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CIA RETIREE NOW SERVES AS DEACON, VOLUNTEER.

How does a CIA operative become a charity ringleader?

Al Caffrey says it was a natural progression.

When Al retired as Los Angeles field office chief for the Central Intelligence Agency in 1983, he was already living in Agoura and had been involved since 1977 in helping with food and toy drives at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in Los Angeles.

He began to work with Manna, the local food bank for the needy and became a member of its board.

Nine years ago, he became a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church. Besides giving his time locally - he can give communion, baptize people, marry couples and bury the dead - he spends a good deal of time as a chaplain for AIDS patients at a Catholic facility for men in the Crenshaw District.

``Many AIDS patients are abandoned by their families and even by friends,'' Al explained. ``I rap with people who have AIDS and bring them charity and love.''

In 1987, Al, an investment counselor and a well-known movie star used their own money to form Outreach for the Needy. ``We take surplus food to the inner city, Dolores Mission in East L.A., the poorest parish in the Boyle Heights area.''

Al is proud of Outreach. ``Not a cent goes to overhead. Everything we picked up, we'd give.''

His work has been on hold since he and his wife, Agnes, were rear-ended while driving five weeks ago. The loaded van was hit and pushed over two lanes on the Ventura Freeway then hit again by a woman who was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. The van was totaled, and Al and Agnes are recovering from injuries. Agnes received a concussion and was bleeding so badly after the accident that Al at first thought she had died.

Al had a long career in military intelligence and later the CIA. His involvement with intelligence began during World War II, when he was sent accidentally from the Army to an Air Force unit and ended up in aerial photographic reconnaissance. After the war, he was asked if he wanted to make it a career, and he accepted.

Besides becoming knowledgeable about intelligence techniques as a ``spook,'' Al became an expert on Asian countries. During part of the Vietnam War he was in charge of operations in northeast Thailand, briefing pilots on the best routes in and out of North Vietnam.

When he retired from the military in 1969, Al was asked to join the CIA.

He enjoyed both the military and the CIA. ``I think that, unlike anything else I've ever experienced, intelligence allows you to use your native abilities. You can think for yourself. There's no book on the situation.''

He pointed out that intelligence is mostly information gathering; more than 90 percent of the information comes from public sources. When the CIA wanted research done on the inland waterways of the Soviet Union, maps of these waterways were found in the Library of Congress.

The world has made rapid changes. What were once sophisticated and expensive military electronic devices, Al said, have now become less expensive and are sold commercially for general use.

A love of the military seems to run in the family. The Caffreys, married 50 years, raised three adopted daughters; their youngest has just been accepted by the Air Force Academy.

Al praises his wife's understanding and says he couldn't have had his career without her. He says that they ``never had any major disagreements.'' Before required business trips, be it military or CIA, ``I would call and say winter bag or summer bag. I'd have two to four hours to get home and prepare.''

Al, who's pushing 76, doesn't plan on giving up his Outreach program. ``I'm hoping someone comes along and replaces the truck, and I hope to get a younger man to drive it.''

MEMO: Victoria Giraud welcomes comments and suggestions for columns. Call her at (818) 386-9399.

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Photo: (Color) Al Caffrey

A history of aiding the needy
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 3, 1996
Words:671
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