News & Community

Cameo: Ed Hale

We talk to the Baltimore businessman and former CIA agent.

In your new memoir, Hale Storm, you disclose that you worked for the CIA for about a decade. How and when were you recruited?
I was recruited in 1992 by Buzzy Krongard who was the chairman of [investment bank] Alex. Brown at the time. I was chairman of the board of Bank of Baltimore and we happened to be in the same building.

What was Mr. Krongard’s relationship to the CIA at the time?
I’m not sure exactly. I don’t think it was official. But eventually, he became the number three person in the CIA under George Tenet, but at that time I don’t think he had any official position.

So, presumably, he had contacts at the CIA and they were looking for someone to do X, Y, Z, and he said, ‘I know someone who might be good for that.’
Yes, that’s correct. It was a position that they thought I would be a good person to get agents into foreign countries because of my business, which was pro-soccer, banking, and shipping.

So how did it work?
[The CIA] would either send me a resume or the handlers would come over with people who were to be given credentials by me—HaleTrans, Baltimore Blast—I would hand them shirts, hats, cards, and they were sent on their way. They were not [my] employees. They were, in fact, paid by the agency. That’s how their compensation was, so it didn’t get too complicated. I would just give them identities that these people were employed by me, as opposed to somebody who was a “military attaché” or a “cultural attaché” to an embassy over in Libya. Everybody knew you were a spy. In this case, it was undetectable. In fact, they were never, ever caught.

None of them were ever caught?
Nope. I was the only was who ever was.

How did you get caught?
I was in Israel with one of the agents, and he was on his way to other places in the Middle East. I was at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, and they came in and grabbed me out of a meeting and took me and interrogated me and let me go because I was not there for Israel, I was there shepherding somebody through into other countries, which I can not talk about.

When you say “they”, who is “they”? Israeli intelligence?
It was something called Shin Bet, which is the people who watched over The Mossad.

Do you remember what year this was?
I’m guessing around 1997, 1998, something like that.

So what? They just barged into a boardroom meeting?
They came in and politely asked me to come with them, and I did. I also had an office in Gstaad, Switzerland, and these same people, same agents showed up at my office in Gstaad like a week or two later just to make sure it was real.

Were you scared?
Not really. I’m not a fool, but I was not scared because I wasn’t doing anything. I have a great affection for the Israelis, and we were on the same page, and I think they figured that out and let me go.

Did Mr. Krongard or anyone else at the CIA ever explain why they picked you?
They could have gone to any number of people, and I’m not aware that they went to anybody else, maybe they did. But I was the one that was most plausible because I was in international shipping. I had tugboats and barges. They would go to the Mediterranean. They would go into Alexandria, Egypt, to Cyprus. They would go to all these, you know, maybe unfriendly countries, and there was a reason for me to send people to go and make sure that everything was being transacted properly, and that the vessels arrived on time, and things like this. So it was reasonable to expect that my people had a reason to be there, as opposed to somebody else in Baltimore who wasn’t in the shipping business, for example. That’s what made this work. Plus, the fact that I had a pro-soccer team, and I have foreign players. I think there was one time I had some Iraqis playing for me.

So you got out of the CIA when Mr. Krongard left. When was that?
I left in 2001. In 2001, the gloves were off after 9/11, and they didn’t really need me as much as they did before. I’m just surmising that. So, Buzzy was leaving. George Tenet had left, and then he had someone else come in that he didn’t really respect, so we left. I was asked several years later to do it again with people that I didn’t really know who. So I decided not to because I didn’t have Buzzy Krongard to fall back on it the event that something happened—and that’s no small thing that I just told you.

It sounds like your trust in Mr. Krongard was the deciding factor for you.
If somebody else asked me, I probably would have done it, but I wouldn’t have done it as readily as I had. But it was really done because of my trust in him. I knew he was a patriot and he would do things the right way.

So what does he think about you disclosing all this?
He’s not happy. He says I shouldn’t do it. I did it. I went down and visited the agency and told them I was doing it. They weren’t too happy with it either. So the actual chapter about this was sent to them, and I never got a response, so I’m going to take that as tacit agreement.

