As Lewis Regenstein tells it, his unusual career started with a small sign posted on the Emory University campus in 1965 or ‘66.
At the time, Regenstein was studying business as a graduate student at Emory. He was thinking of changing his direction in life and wanted a job while he sorted things out. The sign said a recruiter from the Central Intelligence Agency was going to be on campus to interview students for the spy agency. “I said, ‘Well, that’s interesting.’ So, I signed up,” Regenstein recalled recently over a cup of chai tea at a Decatur coffee shop.
He recalled the job application ran for pages. He had to provide the names of five references who weren’t related to him, then five more. Representatives of the agency talked to his neighbors about him. It took months, but eventually, Regenstein got the job and moved to the Washington, D.C. suburbs.
During the Cultural Revolution in China, Regenstein worked on the agency’s China Desk. He studied news photos of Chinese bigwigs to see which ones moved closer to Chairman Mao and which ones had disappeared from the picture. He debriefed American businesspeople who traveled abroad, read foreign news reports, and helped defectors find new homes in the U.S. His job was to gather information from wherever he could find it and then to read the signs.
Regenstein, who’s 79 now and goes by the nickname “Reg,” said he worked for the agency from 1966 through 1971 and left when his bosses decided it was time for him to rotate to Detroit or some other field office. At the same time, he had discovered a new passion: saving the environment. It was the early 70s, after all, and the seeds of environmental activism were blooming. “I had always loved trees and wildlife and animals,” he said. “Here was a chance to get something done.”
He took a job with the Fund for Animals. He started writing books, ending up with about 10 “real” books on his resume, he said. They had titles such as “America the Poisoned” and “The Politics of Extinction.” He also wrote op-eds for newspapers. It was a heady time to be in the environmental movement.
After a while, he and his family decided to return to metro Atlanta so his kids could grow up here. He continued writing, but started dealing in real estate, as well.
But he hasn’t lost touch with fellow intelligence officers. He’s a charter member of a club called the Association of Former Intelligence Officers that meets periodically to socialize and discuss issues related to gathering secrets for government use.
Earlier this year, Regenstein delivered a talk to AFIO members gathered at a fish house in Sandy Springs. He told them about “Havana Syndrome,” which he says has harmed and perhaps killed some American diplomats, agents, and military officials. He argues the illnesses are related to microwave radiation that has been beamed at American facilities for years, even decades by agents of antagonistic governments. “It started as a way to jam our embassies,” he said, “but it’s turned into a useful weapon.”
How did he learn about the “mysterious” attacks? He gathered information from public reports, many in newspapers.
Then he read the signs.