Leonor E. "Lee" Sullivan was a CIA secretary, translator, and most importantly, she was a mom. She passed away in December at the age of 70. She left behind two sons, John, age 36, and his younger brother, Jimmy. Leonor led a very interesting, very secretive life.
As with any loss, one is left with unanswered questions. When your mom worked for the CIA for the
better part of your life, you are left with tremendous confusion and the desire to know more. In John's case, he lived with strange telephones, coined "Spy Phones" by his family. Imagine growing up during the 70's with an ordinary looking tan rotary phone with the more than stern warning from his mother to never "ever get on that phone. When I am on it, get away." John randomly would disobey his mother, as all children do, "while playing Atari and listen in...Or pick up, and it'd be some dude in German ranting and raving." Then imagine watching your mother lock her work notes in a safe all of your life then literally the safe just disappears.
Imagine waiting in boredom in the CIA's lobby in Langley while your parents attend to business. Imagine never knowing anything about the job that allowed your mother to feed you, clothe you, keep you in sneakers -all because of her work. Imagine being born in 1973 Vietnam and learning about the Phoenix program, a controversial counterintelligence program that trained the South Vietnamese to capture and interrogate Viet Cong targets, in a college history class and then going home to ask your mom about it.
Sullivan recalls the conversation as: "Were you involved in the Phoenix program? Can you tell me?" His mother, Leonor, only confirmed that she worked with Frank Snepp, a bestselling former CIA analyst who disapproved of the CIA's role in Vietnam and offered: "I was an administrative assistant."
As time passes, the first generation of CIA employees pass with it. Upon their deaths, children of CIA operatives share a common need: to know more. As the distance of "operational equities and sensitivities" widens with time, perhaps more children of CIA employees will better understand their parents' work, their parents, and ultimately, themselves.