WASHINGTON - One of the CIA's top spooks has come out of the shadows.
With little fanfare, Jose Rodriguez, who heads the National Clandestine Service, had his cover lifted about a month ago. CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the driving factor was his interest in publicly participating in minority recruitment events. He's also retiring later this year after more than three decades with the agency.
Rodriguez is the most important man in the U.S. spy game whose name you probably never knew. When he was mentioned publicly before now, he was referred to only as "Jose."
Rodriguez became head of the CIA's clandestine service in November 2004. With the creation of the National Clandestine Service the following year as part of an intelligence reorganization, Rodriguez rose to be chief of "human intelligence" operations, overseeing the classic spycraft that takes place at a variety of U.S. spy agencies.
Unlike his recent predecessors, Rodriguez elected to stay undercover as he ordered some of the CIA's most sensitive cloak-and-dagger operations that get little if any public oversight. He believed the head of the clandestine service shouldn't have a high profile.
In national security circles, however, Rodriguez's identity wasn't a well-kept secret. Wikipedia users even created an entry about him last year, although the page contains inaccuracies.
This much is known: Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico, spent much of his career in Latin America, including in Mexico.
Some officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified while discussing Rodriguez's past, have said he got into trouble during the 1990s while trying to help a friend who was arrested for narcotics in the Dominican Republic. The Justice Department looked into Rodriguez's actions, but never brought charges.
Although the incident led to his removal as head of the CIA's Latin America Division, his espionage career continued. He served overseas and took over as head of the CIA's counterterror center less than a year after Sept. 11, 2001.
"Jose built a reputation for leadership in the field and here at headquarters, and he guided some of the agency's greatest counterterror victories," CIA Director Michael Hayden said in a statement.
"He has done much to protect our country by strengthening its Clandestine Service," Hayden added.
Next week, Rodriguez will make his first public appearance when he speaks about diversity at a border security conference in El Paso, Texas — the hometown of the gathering's Democratic host, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes.
Rodriguez has not set a firm date for his retirement, and a replacement has not yet been announced.
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