Westfall, Ralph - Oral History Interview
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Mr. Westfall originally came to SAIS because he was heading towards the government and because SAIS offered him a very nice scholarship. He had already wanted to go to CIA before starting at SAIS and he thought SAIS was in the right direction. When he graduated from Colgate, he turned down a Fulbright to go to Egypt and study Arabic and he turned down an all-expenses paid offer to Harvard to get a PhD in history. He was hoping to get into the CIA or State Department and recognized that SAIS was the place to go to do this. He met Grove Hames (sp?) in New York who told him more about the school and they offered him a scholarship for $1,500 which Mr. Westfall says was very good money in those days. He ultimately came to SAIS because he wanted to go somewhere specifically for the government and he did not want to go anywhere else which did not lead to a degree. He also did not want to go to Harvard to be a college teacher. He came to SAIS exactly because he wanted to. Mr. Westfall wanted to come to Washington, DC because of its important location. He knew nothing of SAIS until he saw an announcement on a bulletin board at Colgate. They were offering scholarships so he submitted an application and got a note back to him telling him to see Grove Hames up in New York. That settled it for him. He said his decision made some other people very unhappy—his father did not understand what he was doing at all. Mr. Westfall had had three years of Russian at Colgate which he wanted to continue but he also wanted to start Arabic. He finished his Russian his first year at SAIS to the point where he could take his oral examination in it and he started full-time Arabic. He was studying both languages at the same time while in the Middle East program with Majid Khadduri (sp? 3:42) and Dr. Talbori (sp? 3:48), who taught history. Bill Phillips taught economics. Priscilla Mason was the woman in charge who ran the place and Phil Thayer was the dean. He was a member of the student council as the Social Chairman. He very quickly learned that if you wanted to hang out with Thayer, you didn’t go in the morning, you went in the afternoon after he had had lunch at the Cosmos Club. Mr. Westfall remembers that at that point, you could get anything you wanted from him. He points out a photo that was their spring party of 1954. He said it was their big spring party and they got everybody into one big picture. Mr. Westfall remembers that SAIS was known as the little, red schoolhouse on Florida Avenue at that time. This was a common joke among students in reference to Communism and McCarthyism because the school was a bunch of liberals. He liked the small size of the school and how compact it was. He also worked part time in the library while he was there. He remembers that while he was at SAIS, Joe McCarthy had called George Marshall a traitor. Mr. Westfall sat at typewriter in the library and wrote a letter to the White House saying Eisenhower ought to take a stand on this and that it was absolutely awful for McCarthy to call Marshall a traitor. It never occurred to him that he was going into the government and might get himself into trouble for the letter. Mr. Westfall also remembers that everybody was very bright. There were a few people who didn’t belong, but they didn’t last—there were no dummies. It was very hard work—particularly when taking two languages and taking courses at the same time. He remembers that the faculty was really good—he particularly liked Majid Khadduri, Bill Phillips and Paul Linebarger. Mr. Westfall does have one distinction from other SAIS graduates—he’s pretty sure he’s the only one who got a criminal record in the District of Columbia while he was a student. Even though Mr. Westfall had a scholarship, he still had to work in the summertimes. He got a job driving a Jack and Jill ice cream truck…The first Sunday he was working, he looked up and one of the metropolitans asked him what he thought he was doing. He responded that he was selling ice cream! He was then taken to the station house and was shown that it was illegal to sell things in the streets of Washington on Sunday. He was booked for illegal vending! He didn’t know that and the company didn’t bother to tell him…The company admitted they were wrong. Per protocol at the time, Mr. Westfall did not show up for time and forfeited the collateral, but the violation stayed on his record. Every time he had to get a security clearance, illegal vending showed up on his record. Twice his clearances were held up. When he got out in ’55 he went right to duty with the Army and ended up at the Army Intelligence School. The night he arrived at Fort Holabird in Baltimore, a Colgate classmate of his came in a patted him on the back. The classmate was processing Mr. Westfall’s paperwork for the Army and asked about the illegal ice cream vending, informing Mr. Westfall that they were investigating the issue. He got held up for 6 weeks while they were investigating until they decided it was all innocent. After graduation from SAIS, Mr. Westfall went right on duty with the Army in July of 1955. He had already enlisted in the Army reserve intelligence unit with the goal of heading towards the CIA. He went with the Army counter-intelligence core and finished the training course. They had no requirements for anybody who spoke Arabic or Russian but did have requirements for those who spoke French, which Mr. Westfall had studied for three years in college. He ended up going to France as a French linguist. He could write and read it but had no knowledge of it spoken whatsoever. The first night he was in France he ended up at a tough, local bar. The woman who ran the bar had a previous employment in Paris and this was her retirement home. She had been a high-class courtesan with government ministers. She took one look at Mr. Westfall and decided to teach him French. Every night for about two months he would go down to the bar and she taught him French. That’s how after two months he was able to carry on business in France. But he had to be very careful because he picked up a lot of “dock” French. Every now and then he’d slip into very colloquial French. After going through Russian and Arabic at SAIS, he had to learn French and that ended up being the rest of his career. He landed with the Agency in the Africa division in a bunch of French speaking places…He finally got to use his Arabic when he landed up in Casablanca, but even there he relates, most of his business was conducted in French. He also uses his Russian with Russian contacts. One thing they really wanted to find out from him was how