book reviews

Repost: A career with the CIA is not what it’s cracked up to be…

Here’s a reposted Epinions review from March 2006. It appears here mostly as/is.

Lindsay Moran, author of Blowing My Cover: My Life As A CIA Spy, and I have some things in common. We’re about the same age. We both work as writers in the Washington, DC area. We’ve both been to Bulgaria and worked as teachers abroad. We both spent time near Williamsburg, Virginia. And we both approached the Central Intelligence Agency for a job. Of course, Moran was successful where I was not. After reading her story, I wonder if I was the luckier candidate.

Three years ago, I was seriously engaged in a job search. My husband Bill, citing my writing and research abilities, suggested that I submit an application to the Central Intelligence Agency (aka the CIA), thinking that maybe I could work in their Langley, Virginia headquarters gathering information. I submitted an application, but I never thought I’d actually hear from them. There are people who spend their whole lives grooming themselves to work for the CIA. Apparently, just getting an initial interview is something to behold. Needless to say, I was shocked when, on April Fool’s Day 2003, I got an early evening phone call from a recruiter. Much to my surprise, she wasn’t calling to recruit me for a desk job, either. Apparently, I was being looked at for a position recruiting spies– something I never envisioned myself doing!

The recruiter interviewed me for forty-five minutes over the phone. She asked tough questions, taking me completely off guard, and when it was over, I knew I had bombed the interview. My suspicions were confirmed when I got a rejection letter in the mail a month later. To add insult to injury, whoever plugged my name into the database had me down as a “Mr.” instead of a “Ms.” So much for central intelligence, huh? Anyway, I was intrigued when I stumbled across Lindsay Moran’s 2005 book Blowing My Cover: My Life As A CIA Spy. I decided to find out what I was missing when the CIA rejected me.

For five years, Lindsay Moran worked as a case officer for the CIA. Unlike me, she had always wanted to be a spy and promptly presented her resume to the Agency right after her college graduation. She was invited to attend an informational meeting at a dingy Holiday Inn and was left unimpressed by the dowdy looking man and woman who led the session. She ended up leaving the meeting with doubts about whether or not she was ready to embark on such a serious career; consequently, she never sent in the first application she received. Then, in 1997, Moran found herself thinking about the CIA again. She asked for another application, filled it out and sent it in, and within a month, found herself invited to another Holiday Inn, this time for an initial interview with a man named Dave. Obviously, the interview was successful.

I really enjoyed reading Lindsay Moran’s story about how she became a CIA officer. Using vivid prose and humor, she describes the many hoops she had to jump through in order to take the job recruiting spies for the United States. She submitted to multiple drug tests, psychological reviews, and polygraph exams. Then, once she started training, she learned how to crash cars into barriers, jump out of airplanes with cargo strapped to her body, survive being interrogated, travel in alias and disguise, and lose people who were tailing her. Just reading about the survival training at The Farm near Williamsburg, Virginia was enough to make my blood run cold, although some of the training did sound like fun. I used to work in the Colonial Williamsburg area. I’m sure there were plenty of CIA trainees milling around during the days I spent waiting tables in Merchant Square.

Moran ultimately drove home the idea that I got when I briefly looked into working for the CIA myself. There are many things about the job that really really suck big time. For one thing, much of what CIA officers do is secret. Moran couldn’t talk about her job with friends or family. They weren’t even allowed to help her celebrate her graduation from The Farm. She would never be publicly recognized for her good work. The job is lonely, stressful, confining, and dangerous. She had to vet all of her friends and love interests with the Agency and she had to ask their permission before she traveled. Moran had a steady boyfriend from Bulgaria that she ended up having to break up with because of her job with the CIA.

I also appreciated Moran’s ambivalence about what she was ultimately being asked to do for her country. As Moran recruited foreign nationals to supply intelligence about their homelands, it wasn’t lost on her that what she was actually doing was pressuring her contacts into committing treason. If they were caught betraying their country for money, they could be killed. Committing treason was something that Moran would never consider doing herself, yet she had to get over feeling guilty by rationalizing that what she was doing was for the good of her country. She couldn’t allow herself to consider that what she was doing wasn’t good for her host country. Moran’s memoir also spotlights the tremendous amount of taxpayer revenue that goes to pay for CIA activities, including wining and dining potential agents (host nationals who are recruited as spies), bribes and gifts, transportation, and swanky housing.

