CIA Honors Officer Who Saved Karzai's Life

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The lobby of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Jason Reed JIR/Reuters

He had many names and nicknames during his long and storied undercover CIA career: "Spider," "the Wolf," "Craig" and even "Casper." And he's had many more operational code names that will forever remain classified.

But his real name is Vogle, Greg Vogle. The CIA officially confirmed that Monday when bestowing special honors on the 30-year-veteran who in 2015 became chief of its National Clandestine Services, its foreign spying wing.

The CIA named Vogle a "Trailblazer." It's "a distinction reserved for those who have profoundly shaped CIA and its mission," the agency said in a press release.

Exactly what earned Vogle the high distinction? Of course, the agency didn't say. Employing typical bureaucratese, the CIA said only that he "held senior executive positions in charge of global clandestine operations and helped lead joint programs and missions with partners in the Department of Defense and across the Intelligence Community."

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But outside the agency, Vogle will always be remembered as the man who saved the life of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan exile whom Washington plucked from obscurity to be president of his country as U.S.-backed rebels routed the Taliban and Al-Qaeda after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

"In the chaos of battle in December 2001, a U.S. military officer accidentally ordered a bomb drop on a meeting between Mr. Karzai and other tribal leaders," The Wall Street Journal reported in 2010. Without identifying Vogle by name, it said he "leapt on Mr. Karzai to shield him." In 2004, Vogle began his first stint as station chief in Kabul, the Journal said.

During a second tour in Kabul, the George W. Bush administration took the unusual step of appointing the CIA man as its chief contact with the famously neurotic Karzai.

"Karzai needs constant reassurance," a former Vogle colleague told Wall Street Journal correspondent Siobhan Gorman, "and the chief is his security blanket."

After a tour back at CIA headquarters, Vogle returned to Afghanistan in December 2009, only 10 days before an Al-Qaeda double agent entered a CIA base in Khost and set off a suicide-vest bomb, killing seven CIA officers and contractors.

"Greg Vogle is maybe the only guy left in the agency who actually knows what he is doing," former senior CIA operative Sam Faddis bitterly remarked to me at the time.

In its Monday announcement, the CIA cited several awards Vogle has earned, among them the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal (2016), the Director's Award for Distinguished Service (2016), the Intelligence Star (2003), and the Distinguished Intelligence Cross (2002). Like many CIA paramilitary officers, Vogle spent five years in the Marine Corps before joining the agency in 1987.

The Trailblazer award was inaugurated in 1997, with 50 individuals honored with citations, one for every year of the agency's existence. The honor roll now totals 83. To mark the agency's 70th birthday on Monday, the agency unveiled "a small internal exhibit" that lists the "unclassified names of Trailblazer recipients."

Others remain shrouded in secrecy, like most of the 125 names on the CIA's famous Memorial Wall in its vestibule, which honors those who died in service to the agency.

But not Vogle. He's lived to to tell his story, and he's out of the shadows now.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly said the CIA's "Trailblazer" honor roll included 33 people. It now totals 83 individuals. An earlier version of this story also mispelled Vogle's last name.