Victim’s work was a secret to most

CIA ties possible for Mass. man

By John R. Ellement and Bryan Bender
Globe Staff / January 1, 2010

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It wasn’t until Harold Brown Jr. left his hometown of Bolton, a small Central Massachusetts community with a farming history, that he hungered to see more of the world.

“The running joke is, ‘Where’s Harold now?’ ’’ said William D. Spratt, a friend of Brown’s from their high school days.

Spratt said that over the years, he learned never to question Brown about what he did for the Army or his more recent employers. “I kind of knew not to ask,’’ Spratt said. “It was a job and he had to go where he had to go. . . . When I saw him, he was a friend and a family man.’’

Brown, 37, was one of eight Americans killed Wednesday in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber infiltrated a US forward operating base near the volatile border with Pakistan. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

Yesterday, the CIA said seven of those killed worked for the nation’s spy agency, but did not specify who the eighth person worked for.

Over the years, Spratt said, Brown was sent to a number of overseas posts, including Bosnia and Iraq. Brown’s mother, Barbara, said her son told her he worked for the State Department. She said he had been deployed to Afghanistan since April, and that he was formerly an Army intelligence officer.

The true nature of Brown’s work in Afghanistan - even the agency he worked for - remains a mystery. A State Department official said he could not provide any information about Brown. But a statement from the CIA yesterday called those killed “colleagues,’’ lauding them for “doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism.’’ The statement did not reveal the identifies of those killed.

CIA officers serving overseas often use the State Department as their official “cover’’ to avoid revealing the true nature of their work and as a measure of personal protection.

More details emerged yesterday about the attack, in Khost Province. The New York Times reported that the suicide bomber was wearing the uniform of the Afghan National Army. The bomber eluded security to reach an area near the gymnasium on the base, which authorities said was used as a hub to collect information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plot missions to kill Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

With Brown’s background, several US officials said, it was likely he was gathering intelligence for the US-led war effort there. They also pointed out that the CIA is operating armed drones in the area that have been used to strike Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan’s lawless border region.

Growing up in Bolton, a town of about 5,000, Brown often saw his parents helping others. They worked as reserve police officers, volunteer firefighters, and ambulance attendants. His father is Bolton’s director of public works.

Brown absorbed the concept of helping your neighbor, his mother said yesterday, but chose to display it on the much larger stage.

“He did what he wanted to do to make a better world. How could anyone not want that?’’ Barbara D. Brown asked. “Do I wish he lived to be an old man? Of course. What mother doesn’t want that for her son?’’

Harold Brown graduated from Nashoba Regional Valley High School in 1990 and from George Washington University four years later. While in college, he met his future wife, Janet. Brown was the father of three children, ranging from age 2 to 12. He and his wife lived in Fairfax, Va.

After college, Brown was commissioned as an officer in the Army and spent most of his four-year enlistment at the Army’s top post for intelligence work in Arizona. He then joined the Army Reserve and was reactivated in 2003.

Before that, he worked for in Maynard and then left to work for SAIC, a defense contractor based in Virginia. His mother said he was encouraged by an acquaintance to join the State Department.

Brown was married in 1994 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Clinton by the Rev. Thomas V. Walsh, who yesterday described Brown as “top-notch.’’

“He was somebody anyone would have been proud to have as a son,’’ Walsh said. “He was just a very good husband, father, all-around person.’’

Brown, Sprat, and another childhood friend, Paul Moran, formed a trio that persisted through the years. Moran was in Virginia yesterday comforting Brown’s widow and children.

Spratt said Brown wasn’t particularly adventurous during their teenage years - he did love water skiing and other “fun sports’’ - but once he left Bolton and saw some of the world, that changed.

“He definitely loved to travel; he kind of liked the different experiences,’’ he said.

Spratt said he and Brown got together this summer with their families, and he offered this succinct summary of his friend: “He was the all-American guy, someone who was a great dad, a faithful husband, and someone who had a strong faith in God and loved his country.’’

In a letter of condolence to CIA employees yesterday, President Obama called the deaths “a sad occasion in the history of the CIA.’’ Before yesterday’s attack, 90 CIA agents had been killed in the line of duty since the agency was established in 1947.

“These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life,’’ Obama wrote. “The United States would not be able to maintain the freedom and security that we cherish without decades of service from the dedicated men and women of the CIA.’’

According to his mother, Brown’s funeral will be held at St. John’s, his family’s parish for decades.

If he worked for the CIA, Brown will be eligible for an anonymous star on the memorial wall inside CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., in honor of CIA officers who have lost their lives in service of their country.