Frank Lancaster: Work as a CIA Librarian
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Frank Lancaster, who began working with the CIA straight out of high school in 1947, talks about working for the Central Intelligence Agency as a librarian and documents expert on the 'overt' side of the agency during the Cold War.
FL: I could say, we had a real good relationship with the neighbors. It was a friendly neighborhood. At Halloween time, all the kids - you couldn't believe how many kids would come to the house. Vienna Elementary had a rule on Halloween, by the way. Am I drifting too far from this?
FL: The Halloween Parade started down at Magruders - what we are still calling Magruders now - and went that way, until later it starting coming this way. A lot of people don't know it. Maud and I were talking about it one day and she remembers. Incidentally, the fireworks were held up at Glyndon Park and later moved up. Anyway, going back to Halloween, Vienna Elementary had a rule on trick-or-treating night, which is always the day before Halloween. They told all the students, and boy do they really adhere to this - they said, 'Ok, you will start at (I think) 7 o'clock and you have one hour! You only go to the houses that have lights on.' Of course, it worked out real good because Cherry Street, all the streets back then, my kids would really come home with some candy that would last them until Christmas time. Before I threw it away - those that I didn't eat. That was a real good feature, like I say, it was safe to the kids, and of course, they were in numbers. My wife would stay home and give out candy, and the girls would go with me. I'd walk around with the girls. I keep saying girls, because there were girls for us first and boys later. They came along much later, after we moved here, really.
CG: Did you all go to the Halloween parade?
FL: Oh yeah. The Halloween parade was for kids. Nowadays, politicians and all - back then, I just met all the kids. It seemed like everyone was in the parade, all these outfits, a lot of homemade outfits then. Really unique things. And of course all the fire-trucks and all the noise. I'm not sure whether we had the little cars then or not. The little cars in and out. I think that might have come later, it might have been at that time. I just remember all the kids in their costumes. It was truly for the kids, not commercial. We had a band, I think the Madison bands and all.
Tags: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (Organization) Cold War Librarian vienna virginia
Added: 1 year ago
Frank Lancaster 6-28-2013
Frank Lancaster came to the Washington DC area in 1947, and secured a job as a librarian and documents expert for the Central Intelligence Agency right out of high school. Frank and his family moved to Vienna in the late 1950s, to ease Frank's commute to the new CIA headquarters in Langley. Frank helped with the beginning of the Pig-Tail/Pony-Tail softball league, volunteered at the local library, played Santa Claus and gave tours at the Freeman Store. In these twelve clips, Frank recounts some of his favorite memories of life in Vienna.
VH: This is a little off the subject of Vienna, but I wanted to ask if you could just talk
a little about what it was like to be a CIA librarian?
FL: First of all, I was what you call overt. There's covert and overt. I can say these
things. You had the covert which is spies, and of course you knew a lot of these
people. But I never heard the term 'spy' - case officers, agents, never the term
'spies'. You worked closely with them. Of course, in the library, I had to service
people. Being overt, I could say my work, but of course you couldn't say what you
did. I was in the documents library for many years. Again, this is before they had
computers. I had a good memory. I was in charge of the documents part. Actually, I
had the term 'librarian'. I was a few years in, and this guy came over. He said, 'Frank,
we're starting a new operation. I wonder if you'd be interested in joining us.' I felt
comfortable with what I was doing. We had already moved into headquarters. I had
my own little kingdom, so to speak. I felt comfortable, I knew what I was doing.
When you have a family, you don't want to take any chances. That guy turned out to
be an aerial photographer, starting in the U-2 program. U-2 was a plane that flew
over the Soviet Union, top secret. It was later shot down in the area of a palace. I
don't know whether you studied that in history. Almost, World War III's start.
President Eisenhower was in charge of it.
I worked with the photographic people. I gave them support. Finally, I could see I
was hitting a stone wall. I wasn't getting promotions. I needed a Library of Science
degree. They kept asking me to come over. They needed somebody for documents.
At that time, we were still finding new things. We found a biological, chemical
warfare plant - what does it look like? Because these guys are trying to see and
identify these things over there. They knew the missile sites - you know, ICM site,
sub-air missiles. They knew all these things, they knew tanks and battle-like stuff.
But there were unique things. So they needed somebody like me to figure out what
it looked like. They needed documents. That was my expertise. I did that, and I
learned later, over a period of time, that the documents had to be classified and
certain people authorized to see them. It was my job to assign the classification.
There's limitations on it, and stuff. Very interesting job. I was always very proud. Of
the way you had the very hard-working people. That's the thing, when you hear
things talking about government workers, boy, they don't realize the hours you put
in. Sometimes I'd spend twenty hours a day, go home and get a couple hours of
sleep. I'd sometimes sleep in the car then get right back to work. It was interesting