Speaking without any written notes so as to not need government clearance, Lindsay Moran, a former CIA case officer, said at a Morse College Master’s Tea yesterday that her time at the agency was the opposite of the academic experience at Yale.
At Tuesday’s tea, Moran, the author of “Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy,” shared some of her experiences working at the CIA and her disillusionment with the agency, which led her to quit in 2003. A lack of emphasis on independent and creative thought and the overall bureaucracy were two things that Moran said eventually drove her from the agency.
“I went to the school with the best and the brightest, and this ain’t it,” Moran said of the CIA, contrasting it with her undergraduate years at Harvard. “It was, in some ways, the antithesis of an academic environment.”
She entered the CIA in 1998 after a life dreaming of becoming a spy, which started when she first read the book “Harriet the Spy.”
“I modeled my early life after her,” Moran said.
Moran then explained how she came to work for the CIA. After going to graduate school and then living in Bulgaria, she decided to apply for her dream job and scored an interview.
“He was very cagey with his directions” to the secret interview location in a California hotel, Moran said of her CIA interviewer. She said the secrecy and suspense added to the excitement of the job.
But as early as the first stage of her training after gaining clearance for the job, Moran started to have misgivings about being a case officer, or spy, for the CIA.
“The training for a case officer is very grueling and all-encompassing,” Moran said.
During her paramilitary training at a CIA “farm,” she said she was surprised when the instructors had no plan as to how to rescue a trainee who had been stuck in his parachute in a tree. The incident was the first of many examples of inefficiency and incompetence she said she witnessed at the CIA.
During the next training step, for trade craft, Moran said the CIA trained her in the spirit of the “good old boys’ spy game” of the Cold War, rather than in how to deal with the more modern threat of terrorism.
Moran’s disappointment with the CIA accelerated after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“Now the agency truly had to get its act together,” Moran said.
In the following months, though, Moran said she watched the CIA reject one her most valuable contacts, “exactly the kind of person we should be working with,” because of his family connections to Islamic terrorist groups in the Balkans. Many in the audience snickered at the logic.
The CIA’s greatest faults, Moran said, did not appear until the months preceding the war in Iraq, when she said the agency became preoccupied with finding reasons for the United States to invade Iraq. She finally decided to leave as a result.
Soon after leaving the CIA, Moran decided to write her book to inform people of the agency’s pitfalls. But the book is also a personal story “about having a dream and having it shattered,” she said.
Students in the audience seemed to share her sentiments of disappointment in U.S. intelligence.
“I thought that explanation was very good at describing the intelligence failures in America,” Tochi Omyebuchi ’09 said.
Still, Moran said she hopes that her story will not prevent bright, young people from joining the agency. She said they are the best way to fix the CIA.
“I don’t know what to do [to help] on the outside,” she said. “Join the CIA and work your way up.”
Some students said they had mixed feelings about her proposal.
“I thought it was funny how she described in great detail how inefficient and frustrating it is to work in the CIA, but then encourage us to do it,” Kimberly Chow ’09 said. “But I think it’s a good idea, just not for me. If people don’t go in wanting to improve it, it will never get better.”