Blowing My CoverMY LIFE AS A CIA SPY
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS Copyright © 2005 Lindsay Moran Kegley
All right reserved.ISBN: 0-399-15239-3
Chapter One I am in a medical laboratory at the Central Intelligence Agency, waiting to pee in a cup. The sterility of the atmosphere here-everything is white-chills me to the bone. I am slightly humiliated by the prospect of a drug test, but I want this job badly enough that I'm willing to submit to it.
I've just finished another test in a soundproof chamber, raising my right hand every time I hear a shrill high-pitched sound, not unlike a dog whistle. One among the many things I must prove over the next few days is that I am not deaf. The sight and hearing exams provide me a surging sense of pride-perhaps, like one of the pioneer astronauts, I possess "The Right Stuff." The drug test, on the other hand, just makes me feel like a derelict.
"Why would you want to work for an organization that doesn't trust you from the get-go?" my boyfriend had asked me about the week of screening required in my quest to be hired by the CIA.
"Drug tests are normal for any number of jobs," I pointed out.
"Yeah, but a lie-detector test is not," he said, referring to the polygraph, which will follow in the coming days.
"Be sure to provide enough urine to reach the designated spot." A Nurse Ratchet look-alike with eyes the color of a corpse hands me a plastic cup whose side has been marked halfway up with a thick black slash.
I take the cup and head into the restroom. My eyes dart about the tiny chamber as I wonder if the mirror is made of two-way glass. If not, where is the hidden camera? I sit on the toilet, plastic cup in hand, and think about how I got here in the first place.
Five years earlier, I'd given the commencement speech at my college graduation. I had concluded my-in retrospect-sanctimonious talk by saying, "It is my hope that each of us will influence a particular community, and that we will do so not by shouldering the expectations of others but by remaining faithful, foremost, to ourselves."
The day after I made this speech, I sent my résumé to the Central Intelligence Agency. At the age of twenty-one, this was my personal act of faithfulness.
My father, who worked for the Defense Department his entire life, was certain the CIA would never take me. "You're not their type," he said. "They look for people who've been the president of the Young Republicans Club."
Maybe my father's doubt impelled me to approach the CIA in the first place. I was intent on proving him wrong. Aside from that, I'd always wanted to be a spy and felt as if I'd spent my entire life in training. In childhood, my favorite books, which I would read over and over again, starred Harriet the Spy. When I'd been naughty and was sent to my room as punishment, I used the opportunity to monitor the movements of our next-door neighbors, the McCormicks. I routinely communicated in secret code, using a flashlight, with my best friend, who lived two doors down. I was expert at rifling through drawers or ferreting around the attic to find the Christmas presents, which I would open in advance and then undetectably rewrap. I also seemed to have no problem lying, especially to my parents.
Once, when my father confronted my brother and me about who had defiled the living room walls with green crayon, and neither one of us would less up, he finally said, "Okay, Lindsay, I know it was you."
"Me?!" I wailed, injured by and indignant over his accusation. "How do you know it was me?!"
"First of all, your brother would not graffiti the walls," my father said. And then, with somewhat more gravity: "Second of all, your brother would not lie."
I couldn't really argue. I was naturally subversive, and always had been. During my teenage years, my albeit mild acts of sedition included skipping school, forging excuse notes, sneaking out of the house, and raiding my father's liquor cabinet. Throughout my liberal arts education-when I at least excelled academically and everybody was telling me that I should be a writer, or a lawyer, or go into politics-I always thought, What I really want to be ... is a spy.
My fascination with all things espionage was consummate. I devoured spy novels and CIA memoirs, and delighted in the occasional James Bond triple feature at the cheap movie theater in Boston. I wasn't naive enough to think that the life of a CIA agent was all Hollywood glamour, but I was pretty sure I'd be good at it.
Also, I harbored what I now realize was a delusion: that espionage was something of a family legacy, and therefore my destiny. While Dad always had maintained that he worked at "the lab," his inability to talk about top secret projects, coupled with his frequent travel and late-night comings and goings, had me convinced that he must be a spy. I used to go on business trips with him and keep an eye out for possible surveillants. Or I would pack my own luggage in a particular, persnickety way so that I could detect if someone had tampered with it. Even after I realized Dad was unlikely a covert operative-and that he probably was the naval architect he claimed to be-I remained equally suspicious about his dad, my grandfather.
