Spy Story

Con man or super spook — either way, Roland Carnaby wasn't supposed to meet his death on a Houston highway in a high-speed chase with the cops.

Two shots rang out.

One bullet, from Washington's gun, landed in the door of the Jeep. The other, from Foster, found its mark in Carnaby's back.

The officers later claimed that they saw Carnaby grab a "dark and shiny object" that they thought was a gun. It turned out to be his BlackBerry, which was lying next to Carnaby's body as officers handcuffed him. Bleeding badly, Carnaby began kicking out blindly. His phone records show he tried frantically to make several calls, but was only able to push random digits. He died before an ambulance could get him to the hospital.

Roland Carnaby's widow, Susan, is suing the City of Houston over the shooting of her husband.
Chris Curry
Roland Carnaby's widow, Susan, is suing the City of Houston over the shooting of her husband.
After Carnaby's untimely death, speculation was rampant over whether he really was a spook.
Courtesy Susan Carnaby
After Carnaby's untimely death, speculation was rampant over whether he really was a spook.

Inside the Jeep, police found three guns and the book A Divided Life, about a British double agent who worked for Soviet Russia.

Immediately reporters started trying to figure out who Carnaby really was. All the initial news stories had the same plot: HPD killed a man claiming to be CIA who was also the local chapter president of the national Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

Conspiracy theories flooded the Web, claiming the CIA or some foreign intelligence agency had assassinated Carnaby. His friends and family swore Carnaby was the real McCoy and that he knew many CIA and FBI big shots, as well as a host of local law-enforcement officers. But the CIA and FBI denied ever employing him, and HPD Chief Harold Hurtt and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia publicly claimed they hardly knew the man.

Who was this guy? everyone wondered. Was he really an international CIA officer, killed in a routine traffic stop in Texas?

A year and a half later, the Houston Press has obtained new information in the form of depositions from former intelligence officers that appears to establish that Roland Carnaby was the real deal — at least for part of his life.

Given that the nature of a spy is to live a secretive, double life filled with half-truths and contradictions, how then to determine whether someone is in fact an intelligence officer, an impostor, or perhaps a sometime spook who has embellished his résumé?

After the shooting, U.S. intelligence agencies immediately distanced themselves from Roland Carnaby. CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano, whose name appeared in Carnaby's BlackBerry, said Carnaby was never a CIA officer or contract employee and that he had no memory of ever meeting or speaking with Carnaby. FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap also said that Carnaby was never an employee or contractor, as did Secret Service spokesman Darrin Blackford. All three, however, said they could not confirm or deny whether Carnaby ever worked as an informant because, as Dunlap put it, "No one would give us information if we provided their names to the public."

Gene Poteat, a former CIA officer, the president of AFIO and Carnaby's boss at the national nonprofit organization based in McLean, Virginia, echoes the agencies' claims.

"Roland came to us as a U.S. citizen, not a former intelligence officer," he says, "and his application indicated that he did not claim to be a former intelligence officer. Any U.S. citizen can join us."

Hurtt has said he did not know Carnaby, and Harris County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Christina Garza says Garcia also did not know Carnaby — a statement in conflict with a deposition Garcia made after Carnaby's death at the request of his widow's attorneys. In that deposition, Garcia said he did know Carnaby and that once, while dining at Morton's Steakhouse with Carnaby, he saw Carnaby talk briefly with former president George H.W. Bush.

Throughout his life, Carnaby had amassed a number of CIA plaques, certificates and statues. Former CIA officer David Addler, however, says he's looked at them and determined they're fakes. "They're clearly not legitimate," he says. "They have misspellings and some of them even have glue leaking out of them."

There is a picture of Carnaby at the CIA headquarters in Virginia where he is standing behind a huge seal in the entrance to the compound. Some of Carnaby's friends, former intelligence officers, claim a person must have clearance in order to stand that far into the building. Gimigliano, however, says that while that part of the building is not routinely open to the public, the CIA does allow many prearranged tours into the area for groups, including AFIO.

In 2003, the Pearland Police Department filed a report from a woman claiming that Carnaby showed her a badge and tried to pull her over while she was driving. Even Carnaby's ex-wife, Paula Burch, told the Houston Chronicle that she doubted that Carnaby was in the CIA and that he told "very big, tall stories that were hard to believe."

Based on these claims and on appearances, from Carnaby's large spy novel collection to tales of his constant bragging, throwing knives into floors at restaurants and keeping a police strobe light in his Jeep, it seems Carnaby was an insecure man desperate to live out his fantasies of being a spy.

But then how to explain the depositions of two former intelligence officers — both friends of Carnaby — who say he was a player in the U.S. intelligence community?

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