For his first draft of his first book, John Sullivan, a former CIA polygrapher, wrote 106,000 words. The intelligence agency had first crack at his initial draft. They were permitted to edit his entire original draft. They did, editing a whopping, nine words.
"Yes, I was pleasantly surprised at the how much they let me write," Sullivan, a 28-year Reston resident, said in a recent interview.
Fresh out of the Army in 1967 and graduate school in 1968, Sullivan, a Long Island, N.Y.-native, joined the spy agency's polygraph division in June 1968, at the heart of the Vietnam War.
From the moment he arrived, he said he was in "awe of the culture" and he loved intelligence work from day one. Less than a year after arriving at the Langley headquarters, this would-be James Bond was traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
While in southeast Asia, Sullivan's job was to evaluate the reliability of the agency's information sources, an assignment that gave him a more intimate view of the war than most people ever experienced. Sullivan served longer and conducted more lie detector tests than any other CIA examiner and with more agents than most of his colleagues.
As one of the CIA's top polygraph examiners during the waning years of the war, Sullivan has his own perspective on the agency's role in Vietnam and the current war on terrorism and war with Iraq.
Sullivan applauded the CIA's role in the war on terror, he said. "I would go myself, if they called," he said. "There is nothing more worthwhile. I'd be on the next plane if they wanted me. That is a legitimate war."
Sullivan was less enthusiastic, however, about the war with Iraq. "The one thing I learned from Vietnam," the Army veteran said, shortly before hostilities broke out last month, "was that we shouldn't go to war unless the American public is behind it."
From his experiences during Vietnam, Sullivan wrote his first book, "Of Spies and Lies, a CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam." Sullivan, who is currently working on his second book, tentatively titled, "In Search of Truth, CIA and the Polygraph," will be at the featured guest at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne on April 7 from 7 to 8 p.m., as part of the RCC's "Reston Presents" series of book talks.
Sullivan and his wife Lee have lived in Reston since 1975, they have two grown sons and two grandchildren.