Boompah had lived all over the world, supposedly as a U.S. Army engineer. It seemed coincidental, to say the least, that during each of his overseas postings, an unexpected coup toppled the government of the country where he was stationed. Boompah died before I got a chance to question him, but a part of me suspected I would find out the truth if only I could get inside the CIA. In doing so, I also would fulfill my cloak-and-dagger birthright.
I proved my father wrong early on. Within one month of sending off my résumé, I was invited, by way of a succinct letter, to an informational CIA meeting in Washington, D.C.
And so, at the tail end of a long, hot summer, I traveled by train from my postcollege home of Boston, joining a group of about twenty other slightly anxious-looking young men and women in a banquet room at a Holiday Inn. The CIA representatives who greeted us were somewhat disappointing: a dowdy, middle-aged woman with thick glasses and orthopedic shoes, and a paunchy, balding guy who had the aura of someone just completing a messy divorce.
They explained to us that the CIA had four primary components. In addition to Directorates for Science and Technology (DS&T) and Administration (DA), there were two others that the CIA particularly hoped would interest us: the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), composed of overt "information analysts," and the Directorate of Operations (DO). This last, the bald guy said, was "where the real work of the Agency gets done."
Within the DO, there are two main positions, he explained-reports officers, who take raw intelligence and prepare it for the DI analysts (primarily by making sure the source of the information is obscured), and case officers, the ones who gather the intelligence in the first place. "The case officers are the actual spies," he said.
There was no doubt in my mind when I left the meeting that day: If I was going to work for the CIA, I was going to be a case officer. The DI seemed like a confederacy of dweebs, and the reports officers sounded like glorified secretaries.
Like everyone else at the meeting, I left Washington with an application in hand-a fifteen-page document far more exhaustive than the Harvard application I had filled out four years before. I found a seat by myself on the train back to Boston, pulled my knees up to my chin, and began thumbing through it. In addition to essay questions and biographic queries about everyone in my family, it asked me to list all the places I had lived, and give a personal reference for each location. I thought about the room I'd rented in a Boston University frat house the summer after freshman year, and shuddered to think what anyone would say about me from those days.
It also asked about criminal activity and drug use. I knew a polygraph exam would be administered before I was hired, so I decided I would be honest about the fact that I'd used drugs. My father's words rang in my ears: "You've smoked pot. They'll never hire you."
Dad might have had a valid point, but I was no less determined to prove him wrong. As soon as I arrived home, I returned to my apartment, shared with two other postcollege friends, and hunkered down in the makeshift bedroom we'd created for me out of curtains and screens. Using a black ballpoint pen, I began to fill out the application. Eventually, one of my flatmates called through the curtain, "Are you okay? What are you up to in there?"
Recalling the bald guy's instructions not to tell anyone except immediate family members that I was applying to the CIA, I stashed the stack of papers under a pillow. "I'm fine!" I called back, sounding-I am sure-slightly panicked. "I have cramps. I'm just lying in bed."
About two hours later, I put the completed application in my desk drawer, intending to send it in the next day.
That night, I had a dream in which my family was reunited for a picnic in a grassy park, a place where Mom and Dad had taken us as children to hear Peter, Paul and Mary perform. In my dream, my deceased grandparents were there, sitting on a patchwork blanket spread out over the lawn. Even my mother and father, who in reality had been divorced for years, were laughing together as Mom assembled plates of fried chicken and potato salad. Everybody was got up in the kind of loose, hippie clothing we used to wear. My older brother was with some girl I didn't recognize, but who appeared to be his wife. I approached the group and went to give my grandmother a hug. She didn't acknowledge me, but rather turned away and sat stonily facing the opposite direction.
"Tell Memo it's me," I said to my father.
"Who are you?" he said.
"It's me!" I cried. "Lindsay!"