Just before she graduated from The Farm, Lindsay Moran had a very enlightening conversation with one of her instructors, a man named Bill who had earned Moran’s respect by always speaking candidly. He was just getting ready to retire and, after Moran spoke openly to him about her ambivalence about what she would be doing as a CIA officer, Bill offered her some very good advice. He said:

Don’t lose yourself to this place, Lindsay… it’s not worth it. Even within the walls of Headquarters, the best among us will quickly be forgotten… reminding her “that the Agency’s only famous spies were the failures and the traitors” (p. 149).

All in all, I found Blowing My Cover to be a fascinating and very readable book. I managed to finish Moran’s tale in just a few days and I enjoyed every minute of the experience. The book’s mood is more lighthearted than I would have expected it to be, and I found it very refreshing. I got the idea that Lindsay Moran is a person I’d want to know and I felt sorry for her as she described the hardships she faced as a CIA officer. So many people see the CIA as a glamorous, exciting career choice, and indeed, the job does offer many perks. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that even if the job is exciting, it’s impossible to share that excitement with anyone who isn’t also shrouded in the CIA’s stifling secrecy.

I would definitely recommend Blowing My Cover: My Life As A CIA Spy to anyone who has ever considered working for the Central Intelligence Agency. I’d also recommend it to anyone who just likes an uncommonly interesting read. Because of the nature of Moran’s story, I suspect that this is not the kind of book that will show up on bookstore shelves very often.

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Who is this Menstrual Moderator, anyway?

I got curious about Scott Lloyd, Trump’s former head of the Office of Refugee Reassignment (ORR), so I went Googling after I wrote yesterday’s second blog post about how Lloyd has been barring pregnant migrant teens who were raped from accessing abortions. I discovered that Mr. Lloyd, like me, went to college in Virginia. He graduated from James Madison University, which had been my first choice school. Alas, they rejected me. Their loss.

Lloyd then went on to attend law school at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. In law school, back in the fall of 2004, Mr. Lloyd shared a six page essay he wrote with about 80 of his fellow students. It was for a course called Catholic Social Teaching, which explored religious, ethical, and legal thinking on issues including abortion, health care, and poverty. In the essay, Mr. Lloyd wrote about how, as a young man, he had gotten a woman pregnant and she had opted to have an abortion against his wishes. Although Mr. Lloyd had accompanied his former partner to an abortion clinic and helped pay for the procedure (mostly in one dollar bills), he was clearly very upset by the memory. He wrote:

“The truth about abortion, is that my first child is dead, and no woman, man, Supreme Court, or government—NOBODY—has the right to tell me that she doesn’t belong here.” 

So… because Scott Lloyd had premarital sex with someone he had no plans to marry, and evidently did not choose to use a condom, he thinks he has the right to dictate to every other woman what she should be doing with her uterus. His personal experience with “knocking someone up”, and then his anguish over her decision to choose abortion, has put him on the path to taking away other women’s rights to choose. But not before he became so distraught over his former partner’s choice to have an abortion that he developed a drinking problem that led him to passing out on park benches and elevators and once even got arrested for disorderly intoxication.

I don’t want to diminish Mr. Lloyd’s pain. I do have some empathy for men who want to raise their offspring. Unfortunately, when it comes to pregnancy, there simply isn’t an equal playing field. Until the fetus is fully gestated, it remains a part of the mother’s body. Pregnancy remains a risky situation for some women. It can lead to health problems or even death. Add in the personal costs to having children– the medical bills, potential of lost income, career delays, and everything else that comes with childbearing, which very often falls to the mother, and I can’t agree that the father should have a say in whether or not the mother chooses abortion. I will never agree that it’s a man’s right to force a woman to stay pregnant. The idea of that is completely repugnant to me, almost as much as the idea of abortion is.

