker: No.
Ashley Rivard: Would they ever tell anyone they're spy or no?
Darrell Blocker: Oh, no.
Ashley Rivard: So they just make up a profession?
Darrell Blocker: Well, they're already in that position. So, people typically get this analogy in real
estate location, location, location is the most important thing. For someone who is involved in human intelligence or HUMINT, it's about access, access, access. So let's say the president and the national security council has said we need to know about X, Y, and Z for whatever country. Well, two of them might be impossible to get to, but one of them, you have to figure out how we're going to get to that piece of information. And so you're not looking for an individual.
Darrell Blocker: You're looking for a profile of who might have access to that little nugget of information, the people who have direct access are of course the primary target, but guess what? That guy never leaves the country. We're never going to get to him, but his driver who's with him and has been with him for 20 years, has been trusted by him, speaks openly around him. And that guy's not going to know everything, but he might be able to provide a tidbit or a piece of it. And so he has access to the person who has access, if that makes sense.
Ashley Rivard: Right. Absolutely.
Darrell Blocker: So, secondhand type of thing.
Ashley Rivard: You hire a spy to befriend the driver?
Darrell Blocker: Well, or you recruit that driver.
Ashley Rivard: To become the spy?
Darrell Blocker: Right. That driver would then become... So let's just say, I know that Kim Jongun's
driver has been with him since he took over and he travels to the Seychelles once a year, and guess what? I'm going to be in the Seychelles the next time he's in country at the same resort and the same thing where I bump into him, befriend him. And again, this is something that takes a period. It's not like in the movies where it happens one time and you run and grab someone. It's more like dating. It's exactly like dating. So the intelligence cycle is spocng, assessing, developing, recruiting, handling, and terminating an asset. An asset is an agent, a
source, a spy.
Ashley Rivard: I mean, there's just so much. How do you turn that off? If that's your position, but how do you decipher compartmentalize like you said, like really when you're immersed in that, right? Because there's so much information and it hits you at different levels, right? It's not just mentally, I mean, this is some heavy deep stuff and also a lot of weight on your shoulders.
Darrell Blocker: Right.
Ashley Rivard: I know you're saying you didn't go out and deceive people, but in general, could
you speak on an end for yourself too?
Darrell Blocker: Well, I didn't only go out and deceive people. Listen it's about... No, I'm saying I did. And it's about manipulation, but you're doing it for a very specific reason. And you have a lot of people making sure that you're staying within the ethical and moral boundaries and expectations of the training that we give. So I started to say earlier that people in my directorate who do my job, which is the case officer, the operations officer, those people have a kind of a combination of intellectual, social, and personality traits that other successful people who have made it through the program in the past. That's how they hire.
Darrell Blocker: So yes, they're looking for Ashley, yes they're looking for Darrell, but they're not
going to know that Darrell and Ashley have these attributes until we meet you, we interview you, we do put you through the same psychological tests that everybody has taken for the last couple of decades. Now, everything is done online and there's so much more data that wow, Darrell was really successful. And this person fits exactly the same mold as Darrell when he came in the door. But guess what? 1990s world is not 2020 world. So what worked for me 30 years ago, doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work for who they're looking for today. So my point is, it's not a checklist.
Darrell Blocker: I would say curiosity, I get this question what's the thing that's most important
for someone in your line of work and curiosity? Is it a connection? Being able to establish and build trust? Being able to have conversations and be a good listener?
I was once asked what my super power was. And I said, I don't have one, but if I were going to have a superpower, I want it to be listening. And they just looked at me like, "Listening? That's not a very powerful thing." Listening is probably the most important thing that you can do when you're trying to connect with another human being. Because listening is not waiwe interview young for your turn to
speak. Listening is listening with your whole body. And not just for what they're saying sometimes what they're not saying.
Ashley Rivard: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I'm sure in your line of work, right? Your antenna has to be so high, especially when you're out in the field, dealing with people or building those relationships, right? So, are you always looking for, like you said what they're not saying? Their behavior? You're reading their body language like you have to be so in tuned with.
Darrell Blocker: Yes.
Ashley Rivard: Yeah.
Darrell Blocker: All the time. And it-
Ashley Rivard: That takes a lot of energy.
