Magazine publishes CIA-trained burglar’s fascinating story

A captivating article about a break-in specialist for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who turned against the Agency in the 1990s, appears in the October issue of The Smithsonian magazine. Written by David Wise (The Invisible Government, The Spy Who Got Away), the article contains some new information about “The Shop”, a secretive unit under the CIA’s Special Operations Division, which conducts what the agency describes as “surreptitious entries”. Based on “more than 80 interviews with 25 people”, including over a dozen former CIA officers, Wise says the unit features highly specialized teams of lock pickers, safecrackers, photographers, experts in disabling alarm systems, and others. Their mission, he says, is to break into foreign embassies around the world in order to steal classified documents and —most of all— codebooks used by foreign diplomats to communicate securely with their colleagues back home. Unlike most CIA personnel stationed abroad, the Agency’s non-destructive entry specialists do not enjoy the protection of diplomatic cover, says Wise, which means they cannot claim diplomatic immunity if caught red-handed. The author’s main source for the article appears to be Douglas Groat, a former US Special Forces captain, underwater explosives expert and Mandarin-Chinese speaker, who joined the CIA in 1980. Wise claims that Groat, who started working for The Shop in 1982, eventually became the Agency’s “top burglar and premier lock picker”. He designed or participated in approximately 60 different CIA- or National Security Agency-sponsored operations in dozens of countries in the Middle East, Africa, South America and Europe, which earned him several commendations, medals and awards from the NSA and the CIA. The article describes one joint CIA/NSA operation that took place in 1989 at the embassy of the German Democratic Republic in Katmandu, Nepal, which Groat’s team burgled in order to steal a code machine. The operation failed, as did another a few years later in “a Middle Eastern capital”, due to sloppy preparation on behalf of the CIA, says Groat. Read more of this post

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