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CIA “Spider-Man”

CIA officers often find themselves in situations which are not exactly part of their job description, but they rise to the occasion and, sometimes, they even save a life.

Such was the case for one of our technicians, who must remain nameless, that worked for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) in the 1980s. FBIS, now known as the Open Source Enterprise, is responsible for gathering open-source (i.e. publicly available) information for the US government.

* * * * *

It was winter in Jordan, 1982, when an FBIS technician was settling in for the night, relaxing in front of the TV. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a flicker of light coming from outside. Curious, he went to the window and peered out.

He saw flames leaping 30 feet into the air from the 3-story apartment building next door. After calling the local fire department, he ran outside to see if he could help.

A young child was trapped on the roof, screaming in terror.

The flames hadn’t yet reached the 6-year-old boy, but the technician knew that diesel fuel tanks were located on the roof and could explode at any moment.

The technician—barefoot—scaled the outside of the rough sandstone building, clutching the soil drainage pipes that snaked their way up the structure, and made his way to roof where the young boy stood.

He swung the terrified child up onto his back and scrambled back down the side of the building. Safely on the ground, he placed the boy into the arms of his grateful mother.

When the firemen finally arrived, it took them another 90 minutes to extinguish the blaze.

The technician was hailed a hero. The chief of FBIS Jordan Bureau sent a memo detailing the story back to Director, FBIS, noting, “The Bureau is now awaiting a response from logistics on its request for a size medium Spiderman T-shirt for the intrepid technician.”

We hope the technician received his t-shirt. He earned it.


Our CREST archive holds millions of declassified CIA documents, many containing little-known stories like that of our “CIA Spider-Man.” To search the entire collection, visit our Electric Reading Room here.

The original tale of the heroic technician was first told in the February 1982 “Jordan Bureau Monthly Report” by the FBIS. You can read the entire daily report here.

For a history of the FBIS and CIA Open-Source Intelligence, see: From Pearl Harbor to the Digital Age: Open Source Enterprise Celebrates 75th Anniversary.


Posted: Dec 14, 2018 09:50 AM
Last Updated: Dec 14, 2018 11:08 AM