much Russian he knew. He says this turned into a gag. He knew enough that he could fool them because he didn’t want them to know how much Russian he did know. Regarding Arabic, he had studied classical Arabic which is different that the Moroccan Arabic in Casablanca, so it didn’t do him too much good. During that time, Mr. Westfall was spying. He was a professional case officer recruiting spies. He finally ended up in Paris as the African representative for CIA. This was from 1971 to 1974. He not only handled all of CIA’s Africa business, he also handled the Near East division. Mr. Westfall would advice those who want to be spies to avoid thinking they know too much—there is always more you can learn. He also advises being careful with how you deal with people, especially journalists. He got burned by a journalist in the beginning when he joined the Army and suggests if you’re going to be a spy, stay away from journalists. He also suggests working on your language. The biggest problem the Agency has now is that people don’t speak any languages. He was lucky that at the time he had three languages going in—he also spoke German. His entire career with the Agency was keyed to French because he was a French specialist. When he came back from France and took the language exam to go on duty with the Agency, he came up with native fluency. He ended up being a member of the examining board for the CIA for people in French for a couple of years while he was still at headquarters. He received the Career Intelligence Medal…He got it from Inspector General Jack McMahon because he had been one of the hotshots in the Africa division…The day George Bush Sr. left he was down in the cafeteria shaking hands with people and Mr. Westfall wanted to shake his hand and tell him what a good job he had done. Mr. Westfall says the place had been in pretty bad shape with the Church Committee. After Mr. Westfall retired, he and about 5 others ended up working for Bush’s headquarters when he was running for president around 1980. He says a whole bunch of spies ended up working at Bush headquarters because they all thought very highly of him and wanted to get on board. He landed up in national politics with George Sr. Mr. Westfall’s career worked exactly the way he wanted—he landed up where he wanted to work and doing what he wanted to do. He says SAIS was the way to go. One of the recruiters came around and looked him up in his senior year. He was called in by Priscilla one day and told that a recruiter from the Agency wanted to talk to him—SAIS had recommended him. He does not know how closely the relationship was but he was not the only one. He couldn’t go with the Agency then because he had to go on duty with the Army but the Agency got in touch with him again while on duty. They sent him the paperwork and he was already to go when he got back. Mr. Westfall’s father never knew about his career until the day Mr. Westfall left to come down to Washington. After he left the Army, he was with his family in New York for a little while waiting for his clearance to come through at the Agency. It was not until the night before he came down to DC to join the Agency that Mr. Westfall told his father what he was doing. But then his father turned into a menace and wanted to tell everyone his son was a spy! Mr. Westfall deliberately kept this information hidden from his family. He used to tell them he worked for the State Department and he did end up doing tours for State Department under cover. In Dakar and Casablanca, he was integrated with the State Department—he was a State Department officer. When he went to Paris, there were no slots for integrated people, so he had to resign from the Foreign Service to go to work in the embassy in Paris. He says it was absolutely crazy. All of his household affects had to be shipped in a very circuitous matter. Mr. Westfall ended his career in 1978. His wife, Eugenia, who was at the Agency too, had three heart attacks while in Paris. During the last one, the medics told him to go home. Her state of health was so bad that he knew he would not go overseas again. After about 20 years of service, he resigned in 1978 though he didn’t want to. The first thing he got involved in after retirement was his local bank. He was tied up looking after Eugenia most of the time, but he was talking to his local bank manager one day who told him about the problems she had getting people to work there. Mr. Westfall ended up working part-time as a bank teller. Working with him was a retired Marine colonel who had gotten bored in retirement. Mr. Westfall also worked for 8 mortgage companies in 8 years during the mortgage racket in the late ‘70s. He finally ended up at the Treasury Department doing financial crimes enforcement for 9 years until he got an opening with the Agency to come back as a finance officer in 2003. He spent 7 or 8 years with the Agency as a finance officer. His contract ended the 30th of September as part of Obama’s plan to cut back 5% on contractors. They decided they would not have any more contractors on reserve status. He is now retired, though not necessarily happily. The other day in fact he went to the Virginia Appointment Commission to sign up to see if he could find a job, which he says is very difficult for someone 80 years old. The week that Mr. Westfall retired, his wife broke her hip. She got a hip replacement and was in the hospital several weeks for that. Then she was in the hospital with pneumonia. Then she had to go back in for an E-coli infection. Then Mr. Westfall landed in the hospital getting a defibrillator and pacemaker. He’s doing fine and that’s why he decided he wants a job doing something part-time. He’s not ready to quit! He’s not happy with the Agency, but they were stuck. He says he got caught in the numbers but this was after he was told in August that they were going to keep him on. Ms. Westfall says the Agency these days is not what is used to be. Most of the fun he had in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s you couldn’t do anymore. They had no rules—the only rule was don’t get caught. He says it was a lot of fun and he loved every minute of it. He would not want to be a case officer these days though. He says there are too many rules and regulations…His recommendation to anyone from SAIS who wants to join the Agency today is to be careful what you’re getting into. He says to not be surprised if it does not turn out to be what you want because the Agency has turned into one, enormous bureaucracy that is not going to change. He thinks things are much less efficient than they used to be. He has no regrets and absolutely feels he made the right decision going to SAIS.