That’s right. I am personally– for myself, that is– against abortion. I doubt I would have ever chosen it, and since I’m 46 years old and about to be menopausal, I doubt it will ever be an issue I’ll face. But I can’t say that I absolutely wouldn’t choose it. I don’t think most women plan to have abortions or wish for them. Maybe a few women become jaded when it comes to that procedure, but for most, I’m sure it’s a very difficult decision and traumatic experience. It’s also a very personal choice, especially since the woman who makes it will have to live with her decision for the rest of her life. And while men certainly play a crucial part in creating life, it’s the women’s bodies that make life possible and women are the ones who assume every physical risk during pregnancy.

Mr. Lloyd now lives in beautiful Front Royal, Virginia. I have been to Front Royal. It’s the kind of place where I’d enjoy settling down someday. It’s at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and not far from Washington, DC. In 1993 and 94, I worked at a summer camp not far from Front Royal, which at least in those days, maintained some rural charm. Front Royal has a burgeoning Catholic community, of which Lloyd is very much involved. It’s the location of Christendom College, a Catholic liberal arts college which was recently in the news for mishandling a sexual assault case.

Lloyd attends St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church with his wife and seven children, where the average family includes at least six kids and there hasn’t been a teen pregnancy in fifteen years. Although it’s been a long time since I was last in Front Royal, it sounds kind of like it’s turned into a town much like my mom’s hometown of Buena Vista, Virginia, which has become a LDS mecca since some Mormon investors purchased her alma mater, Southern Seminary Junior College and turned it into Southern Virginia University.

I have never really had a problem with Catholics. I seem to attract them. Hell, before Bill was LDS, he was Catholic and has said if he were to go back to church, he’d probably choose to be Catholic again. However, just as there are extreme Protestants, there are extreme Catholics. The problem with extreme religions of any stripe is that they hijack a person’s common sense and make them believe that they have the right to make laws based on their world views. You see, I don’t think someone like Scott Lloyd has any business whatsoever serving in the federal government. The government in the United States is supposed to be separate from religion and an individual’s religious beliefs. As we can see by Lloyd’s actions as former head of the ORR, those extreme religious beliefs can cause a person to think they are doing the right thing when they rely on those beliefs to act outside of the law.

Scott Lloyd had absolutely NO RIGHT to be tracking the menstrual periods and pregnancies of minor aged migrant girls who are living in shelters run by the ORR. In the United States, women still have the right to access abortions. Mr. Lloyd abused his position as “guardian” of minor aged migrant girls by refusing to allow them to access abortions. Just because they aren’t United States citizens, that does not give him the right to deny them basic civil rights or hold them hostage. Reading about his actions yesterday made me feel nauseous. It’s as if he sees these girls, who were babies themselves not that long ago, as mere “vessels”. They’re just there to incubate the unborn… and then, once those babies are born, they might regain some of their own individual rights. It’s a wonder anyone gets pregnant in the United States these days.

I think now that he’s been exposed, Scott Lloyd should be fired from government service. If he wants to work as an anti-abortion activist, he should either do it on his personal time or get a job in the private sector. Unfortunately, until Trump is evicted from the White House, Lloyd will probably continue his campaign of harassing these young girls who simply need help and understanding as they launch into their lives. Lloyd justifies his actions because some woman he impregnated dared to defy his wishes and claim ownership of her body. For that reason, Lloyd is on a personal crusade, not just to rid the United States of abortion, but also birth control. It’s absolutely insane. In fact, I’d say he needs a therapist. But, according to Mother Jones, Mr. Lloyd has been given a new role, since he so badly fucked up as former head of the ORR (all of those migrant children he cares so deeply about who are now separated from their parents), he’s going to be involved in outreach to religious communities with The Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives.

Well… maybe that job will be a better fit for ol’ Scott. He had no experience working with refugees before he was in his last job, just lots of experience trying to strip women of their reproductive choices. It sounds like Faith and Opportunity Initiatives might be more along the lines of suitability for Lloyd… although really, he should be working in the private sector. Government employees should not be allowed to pursue their personal agendas using taxpayer dollars.