The Mind of a Spy

Cloaks and daggers are not the tools of real spies. That much we can learn from the life of Aldrich Ames, a high-ranking CIA agent recently unmasked as a Soviet spy. The truth is that a spy inhabits a dreary, fragmented world, cut off from normal friendships and normal feelings. Aldrich Ames was responsible for the most serious security breach in the history of the CIA. For nine years he fed top military secrets to the KGB, the Soviet secret police. He fingered several U.S. agents, sending them to certain death. All for $2.5 million. In a recent interview from his jail cell, Ames was asked how he survived the stresses of his double life. How could he commit treason while at the same time serving in a government job? How could he sell sensitive state secrets after taking loyalty oaths? How could he turn over the names of U.S. agents to the Soviets, knowing he was sending them to their death? Ames's answer is highly revealing—and it may tell us something about the way many other Americans live as well. Ames told the interviewer, "I tend to put some of these things in separate boxes" in my mind—to "compartment[alize] feelings and thoughts." That way, he added, "I avoided . . . thinking about" those things. In short, Ames survived by putting his life as a CIA operative in one box and his life as a Soviet agent in another box—fragmenting his life and mind into watertight compartments. Ames was such a master at keeping his thoughts separate that he even passed lie detector tests. The troubling fact is that Ames is not unique. As Francis Schaeffer writes, fragmentation has become the mark of the modern mind. Even Christians often compartmentalize their minds: They put their religious beliefs in a little box shut off from the rest of their lives. We may be biblical in our spiritual beliefs, yet follow unbiblical views in our everyday attitudes and behavior. For example, pollster George Gallup compared the ethical behavior of Americans who attend church regularly and those who never darken a church door. He compiled candid admissions from people who call in sick when they are not, who puff their resumes, who cheat on income taxes. Astonishingly, Gallup reports "little difference in the ethical views and behavior of the churched and the unchurched." In a similar vein, religion reporter Terry Mattingly recently cited surveys showing that students at Christian colleges cheat on exams at the same rates as students at secular colleges. What does all this tell us? That many Christians are guilty of compartmentalizing our lives into separate boxes so that our faith never informs our everyday attitudes and opinions. Many of us are as fragmented in our minds as any double agent. This is not the pattern God wants for our lives. The Bible gives a comprehensive view of the world that is meant to integrate all of life. Walling off your faith from life and holding contradictory opinions is playing a dangerous game. Like Aldrich Ames, spiritual double agents will ultimately be brought to justice.


Chuck Colson


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