Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed co-host of the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, Buck Sexton, in-studio to talk about joining the CIA right out of college.
Leahy: We welcome to our microphones our new good friend, Buck Sexton. Buck, welcome to The Tennessee Star Report.
Sexton: Michael, thanks for having me. Does anyone call you MPL, by the way?
Leahy: They do. (Laughs)
Sexton: Okay. I figured. So great to be here with you. Thanks for having me.
Leahy: Buck, were you born in New York City?
Sexton: Born and raised in Manhattan sir. Yes, indeed.
Leahy: How did you end up here in Nashville today as the co-host of this nationally syndicated radio program?
Sexton: Oh, boy. That’s quite a story. I went into the CIA right out of college.
Leahy: But before we have to be clear, you went to Amherst. I checked it out. You’re an Amherst guy. The little Ivy’s of Southampton?
Sexton: Yeah. I went to Southampton. I went to Amherst College in Central Massachusetts. Very liberal, very cold. I do not recommend it for most people, quite honestly, I would have rather have gone to Vanderbilt.
I actually applied to Vanderbilt, got in, and went to Amherst instead, which I think was the wrong decision, especially now. I’ve spent more time here in Nashville. What a beautiful town.
And I’m already spending a fair amount of time here, but there’s a chance I may be a new resident. I’m hoping the folks here, the Nashvillians, keep the doors open for me.
Leahy: Buck, I have a little secret for you. (Whispers) Tennessee has no state income tax.
Sexton: I’ve heard about this! I’ve heard about that.
Leahy: It’s an automatic raise.
Sexton: No, it’s a great spot for a lot of reasons. A little more mask and lockdown stuff kind of going on here than, as a New Yorker, I would have thought. I mean, I still get told occasionally. I took an Uber from the airport, still get told, gotta mask up.
But I know that’s a national-level thing. That’s not really a Tennessee-specific thing. The barbecue here is amazing, which I love.
I go to Peg Leg Porker so much that I have to start wearing a disguise so I look like I eat other things. I go in there a couple of times a week when I’m here, so I enjoy it.
Leahy: It’s a great place. So you graduated from college? Did you go right to work for the CIA?
Sexton: Yeah, right out of school, I went to the CIA. I joined the counterterrorism center. I was a really young guy and just wanted to try to do something to help as a New Yorker, in particular, I think, and one who had friends.
And I had a family member who was an uncle by marriage, who worked in one of the Twin Towers. And he was okay. He was very fortunate that he wasn’t there when the planes struck. But like so many people, I felt the urge to do something to try to help.
And so instead of taking the usual path, maybe law school and become a lawyer, I don’t know, become a Wall Street guy – that’s what all my classmates were doing, or almost all of them – I thought, well, I’ll join the CIA and try to help find Bin Laden. That was the basic thesis. That was the premise.
Leahy: Well, that’s very difficult to get a gig at the CIA coming out of college. Did you go through a lot of hoops and interviews to get that gig?
Sexton: Yes, it was very challenging, although at that time there was a – we need folks, all hands on deck if you’re willing. I mean, I basically showed up and said, send me anywhere, assign me to anything.
Like, I just want to get in the fight on the intelligence side. In retrospect, I think I wish I had just joined the military. But the intelligence side of it was where I thought my skill set would be well utilized.
The CIA sounded like a cool place. And remember, at that time in early 2000, so much of the anti-Al Qaeda efforts, I mean, they still are, but they were really heavily intelligence-based. It wasn’t like division-level military stuff was what you’re really focused on.
You’re trying to find a guy in a city and go in and do a snatch and grab, whatever the case may be. So that’s how it all got going. I was in the Iraq office, then I was in the Afghanistan office and spent time in both countries.
Months, not years. I know you have listeners who are probably on tours in Afghanistan and know the place far too well, but it was very eye-opening.
And then I came back to New York City as a CIA officer and was sent to the NYPD Intelligence Division, which does the counter-terrorism mission for the 40,000 plus strong NYPD. Spent some time there.
