He spent his entire career in the Directorate of Operations, shuffling between assignments in the Middle East and at C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia.
He later described, in general terms, the thrill of working in covert operations during the Cold War — and, in specific terms, the wave of negative publicity that followed revelations in the mid-1970s about the C.I.A.’s role in assassinations, coups and other nefarious deeds over the decades.
“I spent two weeks just reading files on the Middle East historical stuff, looking for bad things that had happened,” he said in an interview with the PBS program “Frontline” in 2006. “We all came away really shaken by just this feeling that a lot of people looked at us as a rogue organization.”
By the late 1980s, Mr. Schroen had risen to the top ranks of the agency’s Middle East operations. He served as station chief for Kabul, though for security reasons he had to work out of Pakistan. Although he was often warned not to, he crossed regularly into Afghanistan to meet with mujahedeen rebels, at one point coming under fire from hostile forces.
He spoke fluent Persian and Dari, a dialect of Persian spoken in Afghanistan, and was widely considered the agency’s leading expert on the country — “one of the go-to guys for the region,” Milton Bearden, who served as C.I.A. station chief in Pakistan, said in an interview.
Mr. Schroen returned to the region in the mid-1990s as the station chief in Islamabad, considered one of the agency’s most important postings. Concern about bin Laden and Al Qaeda was growing, and it grew faster after bin Laden orchestrated the attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.