Well, there’s a lot more in your autobiography.
Yeah, you guys covered me. The name of the book is Hale Storm and two Baltimore magazine articles covered me back during my Baltimore Blast days and shipping days. The title of the story was “Hale Storm.” And then, a different publisher, a different time frame, in 1991 or 1992, when I did a hostile takeover of the Bank of Baltimore, which was a New York Stock Exchange bank, that was [called] “Hale Storm.” These guys that came up with the same title, Kevin Cowherd and [publisher] Apprentice House, came up with it independently, not even knowing about that. So there’s a recurring theme here—I don’t know why.

You started in shipping and moved into banking and you also own a sports team and did real-estate development as well. This all gets covered in the book, but you also talk about your personal life. Why did you want to do that?
Well, I was an absent father. I was not a good father. I wasn’t a good husband. I was just never around. And there were times when I wasn’t a good boyfriend. And [Fox 45 anchor] Jennifer Gilbert was my girlfriend for a few years, and it created a problem when I would just leave and not tell her that I was leaving. Now, she knows. She has been interviewed for the book. She understands why. I haven’t dated her for 10 years plus—I don’t even know how long it has been. She didn’t know about some of this. She knew that I had an interesting life. But when I was able to actually talk about this I did get with her and tell her. I got with my children. One of my daughters is 30, one is 27, and I have a son [who is] 47, so I got with them all and said, ‘Here’s what I did.’ I was not a good father. I wasn’t around as much as I really needed to be at the time. I mean, all three have turned out very well, extremely well, but at the same time, I wasn’t really good. I’m a much better grandfather than I was as a father. So now, I’ve filled in a lot of the blanks and that’s basically what I’ve done here.

What was the response from your kids? Did they understand? Did they forgive you?
I think so. [My daughters] were both interviewed. I think that my two daughters have forgiven me, and we’re very close. One is a speech therapist up in Philadelphia and got her master’s at Towson, and the other one is married, mother of a 1-year-old. I also have three grandsons, twins that are 10 and their older brother is 11.

I was not really a good father. When I was around, it was very frenetic. I’ll give you an example: I would fly in from Taiwan, stay here for a few days, and then I’d be off to Israel. So I would have like, 10-day absences, two-week absences. And I’d be upside down. When I’d get home I wasn’t the greatest of all company because I’d be jetlagged, not knowing what timeframe I was in. I’m not normal.

What do you mean by that?
I’ve done all these different things. At one point I’ve had my trucking company, barges, tugboats, ships, Baltimore Blast, real-estate development, I’m working for the agency, I took over Bank of Baltimore, and then I started 1st Mariner Bank, and all these things happened all at the same time. So just imagine juggling all those balls. It didn’t make for a good personal relationship with my children.

I have definitely slowed the pace down. It was almost impossible to keep that pace up. I did it for almost 25 years. The pace I kept was unbelievable. But, at the same time, I’m not complaining. I liked doing it. It was done by choice.

What drives you to do all that?
I really don’t know, but I’ve always had it. I’ve always loved to do different things, learn different things. It sounds very trite and cliché, but I like being challenged. I like learning new things. I’m very inquisitive. I’m curious about other people. It’s just my nature. It’s the way I’ve been.

Does it have anything to do with wanting to transcend your working-class background?
Well, at the beginning I had something to prove. And then, after a while, I stopped thinking like that. I was in my 30s. I just said, ‘I’ve already done more than most people have in a lifetime’. After that, it was just the thrill of doing something different—and I consider it a thrill.

Would you say you’re a little bit of an adrenaline junkie?
A little bit, but I’ve always used this line, ‘There’s a fine line between risk-taking and thrill-seeking,’ and I would bump up on the thrill-seeking part every once in a while.

And was the CIA assignment part of that?
A little bit. At the end, yes.

At the end? What do you mean?
Uh, I was asked to do certain things that I can’t talk about where I would go, I would actually go places.

So you were an operative at a certain point?
I was asked . . . I can’t even talk about that.

International man of mystery.
Well, I’d prefer to be like the Dos Equis guy [The Most Interesting Man in the World], ‘cause I’ve got gray hair. I’m an old dude.

Is it true that when you told your mother about working for the CIA she said, ‘pass the broccoli’?
That’s correct. And I said, ‘You don’t have any questions?’ And she says, ‘You’ve done so many interesting things. It’s just more stuff.’