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RETIRED `SPOOKS’ FIND THEIR NOOKS AT KENNEBUNK

SHARE RETIRED `SPOOKS’ FIND THEIR NOOKS AT KENNEBUNK

Maine winters notwithstanding, spies who come in from the cold seem drawn to the Kennebunk.

This coastal town and neighboring Kennebunkport are home to a cluster of former intelligence operatives, analysts and administrators who have chosen the area as a good place to retire or to build a second career.The best-known former spy master is, of course, President Bush, a lifelong summer resident of Kennebunkport who was appointed director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1976.

But many of those once involved in clandestine activities have settled here year-round, creating a small and not-so-secretive community of retired spies.

This weekend, several of the world's leading writers on intelligence will be among 130 people expected to gather in Kennebunkport for the fifth anniversary meeting of the New England chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

The keynote speaker will be James McCargar, a 16-year intelligence veteran who, under the pen name Christopher Felix, wrote "A Short Course in the Secret War," hailed as a classic in the history of intelligence. Another speaker will be Rupert Allason, a member of Parliament who, as Nigel West, has written extensively about British intelligence.

Bush, an AFIO life member, will be out of town and unable to attend the meeting near his vacation compound.

Four of the chapter's 11 directors are from Kennebunk or Kennebunkport. It's believed that at least a dozen former intelligence officers make their homes in the two towns.

After a 30-year CIA career that took him to places like China and Iran, Ernest Weidul retired to Kennebunkport where his wife is an artist; another CIA veteran, Barbara Storer, is in the real estate business.

Retired Maj. Gen. Edmund R. Thompson, president of the regional chapter and former Army assistant chief of staff for intelligence, lives in Kennebunk and attributes the cluster to coincidence and to the area's attractiveness as a retirement community.

But others suggest social dynamics of intelligence work played a role in attracting them to the area.

At the onset of the Cold War, the CIA targeted its recruiting efforts toward prep school and Ivy League college graduates, often picking members of old-line Boston, New York and Philadelphia families.

Many of those families spent summers along the Maine coast, said Allan A. Swenson of Kennebunk, an AFIO chapter director who was involved in military and civilian intelligence.

Swenson, now a book publishing executive, said those summer connections drew many looking for a place to retire.

He also said those involved in intelligence work often are part of a close-knit group that made few friends on the outside. "You can't talk to many people because people are not supposed to know what you're doing," Swenson said.

The group, which has 150 members in New England, tries to dispel the James Bond image and provide a more realistic understanding of the nature of intelligence work.

"The guy jumping behind enemy lines, sneaking and peeking, that's all TV, that's LeCarre," Swenson said.