Sara Mansfield Taber: "Born Under an Assumed Name"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:51
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. For decades, the Cold War dominated American foreign policy, but for Sara Mansfield Taber, it was not an abstract struggle. Her father was on the front lines. She joins me to talk about her new book titled, "Born Under an Assumed Name," detailing her life growing up as the daughter of a spy.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:23
If you'd like to join us, call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, Sara.

MS. SARA MANSFIELD TABER

11:07:40
Good morning, Diane, it's a thrill to be here.

REHM

11:07:43
Well, it's good to have you here. Tell us about your dad. He was a China specialist for the CIA.

TABER

11:07:52
Yes. When I was growing up, he always told me he was a China watcher. He had studied Mandarin and his job was basically to work to undermine the activities of Communist China. At the time, I didn't know he was a spy until I was 15, but all the time I was growing up, he was doing secret work, living under, well, not living under false identities, but using false identities much of the time to recruit defectors, to recruit agents to spy on China and let us know about their weapons development and engaging in covert actions to undermine the Chinese. So that was all going on without my knowledge most of my childhood.

REHM

11:08:43
You were moving around a lot?

TABER

11:08:47
We were. I lived in at least six countries by the time I was 18 and it was a life of adventure and glamour and moving and moving and learning about cultures. But also a life of tremendous losses and this atmosphere of secrecy and stoicism and silence all around me.

REHM

11:09:12
What about your mother and your father and their relationship together?

TABER

11:09:21
Well, it was, on the one hand, a wonderful life in that they both had this sense of mission that they were helping our country. My father joined the CIA soon after World War II and the CIA was started really for a noble aim, to stop people like Hitler. And he was about 25 when he joined up and being a public servant and helping our country fight for good in the world was something he really believed in and my mother also believed in that.

TABER

11:09:53
But it turned out to be, of course, a very complex thing because the CIA and working for it is a fraught and complex and morally problematic activity.

REHM

11:10:05
So what did you think, your father worked for the government and if so, how?

TABER

11:10:14
His cover for most of my childhood was what they call official cover, so he was usually called a political attaché at the embassy of whatever country we were in or a consul or some other State Department cover.

REHM

11:10:29
And did you use your real name?

TABER

11:10:33
When I was born, my parents, our whole family was living under a false name, but after that, you know, starting from the time I was 1 or 2, he moved into this official cover where he used his name, you know, mostly. But in his work, he was always using false identities.

REHM

11:10:54
Going to different schools as a young child, moving around, had to have been difficult for you.

TABER

11:11:03
It was really hard. I spent a lot of my time feeling very marginal and out of it in my various schools. And the schools were so different. It was a constant job of adapting and grieving and a lot of times this grief was unprocessed because we were taught to be very brave and stalwart and stoical.

REHM

11:11:24
And you were grieving because of those you were leaving behind?

TABER

11:11:29
Right. I mean, back in those days, you know, we didn't use the telephone much and so each place I left, which were places all over Asia and all over Europe and America, I would leave all the people I loved behind and the place I knew behind.

REHM

11:11:47
There came a night when you were in Taiwan that you write about in the book. You were still a very young child when you finally got the idea that there was something strange going on. Would you read that for us?

TABER

11:12:09
Yes. I was seven years old here and this was one of the times that the secrecy, the spying, kind of peaked out of the murk. Here's the passage. "Then came the steamy night, a night like one hundred others when the whispers that had been encircling me became loud enough to hear when they staked out a claim in the material world. Soon after the deep night phone call and my father's urgent whisper, from my dark bed, I heard an odd and disturbing sound. I heard my father quietly open the front door.

TABER

11:12:48
I heard low voices in the study, my father's Chinese and a Chinese man's Chinese. I tiptoed into the hall and saw a man with a worried face being given a cup of tea by my mother. She and my father wore their Japanese yukatas. I could tell by the way my mother was standing with her arms wrapped tightly around each other that she was afraid.

TABER

11:13:12
Then suddenly my mother turned and saw me. She rushed toward me and hissed, come here, Sara, I'm putting you in Andy's room tonight. But mom, I said. You do as I say, she said, her hands shaking, pushing me out of the hall. She hurriedly made me up a pallet of rush mats and sheets on Andy's floor and made me lie down." Andy is my younger brother. "Now go to sleep, don't say a word and she rushed out of the room.