Darrell Blocker: It's exhausting. So when you're not operational, when you're in a point where you can just sit back and relax and enjoy, enjoy your kids or enjoy your spouse or significant other, then you can really... When you relax, you're completely relaxed. But overseas, it's hard to relax because you're always the target. Espionage is what we do. Espionage is illegal in every country on the planet. So just by virtue of the fact that I was going out to do an operational act, which is pick up agent for a meeting, or any number of operationally inclined things, you have that person's life in your hands and not just them, but their families because in a lot of cultures and a lot of countries, if you get captured, yes you're going to be punished, but they're going to punish everyone, your friends, your family, anyone you may have contact with is going to be possibly suspect in the eyes of that government. So it's a huge responsibility.
Ashley Rivard: Yeah. Would you say you were preGy stressed out then when you were overseas?
Darrell Blocker: Nope.
Ashley Rivard: Really?
Darrell Blocker: No, not at all. Listen, I think they hire people who can deal with ambiguity, people
who can deal with living in different cultures. I grew up in different cultures. So I grew up in the heel of the boot Italy, and Okinawa Japan. And I spent seven of my first nine years on the planet living outside the United States. So remembering living in the United States was San Antonio Texas, when I moved there in 1973. And then my dad retired after 20 years. And when I was 11, we moved to Georgia. But by then, I'd grown up speaking Japanese.
Darrell Blocker: I had been around Italians and Europeans, and I knew it was a world and a life
that I wanted to be able to continue to see other cultures. And as great as the The United States is, we're not the only great country on the planet. There's a lot of them out there and you just have to be open and willing to look and see what those are. And I'm talking about even amongst our enemies. Iran is one of the Persian empire is one of the most interesting in history. And I spent a lot of time
chasing a lot of Iranians and a lot of places on this planet, and never met one
that I didn't like.
Ashley Rivard: The ones you were chasing that were quote unquote bad people?
Darrell Blocker: Of course.
Ashley Rivard: You liked them?
Darrell Blocker: Yeah. I think you have to. Well, I saw them as a husband or a father or an uncle
or someone who just wanted the same thing for their families that I wanted
Ashley Rivard: But somebody who would murder people. Let's say like you were able to...
Darrell Blocker: Listen, there are elements within every intelligence service that has to be involved
in lethal actions. Most of the Iranians that are serving their government are serving them for the same reason that we serve ours is paycheck and a sense of adventure or living outside of the small place that they grew up in, never really ran into chased a lot of murders of people who are running in proxies
and Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda of course all over Africa and Europe, and some of those people are... Actually, they're impressive. When you look at how they're able to just think about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was the leader of ISIS for almost 10 years-
Ashley Rivard: Is he the one that was killed?
Darrell Blocker: He was the one that was captured, gunned down in the tunnels in Iraq by either
Delta or the SEALs, one of our special forces units. He was a pimp, he was a drugaddict, he was a common criminal just like Zarqawi before him. And a lot of these guys, you're talking about hardened criminals who have an opportunity to act any way they want without any-
Ashley Rivard: Repercussions.
Darrell Blocker: Repercussions, other than maybe a drone or they had some forces coming to track them down because they know their targets, but they get to live out their wildest dreams. They've thrown people alive off of buildings, they've burned them alive. I mean, these are things that Game of Thrones, whatever the worst thing that you saw on the Game of Thrones that is happening as you're listening to this somewhere in the world by ISIS.
Ashley Rivard: Still?
Darrell Blocker: Yes.
Ashley Rivard: Okay. And I'm checked out. I thought I heard ISIS was taken care of. No? Do
we still need to worry about this?
Darrell Blocker: Well, we thought we were able to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood, which was
founded in the early 1900s and it's around 120 years later, ISIS will be around 120 years from now. Now they might be like Hezbollah, where they are members of the parliament in Lebanon, or they could still be The Rogue Group that they are today. It's an ideology. It's hard to kill an ideology. And when you have someone who is charismatic enough to draw others in and other like-minded people who will be willing to do whatever it is you want them to do to another a human being, that kind of person is able to draw in Manson. Manson was alKhalil, was al-Baghdadi, was Hitler. They're all the same people.
