The Spy Who Cracked Up in the Cold

From Afghanistan to Iraq, Andrew Warren was a star CIA agent in the War on Terror. But did a life of secrets and severe interrogation lead to the sex crime he's in prison for?

March 28, 2013
The Spy Who Cracked Up in the Cold michael hastings
Illustration by Sean McCabe

Early one morning in April, the former CIA agent sat inside a room at a seedy Ramada Inn in Norfolk, Virginia, smoking crack with a Glock 9mm service pistol in his shorts. He was 42 years old, three weeks into an epic bender, and believed he had only two choices in life: die or go to jail. With him was a young couple he'd met a few weeks earlier who only knew him as Dave – a guy with a raging two-ounce-a-week crack-and-cocaine habit and some serious boundary issues. "He would say, like, a lot of creepy things to me," the woman, Jessica, would later tell a local TV news reporter. "Like, when my boyfriend wasn't around, like inappropriate things." She also didn't know that she was about to witness the final act in the collapse of a man who had done and seen acts committed in the shadows of the War on Terror.

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Andrew Warren was a rarity in the CIA's Clandestine Service – African-American, fluent in Arabic and relatively young for an agent who'd already spent nearly a decade chasing terrorists in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Algeria, so deep undercover that few of his friends or family knew the nature of his work. Throughout the wildest days of the fight against Al Qaeda, when the CIA ran torture, rendition and assassination programs from black sites around the globe, Warren was a key player, "the black Steven Seagal," in the words of one of his mentors.

But all that had ended 18 months earlier, in October 2008, when Warren was called back to America, charged with sexual assault – the government claimed he'd drugged and raped an Algerian woman while serving there as station chief – and fired from the agency.

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Since then, another warrant had been issued, for indecent exposure: Warren had allegedly visited a Norfolk neighbor's house with his "genitals hanging out of his pants," the neighbor told the local news. He skipped a court date without telling his lawyers. His father had filed a missing-persons report.

Inside the hotel room, the phone rang. Jessica picked it up.

We are law-enforcement officers with the United States government, and we're here to arrest Andrew Warren. The rest of you, come out with your hands up.

Jessica and her boyfriend walked out into the sunlit parking lot "without incident," according to a court document, where a small army had gathered. There were agents from the U.S. Marshals Service, Diplomatic Security Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Snipers had positioned themselves out of sight, and a SWAT team in full-body armor was prepared to storm the room. As Warren stumbled out behind Jessica, a deputy U.S. marshal yelled commands.

Keep your hands up! Warren's hands fluttered toward his waistline. Lay down on the ground!

Warren refused and, as the officers approached, ran, with six agents in pursuit. The marshal tackled him to the ground, and five other agents piled on. Warren lifted his shirt, revealing the Glock. He was tasered, cuffed, thrown in the backseat of a police sedan and delivered to a local hospital.

In June 2010, he was sentenced to 65 months in prison at Federal Correctional Institution Ashland in northeastern Kentucky. For the past two years, he's been desperately trying to get out of jail, arguing that he's innocent and feeling abandoned by the government that had trained him to play a dirty game.

Last August, Rolling Stone began a long e-mail correspondence with Warren. The story he tells, and that all available evidence confirms, presents a harrowing account of the morality-scrambling life of a covert operative in the age of enhanced interrogation and "black sites." Vice President Dick Cheney had famously ordered the agency to use "any means at our disposal" after September 11th, and Warren enthusiastically obliged. But in the end, a spy who'd been everywhere and seen everything wasn't brought down by the extralegal activities of the CIA – the drones, the kidnappings, the torture. He was undone by a sex crime.

Andrew Marvin Warren was born in the military town of Chesapeake, Virginia, in 1967. His ex-Navy father worked for the postal service. In ninth grade, Warren began attending a school with a majority white student body. He remembered "being bored" at Great Bridge High School, but he was popular, played in the school band and on the football and tennis teams, and studied tae kwon do.

Warren enrolled at Old Dominion University in 1986, where he found himself even more bored by academics. He began to party, eating mushrooms and drinking, and his grades tanked. He dropped out and, for three years, worked for a contracting business his father had started, before deciding to go back to school, at Norfolk State University in 1990. It was there that his path to the CIA really began. He became a history major and quickly emerged as one of the department's stars. "He was very impressive, interesting, hard-working and very careful," says Paul Clark, a retired military-officer-turned-professor who also noted Warren's ability to move smoothly between the black and white student communities. "He lived in both worlds." Warren was popular, especially with women, say friends from college. "Andrew is a handsome fellow, has all the manners and gestures," says Bill Alexander, another one of his professors. 'Women were crazy about him. He had to turn them away."

In 1993, he graduated summa cum laude, with a 3.9 GPA. While still an undergrad, Warren had spent the summer of 1992 studying history and political science at Indiana University. After graduating, he enrolled in the Near Eastern Languages and Culture master's program there. Around that time, he came to the attention of one of the CIA's "spotters," a de facto on-campus agency recruiter. He was a prime candidate for the agency: ambitious, an effortless overachiever, highly intelligent and a risk taker – and his dark skin and skill with languages made him ideally suited for assignments in the Middle East, a region that was moving closer to the center of the agency's attention.

He took his first trip to the Middle East, for a four-week program in Egypt, in 1993. The next year, he received a fellowship to spend the following two summers at Yarmouk University in Jordan, where he continued his Arabic studies. In 1996, after receiving his master's, he got a job as a language analyst for the National Security Agency. Warren was then hired by the CIA, according to court documents. By 1997, he'd gone into training, and in 1999 Warren's appointment as a foreign service officer was published in the Congressional Record.

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