TABER

11:13:40
Then she did something she had never done before. I heard her lock the bedroom door behind her. Feeling my mother's haste and terror in my own body, I couldn't close my eyes. On my pallet, I listened to my parents and the Chinese man speaking in a hush. There were long yammers and then whispers and then slower yammers in a string.

TABER

11:14:06
I heard my mother hurriedly tiptoeing around and closing doors. Then the Chinese became lower and lower, like an eel lashing in the sea. In the early morning, I heard rustling again, but by the time I got up, though, I could see my bed had been slept in and roiled in by someone other than me. The Chinese man was gone. At breakfast, my father's face was drawn. He looked like he might cry. My mother was only drinking coffee for breakfast. She usually had toast and a boiled egg.

TABER

11:14:41
Her face looked tired, but she was pulsing like a pot of milk about to boil over. Her eyes were shooting streaks of fury. Finally, she had to overflow, even though Andy and I were there. She hissed to my father through clinched teeth as though she was continuing a conversation already begun. That poor man, I agree, but why didn't they send him to the Townsends, they have grown children. I can't believe they'd send him to us, putting our young children at risk.

TABER

11:15:12
"Her voice was like shrieks of lightning and also like stones scraping down a hill. My father's eyes went narrow but then he reached out his hand, okay, he said. Then he pulled my mother's pushing-away-body into a hug and said it's alright Lois, we had to help. He could end up like Lee or the others Lois. My father looked sick. What else could I do? What good do we do these well-meaning people, our friends?"

TABER

11:15:42
But isn't it his choice? My father's lip trembled as if he might burst into tears. Yes, but Chu (sp?) doesn't know what choice he's making as Lee didn't. We're giving them a false choice because we're giving them false hope. These people think they can rely on us."

REHM

11:16:03
Sara Mansfield Taber reading from her new book, "Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy's Daughter." The question is, did that incident awaken in you new questions, new thoughts, new speculation about what kind of home you were living in?

TABER

11:16:34
It really didn't, at that age. What it did was lend to the sense of secrecy in the house. My parents often had these kinds of hushed conversations or this kind you just heard of, kind of anguish mixed with worry and I didn't know what to make of it. As a child, I didn't know what the name of this was and it was only -- I really did not suspect at all that my father was a spy until he told me at age 15.

REHM

11:17:02
He told you?

TABER

11:17:04
Yes.

REHM

11:17:04
What precipitated his telling you?

TABER

11:17:09
Well, my father became more and more worried about his work and increasingly disaffected over time. He was worried about things like putting other people at risk for the United States. And at this point, when I was 15, I was living in Washington and my father was about to go away to Borneo for three months and leaving our family. And I think he was really tired of lying to his children.

TABER

11:17:40
We were very close to him and he didn't want to lie anymore and he decided that we were old enough to know. And we had to keep the secret thereafter, you know, basically for years. And so that's basically why he told us. And for us, for me at least, it was not what you'd think my reaction might be. At the time, I was an anti-war protestor, vehemently against the CIA and what our government was doing in Vietnam. But I adored my father and I had grown up as kind of being a little ambassador for the U.S.

TABER

11:18:16
Overseas, we were the diplomat's kids and we had to put on a face all the time and so this kind of just added to our sense of service.

REHM

11:18:24
Sara Mansfield Taber, her new book, "The Memoir of a Cold War Spy's Daughter" is titled "Born Under An Assumed Name." We'll take a short break and be right back.

REHM

11:20:05
If you've just joined us, Sara Mansfield Taber has written a new memoir all about the fact that her father was a CIA agent during the Cold War. She has titled her new book "Born Under an Assumed Name." She did not learn until she was 15 when her father actually told her that he was CIA, that that's what he had been doing for all of her life. And at the time, you said you were an antiwar activist. How did that affect, that is, his confession? How did that affect your feelings about him?

TABER

11:21:04
It's very strange. I think you forgive your parents things. I just adored my father and it was hard for me to fathom him doing something that contributed to bad things in the world. I think he had a worry that he was doing that, but I, as a kid who adored her father, just couldn't see him as part of what I was protesting against. Later on, I did think about it more. And when I actually visited him in Vietnam later, the complexities of it all came home to me.

REHM

11:21:41
Course, he was one of the last out of Vietnam.

TABER

11:21:46
He was. He left Vietnam a day or two after all the other Americans left. He was running a clandestine radio station that was beaming pro-U.S., pro-South Vietnamese propaganda to the North Vietnamese and Cambodians. And as things were disintegrating in terms of our role in the war, he had this huge staff of Vietnamese that worked for the radio station. And he wanted to make sure they would be able to get out when the Americans left.

