Former 'non-official cover' CIA agent files lawsuit alleging wrongful termination

A former CIA officer who operated under shadowy "non-official cover" status is suing the spy agency in federal court, claiming he was wrongly fired after a senior manager fabricated allegations of misconduct.

The officer filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under a pseudonym, Mack L. Charles. The CIA declined to comment, but did not dispute the plaintiff's former association with the agency.

The suit also accuses the CIA of illegally barring the former officer from publishing his novel, tentatively titled "Madhouse: A Forbidden Novel of the CIA."

The CIA faces occasional employment lawsuits like any other government agency, but this one is unusual because of the plaintiff's claim to have been a non-official cover officer, or NOC, in CIA parlance.

Most CIA case officers work out of embassies posing as diplomats, giving them a level of protection should they be arrested while committing espionage. NOCs pose as businessmen, scholars or scientists in an effort to distance them from the U.S. government and afford them access to people who would never set foot in a U.S. embassy. If caught spying overseas, they could be jailed.

The NOC program is even more secretive than traditional espionage, and officers who participate often operate using their real names instead of aliases. The CIA allocated billions of dollars to expanding the NOC program after 9/11, but the effort was largely a failure, former officers have said — a charge Charles repeats in his lawsuit.

Charles' lawsuit alleges that he had a solid record as a CIA officer, reaching the bureaucratic equivalent of a lieutenant colonel in the military. He served in a war zone, won awards and received good ratings, the lawsuit says.

But he ran afoul of his bosses after he filed an age discrimination complaint in 2009, the lawsuit says. His complaint asserted that managers sought to impede his romantic relationship with a younger CIA non-official cover officer who became his fiancee, the suit says. He hasn't spoken to her since his firing, the lawsuit says.

The suit says the leader of the CIA's "Global Deployment Initiative" — its main non-official cover program — tried to get Charles fired in 2009, but a CIA board declined to take that step. After that, the lawsuit says, another senior officer, who headed the Special Activities Division — the CIA's paramilitary arm — wrote a memo alleging that Charles had in the past fudged expense accounts. That allegation is false, the lawsuit claims, but it says the allegation led to Charles' termination in December 2010.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled against Charles' discrimination complaint.

The lawsuit alleges that the officer who wrote the memo, who is not identified by name, had a "checkered career" that included a drinking problem, and was asked to retire amid sexual harassment allegations. The head of the Global Deployment Initiative was a subpar officer who also abused alcohol, the lawsuit alleges, claiming that the "multibillion-dollar" NOC program "was shot through with waste, fraud, and abuse."

When he submitted his novel to the CIA's Publication Review Board, the lawsuit says, Charles was told he could not publish any of it for fear his true name, which he used while working undercover for the CIA, would be revealed.

The suit notes that at least one other former NOC has published a book under a pseudonym, Ishmael Jones, while keeping his true name a secret. Jones did so without seeking permission from the CIA, leading the agency to obtain a court ruling in 2012 seizing the proceeds.