Spies like us: CIA couple chronicles real-life adventures

March 15, 2011 7:52:49 PM PDT
An East Bay couple has a fascinating, but dangerous history. They worked for the CIA and met in a war zone. Now they are leaving most of their past behind, but their real life story is the kind of stuff you see only in movies.

George Clooney's 2005 action thriller, Syrianna, was based on the experiences of ex-CIA spy Robert Baer. He now lives in Berkeley with his wife and former CIA partner, Dayna. They have a 3-year-old old daughter, Kyber, and a bunch of dogs and cats.

Their lives are so different now compared to life in the CIA, living in war zones, always on the run from danger, and always undercover with aliases.

Dayna's alias was "Riley." Robert had more than a few.

"My name when I was in Sarajevo was Harold, but I used to keep about 20 passports in my pocket with different names, sometimes they'd been in a safe, too," says Robert. "It was hard to keep up with different nationalities."

"Which is really transgressive," says Dayna. "You're not supposed to carry around several different names."

Dayna was a by-the-book CIA agent. Robert says he did what he needed to do. The first time they met, on a mission in Sarajevo, is an example. He was there chasing the terrorist group, Hezbollah ? Iranian-backed Shia militants from Lebanon. Dayna was shocked by the car he was driving.

"I was trained to blend in, not attract attention, go under the radar," she says. "He was driving a lime green car with Orangina written down the side."

"Well, I have my own philosophy and for me it was like the purloined letter -- hide it in the open. What spy would drive a billboard on wheels?" says Robert. "So they'd think the guy was nuts, if anything."

It was not love at first sight for them.

"I was very wary and thought he was a little crazy. I had just been assigned to work for him in Sarajevo -- it was the middle of a war zone," says Dayna.

Robert says, Riley the spy had some serious skills.

"She can run somebody off the road at 65 mph, tap them and the car flips," he says. "It's a good skill to have."

They were married to other people during the time they were at the CIA, but they couldn't talk about their work and couldn't say where they were, so relationships with their families were strained and their marriages fell apart. Robert never knew Dayna's real name until they met a year later in Washington at headquarters.

They decided to create a life together, so they got out of the agency. They've written a book about their adventures, called "The Company We Keep." They adopted a child in one of their favorite countries, Pakistan. And now they are on the most important mission of their lives with little Kyber.

"It's everything," says Dayna.

"Most people come to this conclusion earlier than we did, but you know, we're slow learners, what can I say?" says Robert.


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