When did you become interested in espionage as a career? Did anyone encourage you?
I realized from a young age that I wanted to “be a spy.” I was obsessed with the fictional character Harriet the Spy and kind of modeled my early life after her. I spied on everyone—my brother, my parents, my neighbors—and took little notes about their activities. I communicated with one of my best friends via secret code, using flashlights in our windows at night. As a teenager, I experimented with alias identities (i.e., fake ID cards) and cover stories. I would not say anyone encouraged me; the desire definitely came from within.
What difficulties or barriers did you experience in joining and working for the CIA, and how did you overcome them?
The application, recruitment, and hiring process was incredibly competitive, but I certainly didn’t feel at a disadvantage as a woman. In fact, much of being a good spy is being disarming, charming, easy to talk to, a good listener, and empathetic. I found all these traits came naturally to me, perhaps in part because I’m a woman. Men—or at least men attracted to this line of work—may oftentimes let their egos get in the way of sitting back and listening. Perhaps it’s sexist to say, but I also think women tend to have more nuanced manipulation skills, a cornerstone to good spying.
What are some of the craziest things you had to learn or do as a CIA spy?
Defensive driving—crashing through barriers with a car; dismantling explosives; jumping out of planes; traveling under an alias and operating in disguise; using weapons; withstanding harsh interrogation. These were all invaluable skills I learned in training. I didn’t use all of them in the field; but many I did use, and some (like general situational awareness and surveillance detection) I still rely on today. They become habit.
If you could time travel, what warnings would you give your younger self about your career path?
I wish I’d told myself not to take the small things—operational hiccups, suffocating bureaucracy—too seriously. Of course, it’s a life-and-death game, but spying and espionage can be a lot of fun. I did have fun, but I also internalized a lot of the stress. I wish I’d taken time to relish that I was doing one of the coolest, most important governmental jobs anyone can ever have.
What has the transition to a career as an author and a journalist been like? What do you most enjoy writing about?
Believe it or not, there’s an inordinate amount of paperwork and writing involved in operational activity. That I had a background in writing, enjoy writing, and am good at it helped in my CIA career. Being a journalist is not unlike being a spy. You’re trying to get people (sources) to give you information, to tell their story, even if they are reluctant. Of course, as a journalist conducting an interview, you’re upfront about whom you work for. But you’re still relying on people skills, powers of manipulation, the ability to empathize—all the same skills that I drew on as a spy.
What advice would you give women who want to break into the world of espionage?
Wear sensible shoes! No, seriously, I’d say go for it. The CIA might be a good ol’ boy network, but in my opinion HUMINT (human intelligence) is largely a woman’s world.
As a CIA operative, LINDSAY MORAN faced everything from POW situations to fast-paced car chases. Now working as a writer and journalist, Lindsay is the author of Blowing My Cover, an amazing memoir about her time as a CIA spy. Find out more about Lindsay on her website blowingmycover.com, or follow her on Twitter @LindsayMoran.