By Barbara Bedell, Times Herald-Record
On numerous occasions since CIA agent Gregg Wenzel was killed in a traffic accident under “murky circumstances” in Ethiopia, his name has appeared in this column through a scholarship fund established by his parents, Gladys and Mitchell Wenzel of Monroe.
Gregg grew up in the Bronx and Monroe and graduated from Monroe-Woodbury High School in 1987. He went on to become a lawyer and a public defender in Miami.
According to his father, while in Miami Gregg became involved with Chabad on Wheels under the direction of Rabbi Zev Katz. He also joined the CIA. For six years, his affiliation with the CIA and the nature of his service were unknown to the public so as not to compromise secret operations.
In July 2003, Gregg was driving through Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, with a high-ranking Ethiopian official when a zig-zagging driver swerved into his path. Both Wenzel and his passenger died in the collision. The obituary stated “he was a U.S. Foreign Officer killed by a drunken driver in the streets of Addis Ababa.”
Reportedly, the driver of the other vehicle was an Ethiopian working for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, and remains a fugitive.
Gregg’s parents have always wanted to know the truth.
On June 1 at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va., during a memorial service honoring those who died in the line of duty, the public learned the “State Department job” was a cover for Gregg’s real occupation, CIA spy. The Times Herald-Record ran the story June 3.
CIA Director Leon Panetta said Gregg was a “member of our Clandestine Service — a graduate of the first post-9/11 training class. The officers of that class would confront a changed world. They would serve on the front lines in defense of a country that needed them more than ever.”
When Gregg sought a career at the agency, he listed two reasons: He wanted to serve his country, and “to live for a purpose greater than myself.”
“Gregg was a patriot who loved his country and believed that he could make a difference as a CIA agent,” said his father.
Orange County Chabad Director Rabbi Pesach Burston was among family members and guests who attended the memorial ceremony.
When he was introduced to Panetta, Burston said, “I got to know Gregg … through the wonderful things that the Wenzel family do … in Gregg’s memory. His soul must be so proud.”
Donations in Gregg’s memory can be directed to the rabbi through 845-782-2770 or rabbi@ChabadOrange.com.