My mother laughed. "Lindsay?! We haven't seen her in years."
"You must have the wrong family." Boompah lit his pipe, then dismissively tossed the match over his shoulder.
When I woke, the dream, on the cusp of my decision to apply to the CIA, freaked me out. I couldn't help but interpret it as a sign that I was on a course I would later regret. Perhaps my family was right; maybe the CIA wasn't for me, at least not now. I was too young to embark on such a serious career-to embark on any career at all, for that matter. And so I never sent that application.
Instead, I moved to California, waitressed in a coffee bar, and worked as an assistant to a man who was writing a "Complete Guide to Cocktails." Later, I went to graduate school in New York. When New York had exhausted me, I took a job overseas-teaching English to exceptionally bright young students in Bulgaria, an unlikely and at that time dismal locale, but a country I would come to love and whose people would entrench themselves in my heart. After a year in Bulgaria, I came back to the States and-eventually-back to the CIA.
The Agency was like an itch that I had to scratch. In 1997, I was working as a writing teacher at a community college in San Francisco when that itch resurfaced. I had lived overseas and loved it. I missed Bulgaria terribly. Thinking of ways to return, the idea of the CIA resurfaced. Why not spend my future living abroad? I thought excitedly. Why not make a career out of learning foreign languages, experiencing exotic cultures, having adventures in far-off lands? Why not go through with it this time? Now I was older; now I felt ready.
The CIA also seemed to me a way to fulfill a sense of civic duty. The fact that my brother was serving our country in the U.S. Navy inspired me and provoked my own patriotic urges, but I knew I wasn't military material. Teaching-a profession of inarguably noble intent that I'd hoped would assuage my feelings of civic obligation-ultimately left me restless and bored. The CIA began to seem like the answer to me: a way to serve both the needs of my country and those of myself.
About the same time that I sent in an application to be a Fulbright Scholar back in Bulgaria, a decent if not surefire backup plan, I again sent my résumé to the CIA. I was twenty-six years old now, five years older than when I'd originally expressed interest. I wondered if the CIA had a record of me, and whether it would give me a second chance.
Again, the Agency responded quickly. Within a month, they had sent me another application, which I filled out and sent in. A few weeks later, someone called and, without introducing himself or saying whom he represented, informed me of an interview the following week at the Holiday Inn Fisherman's Wharf. He instructed me to make no inquiries at the reception desk and to take the stairs, "not the elevator," to Room 219 and knock twice. I briefly wondered if the caller might be one of the few people who knew I was applying to the CIA, my brother or my boyfriend, playing a prank.
But a few days later, I presented myself at the rather shabby-looking Holiday Inn, taking the stairs and knocking twice on the door of Room 219. I felt silly and was more than a little apprehensive that I would startle whatever tourists actually were staying in the room, the predictable punch line of this elaborate hoax.
But a man answered the door and, after darting his head out and looking up and down the hallway, quickly ushered me into Room 219. This man, who introduced himself as "Dave," seemed more auspicious than the previous CIA recruiters; at least he was young and fit. As Dave walked across the room to the small table by the closed blinds, I noticed he had a slight limp. I was pretty sure that he had been shot in the leg, performing some kind of supersleuth derring-do. Years later, Dave-who would end up being one of my instructors-confessed to me that he had sustained the injury in a softball game against some guys from the FBI.
As we began our conversation, Dave turned on the television-"sound masking," he explained-to an episode of Teletubbies. The singing, dancing, and hugging multicolored creatures were incongruous, not to mention distracting. I strained to focus as Dave spoke.
Dave said that he was a case officer and described some of the places he had served, all of which sounded exotic and exciting. He spoke several languages, had lived all over the world, and seemed slightly annoyed at spending a year Stateside, conducting interviews for new recruits.
Still, the interview went well, and at the end of it Dave said he thought I was a strong candidate to be a case officer. At his recommendation, I probably would be called to Washington for a week's worth of screening and further interviews.
I left the meeting giddy with excitement, even though my family and boyfriend were all dead set against my joining the Agency. My father remained convinced I would never be hired, owing to my liberal, lawless ways.