Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes


Former CIA Deputy Director of Operations Jack Gregory Downing passed away on June 27, 2021, but the words “Jack Downing” will forever live on as an antonym to “politician” in the Intelligence Community’s lexicon. He was selfless, honest, and devoted to the security and well-being of the United States.

Jack was one of the truly great warriors of the Cold War. He served in Vietnam as a marine infantry officer. I think he had one weekend of rest after leaving the Marine Corps before starting his work at the CIA.

He came to the Agency already an expert on Asia and turned himself into an expert on the Soviet Union, as well. Then he became the only officer to serve as Station chief in both Moscow and Beijing. After a well-deserved retirement following thirty years of service, he came out of retirement to rebuild Covert Action and HUMINT efforts following the Aldrich Ames debacle.

One of Jack’s great skills was that as bright and experienced as he was, and as vast as his knowledge was, he never allowed himself to fall into the all-too-common trap in the IC of assuming that he knew everything. Many officers think that because they know a lot about something, they know everything about everything else. Jack never made that mistake. He was always eager to listen and learn from other people’s expertise. He got up every day wanting to learn more.

Jack set a higher standard for professionalism and skill and for the quality of the Agency’s officers and training in the field of HUMINT. Most managers are annoyed when they see underachievers. When Jack saw an underachiever, he saw an opportunity to create an overachiever. He had a great skill for bringing out the best in others.

I have many memories of Jack. All of them are very positive. In fact, I can’t say anything good enough that would really do Jack justice. I’ve known a lot of spooks. I admired many of them; I liked some of them; I trusted only a few. I admired, liked, and trusted Jack. It’s been my privilege to know many great Americans. Jack Downing is definitely among them.