Ashley Rivard: Would you say they're all operating from the same wound?
Darrell Blocker: From the same?
Ashley Rivard: Wound, emotional wound. I mean, obviously these people got some deep disconnection within themselves or aloneness or they're just born, right? Like when
you're brainwashed into like this is normal to be that way?
Darrell Blocker: Right there is a lot of that. So I lived in four predominantly Muslim countries in my career. I observed Ramadan in every one of those countries, I'm not Muslim, but I felt I needed to know what it was to experience what was probably one of the biggest religious experiences for the entire religion. And I did it in these year, I did it in Morocco, I did it in Pakistan and I did it in Nigeria, because the part of Nigeria that I lived in was predominantly Muslim. Even though I think the country is about 50, 50 Christian Muslim. But anyway, I think it gave me a greater appreciation for the good, that is Islam. And there's a lot of good. If you thinkabout how they're depicted in television and in common news, it's not a whole lot different than how the CIA is depicted. Just almost always negative. And the same thing goes for fill in the blank.
Ashley Rivard: Wow. So interesting. You've lived such a full life. Full of experience and you're still very jolly which is great. I could be wrong but you don't come across like that is a weight on your shoulders because everything you're saying could really weigh someone down emotionally and mentally, and then you come home to your family. And how did that play on your family?
Darrell Blocker: When you're working at the CIA and you're living abroad, all assignments are
two years with an option to extend for a third year. So my daughter was four months old when we moved to West Africa and she graduated of course, 18 years later from high school in Geneva, Switzerland. Her brother was about 15 months old when we first moved and he graduated from Kampala High School in Kampala, Uganda. They only went to school in the United States one year, firth and seventh grade respectfully. And the rest of them were at international or American schools in all the countries in which we lived. Now, they were pretty much protected from the CIA side of it because I didn't involve my children in it. My ex-wife of course was aware of who I was and what I was doing. But that's what you would to protect a child from a child.
Ashley Rivard: What did you tell them when they were old enough to say, what do you do?
Darrell Blocker: They just knew everybody else at the embassy... Other kids at the school, dad
also worked at the embassy. They just knew I was an embassy employee one way or the other. They didn't think about it.
Ashley Rivard: So you were able to really culvate like a good family experience and upbringing.
Darrell Blocker: Yeah. I don't think I missed a play. I don't think I missed... If they had for pre-K, have the art showing, of course you show up at everything. Because you're living broad, you're living in small cities and you should be able to get away to see your kids. It's not like being in DC were leaving CIA headquarters. It takes 30 minutes to get anywhere and 30 minutes to get back and you only have an hour for lunch and it just is not conducive. The embassy environments are small. Everybody else is living the same world that you are and of course being in Africa, we had electricity issues, water might not be the best water. I never lived anywhere in Africa that didn't have... All of our water was filtered.
Ashley Rivard: Awesome.
Darrell Blocker: In fact, I remember the first time my kids ever drank water coming out of the tap. We're leaving Senegal and we're in Zurich. We had overnight in Zurich. And my daughter saw me brushing my teeth and she's like, "No daddy." And she knew that only bottled water is what we would use to wet our toothbrush, but she saw me out of the spit and she said, "No, daddy." And I said, "No baby, we're in Switzerland and you can drink this water." And about two minutes later, I see she and her brother, they pulled a chair in there and got up to the sink, turn it on and are just literally just drinking handfuls of water because they had never drank water coming out of a faucet before. And it was just such a really cool thing to see.
Ashley Rivard: I'm sure.
Darrell Blocker: Yeah.
Ashley Rivard: Wow. That's so funny. So would you say the one thing though that was maybe different in your life is, you come home from work and your wife is like, "How was your day?" You can't really be like well, this, this, this, right?
Darrell Blocker: Right. And we almost never got into specifics. She of course knew who I was interested
in. Looking at your front page of your newspaper anywhere in the world. And that's probably something the CIA is tracking if it's an international or global issue. If you look at the Corona virus right now, looking at it in the sense of how it's going to impact how governments are able to manage. And if
somebody's going to take advantage of a country who's already really weak and . What happens when this leader's depose and is it going to domino? So not the virus in and of itself, but the unintended consequences of not having strong institutional systems or strong leaders or strong healthcare systems or all those things that can cause mad chaos, if you're not tracking and following it closely.
