CIA spy turned author John Sager has 26 books and counting

Most of his books can be checked out at the Mercer Island Library.

By Kienan Briscoe, For the Reporter

Mercer Island resident and former CIA spy John Sager, 93, started authoring books the year his wife died in 2011.

Now, just 12 years later, he has 26 books under his belt including memoirs, novels and anthologies.

Most of Sager’s novels revolve around the theme of espionage, but not all, he said. As a devout Christian, he also incorporates his faith into many of his themes.

Sager was born in Seattle in October 1929, and attended Sumner Elementary School. He learned to speak Russian at the University of Washington while studying for a degree in International Relations. Around that time, the CIA was a looking for people who spoke the language, and it was difficult to gain clearances on many Eastern Europeans, so he joined in 1955 while the Cold War still persisted. He worked in Iran for five years before transferring to Cairo, later becoming Deputy Chief of Station in Moscow for three years.

It was both an exciting and terrifying time to be in Russia as an American, Sager said, because he left the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. After JFK’s death, conspiracies began to circulate that the KGB might be involved, considering a year prior, the Cuban Missile Crises brought the U.S. and the Soviet Union the closest they have ever been to nuclear conflict when U.S. deployment of nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey was matched by the Soviets deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba.

In the early 1950s, the CIA was trying to insert agents into the Soviet Union. They did this by finding guys who were willing to parachute into the country. As soon as they did this, however, the aircraft would turn around and head back to base, so the Soviet Union was able to pinpoint that location. It didn’t take the KGB too long to find them and none of them survived, Sager said. Their solution was to try and send people in by balloon because balloons were harder to track by radar. This operation was Sager’s specialty during the bulk of the war.

One memory that stands out above all else, from Sager’s time overseas, was while living in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, when an ambassador there took him up on a roof to show him where the Blue and the White Nile converge.

Sager’s love for writing blossomed while in the CIA, writing reports and eventually propaganda during the Iraq war to persuade Iraqi parents to not let their children side with Saddam Hussein. He was paid 26 cents a word.

“When you work for the CIA as long as I did, you do a lot of writing,” said Sager. “Sometimes you have somebody looking over your shoulder to make it better. So writing comes very naturally to me.”

Sager’s wife, and love of his life, Joan, passed away on June 23, 2011. At that time, Sager took his first leap into writing books, compiling all of their old emails into an anthology entitled “A Tiffany Monday.” After their first date, Sager went to work on a Monday, wearing the same shirt he had on the day before. It smelled of Joan’s perfume, he recalls — the brand Tiffany — hence the title.

The two first met in a Sumner elementary school during the fall of 1935. Sager said he fell in love with her at the age of seven and could never get out of his mind. The reconnected years later and were married shortly after.

To this day Sager’s retirement home apartment is adorned with Joan’s paintings, a poem that was read at her memorial, and myriad photographs of her.

“She was more than you will ever know. She was the real deal. She could sing, she could cook, but unfortunately her breast cancer came back and that’s what killed her,” said Sager.

“A Tiffany Monday” was published in 2012 by a Christian publishing house based out of Southern California. Just 12 years later, Sager now has 26 books under his belt, averaging more than two books a year.

“That’s all I do,” said Sager. “I get a royalty check every now and then for fifteen dollars. It’s no way to make a living.”

His books include: “A Tiffany Monday,” “Joan’s Gallery,” “Uncovered,” “Night Flight,” “Operation Night Hawk,” “Moscow at Midnight,” “The Jihadists’ Revenge,” “Mole,” “Capital Crises,” “God’s Listeners,” “Crescent Blood,” “Sasha—From Stalin to Obama,” “Shahnoza—Super Spy,” “Target Oahu,” “Aerosal,” “The Health Center,” “The Conservator,” “The Evil Alliance,” “Tehran Revisited,” “St. Barnabas,” “The Caravan,” “Senator McPherson,” “Meetings in Moscow,” “Madam President,” “Kiwi Country,” and “Inside Iran.”

All of Sager’s books are self-published and available for purchase on Amazon. Additionally, most of them can be checked out at the Mercer Island Library.

Out of all of his works, Sager shared his favorite is his first novel, “Night Flight,” which is loosely based on his experience sending balloons into Russia during his CIA years.

A recent accident that led Sager to the hospital put his writing on standstill for a while, but he’s back working on two new books: “A Gospel Revisited,” an anthology reviewing the scriptures of the Bible, and a new novel called “Emily” about a woman living in a rundown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The first of these are in the hands of a publisher and should be out within the next month, he said. “Emily,” on the other hand, has a “long way to go.”

“At 93, my imagination is not nearly as good as it was ten years ago,” said Sager. “So it’s more of a struggle at the computer than it used to be.”

When Sager was younger, he enjoyed fly fishing, piloting glider planes, and building models. These days, however, he shared that writing is all he does. He first got into piloting when coming back from a tour in Moscow, detouring through southern Sweden. He saw a sail plane up in the sky, figured out where it landed, and the minute he got home he ordered that same glider for $5,000. As for fly fishing, he had to give it up when it became too dangerous to wade in streams.