Trying to encapsulate the life and work of Squamish-based writer Graham E. Fuller is an act of near futility.
The prolific author, ex-CIA officer, geopolitical analyst, linguist and loving father has lived a rich life that could make even the most assiduous among us appear idle.
Fuller is perhaps best known for his work with the CIA and National Intelligence Council during the heights of the Reagan-era Cold War, but a life in military intelligence was never in the cards for him growing up in New England.
“I was interested in foreign languages and cultures and began to study Turkish, Arabic and Russian at university long before I ever heard of the CIA,” Fuller said. “What happened really was that I got drafted as a graduate student during (the) Vietnam (War) and got stuck into military intelligence — I didn’t have a clue as to what it was all about — and through a strange series of events I ended up in the CIA.”
With his linguistic inclinations — he’s studied 10 to 15 languages in his estimation —Fuller was a logical fit for intelligence work abroad, and worked as a CIA operations officer overseas for 17 years in Lebanon, Germany, Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and more.
Fuller’s time at some of the world’s major geopolitical hotspots afforded him a different perspective than the average traveller.
“I think if you go as a serious tourist or maybe to do research on a book of a particular kind, you have a chance to see a country perhaps from a slightly more idealized perspective than say working there in political reporting, or in my case as an intelligence officer, where I think many of the more negative or seamier sides of a country come through,” he said. “It makes you realize in the real world that nothing is black and white, because every country has its very positive and very negative elements and the longer you stay, the more you realize that, and it’s true of any country.”
Eventually Fuller moved to the overt side of the agency, and was appointed vice-chairman of the National Intelligence Council in 1986, where he was responsible for in-depth analytics and long-range strategic forecasting at the national level.
Since then, Fuller has seen the agency he gave more than 20 years of his life to change dramatically — and not for the better.
“It was a rather different CIA than it is today, and I’m very dismayed by what’s become of it. For the most part … it used to be straightforward intelligence gathering. Sure, it was through the use of intelligence agents and spies, but it was very classic intelligence gathering,” he said. “Today, it’s been turned into almost an armed wing of U.S. policy, and ever since 9-11, I and an awful lot of my colleagues who are now retired feel shocked and upset at the (CIA’s) militarization and involvement in renderings, torture and paramilitary activities that weren’t part of the agency that most of us knew.”
As a leading expert on the Middle East, Fuller has his own views on the Arab Spring, and the West’s ongoing role in the troubled region.
“I am encouraged by the Arab Spring because I think the overthrow of dictators — many of whom were supported by the West — is an essential phase for the further development of these countries,” he said. “These countries have to do this by themselves. A key point of my own beliefs is that the West has contributed (to the problems), especially in the Middle East, through endless intervention that has been disastrous for the U.S. and the countries involved, particularly during the global War on Terror under George Bush, which left the region, in many ways, wrecked.”
Always a prolific writer, Fuller has shifted his focus in recent years away from the geopolitical to more personal material, like his touching memoir, Three Truths and a Lie, which tells the story of his son Luke, who was adopted from South Korea and tragically died from drug addiction at 21. Fuller said it’s been immensely rewarding to hear readers’ response to the book.
“I’m very gratified by the number of people who’ve come up and told me that the book’s been very meaningful to them personally,” he said. “For me that’s the real reward of this memoir; however sad and traumatic the events were for our family, the recounting of it seems to have a lot of meaning and impact and it opens up channels of contact I didn’t expect. People come up to me and we suddenly have a warm personal exchange on various problems that our families have gone through and it brings people together.”
The Squamish polymath is now tackling the fictional realm (at the urging of the Whistler Writers Group), having just completed the first draft of a novel about a CIA officer, set in Pakistan. Writing fiction has been “exhilarating” for Fuller, who enjoys the literary freedom the novel affords.
“In the case of a novel, it’s like you’re thrown out in the middle of a huge field and you can move in any direction you want to … and it’s almost too much freedom after the memoir, where the basic story is there,” he said. “I think you can say more about an awful lot of things through that vehicle than you can through non-fiction.”
Fuller will be reading from Three Truths and a Lie at the Whistler Public Library Thursday (March 28) at 7 p.m. The free event will feature readings from three other local authors, followed by a Q&A period.
Visit Fuller’s website at www.grahamefuller.com.