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Former CIA Official Recounts Highlights of Nearly 50-Year Intelligence Career

September 16, 2015

Toward the end of his CIA career, John Hedley was presented with the manuscript that was later retold in the film "Argo"

(Ashburn, Virginia) - John Hedley had an intelligence career that spanned nearly 50 years and nine U.S. Presidents before he retired completely at age 79 in 2013.  After joining the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1965 during a two-year leave of absence as an assistant professor, he decided that's where he belonged —and he never looked back.  The Agency will mark its 68th anniversary of establishment on September 18th.

"It was a wonderful career, more interesting than anything I could have ever dreamed up," said Hedley.  "The CIA was at the heart of all the information that could be obtained worldwide, secret or public, from embassies, military attaches, foreign agents, foreign broadcasts, satellites, audio surveillance…I was immersed in all that was going on in the world.  I loved the challenge, but at age 79 and increasingly part-time, I figured this was long enough."

During his early days, Hedley noted, the CIA's focus was on Soviet subversion and strategic warfare capabilities.  He spent the first part of his career in the Office of Current Intelligence, working on matters related to Soviet foreign policy.  "Fifty years ago, collecting information was a challenge.  Now too much information is a challenge," said Hedley.

Over the years, Hedley witnessed a culture shift at the CIA toward greater openness.  "When I came there, little was said publicly beyond 'no comment,'" said Hedley.  "Following the Cold War, there was a growing recognition that CIA officers could share personal stories and recount tales of international service without compromising national security." 

During his last full-time position at the CIA in the late 1990s, Hedley served as Chairman of the Agency's Publications Review Board.  In that position, he was responsible for determining whether the personal writings of CIA officers could be published.  It was at this time that Hedley was presented with a manuscript for a book entitled, "Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA," authored by retired CIA officer Antonio Mendez.   Hedley approved the book for publishing, calling it a "story of American ingenuity combined with life-risking courage."  The book was published under the same title in 2000. 

More than a decade following Hedley's first review of the manuscript, a portion of the story was retold in the book, "Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History," and in October 2012 was released as the Hollywood film "Argo," that won the Oscar for Best Picture.

"I think people who read the book or saw the movie were not only entertained, but learned something worth knowing and appreciating, and that was rewarding to me," said Hedley.

Hedley's other CIA experience includes nearly three years heading the preparation of the President's Daily Brief.  He spent some 300 early mornings during the Reagan administration briefing the National Security Adviser, the Defense Secretary, and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

A native of Dodge City, Kansas, Hedley has lived in the D.C. area for 50 years.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, now reside at Ashby Ponds retirement community in Ashburn, Virginia, where they moved in 2014 after residing for 25 years in Vienna.  Hedley earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas, a master's degree in political science and history from the University of Tulsa, and a Ph.D. in political science with a concentration in international relations from the University of Missouri.  After retiring from full-time duty with the CIA in 1999, he returned to teaching for several years as an adjunct professor with Georgetown University. 

Hedley still sings in his church choir at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna, and has taken on new opportunities at Ashby Ponds including joining the History Club and a committee that works with staff to coordinate special trips.

About Ashby Ponds: Ashby Ponds, one of 18 retirement communities managed by Erickson Living, is situated on a scenic 132-acre campus in Ashburn, Virginia (approximately 30 miles west of Washington, D.C.).  The community is home to over 1000 residents and more than 120 resident-run and resident-driven clubs and groups, an indoor pool, a fitness club, transportation services, 24-hour security, and flexible dining options. More information about Ashby Ponds can be found at