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Church member, CIA employee,
tells what he believes is important
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Church member, CIA employee,
tells what he believes is important
By Dixon Cartwright

BIG SANDY, Texas--What it's like to be a Church of God member and at the same time work for the CIA was a topic of a seminar here the Sabbath of Sept. 15, 2007.

Michael James of Germantown, Md., a 44-year-old elder in the Church of God International, delivered a sermon to attendees of the Church of God Big Sandy on the importance of Church of God members reaching out to everyone, not just other church members.

Later that day Mr. James, who pastors a CGI congregation in Gaithersburg, Md., near Washington, D.C., presented a seminar about his career in the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in an effort, he said, to "dispel some myths, some misconceptions, that people have about the agency."

Mr. James took pains to explain that he is not a spy, that the CIA is a good place to work, even for Christians who observe the Sabbath and feast days, and that he believes the agency carries out important efforts in an era that has proven dangerous for many citizens of the United States.

He emphasized that anything he said was strictly his opinion. He was not, in his remarks, representing his employer or the federal government.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pa., Mr. James earned a degree in criminology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and, thanks to a suggestion from his father, applied in 1986 for a job with the CIA.

He began work in the agency's security office, and his second job there was in the "counterterrorism office."

"We would get information on terrorist incidents throughout the world," he said, "and we would write short summaries of those incidents and put them into a database, then run searches on that database" for other CIA departments and government agencies.

Since then he has served in other capacities including as a trainer of fellow CIA employees in computer applications and in "train-the-trainer" situations.

"Most recently," he said, "I'm involved in what I'll call a computer-related job by going to users of our applications and making sure that they understand what we're doing with the applications."

He also served in a "two-year rotation" with the National Drug Intelligence Center (not a part of the CIA) in Johnstown, Pa., and in the CIA's crime-and-narcotics center.

Protecting the country

Mr. James said he doesn't agree with everything the CIA may have done over the years, "but I do believe they have a role in the United States in protecting this country against a threat that can be, as we all know, deadly."

When Mr. James began fielding questions from his audience, his response to many of them was that the CIA is focused on overseas activities, so queries about homeland-based situations are not his department.

Those questions touched on topics ranging from domestic security to bombings of school buses to "Area 51" (a tract of land the federal government owns in Nevada that is the focus of quite a few UFO conspiracy theories).

"Overseas things," Mr. James said, "are what the CIA is about, not specifically with what's going on in the U.S."

Career option

Somebody in the audience asked Mr. James if he recommends the CIA as a career for a Church of God member.

"I don't see why not," he said. "I don't see why someone would not want to get involved with a government job."

For example, he noted, his observance of the Sabbath and feast days has not been a problem, because government agencies customarily are careful to accommodate their employees' religious beliefs and practices.

"They have to try to accommodate you when you're saying, hey, I want to get off for the Sabbath or I want my holy days off. As long as you give enough notice, they'll give you the days off."

In answer to a question about "suitcase bombs," small nuclear devices that, reportedly, the Soviet Union manufactured and disseminated before its breakup in 1991 and may have found their way to strategic locations in this country, Mr. James replied:

"To be honest, I cannot speak to that. I don't know whether the suitcase is factual or not. The Russians did create bombs of that size, and they are not aware of where they are all now. So that's about all I would be able to say about that."

Another audience member asked: "Did the CIA kill Kennedy?"

Mr. James' reply: "I don't think so, no."

Most unforgettable characters

A reporter for The Journal asked Mr. James about his most unforgettable experience while working for the CIA.

"There have been a number of unforgettable things," he said. "Gee, that's a tough one.

"I will tell you something that was interesting. When I was in security, we would have individuals who would come to the gates [outside the agency's offices in Langley, Va., near Washington] who wanted us to remove the implants that we had put into their brains.

"But, of course, we had not put any implants into their brains. Yet they would come to the gate and want to talk to the director."

Orthodox upbringing

Mr. James talked about his personal background, how he became a Church of God member.

He was 13 years old in 1976 when he began to ask the great philosophical questions about the meaning of life.

"I was Greek Orthodox growing up, and I also started to focus more on my religion," he said.

He began to read the Bible and at age 17 began perusing the Worldwide Church of God's magazine The Plain Truth, to which his father subscribed.

"I thought it was a political magazine," Mr. James said. But "one day I read an article on Lent, and it was talking about Lent being pre-Christian."

So he inquired of the priest of his Greek Orthodox congregation about the origin and meaning of Lent and other holidays, including Christmas.

"So he [the priest] said to me, 'Oh, we're the church, and we can make these decisions that it's okay to celebrate Christ's birth.'"

A few years later, in 1986, Mr. James at age 22 decided he wanted to attend Sabbath services of the Pasadena, Calif.-based WCG.

Mr. James called the WCG and learned that he needed to read a few more booklets before he could meet with a church representative.

"That just rubbed me the wrong way," Mr. James said. "So I called the CGI and they said, 'Just come on over.' I started going to Ohio once a month [for CGI Sabbath services], and I've been in the church ever since then."

The CGI's Infuse

Mr. James is also involved with a program for youth called Infuse, which the CGI, based in Tyler, Texas, supports out of its headquarters office.

"A few years ago at a Feast site, Noni McVey [a CGI member from Carmel, Calif.] said she had an idea" to work with teens and young adults who seemed not all that interested in attending regular church services, Mr. James said.

"Part of the problem we found was that they [the young people of the church] felt like it was distant from them. They said they just couldn't get into some of the messages. They didn't like some of the music.

"We began asking them about these things, and we said to them, 'Hey, if we had a service in the morning at the Feast that was kind of geared more towards you, do you think you guys would show up?'"

That was the beginning of Infuse, which Mr. James said has met with notable success in attracting and holding the interest of younger members of the CGI.

What matters

Mr. James also talked about safety, security and "God's protection" for someone whose job could take a turn for the precarious.

"I don't worry," he said. "My wife will get mad at me because of my attitude that God's in charge whether I die or not. But I have the attitude that that doesn't matter.

"Now, I'd like to stay alive as long as I can, so, yes, sure, you can try to do things that will protect you.

"But personally I feel it doesn't ultimately matter what happens to us, whether we live or die, because God is in charge.

"We have faith in God. That's what really matters. In the end, that's what it's all about."

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