Legerdemain hits the book stores very soon, it is a great book that sets the record straight about what America was doing in Morocco in the early 1950’s. Nukes and intrigue were the name of the game. And James should know, he was there! I had the opportunity to talk with this remarkable man about his equally remarkable book.

James, thank you for agreeing to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am professor emeritus, Graduate School of Public Affairs, SUNY at Albany.  When I was discharged from the Air Force I attempted to pursue a career as a foreign correspondent. I went to the University of California at Berkeley to take a masters degree in international affairs; while there some members of the faculty persuaded me to go on for a doctorate.

Leaving Albany in 1991, my wife, Pam, and I lived in Europe two years where I did some teaching of American military officers in public affairs graduate studies. We moved to Williamsburg, Virginia in 1993. I continued teaching military officers in one-week classes held in the Far East and Europe.

Obviously Legerdemain is a book that while you may not have put on paper is one that you have wanted to write for a long time. As I understand it, much of the information has only recently been declassified. Can you tell us a little about the history behind the book?

In 2004 I suffered congestive heart failure, so I stopped traveling except for pleasure with Pam. I began writing a trilogy of memoirs. The first, a short work titled Parish, is published as an ebook in The Cleveland Memory series. It is about the first fourteen years of my life, growing up in an Irish-Catholic Cleveland parish. The second, Legerdemain, is about my work as an Air Force undercover agent from 1952 to 1954. The third was going to be about my experiences in countries such as Brazil, Chili, Costa Rica, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus and South Korea working on political development projects, particularly development of legislative institutions, from the 1960s to 1989.  I decided to write Legerdemain at the turn of the century. Pam knew some of what I write about in the book; she had strongly encouraged me Write It!! she implored me for years; however it was not until the late 1990s when certain hitherto highly-classified secrets, which are what the book is all about, were declassified. There is one thing in the book that has never been declassified because it would be too embarrassing. However, I feel justified in talking about it.  No, I won’t say what it is.

I have to say that I was surprised that a young man of 22 years old would be involved in such a secret game. The one idea that springs to my mind is that you were young enough that if things ‘blew up’ the government would have ‘plausible deniability’, I can already imagine the government response “who would use such a young man for so sensitive a mission”, or words to that effect. What are your thoughts?

If it’s OK with you, I’ll quote from the book. A British MI6 agent is asking me the same question.    “The Air Force must have people with more experience. . .and other places to go, like the Army,” said Hedgeworth.

“We don’t want to use Army people for two reasons,” I said. “We’re trying to show that we can work as a branch of the service separate from them [the Air Force had been separated from the Army for just a few years in 1952], and the McCarthy Senate hearings on communists in American government positions make the Army look suspicious.”

As for why I was picked, I told him I was in the Air Force Security Service. We listen to the Russians . . .In effect, Security Service is about what the Air Force had by way of an intelligence service. I was sent to Syracuse University for a year to study Russian. While there I was given an assignment to spy on two other people in my Security Service class. . . . Back at Brooks Air Force Base, where we had our headquarters, someone liked what I produced. . . . When Security Service was told to produce a body for the job I now have, this person recommended me.

Legerdemain hits the streets in a few days. So I feel very privileged to be one of only a few people that have read it. What has been the reaction from those lucky people?

January 15 is the day it’ll be in bookstores. I am really pleased about the reactions. Particularly when people whose judgment I truly trust say it is well-written.

History is not always a best seller, and it can be hard to find a publisher. Legerdemain and History Publishing Company are a match made in heaven. Was it hard to find the right publisher?

I read about History Publishing Company and Don Bracken, the publisher, was the one and only person I sent the synopsis. At that time I had two or three chapters done. Without him and Pam the book would probably never have been completed. And, if completed without them, it would have been of considerably less quality. Don’s confidence in the story and his constructive criticism were invaluable. Our frequent email correspondence, often daily, kept me motivated and focused.

You spent 4 years deviling in a very dangerous game. If you were to wind the clock back would you do it again? And is there anything you would do differently?

Oh, yes, I would do it again! However, when I left the Air Force I would have worked with a psychologist or psychiatrist. There are still nightmares to deal with.

You met many people during your time in Morocco, peoples whose names are very well known, Anwar Sadat, and even Osama Bin Laden’s guiding light. You also met many people who are less well known. Is there was one person who stands out, and who would it be, and why?

Jilly and Simcha, both pseudonyms. They were almost as young and naïve as I was. Because I realize now the meaning of that experience for me is that they shared so much of it with me, intimately; without, perhaps, understanding what it was all about.

By my calculations you are 77 years young. But I suspect that you have now caught the ‘writers bug’, I rarely meet an author that stops at one book, do you have another book in mind?

Thanks again to Pam and Don, I have completed a book titled How to Survive in an Organization, to be published by Today’s Books, an imprint of History Publishing Company. I wrote it around eight years ago, but except for using it as lecture material and as a source of material for a newspaper column I wrote for five years or so, I never tried to publish it. I mentioned it to Don, he asked to see the first chapter, and now he’s publishing it. My next book is about Cyprus. The tentative title is Operation Attila, which was the Turkish government’s code name for the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Pam and I will live in Cyprus for three months in the Spring. Don’t jump to any conclusions about good and bad guys in this memoir. Who’s the publisher? Who else but History Publishing. I really like working with Don and the senior editor, Tom Cameron, at that place.

I really want to thank you for taking time to talk with me, and good luck with your new endeavors.

Simon Barrett


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