TABER

11:22:25
And as the evacuation plans stood, there were only ten slots for his many, many, many employees. He and two other Americans ran the station. So they made a plan and they moved the whole group that worked for the station and their extended families, which were 1300 people, to an island off the coast of Vietnam with the idea that the embassy would find a way for them to get out when the time came. So they went down to this island and got everyone settled basically in a refugee camp.

TABER

11:23:00
And one day, the communicator they had with them radioed Saigon and said, you know, Baker One, Baker One, please come in. And Baker One, the evacuation person said, well, the helicopters are leaving. Get out any way you can. We have no plan for you. So it was pretty wild. And my father really felt this moral obligation to get these Vietnamese, who had worked for us, out because they'd be in huge danger once the North took over. And eventually, they managed to find a U.S. freighter that would take the whole group onboard. They were on the deck of the ship for six days, two babies were born, and they finally got them to Guam.

REHM

11:23:45
I have just sighed a sigh of relief hearing that story. Extraordinary. Once your father told you, did pieces of your life sort of come into shape as perhaps they hadn't before?

TABER

11:24:09
It really did. It just made things fall into place. And furthermore being a kid who felt marginal in a lot of her schools it sort of gave me this club to belong to that I hadn't even known I'd belonged to. So it gave me a sense of belonging and specialness and again, this idea of serving something higher than myself. And it gave me even more empathy for my father whose anguish and conflicts were sort of always in the air. And this made me understand that a bit better.

REHM

11:24:47
And what about your feelings about your mother and the sacrifices she had made?

TABER

11:24:55
My mother's life was so stressful. One important thing for you to know is that the women, the wives of the spies -- most of the spies were men then -- were all graded on their husband's efficiency reports. So...

REHM

11:25:10
The State Department used to do exactly the same thing.

TABER

11:25:12
Exactly, same thing. And, oh my gosh, the pressure on you to have a perfect family because your husband's life -- not his life, but his job could be at risk if you didn't have a perfect family and have no emotional problems, which would supposedly make him a security risk or vulnerable to the enemy. So it was a huge pressure. And my mother actually was very worried about my father and the children's safety a lot. And when they were in Hong Kong when I was a child she actually used to trail my father when he was out to meet someone secretly. She'd be like two blocks behind or three.

REHM

11:25:52
Because she'd be so worried.

TABER

11:25:54
She'd be so worried and she was determined she was going to save him if something happened. So...

REHM

11:25:59
But couldn't she have put him in more risk by doing exactly that?

TABER

11:26:04
I don't understand it, but I know that he was threatened with having acid thrown in his face. So I think that upped the ante for her. Yeah, it seems a little strange that she did that, but it shows the extent of her worry.

REHM

11:26:18
Did you talk with her a great deal about the situation after your father told you his real job?

TABER

11:26:30
You know, I talked to them both much, much, much later in life.

REHM

11:26:33
...later.

TABER

11:26:34
Yeah. I was this adolescent, totally self centered so I didn't...

REHM

11:26:41
As most adolescents can be.

TABER

11:26:43
Yeah, so I didn't ask as much as I should've. But it was just a terrible stress on my mother. And when they finally retired, she really did not want to go abroad any more. She was tired of the whole thing.

REHM

11:26:58
Where did they settle?

TABER

11:27:01
They settled in Washington, yeah, and here they had this whole community of other people like them so it was a great decision.

REHM

11:27:07
CIA people.

TABER

11:27:09
Yeah, they had an amazing community because these people really bond in these situations of hardship. And so they had a great community in Washington.

REHM

11:27:18
You said you felt different from everybody else, but did you also have a sense of glamour and sort of danger rubbing off on you?

TABER

11:27:33
Yes, I definitely kind of got used to glamour and to living in other cultures. I'd say I was pretty much, and maybe still am, addicted to going abroad. It's where I get my energy, what stirs me, what, you know, just really gets my interest going. So I really need regular doses of going abroad just because that was so much my childhood living in different cultures.

TABER

11:28:02
Other consequences of growing up that way were that I really came to value emotional honesty above all because I did grow up in an atmosphere of a lot of repression. And my father never really admitted he had feelings. And so I came to feel that it was very important to be honest about feelings. My father became very depressed later in life and I think that had a lot to do with repressing his feelings due to this atmosphere of stoicism.

