John Beale could always be counted on to get the toughest jobs done at the Environmental Protection Agency and garnered respect and admiration from fellow staff members. But when he began taking days off to do work for the CIA while still collecting his full salary, something didn’t add up:

The first time anyone broached the subject was that year, when Jeff Holmstead, then assistant administrator of the Air and Radiation Office, spoke with Beale about his “D.O.” Wednesdays. Beale revealed that the joke was no joke: He’d worked for the three-letter agency earlier in his career, and it was now calling him back for a secret assignment. He would have to take a half day off here and there to help out. Maybe a few whole days, too. Holmstead, who’d known Beale during his time working on the Clean Air Act amendments, agreed to the arrangement.

In 2002 “D.O. Oversight” would appear in Beale’s calendar 22 times. The next year 14 times, and the year after that 18. In 2005 his covert operation took him away for 25 days. At times he’d make coy references to big international news—a bombing in Pakistan, violence in India—and insinuate that the CIA had him working on it. To colleagues who saw Beale as an outstanding employee, it made sense that agencies more selective than the EPA would put his talents to use.