James Olson

After a 31-year career as a CIA agent, Professor James Olson joined the Bush School of Government and Public Service in 1997. He said he loves being able to help teach and mold the next generation of public servants.

Longtime Central Intelligence Agency operative and former chief of counterintelligence James “Jim” Olson released a book rooted in his experiences earlier this year, and on Tuesday, he will host an issues forum at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. 

Olson’s book —  To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence — was written both for the general public and for current and future practitioners of counterintelligence. 

“I feel strongly that we are not doing enough now to protect our country against espionage being conducted by foreign intelligence services against the United States,” Olson said in a phone interview Thursday. “We’re being bombarded by foreign intelligence services that are trying to steal our secrets, our technology, and they are getting into our databases.” 

Currently, Olson works as a professor of the practice at the Bush School of Government and Public Service of Texas A&M University. 

“My book was designed, first of all, to familiarize the American public to the nature of the threat,” Olson said. “It also offers some prescriptions to how we can do a better job in the future.” 

Olson said Thursday that high-tech companies and other corporations also need to protect themselves, because they are also targets, particularly from the Chinese, he said. “The bottom line is that stealing technology is a lot cheaper and faster than [research and development]. They can save billions of dollars simply by stealing the technology that we’ve spent so much money developing ourselves.”

Olson served for more than three decades in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA. He spent large portion of that time overseas in clandestine, or covert, operations. He was chief of counterintelligence at CIA headquarters in Virginia. 

“The book goes into how this profession is done and why spy catching is so important. It’s a skill that is very particular, and that you have to be trained specifically for,” he said.

In the phone interview, Olson named Russian and Chinese threats as of paramount importance. He also mentioned Iranian and Cuban threats. 

“It’s happening. We are under assault, and it’s very timely that people understand that spying is taking place, and we’re the victims — and we have some defenses that I think are inadequate,” Olson said. 

Olson said it took him about a year to write To Catch a Spy and approximately another eight months for it to be cleared by the CIA.

He said former President George H.W. Bush was an advocate for the intelligence community. Olson also lifted up the Bush School’s Intelligence Studies program as one way of bolstering the country’s counterintelligence defenses and said some of the school’s graduates will, truly, enter the field. 

“We are doing our part, I believe, in preparing young men and women for careers in these fields,” Olson said. 

Admission is free for the 6:30 p.m. Tuesday forum, but seating is limited, and reservations are encouraged, according to the event’s Facebook page. Call 979-691-4014 to reserve seats. A reception, book sale and book signing will follow the event.

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