REHM

11:28:36
I think if I had been in your shoes I might have felt as though I couldn't trust many people. Did you feel that way?

TABER

11:28:50
It did breed in me a sense of distrust of surfaces. It gave me a sense that there's often something going on underneath. And, you know, not trusting the masks of, you know, happiness and cheer that people do wear. And actually was kind of good training to be a social worker, which I later became. So but, yes, it made me look under things.

REHM

11:29:20
But I wonder whether it helped or hurt your relationships with friends.

TABER

11:29:29
Right. I had kind of a double response to all this moving and stresses. On the one hand, I learned to really attach quickly because, you know, I wouldn't have people...

REHM

11:29:43
You knew you were going to have to leave.

TABER

11:29:45
Right. I wouldn't have people for very long. And on the other hand I'd had this kind of quick release mechanism. When I left a place I learned to put people behind me. But I have to say I was a real attacher so that loss stayed with me.

REHM

11:30:01
There was a time when your father taught you and your brother what you had to do if you were kidnapped.

TABER

11:30:13
Yes. Every place we went, he would sort of go over that again what we should do if we were kidnapped. And he told us the main thing that was good about our situation is that we didn't know a thing. So he thought, you know, he said quickly, the kidnappers will realize you don't know anything and hopefully they'll let you go. And from the time we were very little, even if we didn't know the language where we lived, he would teach us how to say, take me to the American Embassy. So these were his, you know, frail ways of trying to protect us.

REHM

11:30:47
But on the other hand, if you were kidnapped, surely it wouldn't be for what you knew, but rather for ransom or what you could bring.

TABER

11:30:55
Right, right. Absolutely. Yeah, you know, get -- to nab him was the thing.

REHM

11:31:03
Exactly.

TABER

11:31:04
Yeah, yeah.

REHM

11:31:05
And your mother, was she terribly protective of you?

TABER

11:31:10
My mother was this Indiana farm girl, you know, whose mothers sewed their underwear from flour sacks. And here she is in this glamorous strange life. She was both very brave and very protective, extremely protective of us. But her bravery, for instance, she had to learn at one point how to parachute in case when we took over China, she would parachute in with the men. So it was pretty crazy.

REHM

11:31:42
And you, did you have to learn how to parachute?

TABER

11:31:46
I didn't have to learn how to parachute.

REHM

11:31:47
You did not. I must say I think it would be interesting to really understand exactly what your father did.

TABER

11:32:01
Yes. And, you know, I don't know. I just know the broad outlines of his -- I know some things, a very few things he told me like the piece I read to you was about an editor. He was hiding a dissident Taiwanese editor who was writing criticism of Chiang Kai-shek and he was being sought by Chiang Kai-shek's security police. We were trying to support democratic movements. Chiang Kai-shek was a tyrant. So though we supported him because he was anticommunist, we were also trying to develop more democratic movements in Taiwan.

TABER

11:32:42
So this is the kind of thing he did was to support democratic movements in the various countries we lived in.

REHM

11:32:51
Sara Mansfield Taber. Her new book is titled "Born Under an Assumed Name." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. First to Mary Ellen who's in Tampa, Fla. Good morning to you.

MARY ELLEN

11:33:27
Good morning to both of you and thank you for this very important topic. I, too, am a daughter of a OSS Cold War spy that I didn't learn about his activities until being very much older. We were based in Washington, D.C. at the agency. And I will tell you, I'm so pleased to hear this. The toll it took upon my family, my father and his deep depression from activities that to this day, I don't know about and have been unable to learn from the agency, despite nearly 50 years gone by now. But thank you for bringing this to light.

MARY ELLEN

11:34:08
And I'm sure you've encountered a number of other individuals, perhaps in your tours, that have similar stories. My mother eventually became paranoid from it and, you know, passed away under that shadow. And it's a very difficult thing to live a life of secrecy. And what is the best coping strategy that you encountered or that you could share with us?

TABER

11:34:35
Oh thanks, Mary Ellen, for calling. I resonate with what you're saying so much. I just think emotional honesty, emotional processing is absolutely key, you know. Writing this book really helped me go back to all those places, feel what it was like to be there, reencounter the people I'd lost. And so writing actually is one good way to deal with it. But also, of course, talking about it and feeling all the stuff. Writing the book let me grieve again. And, you know, I had had some depression, I think, from just this weight of grief for so many years. And I think feeling it all and getting through it is one of the keys. Thank you so much.