And the fastest way I could tell you in the time we have is Glenn Beck had someone who worked for him, who heard about me from someone else who knew me. And he’s like, I need to meet this person. And he offered me a job. That is what happened.
Leahy: And you took it.
Sexton: And I took it.
Leahy: And the rest, as they say, is your personal history. But Buck, I want to go back to your service in the CIA.
Leahy: What was that like?
Sexton: Oh, the CIA is 80 percent really mundane and standard, ten percent horrifically bureaucratic and onerous, and 10 percent awesome. And like the stuff you see in the movies, that’s what I would say.
I’ll never forget the guy who sat me down there as kind of my mentor said, your job here right now is to read and not mess anything up. (Chuckles) He’s like, you don’t know anything we haven’t trained.
You just basically sit at a desk at Langley and read for eight hours a day. But the thing is that for the period of time I did it before they sent me to “the farm” and did some of the more interesting stuff you see in the movies, that was a great way to get up to speed on things.
I mean, intelligence is information, right? I mean, intelligence work is all just based on information. And so becoming a sponge for all that was good training in the early days.
Leahy: They sent you to “the farm.” Tell our listeners what “the farm” is.
Sexton: It’s the CIA training facility, which is the featured movie with Colin Farrell called The Recruit. So if you ever watch The Recruit, it’s basically the whole thing is pretty much about ‘the farm’ and training. But, yeah, that’s what it is.
Leahy: Was that rigorous?
Sexton: Was it rigorous? It depends on what you’re talking about. It was mostly just instruction. It was learning. I mean, there’s cool stuff that goes on there. There’s classroom stuff that goes on there, like a lot of things.
Your job is to collect and synthesize information and help people making big decisions in the government, make smart ones, which, as we see with Afghanistan, unfortunately, sometimes the opposite thing happens.
Your job is not to be James Bond and wear a tuxedo and have exploding cufflinks. I never got the exploding cufflinks. I never got a laser pen. (Leahy chuckles)
I got a lot of time in briefings, giving briefings, meetings, and writing memos. I mean, that’s much of what the job – I know people are like, oh, my gosh, that doesn’t sound as sexy as I thought the agency would sound, but I’m telling people the truth. It’s very bureaucratic. It really is.
Leahy: So Afghanistan, tell us when you were there, where you were, what you did for that month you were in Afghanistan.
Sexton: It was more than a month. It was many months, as it was multiple months all strewn together. I actually can’t tell you really much about where I was or what I did, because that stuff still falls under the agent.
People know there was an agency presence in Afghanistan and there’s an agency presence in Iraq, or at least there was in those places. Beyond that, you can’t really say. You can’t really get into it.
But just to be clear again, my piece of this was learning from the people who are on the front lines, but what they were seeing and doing, getting that information pushed up to the top of the command chain, well, in theater, but also in D.C., it’s information-based.
It’s almost like you’re like a secret journalist. I don’t know what else to say. That’s the closest thing, I think, to being on the analyst side.
On the case officer side people will often talk about, but that’s like, I mean, there’s a lot of paperwork in that, too. There is a lot of paperwork across the board in the agency.
Leahy: Last question for you, Buck Sextion. And by the way, thanks so much for joining us.
Sexton: Thank you.
Leahy: And our listeners can hear you every day Monday through Friday here on Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00. Do you still have contact with folks in the national security infrastructure? And what are they telling you?
Sexton: Yeah, I do. But I keep it very vague in general, for obvious reasons, because I’m technically in media. And so there’s a lot of heightened scrutiny and sensitivity about it.
People are generally just appalled at what’s happening right now with this administration in Afghanistan. That I can tell you.
Leahy: Has there been a bigger military failure in modern American history than this Afghanistan debacle?
Sexton: No, I don’t think you could – there’s no issue of direct military and presidential level planning that you could say is as much of a clear debacle as this.
Leahy: Buck Sexton, thanks so much for joining us today. Come back again.
Sexton: Thank you so much, Mr. MPL! (Leahy chuckles)
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