Ashley Rivard: The CIA is not spying on anyone in America. It's really the threats outside of the
U.S.? But when we were talking about ISIS, it just dawned on me there are people here who are working for ISIS, right?
Darrell Blocker: Yes. Right,
Ashley Rivard: And you are tracking them though?
Darrell Blocker: We are, but in partnership with the FBI or state and local law enforcement, but-
Ashley Rivard: So that's their job more so?
Darrell Blocker: Yes.
Ashley Rivard: Okay.
Darrell Blocker: Once they enter the United States then a very different set of rules are applied to CIA operations officers. And of course we have to abide by all of our laws. And let's just say we know that you're an ISIS facilitator, but you work for Acme company in Ohio. If that's a U.S. company and you work for it, I don't care what nationality you are. You are considered a U.S. person, meaning you have the
same rights as an American citizen when it comes to what the CIA can and can't do against that person. Now you can get waivers and there's ways around it, but it's almost following whatever the FBI were assisting the FBI. Correct.
Ashley Rivard: In that line of work, is there a high rate of people dying in that line of work?
Darrell Blocker: Honestly, I'm shocked at how few of us actually get killed in some of the places
where we go. They put the CIA in places where the military won't go. And they don't put us out there with a lot of... We're not building military bases and arming ourselves and no we're on the streets talking to people, a lot of like the journalist. And I never really saw the difference between... I saw the similarities between a case officer and what a journalist does. But now I work for ABC News and I'm talking to these guys, investigators all the time. And it's amazing how closely we go about doing our work.
Darrell Blocker: They have the backing of ABC or whoever behind them. And I had the backing of
the CIA behind me, but at the end of the day, we're out in places that outside of being able to talk your way past a group of people, secng up a roadblock and just want to shake you down because they're hungry, or hardened people were looking for fighters because they'd lost so many people in a campaign that now they got to go out and snatch people and force them into joining their ranks. And our ability to talk to people, our ability to engage with people, our ability to know what's culturally acceptable and how to use their own rhetoric against them. That's what we're supposed to be able to do on the fly.
Ashley Rivard: How do I say this? With such a... Maybe it's even like you had mentioned like it's
not what you think it is in the movies, but with this level or this idea of secrecy that the CIA has around it, do you know anyone or have you experienced somebody who has to keep information to themselves, if you are dealing with mental health issues or struggling, is there a system set up or do you feel people can express in the CIA, "Hey, I'm having this issue I'm having..." Is there that support and how has that played on, in like with suicide inside the CIA?
Darrell Blocker: So it's 2020 I would say five years ago, six years ago when I was working out of
CIA headquarters. There was a suicide in the war zone. And I got involved because I was one of the senior officials. And I was there when the family was repatriated with their daughter. That is the only suicide that I can think of, that I was personally involved with. I know the divorce rate is really high within people that work in my... But suicide rate is not up there, but the pressures. The pressures that lead to people, having those thoughts is constantly there. And Ranya, who was the officer who took her own life, had a sense of, no matter what I'm doing is not enough.
Darrell Blocker: She never felt like she could actually contribute. And she was one of our best
officers. And this is coming from the people who I spent three hours on a bus
riding to and back from, who worked with her, who are her classmates, who
knew her from the moment she walked into the building, talked about how good of a boss she was, talked about how fair and open and just driven she was, but driven to the point that it was never enough. And she felt less than. And so in the aftermath of that, I started working with our employee assistance program and our clinical psychologist who came up with an agency-wide campaign. And it was an anti basically you need to be looking for these signs.
Darrell Blocker: I was a huge part of trying to get that message out. And because I was the
deputy director of our counter-terrorism center, and of course those were the people who were coming back from the most intense places that we have, and being able to look them in their eye and make sure that they're going everything that they need, but it's like cops or like special forces we're tough. We can get this out. This is something that I can handle on my own, or no one's ever going to understand, or it's going to stop me from going advancing, getting a promotion. And none of that has been born out.
Darrell Blocker: My background was in psychology and so I never really saw mental health in a
negative light. It was always for me a force multiplier, a way of me being able to look at myself in a way that I might not normally had, because no one ever pushed me to open up or to address these things that are inside of all of us, and these voices that are in our heads.