ELLEN

11:35:27
Well, thank you very much.

REHM

11:35:28
Thanks for calling, Mary Ellen. You chose to go into social work, which I would think requires not only a great deal of understanding, but empathy. And I wonder, considering your earlier state of being, whether that was difficult for you.

TABER

11:36:00
I think, in a way, it was like a completely natural thing for me to do. Because I was picking up these subliminal things in my household, I'd learned to be kind of hyper vigilant and watchful of people. And also my concern about my father made me develop a lot of empathy. I mean, I was always sort of feeling out how he was doing and how my mother was doing. And so I think that really did nurture an ability to listen to people and care for them.

TABER

11:36:33
And also, you know, each place I lived, I had to sort of (sounds like) suss out the situation and figure out how to fit in. So I was constantly reading people, so all of that served being a social worker.

REHM

11:36:45
Did your mother suffer depression as your father did?

TABER

11:36:52
She did. I would say she became very depressed late in life. Earlier on, I think she was more the carrier of the anger, you know, the frustrations my father...

REHM

11:37:02
Which is the reverse side of depression.

TABER

11:37:06
Exactly. My father wouldn't admit to his anger so she carried it basically. And there were all these frustrations and she was the one who would be, you know, just furious. And he would sort of be the calming down person.

REHM

11:37:20
Sara Mansfield Taber. She's the author of a brand new book. It's titled "Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy's Daughter." We'll take a short break. When we come back, we have many callers waiting. We'll get to as many as we can.

REHM

11:40:02
Sara Mansfield Taber has written a book about her father as a Cold War spy, but she's really written it as a memoir. It's titled, "Born Under an Assumed Name, The Memoir of Cold War Spy's Daughter." She's here in the studio and we're going to go back to the phones after we clarify one word you've used. And that is you said you led a glamorous life. What does that mean?

TABER

11:40:42
Well, it was amazing living in all these countries. We had fabulous houses in each place we lived, owned by the embassy or rented by the embassy. Usually we had servants, a housekeeper, often a cook with wonderful food. We went to these glamorous parties where you had to get dressed up and be polite. And it was this very sort of cordial, diplomatic world. And so you kinda got to feel special all the time.

TABER

11:41:14
You know, it included things like I rode ponies in the palace grounds of the queen's, you know, lands in Holland. And so it was very glamorous. And then we would come back to America and be just ordinary middle-class people in a little tiny house. So it was this kind of bifurcated life.

REHM

11:41:34
And you got used to it, in both situations.

TABER

11:41:38
Right. Right.

REHM

11:41:40
You could accustom yourself to it. Did you ever ask why the differences?

TABER

11:41:47
Well, my parents, you know, just explained it, that we got a sort of a representational allowance. We got more money because my parents had to entertain all the time. My parents entertained or went out, you know, four or five times a week. It was intensive work doing the socializing at that point. I think things are a little bit less that way than that now.

REHM

11:42:12
And of course, they're also different in that years ago, one could never admit you were with the CIA. Now, people do so quite frequently.

TABER

11:42:27
Yeah, well, the people who work on the analytic side, the intelligence gathering...

REHM

11:42:32
Yes.

TABER

11:42:32
...they can all say they work for the CIA.

REHM

11:42:35
Well, back then even they couldn't.

TABER

11:42:36
Right, right, yeah.

REHM

11:42:37
But now they can.

TABER

11:42:38
Yeah.

REHM

11:42:40
All right. Let's go to Cape Cod, Mass. Hi there, Kat.

KAT

11:42:46
Oh, me? Hi.

REHM

11:42:47
Yeah, you. Hi.

KAT

11:42:49
I'm actually shaking because this is all opening up in my body, but I'm so glad somebody's talking about this because for years because I was sworn to secrecy and I wanna say the hell with it. Excuse me. I was married to a man who was the advisor with the CIA to Joseph Mobutu. Actually, they were setting him up and it was during the rebellion in the '60s and all kinds of God-awful things were happening.

KAT

11:43:35
And I had six children. We were there, you know, just had nothing to do with the embassy or anything else to go to to ask anything. I was just pretty much on my own with a place that we rented, which had chickens and stuff to take care of. Anyway, I had the diseases, the sicknesses, the schools.

REHM

11:44:10
Oh, my.

