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“[He] never so much as washed or folded a load of laundry, swept or mopped one floor, or changed one dirty diaper.” The woman’s account is a rare window into the deep strains that the agency’s ethos of secrecy can exert on operatives’ marriages.

Divorces involving spies are often just as clandestine as their work.

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“The Agency is a tight-knit family, so ensuring that spouses and family members feel connected and well-informed is a priority,” Golson said, adding that in any organization, employees who face danger must deal with marital strains.

“He was average-looking, which I later learned made him good at his job.” By 2006, her man had come clean about his real profession. “I said, ‘No, unless you tell me what we’re getting into,’ ” the woman recalled.

He revealed the ulterior motive: A potential informant was meeting that day with a CIA colleague at the winery. The agency wanted to see how the informant would handle a surprising situation, the wife said she was told.

The officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his family’s identity, said he asked the agency’s human resources office for the numbers in 2005 because he was managing a Middle East operations group and was worried about the post-Sept. When he learned how many marriages were imploding, he said, he urged his officers not to take back-to-back unaccompanied tours. “The real answer is we don’t know what is true about the divorce rate.” While plenty of CIA marriages last for decades, the agency acknowledges that its high-risk jobs “take a toll on relationships,” CIA spokesman Preston Golson said.

Through its Family Advisory Board and Employee Assistance Program, the CIA tries to do everything it can to help families, especially when a loved one is serving in a war zone, Golson said.

The family of three found seats on a bench at the winery, the wife said. Otherwise, they should hire professional actors or provide training.” Some former CIA operatives say the agency has long relied on families to provide cover or help lure in sources.

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