Darrell Blocker: Our thoughts become words, our words become actions. Our actions become
our character and who we are. And then all of a sudden, you've painted yourself into a picture that only you see, and everybody else, "Oh, she's fine. Or he's fine." And then, because you're not sharing, because you're too afraid to share or because whoever it was that you tried to approach, didn't see the signals and reacted in a way that kind of like, "Well, I can't bring this up anymore." And I've had this conversation with... I also was what we call a senior ally for our internal
LGBTQ community within CIA.
Darrell Blocker: I remember this one young lady who had just come back also from a war zone,
was talking about coming out was harder than living in Iraq for a year. And feeling that constant threat of the bad guys could overrun us at any moment, or that guy lied to me and why is he like... All the things that come with handling sources who might not be telling you the truth, or might have an agenda where they want to put you in a position where you're going to get ambushed and killed, you're constantly thinking-
Ashley Rivard: On high alert.
Darrell Blocker: All the time. And coming down from that. So when you're doing that for a year-
Ashley Rivard: Adrenaline.
Darrell Blocker: Right, and I saw that a lot. Two of those officers who just had that need for
speed. And then you put them back into the regular secng of what a real CIA officer's supposed to be doing abroad and not just the war zone piece of it. And you can see it in their eyes. It's literally there, their eyes are constantly moving.
And then it's just over a period of time where they recognize that that was an anomaly. That year that I spent out there was not the real world. The rest of this is the real world. And then the adjustment to that and some adjust well. I haven't slept well in 13 years. I've come to take that and I've talked to doctors
and sleep doctors, and it changed me. And I wasn't even in the most dangerous parts.
Ashley Rivard: You slept better when you were in... Would you say you used to sleep fine when
you were in these high-risk places?
Darrell Blocker: Right.
Ashley Rivard: But do you think also it could be like this unconscious thing that even if you were
sleeping, there was probably a part of you like a kind of have to be ready to jump or run on high alert, right? And maybe now that you are more grounded and you're in a safe environment-
Darrell Blocker: I never thought of that.
Ashley Rivard: It's now like hitting each other, battling like that surrendering of that part of
Darrell Blocker: That's interesting. I'll look into that because I've talked to a lot of people about
this and I sleep better than... I'm doing better now than I was a year ago, just because I came off all that. I've been taking sleep medication to go to sleep. And I said, that's it. I'm not taking anything else. Even if I just have to stay up every night. And after three nights of not sleeping, my body just adjusted. And now I don't take anything. And if I do, it's because I know I got to sleep really good. And maybe once a month, as opposed to every night, just to sleep enough, to get up the next day and function.
Ashley Rivard: Is there a high level of isolation that plays into this job?
Darrell Blocker: There is, but mostly it's self isolation because it's intelligence is a team sport.
When you're actually meeting with an asset, it is you and that asset one-on-one and in a car, in a hotel room, in a safe house, wherever you happen to be. That's the comfort part of it. It's the, "Oh my God, can I get there safely? And, "Now I'm holding the meeting and it's over. Can I get back without getting caught?" And so it's constant stress on you, but that's what you're trained to do.
Darrell Blocker: In the training, we put you through scenarios that are impossible for you to succeed,
because we want to know how you're going to respond. If you've quote unquote fail. Failure is an option and failure shouldn't be terminal and failure, I think has got a bad rap. And I probably learned more from my mistakes, like most people than they do from their successes.
Darrell Blocker: I always tell people to embrace their failures, because failures is what created
the light bulb, is what created the cars, what created almost every piece of technology that exist today because people failed a whole bunch of times before they got it right. And if you're only going to do it once and fail and never do it again, then that's a failure. Not continuing is the failure, not the fact that you didn't succeed, the fact that you just walked away and said, I can't do this anymore.
Ashley Rivard: Yeah. I know when you interact with other people, there's something that becomes
alive within you. So with all those people you've met, I mean, my God, I'm sure when you look at things or if you're having conversations with people, especially in America, I'd be like, Oh my God, your viewpoint is so small. We don't even know this huge scope that you know. You can look at things from so
many different angles and not be judgmental.
