Presentation Date: September 28, 2017
James Waste, CIA Spy During the Cold War by Ken Evans
Jim was born in Berkeley in 1929. His father had served in the US Army during World War I and was a purchasing agent at Bechtel; his mother was a housewife. He had one older brother who served in the Counter Intelligence Corps in Japan during the Occupation after World War II. Jim attended Tamalpias High School in Marin County and graduated in 1946. He also attained Eagle Scout.
At the University of California in Berkeley, Jim completed various engineering and business courses. As a member of the school’s football teams coached by Pappy Waldorf, he made three trips to the Rose Bowl and also played rugby*. While at Berkeley, he married Marilyn Maas from San Mateo in 1950 and graduated in 1951.
Immediately after graduation, Jim joined Bechtel as a feasibility and cost estimating engineer specializing in field construction. During his 20 years with the company, the couple and their growing family (five children) moved every 18 months following construction projects. These included pipelines, power plants, and refineries nationwide and overseas.
At the request of President Ronald Reagan, the Central Intelligence Agency was seeking a person with heavy construction experience to analyze the current status of the Soviet Union’s economy and infrastructure. Soon after being contacted, Jim signed on for 18 months.
For the next 23 years and more than 40 lonely missions, he worked behind the Iron Curtain and along the ancient Silk Road of Central Asia. Jim’s experiences included:
-- Reporting on the dangerous economic collapse of the Soviet Union
-- Being interrogated, shot at, and seeing mass shootings of demonstrators
-- Witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall
-- Assessing the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant
-- Monitoring civil wars in Azerbaijan, the Republic of Georgia, and Russia
-- Conversations with Ronald Reagan, James Baker, Eduard Shevardnadze, and Mikhail Gorbachev.
In 2008 at age 81, Jim finally retired from US Government service. He and Marilyn reside at the Masonic Hall in Union City.
* His rugby player experience included 412 games in 11 countries.