KAT

11:44:11
The biggest thing was water. I had no water sometimes for three days. It just would be shut off. And when there was, if it was in the middle of the night, get up and run and fill up something and then boil it for absolutely everything.

REHM

11:44:30
Sure.

KAT

11:44:31
It was depressing. I couldn't talk to my husband about this so it was -- and talk about our relationship was kind of very superficial in a way. And there was no glamour with an embassy, which now and then we would be invited to like an ambassador's thing or something. And I didn't have any decent clothes to wear so that would be interesting. But my husband worked with the Belize army newspaper for one thing.

KAT

11:45:09
So we connected with them a lot. And, you know, we had softball games on weekends and...

REHM

11:45:22
Sure.

KAT

11:45:23
...stuff with Belize army guys, which was funny because they'd bring their wives and the wives could slam the ball out of the park (unintelligible).

REHM

11:45:30
Oh, my. You know, I'll bet, Sara, that there are many, many stories like this out there. She talks about being in the Congo. Very different from being in...

TABER

11:45:45
Um-hum.

REHM

11:45:45
...in China or Taiwan or wherever.

KAT

11:45:48
Yeah, absolutely. That sounds like an incredible strain, incredibly difficult. And you didn't have this diplomatic cover and this diplomatic...

REHM

11:45:56
Exactly.

TABER

11:45:57
...luxury that I usually had. I grew up in very poor countries. So I was surrounded by poverty, but I didn't live on the local level as you were doing. That sounds so difficult. And these stories people just don't hear about them, this level of stress for people doing service for our country.

REHM

11:46:16
Precisely. Kat, thank you and thank you for calling. Let's go to College Park, Md. Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS

11:46:27
Good morning, Diane. I had a very similar experience to the author Taber. So I thought I'd share it. Only it was slightly different. My parents were both clandestine CIA workers and, you know, I'm proud of the work they did for our country. I mean they were basically engaged most of their careers in fighting the Soviet Union. And, you know, it was honorable work, but at an early age I was told in no uncertain terms what they were doing because it was important to my parents that I not accidentally overhear something and reveal what they were doing.

CHRIS

11:47:13
So at age nine, actually, we were stationed in a hell-hole of a third-world country. I can share that with the author's feelings on all these things. There weren't any American kids for me to play with. So my parents encouraged me to read at an early age. And they encouraged me to read like adolescent-type things. And I started reading a little earlier than most. I was reading the novel written for older kids and the word espionage came up.

CHRIS

11:47:46
And one morning, I asked my mother what the word espionage meant and she kinda turned white. And this I think is in way of an amusing anecdote. And that very night my mom and dad brought me aside in their bedroom. It was all very solemn. And they said, well, you know, your dad doesn't really do this. This is what he does. And at that point, I was taught to be careful about whatever I said to anybody and to maintain their, you know, fake identities.

REHM

11:48:18
Sure, sure. And I'll bet you, Sara, were told that, though your father had explained to you he was a CIA agent, you had to be very careful of what you said.

TABER

11:48:36
Absolutely. Yeah and you had it even younger. I mean, it kind of elevated you to the adult world prematurely, in a way. You had a huge responsibility to keep that secret, as I did. And yeah, even when my father retired he actually negotiated with the agency to be able to say he had simply worked for the agency without giving anything else away because he didn't wanna continue that lie. But it became a kind of habit to not say what he did. And I kept the secret for years and years and years.

REHM

11:49:12
As you grew older though, you describe a turning point...

TABER

11:49:18
Um-hum.

REHM

11:49:19
...when you ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Japan. What happened?

TABER

11:49:26
Um-hum. Well, it was a very harrowing, bizarre, bewildering thing that happened to me. And it remained a mystery for a long time. It baffled the doctors, as well as everyone else. What happened was I was going along very happily, going to a boarding school in Japan.

REHM

11:49:45
How old?

TABER

11:49:46
I was 16.

REHM

11:49:47
Okay.

TABER

11:49:49
And my parents were actually a day and a half away by plane on the island of Borneo. And I loved this school. I enjoyed the students there. And what happened is simply one day I woke up out of a fever. I had been sick. And I was someone else. It was like I had had an identity explosion. I changed from this conscientious, you know, sweet good-student type of girl into a marauding pirate. I mean, I was doing things like telling people I'd been drinking in the graveyard behind the school.

TABER

11:50:28
And I went so far as to pour coffee all over the dean of students' papers.