Darrell Blocker: But it's also important not to be judgmental for those people who've never been
outside of their area codes or their zip codes or their County or wherever it happens to be. And the same thing exists countries around the world. People only see this one view. The sectarian violence between the Sunnis and the Shia in Iraq after years and years of intermarrying, they didn't distinguish. Yes there's been a big schism since Muhammad died.
Darrell Blocker: It was a whole bunch of history there, but these people have been living side by
side intermarrying, and then all of a sudden outside forces come in and it'd be like somebody coming from the civil war and staring back over the argument, the Salma Southern or so I had to use that analogy and basically create tension between blacks and whites for the purposes of starting a race war. That is what happened in Iraq, under Kaua'i and under ISIS is a separated, they highlighted
and pushed these people to the point where like, "Yeah, they really are at my enemy." Well guess what, that's your nephew and your nephew, his mom is Shia and the dad is Sunni, but guess what? That's still your blood. That's still your neighbor. That's still your friend. And that's still a person.
Darrell Blocker: That's what people need to understand that the humanity of who we are and
what we do, no matter how bad that person is, they're somebody's son or daughter or neighbor or favorite student or all these things. And I'm always trying to find the connection between me and them. It's easy to see the differences. You're a female, I'm a guy. We both probably got brown eyes, brown hazardous eyes, you got hair, I don't. I mean, physically seeing differences is easy.
But looking for the similarities between who we are and how we approach life or how those are instant connectors.
Ashley Rivard: I love that. Would you say that's one of the biggest lessons you took from?
Darrell Blocker: That is one of the biggest lessons and I don't think it's anything that I learned at
CIA. I think I learned it from my parents and being a Boy Scout and a Cub Scout and military, and all my experiences. People say, where am I from? And it's like, okay, I've lived in 10 countries. I'm not really from anywhere anymore because I am a little bit of all the countries that I lived in. I'm a little bit Moroccan. I'm a little bit Uganda and I'm a little bit Pakistani. I'm a little bit Italian. I'm a little bit... All my experiences have created this kind of semi-interesting person with a background that to me isn't unique because everybody that I've been living around for the last 30 years is doing the same thing.
Darrell Blocker: Now I'm in a different world and people are fascinated by all things CIA, because
they see the Hollywood side of it. What I'm trying to show them is we're just like everybody that's out there listening. You could be CIA. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise you can. You got to have the right reasons for doing it. If you're looking at it in a James Bond, Jason Bourne kind of way, then you're not going to do well, but it's completely achievable to join the intelligence community and give back in a way that you might not have ever considered. That to me was the important thing. Growing up in other places, learning other languages, and giving my kids the same opportunity that my parents gave me to grow up and see other places in the world that most people only read about.
Ashley Rivard: So, now you're on your second chapter in life?
Darrell Blocker: Third chapter. So first chapter would have been military air force and then CIA
second chapter. And now I'm the chief operating officer of a firm called Mosaic, based out of New York, intelligence security, advisory firm, everything from executive protection to cyber, with individuals with corporations.
Darrell Blocker: I'm tapping into what I've been doing for the past three decades. And then ABC
news also my background in North Korea, Iran and terrorism is what I've been hired for, but my passions are the peace for kids, which is an organization I started volunteering here locally, in 2016. So I'm just past four years. So peace for kids is a non-profit that works with youth in the foster system. We try not to say foster kids because they're not foster kids.
Darrell Blocker: There are kids who have been trapped within a system that is known as the foster
system. They don't like to be referred to as foster kids, because guess what? At the end of the day, they're just kids who have done nothing wrong. They've got an adult in their life that was irresponsible. All the circumstances were way beyond their control, but yet they're caught in a system where 35,000 here in Los Angeles County alone. So it's a huge issue and it was instant love. The first time I went and I got elected to the board a year ago. And so that's how I spent all my Saturdays working with foster youth, and that's my give back so to speak.
Ashley Rivard: Wow. That's amazing. Very cool. Well, I just want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today and share your life experience. It was so exciting for me to listen to an enlivening and I learned a lot. So thank you.
Darrell Blocker: Thank you so much for having me.
Ashley Rivard: That's it for today's podcast. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen today.
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