When Gregg Wenzel died six years ago in Ethiopia, the obituaries said he was a U.S. Foreign Service officer killed by a drunken driver on the streets of Addis Ababa.
Monday the public learned the State Department job was a cover for his real occupation: CIA spy. At a ceremony commemorating those who died in the line of duty, CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed Wenzel’s affiliation with the agency and noted Wenzel was a member of the first clandestine service class to graduate after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “He helped unite the class and kept its spirits high in the toughest moments,” Panetta said. Wenzel left his job as an attorney to join the agency. He was 33 years old when the car he was riding in was hit by a drunken driver who to this day remains a fugitive. There are now 90 stars prominently displayed on the memorial wall in the spacious atrium of CIA headquarters, each commemorating an officer, like Wenzel, who died while serving the country. The 90th star was added recently, but as with most of the victims, the person’s name and nature of service will remain unknown to the public so as not to compromise secret operations.
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At the annual memorial service attended by hundreds of employees, retirees and family members, Panetta paid homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. “Their patriotism and leadership, courage and decency are models for all of us,” said the director, adding, “their work is our work now. And their spirit abides with us.” Panetta also announced the beginning of a new tradition. Family members of the fallen officers will receive a replica of the star from the wall. The first star was given to the brothers of Douglas Mackiernan, the first CIA operations officer killed in the line of duty, shot to death in Tibet after fleeing China in 1950.