Seven years into his Central Intelligence Agency service, Andrew Bustamante realized he’d had enough. As a clandestine operative for the agency’s undercover arm, he’d not only lived, plotted and fought in dangerous spots around the world, he had to lie to everyone he knew – including his parents – and to everyone he met. Manipulation was all part of the job.
The job was rewarding, but it was stressful. And when Andrew Bustamante began who wonder who he really was – the highly-trained spy, or his roster of calculating alter-egos, or a husband and father who wanted some semblance of a normal life – the outcome was, perhaps, inevitable.
“How many of us are living a lie every single day?” he asks. “Pretending to be somebody we’re not. Trying to present a face that isn’t the face we really have.”
In 2014, Bustamante and his wife Jihi – herself a skilled operative – resigned from the CIA to raise their young son Sina. They relocated to St. Petersburg, where her parents lived.
Unlike the military, the agency doesn’t have a transitioning program. “It’s not something they’re incentivized to do,” Bustamante explains. “Because once you have somebody that’s vetted and trained, and you’ve put that kind of money into them, you don’t ever want them to leave. You want to make it as hard as possible for them to leave.”
Unlike TV and the movies, where assassination or “disappearing” is what waits for disillusioned agents, in the real world the government has to let them walk away.
They signed a lifetime non-disclosure agreement, forbidding them to discuss details of their years of undercover work. As he looked for a new occupation in his new location, Bustamante was permitted to reveal everything pre-CIA – his Pennsylvania childhood, his education, his years as a pilot and missile officer in the Air Force – and anything that came after his time with the agency.
After an internal review, the CIA said OK, you can now say you worked for us. But remember, no details, ever. His boss at CVS Health – where he’d been hired as an advisor and was doing extremely well – took the news in stride. Bullet dodged.
About a year ago, Bustamante brainstormed a series of motivational business talks he called Everyday Espionage.
“We’re all used to living life in the world that exists all around us, and most of us as adults like to think we’ve got it all figured out,” says the 38-year-old ex-spy. “Everyday Espionage teaches you to realize that there are people out there who have a distinct advantage over the rest of us, because they have the ability to see the world in a more objective, more rational way of thinking. Everyday Espionage endeavors to teach people that objective, rational way of thinking. To allow those who want that advantage to gain it.”
He began over the summer, with a Tedx-like series of lectures at thestudio@620. On Wednesday (Nov. 7) he’ll be talking at Tampa’s Carrollwood Cultural Center. The free program, “Spies in America,” begins at 6 p.m.
Friday (Nov. 9) will find Bustamante onstage at the St. Petersburg City Theater, where he’ll record – before a live audience – an episode of his about-to-launch 13-part Everyday Espionage podcast. This 6 p.m. event, “The Comparison of Knowledge vs. Information,” is also free.
Bustamante believes he’s found his life’s mission with Everyday Espionage.
“Most people,” he says, “live in a reactive world – actions happen and we react. Spies actually can predict behavior. They don’t wait until something happens to act – they set a stage, control their environment and make things happen.
“You’re never going to run across an Iranian nuclear scientist someday who’s going to say ‘Hey, you know what? I think it’s time to tell you all about our nuclear plans.’ It’s just not going to happen. KGB knows they’re not going to be hanging out at a park and have some NSA contractor come up and say ‘Are you KGB? Because I’ve been looking for somebody to spy with.’ What spies have to do is take deliberate action, in a specified order, to drive a predictable outcome. That is the key.”
In other words, he’s teaching an entirely new way of looking at things. “It’s professional development, with a heavy emphasis on psychology,” Bustamante explains. “Being able to understand who you are, so you can manage the experience around you in a very deliberate way.
“It’s not mindfulness and meditation, so it’s not really self-help, but I’m also not teaching you to close your eyes and fall backwards into your friends, which is classic leadership training.”