REHM

11:50:33
Oh, my gosh.

TABER

11:50:34
And I was completely disinhibited. It was like my stoical self, you know, exploded.

REHM

11:50:42
Somehow was overwhelmed.

TABER

11:50:44
Yeah, I mean it was kind of like this faded bizarre thing, that my cover was blown or I had to give up my cover of perfection and because this -- you know, it was basically a kind of psychotic episode, though not the typical kind. And I ended up -- my parents were called from Borneo. My mother had to basically hitchhike on planes and actually...

REHM

11:51:08
Hum.

TABER

11:51:09
...was in the cargo hold for a time trying to get to me. And she and my father later came and they took me to Tokyo to the Tachikawa Air Force base. And I was hospitalized in a ward of Vietnam shell-shocked victims, young boys, young draftees coming back from the war with severe PTSD and horrible problems. And I was the only girl, age 16, hair down to my waist, anti-war protestor, wearing love beads in this ward of many, many young, very troubled young men.

TABER

11:51:47
And it was a life-changing experience.

REHM

11:51:50
How so?

TABER

11:51:51
The amazing thing about it is by being in group therapy with these people, seeing these troubled men, I mean some were just flagrantly psychotic and seeing things. Some were just whaling with grief about a buddy having been lost. Another was a catatonic young man who would just lie in a heap on the floor or stand stock still. And they used to make him stand by his bed. And they would order him to make his bed. And he would slowly, slowly, like, pull the sheets up. And then the minute he did they'd rip it apart and say, you make that bed.

TABER

11:52:32
And it was all to try to get a reaction out of him because he had just, like, resigned from the world. So all of this was so, I mean, just a huge, unbelievable experience for a girl. But in group therapy with them, these airmen basically taught me, this stoical girl, the value of being open about your feelings and that vulnerability, sharing our vulnerability was how you made connection.

TABER

11:53:05
And that completely changed my life; along with I also had a psychiatrist who basically taught me to name my feelings. And it just made me a more open person. And I think just has served me so well. It was a revolutionizing experience coming from that stoical secret life to this.

REHM

11:53:26
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How long were you there?

TABER

11:53:33
Just about two weeks. So a short time for a revolution.

REHM

11:53:36
Wow, wow.

TABER

11:53:37
Yeah.

REHM

11:53:39
Interesting. All right. Let's go to Jenison, Mich. Andre, you're on the air.

ANDRE

11:53:48
Hello. You mentioned you were once a anti-war activist. Have you joined the Occupy Wall Street Movement? And if so, what is your opinion of the movement? And if not, what question would you ask of the movement?

TABER

11:54:07
I'm, you know, my opinion about these things is as good as anybody's. I'm not a political expert or anything, but I'm certainly very concerned about our government. And I've visited the Wall Street Movement and actually have given them a donation. I am concerned about the way our country's going.

REHM

11:54:30
What question would you ask of the movement?

TABER

11:54:39
You know, this really isn't on my mind at the moment. The thing that concerns me more is just the complexities of the CIA and what I saw, just about how the CIA can do great good in the world, but also sometimes intelligence that's gathered is manipulated for political purposes. Or good intelligence is denied for political purposes. And that's something that's really concerns me about our government. It's kind of the slippery slope involved with the CIA.

REHM

11:55:22
So having lived a life somehow within the fold of the CIA you have great questions...

TABER

11:55:35
Um-hum.

REHM

11:55:36
...about what it does and how it does it.

TABER

11:55:40
Exactly. I think it can have very noble aims, but it's a very murky terrain with many moral questions associated with it. And I just, you know, this is my opinion now. I just wish that we would be very, very careful about what we do because when we don’t question enough what's going on the country can make a lot of mistakes.

REHM

11:56:00
Did you say those things to your mother or your father before they passed away?

TABER

11:56:06
Yes. And my father was actually a liberal. And he was really dismayed about the Vietnam War, even while he was there at the end of the war and concerned about what the agency was doing. At the same time, he was always this great patriot who believed we had to have an intelligence agency because the world is a dangerous place. But that we had to be very careful and we should be more transparent about what was going on and respective of other governments more and basically, look at history and be very thoughtful.

REHM

11:56:41
Good thoughts for now and always. Sara Mansfield Taber, her new memoir is titled "Born Under an Assumed Name." Thank you for being here.

TABER

11:56:55
Thank you so much, Diane.

REHM

11:56:56
My pleasure. Thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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