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Former CIA operative shares experiences with Blinn College students

James Olson served his country in clandestine operations for more than 25 years

James OlsonAfter serving four years in the U.S. Navy, James Olson figured he would go to law school, practice the honorable profession in his home state of Iowa, then settle down with a nice Iowan girl—the perfect small-town, rural American dream.

But that was before the phone rang in Olson’s dorm room during his senior year of law school. A voice on the other end of the line extended an opportunity for Olson to “serve the country in a different way” and asked Olson to meet him at a hotel in downtown Des Moines.

“How will I know you?” Olson asked the caller. “Don’t worry,” the voice responded. “We’ll know you.”

Olson, senior lecturer at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, visited the Blinn College – Bryan campus Monday to share his experiences in the Central Intelligence Agency with students.

The lecture was sponsored by the College’s Division of Social Sciences and hosted as part of the College’s commemoration of Constitution Week.

Olson served in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA for more than 25 years, mostly in clandestine operations overseas. He was chief of counterintelligence at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and has been awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit, the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal, the Donovan Award and several Distinguished Service Citations.

Before beginning his career in the CIA, Olson studied mathematics and economics at the University of Iowa. After a commission in the U.S. Navy, Olson studied law at the University of Iowa, with plans to practice law in a small county seat of his home state when the CIA invited him to apply for a position in the clandestine service.

“I almost, quite literally, fell on the floor when the caller revealed himself as a recruiter for the CIA,” Olson said.

Olson met his wife, Meredith Olson, in the service and they would have three children while working undercover.

“It’s strange to be standing before a group talking openly about spying,” Olson said. “During all those years our parents did not know we were CIA officers. It isn’t easy. You never get used to lying to everyone, but to this day my wife and I get a warm feeling about it, knowing we have served something we believe in so deeply.”

Olson retired from the service in 2000 and began teaching at the Bush School shortly thereafter.

His wife enrolled in Blinn College’s Associate Degree Nursing Program and graduated second in her class of 39. She became a registered nurse in 2000.

“It has been a wonderful journey,” Olson said. “If we could, we would like nothing better than to go back and do it all over again.”