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York College alum recalls extensive career with the CIA in 10-year anniversary of book

Richard in front of sign

Richard Irwin ’77 could hear the remark from the other side of the door: “I guess this one’s not showing.” Running 15 minutes late, Irwin bolted into the room. He was sweaty, his three-piece suit was rumpled, and his arm was in a sling from his rugby shoulder fracture. But, he’d made it.

There wasn’t a lot going for Irwin when he went in for his interview with the CIA. Aside from running late and recovering from a recent injury, his résumé lacked the professional experience the recruiters may have been seeking. Irwin’s most recent jobs included construction work and being a bouncer and bartender at Murph’s Study Hall.

But the York College of Pennsylvania graduate had a mentality that he believes helped him through the interview that morning. The word “no” was not in his vocabulary.

He was offered a position as a protective officer guard, mostly working security for the department. Out of 100,000 applications, he was one of 54 people hired. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” he says. “I was in for an exciting career.”

It started at York College

Irwin wanted to be a Pennsylvania State Trooper since he was a little boy. But, when he didn’t get into the academy, he started to look at other options. The Allentown native was connected with the wrestling coach at York College. He later learned about the Police Science program and decided to enroll. When he graduated, he envisioned a career based on movies and books, and he hoped for excitement.

Getting into the Special Agent Program and becoming a Senior Special Operations Program Officer led Irwin to 87 countries. He learned Spanish, French, and Italian. He served under eight different directors of the CIA, primarily leading operations against terrorists, drug traffickers, and human smugglers, among other things.

After 9/11, he was sent to Afghanistan as part of a special activity division to enhance security. Two-and-a-half months later, he came home to find a new opportunity awaiting him.

Recording his history

Following 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security was formed under President George W. Bush. Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge was the Home Security Advisor to the President, and he brought Irwin on as Special Director to the President, where he framed courses of action for every terrorist threat, plane crash, chemical spill, or bomb threat.

It was here that Irwin first considered writing a book. His career had given him several unique opportunities to see the world and observe how the government functioned and responded to current affairs. It took him three years, but he wrote a book that detailed that career.

After a year of going through an approval process, Irwin published KH601: And Ye Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free - My Time in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

‘The right foundation’

Irwin celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the book this year. “After retiring in 2004, I looked back on my agency career and felt very fortunate,” he says. “I was fortunate to work with some outstanding people who displayed incredible leadership. Those people impacted my life.”

While Irwin never became a State Trooper, he did get to speak to a graduating class of troopers while he was serving in the White House. He still feels a great sense of pride for the men and women in that uniform, but he also knows his career path took him to places far greater than he imagined.

Irwin says he was also fortunate to have met his wife Karen Peterman ’75 at York College and are celebrating 40 years of marriage this past November.

“It all started at York College,” he says. “The right foundation can get you anywhere.”