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Blowing my Cover by Lindsay Moran

4.5 stars
Putnam © 2005, 295 pages

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In Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy author Lindsay Moran tells the true story of her relatively brief career with the CIA, a five-year stint that straddled the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Moran begins with her early interest in espionage--childhood fantasies fueled by spy novels and James Bond matinees--and her first application to the Agency, right out of college, which she did not pursue past an informational meeting in a Washington D.C. 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.") Five years later, however, Moran reapplied to the Agency, over her family's objections, and this time she saw the process through to the end.

Moran spends a little more than half of her book detailing the intensive training that she underwent at The Farm, the CIA's site in Virginia. She and her fellow would-be spooks learned how to defuse bombs and jump out of planes. They practiced wearing disguises and ramming beat-up Cadillacs through walls and fences and lines of parked cars. Plunked down separately in a wilderness area, they were required to navigate to a specified location using only a contour map and a compass, a feat the trainees accomplished with varying degrees of success. ("Sally was found close to dark, half naked in a swamp. Frustrated by her inability to find her destination, she'd inexplicably decided to bathe.")

After graduating from The Farm Moran was sent to Skopje, Macedonia, a post for which she learned Serbo-Croatian (and such handy phrases as "Some of the women were raped, but all the men were killed.") As a case officer for the CIA, Moran's primary job was to recruit foreign agents--people who had access to information and would be willing to sell it--and to maintain the agents who were already under her control. Some of her job had a cloak-and-dagger excitement to it--clandestine meetings and coded signals--but much of it was dull, from the reams of paperwork she was required to fill out to the necessity of listening to some low-level agent's marital complaints during a meeting. Perhaps it is a reflection of the banality of much of her work as a spy that Moran's narrative, downright fascinating in the first half of the book, is less compelling in the second.

Two themes run throughout Moran's book. She complains often about the difficulty she had as a CIA operative maintaining non-Agency relationships. The easy lies and ostensibly bizarre behavior of spies--the odd hours and unexplained departures--take their toll on friendships and love affairs. And Moran was ill at ease even during her training about the nature of the work she would be required to do as a CIA case officer, preying on targets, approaching them under false pretences, and using their vulnerabilities as a means of convincing them to sell their state's secrets. Moran's loneliness on the job and her moral discomfort with it were jointly responsible for her decision to resign from the Agency in 2003.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

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