ALAMOSA — Retired CIA agent and current Alamosa resident Steve Carroll spoke to guests about his history in the organization during Alamosa Rotary Club’s meeting on Monday. Carroll served in the CIA for 19 years and before then played as a practice safety—at 6 feet and 4 inches and 225 pounds—for the Chicago Bears.
The Navy originally recruited Carroll due to his university background in psychology and he agreed because he “wanted to go overseas and didn’t care where.”
After going to Monterey for a crash course in Vietnamese he landed in Ho Chi Minh City, then called Saigon, in 1964.
“No one spoke any English and when you’re hungry or you have to find a place to lie down you learn how to speak the language very, very quickly,” said Carroll. “In 1964 I probably spoke better Vietnamese than any American in the world.”
Once other branches of military got involved in Vietnam he transitioned into working for the CIA. From 1971 to 1982 he was a field agent in Singapore assigned to keep track of a handful of international persons of interest.
One worked for France’s intelligence agency, Deuxième Bureau, and was selling large amounts of oil. Caroll eventually put a stop to the operation.
When asked how he shut him down, Carroll said “persuasion.” He then clarified that he didn’t mean anything physical in nature, but rather he called in favors. He even befriended a few of his targets.
“They were different and kind of strange relationships.” Carroll said. “They might be your best friend one day and the day later they might be shooting at you.”
His work also took him to China in 1972, a couple of months after Richard Nixon visited. Carroll is amazed at the country’s growth. “The main thing I recall is that there were bicycles everywhere,” Carrol said. “There were no cars, no trucks, just bicycles and oxcarts.”
When asked for memorable moments, Carroll reflected on a time he saved Vietnamese refugees. “We moved close to 75,000 Vietnamese,” he said “and quite a few ended up in California, where I lived for 20 years prior to a couple of years ago. I think the most satisfying job was getting those people out.”
Carroll left the CIA shortly after Stansfield Turner took over as director. “They decided they didn’t need boots on the ground and could do everything electronically,” he said. “I’m not certain it’s worked out.”
The Rotary club meets Mondays at noon at Juanito’s and frequently has guest presenters. Next week the program features Mark Manzanares from Adams State University.