WASHINGTON, DCSpecial agent Brian Walters said he felt resignation, sadness, and a sense of duty Monday while stripping all mention of his ex-girlfriend Cathy Blessing from a file of FBI documents.
"It's painful, going through these classified documents and seeing Cathy's name right there in front of me, over and over again," said Walters, whose current assignment requires him to review transcripts of DC-area activist-group meetings and remove the names of those participants who are not considered national-security risks. "I'm glad that Cathy isn't regarded as a threat to the country, but I also have to admit that it feels pretty good to strike her name from the record, like she struck me from her life."
Walters said he met Blessing four years ago, when she was a graduate student at George Washington University.
"Cathy's a very passionate girl with a strong sense of justice," Walters said, motioning toward the stacks of transcripts from Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and several other groups for which Blessing has worked. "When she believes in something, she doesn't give up, no matter what. I wish she had believed in me."
While none of the organizations Blessing is involved with are considered dangerous, the FBI maintains a policy of vigilance and monitors many activist groups for suspicious individuals.
"We're trained to keep our eyes open for people who appear to be interested in getting involved in something deeper," Walters said, running a metal ruler down a page and using a broad-tipped Sharpie to obliterate the name of the woman with whom he'd spent four years of his life. "The FBI doesn't keep tabs on the ones like Cathy, who aren't ready for a commitment and are all too happy to keep things casual, until one day they pack up their things and move out while you're away at a weekend security-training conference in Houston."
According to his superiors, Walters has done a satisfactory job excising non-essential data from FBI files since joining the Bureau in March 2002. According to Walters, he has done a less satisfactory job excising nonessential thoughts of Blessing from his mind ever since she broke up with him in January.
"I know I should just forget about her, but I really thought we were going to be together," Walters said, staring at Blessing's photograph in a Greenpeace internal newsletter. "I always thought that our differences brought us together. Two people who are not the same can complement each other. It can work."
"But if it doesn't, sometimes you're better off making a clean break of it," Walters said, slicing a square around Blessing's photo with an X-Acto knife. "It's really best for the national interest to just let them go."
Walters said the final year of his relationship with Blessing was rife with problems.
"We had major communication issues," Walters said. "Maybe things would have been better if I'd been able to talk about my life outside of our relationship. But, of course, by direct orders of the U.S. government, I couldn't."
"And shewell, she couldn't stop talking about hers," Walters said, blacking out two full pages of an Amnesty International meeting transcript in which Blessing spoke about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
As the relationship worsened, Blessing accused Walters of "withholding vital information."
"Cathy said I was providing less-than-full disclosure of my true thoughts and feelings," Walters said. "She complained that I had my own agenda, and that I was purposely keeping her in the dark."
Walters continued: "Then there's the fact that special agents keep a very demanding schedule. Cathy never seemed to understand if I was tired at the end of a long day and didn't feel like going out. She'd say that I kept her cooped up for my own weird purposes, and that I was treating her inhumanely. She said my behavior was outside the rules of civilizeddammit! My Sharpie ripped right through the damn paper again."
In spite of receiving the occasional torn, crumpled, or curiously streaked document, Walters' immediate superior, assistant director Clay Anderson, said Walters is doing above-average work on this assignment.
"Agent Walters is doing a great job focusing his full attention on a task that is admittedly quite tedious," Anderson said. "While other agents have burned out quickly, Walters seems absolutely driven. A couple of times, we've even arrived in the morning to find him crashed out on the couch, crossed-out papers all around him, and sad country music playing over the office intercom."
"Now, as far as the documents go, the FBI does hold that it's our duty to respect the privacy of non-threatening citizens by removing them from the record," Anderson added. "It has happened a few times that we've had to send documents back for revision and request that Agent Walters cut out more than just that Catherine Blessing woman."