In 1971, Roland Haas was just like any other college student on the Purdue University campus, or so it seemed. That was the year Haas’ life changed, and in his own words, it was the year the Roland Haas of the previous 18 years ceased to exist. In a moment, Haas went from a diligent but introverted student to an undercover operative for one of the most notorious and mysterious government organizations in the United States: the Central Intelligence Agency.
He came clean to his friends, family and community about the double life he lived during the 30 years of service in which his life was not his own. His book, “Enter the Past Tense: My Secret Life as a CIA Assassin,” is on shelves and received positive reviews. The autobiography deals with Haas’ life from a very young age including his experiences as a young German American growing up in a working class neighborhood in upstate New York.
His German heritage branded him unfairly and Haas describes the torturous results of an excruciating childhood in his book. Haas was abused by bullies on a daily basis, and it was these constant attacks that initially paved the way for Haas’ future.
The only way Haas knew how to survive was to stick to himself. A job transfer took the Haas family to Ohio and it was there that he threw himself into athletics. He participated in more than a half dozen sports, all of which, with one exception, were individual rather than team sports.
It was during this time Haas became a star goalie for the ice hockey team, a top gymnast and a weight lifting fanatic, but despite all of his successes he never felt that his parents were proud of him.
Haas, who recalled the smallest details throughout the book, said of his exceptional memory, “It was definitely something I was born with. I found that all the way through my education, all the way through high school and even into college, I never took a book home to do homework. I took AP classes in high school. I took AP calculus, physics, English, and I tested out of multiple credits in college, and I never opened a book to study. It was something that I was able to just remember things that I saw, heard, and use them later.”
Something else that had always come easily to Haas was the ability to learn foreign languages. “I’ve always found languages very simple,” he stated. By his freshman year in college, Haas knew, in varying degrees, German, English, Russian and Latin. In later years he added to that list Afrikaans, Dutch and Slovenian.
His loner lifestyle, his emotionally distant relationship with his parents, his strength and agility, his intelligence and memory and his ability to quickly learn new things all together made him a prime candidate for what the CIA had in mind.
On March 17, 1971 Haas was approached by a man he only referred to as “Phil” in the Naval ROTC facility on the Purdue campus. Haas was on full scholarship with the ROTC and had plans to enter the Navy upon graduation.
Up until that fateful day, Haas had only heard rumors of CIA recruitment on college campuses. His past experiences had all led to that one moment, one that would shape the rest of his life.
In his book, Haas describes in great detail what transpired during his first meeting with Phil. Haas states that he signed up for the job Phil proposed with little hesitation and almost no knowledge of what he would be asked to do. In order to maintain his cover, Haas’ life would have to change.
His first mission led Haas through the Middle East and Asia where he hitched rides along the Hippie trail headed to India.
After taking out a powerful drug lord and two of his men in Afghanistan, Haas spent time taking in all the experiences India had to offer before making his way back toward Germany.