An important group of Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A) medals presented to “one of America’s greatest intelligence officers” sold for £22,000 (hammer price) – seven times their pre-sale estimate - at Dix Noonan Webb in auction of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. The medals - each framed and hidden behind a lithograph picture of the Middle East – were being sold by the family and had been expected to fetch £2,000-3,000. They were bought by a London-based buyer who was new to DNW but was fascinated with spy-related items.
Described by espionage expert, John Barron, author of KGB: Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents, as: “one of America’s greatest intelligence officers,” the medals were awarded to legendary veteran C.I.A. officer Jim Fees (born in Nebraska in 1931) who, from the early 1960s, served undercover in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East; organized and managed secret intelligence operations from Washington and three continents, including a number of covert operations; and commanded major paramilitary operations in various International locations. As personal adviser to President Reagan on sensitive terrorism issues, he conducted top-secret missions to Lebanon and elsewhere in a bid to free American hostages, and most notably was also responsible for the secret acquisition and delivery to the U.S. of the Soviets’ most advanced frontline fighter plane at the time.
The group includes the United States Distinguished Intelligence Medal, which is awarded by the Central Intelligence Agency for ‘performance of outstanding services or for achievement of a distinctly exceptional nature in a duty or responsibility’. Also included is two Intelligence Medals of Merit, which were awarded by the Central Intelligence Agency for ‘performance of especially meritorious service or for achievement conspicuously above normal duties’.
As Christopher Mellor-Hill, Head of Client Liaison (Associate Director) of Dix, Noonan, Webb, explains: “The medals awarded to Fees by the CIA highlight the amazing stories of those undercover operatives involved in espionage at the height of ‘The Cold War’ and on the frontline in such places as the Middle East. His acquisition of a Russian MIG 23 fighter plane for the US Air Force to understand and learn to combat with (as typified in that great movie Top Gun with Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis) was an early highlight to his amazing career in which he also helped pave the way for Egypt to move out of Russia’s shadow into a much more pro American position in the 70s & 80s. When we talk of war heroes, he is one but as an agent of ‘The Cold War,’ the era of great spying and espionage war games between the communist East and pro capitalist West as typified in that other great TV drama series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Sir Alec Guinness.”
CIA medals are often referred to as “jock strap medals” since they are often awarded secretly (due to the classification level of the respective operation) and cannot be displayed, or on occasion, even acknowledged publicly. Mr Fees had had his three awards with their citations, individually mounted in specially-designed gatefold, gold-leaf frames. The outer frames each with an original scenic, Middle Eastern lithograph by the well-known artist David Roberts. Therefore, on looking at each of the hung pictures, one would be no wiser of their inside content unless they were opened up to reveal the C.I.A. medals and citations.
Dix Noonan Webb – a brief history
In 1991, its first year of trading, the company held three medal auctions and sold 1,200 lots for a total hammer price of £553,000. Two years later it opened a coin department which also auctions commemorative medals and tokens and in 2015 DNW added jewelry to its sales calendar. In 2018, it set up a standalone banknotes department and expanded into premises next door. In the same year, DNW achieved a total hammer price of £11,676,580 and the total number of lots across all departments was 20,273. To date the company has sold in excess of 300,000 lots totaling £155 million. Free online bidding is available is www.dnw.co.uk