Author of a memoir on the life of a CIA wife
Bina Cady Kiyonaga, the widow of a Cold War spy and CIA station chief whose deathbed request was that she go public with details of his career and their clandestine life together, died Oct. 5 at her home in Chevy Chase, Md. She was 92.
The cause was complications from a fall, said a son, Paul Y. Kiyonaga.
Mrs. Kiyonaga was married for 30 years to Joseph Y. Kiyonaga, who served as a CIA station chief in Brazil and Panama. From a base in Japan, he ran psychological operations against North Korea during the Korean War. He plotted espionage operations with military strongmen and businessmen in Panama, El Salvador and Brazil.
When he died in 1977, of stomach cancer, the CIA was coming under public criticism for exceeding its authority in covert operations overseas. In the face of such criticism, Joseph Kiyonaga told his wife, he wanted to “stand up and be counted.”
So she got a yellow lined legal pad and took notes while he talked. Twenty-three years after his death, her book was published, “My Spy: Memoir of a CIA Wife.” The volume described her husband as sexy and urbane, tightlipped and mysterious. They had a marriage that was sometimes stormy but seldom dull.
He would disappear for days without notice and return without explanation. There were shadowy characters around the house, neither friends nor business associates nor relatives. They lacked names. They lacked identities. Meals were sometimes prone to abrupt silences.
As the wife of a spy, Mrs. Kiyonaga followed the requisite code of silence.
“We lied about our husbands’ jobs,” she wrote, “stalled inquisitive policemen, befriended ministers’ wives, kept our ears open at parties, deflected the children’s questions, worried in silence alone. We were CIA wives. You never knew us.”
They had five children. Inevitably the children would wonder what their father did for a living. He told them himself, calling each one into his study sometime around their 12th birthday. One child was angry. She had already heard from a playmate that her father was a spy. She had wanted to hear it first from him. Another said she’d never heard of the CIA.
The youngest son, Paul, suspected the truth long before his father told him.
“When you see Manuel Antonio Noriega in your living room at 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said, referring to the Panamanian strongman, “you might be suspicious that your father’s job involves something other than being special assistant to the ambassador.”
Mrs. Kiyonaga’s book drew warm reviews. Publishers Weekly praised it as an “unpretentious account of their 30-year marriage and its description of her lonely life as a mother of five . . . which unfolded on a need to know basis.”
Jon A. Wiant in the CIA inhouse journal Studies in Intelligence called the book “a significant contribution to intelligence literature,” reflecting “the difficulties of holding a relationship together when she was excluded from a significant part of her husband’s life.”
Bina Cady was born in Baltimore on Sept. 18, 1925. She attended the University of Michigan for two years, then in 1947 married Kiyonaga, a native Hawaiian of Japanese ancestry whom she had met on campus. He had served during World War II with the 42nd Regimental Combat Team, a highly decorated unit composed almost entirely of Americans of Japanese descent.
In 1949, she graduated from the University of Hawaii and then settled in Washington, where her husband was a student at the School of Advanced International Studies, now part of Johns Hopkins University. He was recruited that year to the CIA.
Being a CIA wife required adjustments of Mrs. Kiyonaga. Early on, at a social gathering, one of her guests excused himself to use a telephone, then returned, sternfaced, to chastise her for leaving out a Rolodex with names and numbers she frequently called. That might reveal the identities of other spies, the man said.
Sleepover guests for her children were prohibited, she was told. They might encounter someone who did not want to be seen. The CIA, unlike the fictional spy James Bond, used the telephone as its primary piece of equipment, Mrs. Kiyonaga said, but she did have to become accustomed to the fact that her husband, when serving overseas, did carry a weapon in the front seat of his car.
Survivors include five children, Mary Kiyonaga of New York City, Ann Kiyonaga of St. Augustine, Fla., and David J. Kiyonaga, John C. Kiyonaga and Paul Kiyonaga, all of Chevy Chase; and 14 grandchildren.
Mrs. Kiyonaga was a longtime volunteer at the Missionaries of Charity’s Gift of Peace House in Washington.
Bina Cady Kiyonaga with husband Joseph Y. Kiyonaga, who ran psychological operations against North Korea in the Korean War.