Book Review: Blowing My Cover: My life as a CIA Spy and Other Misadventures


by Lindsay Moran

New York, G T Putnam’s Sons, 2005. 295pp. . $29.95. ISBN:0-399-15239-3

Blowing My Cover is a frothy, lightweight, and highly entertaining memoir of life in the CIA by a female case officer who had absolutely no business being there. Lindsay Moran served in the Agency from 1998 to 2003. She trained as a case officer, served one unsuccessful tour overseas, and has written an account of her adventures that may leave the reader wondering which was worse, Ms Moran as a spy or the CIA as an agency.

Early in her training, Ms Moran became disenchanted with the reality of CIA life. The job of case officer , which involved recruiting foreigners to commit espionage, seemed grubby by comparison with her romantic illusions of life as a spy. When asked by a superior about her moral qualms she answered , “ ‘I guess I pictured myself breaking into vaults and scaling walls in some kind of black unisuit’ I said, knowing how naive I sounded and how naive I in fact had been. ‘ I thought I was the one who would be stealing secrets...not some foreigner down on his luck, who could get arrested or killed.’ “

But Ms Moran persisted in her training, which she recounts in considerable, and entertaining, detail. She was never issued a black unisuit, but she was given paramilitary training that included weapons, explosives, and resistance to interrogation. One wonders how seriously any of this was taken. One trainee, who was incompetent with firearms to the point of being a menace, was given the highest marks in the class at weapon-craft. It seems that skill on the range was not a factor in the evaluation, which was conducted solely on the basis of a written multiple choice and true/false test.

Eventually Ms Moran was posted to the Balkans. From the beginning, she chafed at Agency security regulations and her limited social life. At one point she took an unauthorized trip to Bulgaria to visit friends without telling her superiors. Remarkably, she still had a job after she was caught at it. Another time she took a non-Agency friend along while traveling on CIA business. Her friend was baffled at why Moran was spending her time socializing with seedy Balkan paramilitary types.

The 9-11 attacks gave Moran a renewed, if short lived, dedication to her work. She was eager to recruit an agent who might provide information about the terrorist threat, and succeeded in tracking down a likely looking prospect. But even with the smoke still rising from Ground Zero, the CIA bureaucracy was more worried about the possibility of scandal than further attacks, and Moran was ordered to break contact with her prospective recruit - on the grounds that he had links to terrorism.

Moran resigned from the CIA in 2003. She was tired of the Agency, and disapproved of the war in Iraq. Her decision is hard to fault. She is clearly a better writer than she ever was a spy. Blowing My Cover is a lively and informative look at the day to day life of a CIA case officer, and a depressing reminder of just how far the Agency still has to go.

Reviewer: Burke G Sheppard   

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