In 1999, a year after the CIA’s director declared war on al-Qaeda, the agency was still training its spy recruits in the art of working embassy cocktail parties and giving James Bond-esque classes in evasive driving, according to a book by a woman who spent five years in the CIA’s clandestine service.
Even after the Sept. 11 attacks, wrote Lindsay Moran in her forthcoming book, Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy, the CIA was slow to change espionage tactics. Sept. 11, she wrote, “sent everyone at Headquarters into a tailspin” trying to understand the intelligence failures that let the terrorist plot go undetected.
But when Moran, then stationed in Macedonia, developed a source who claimed to know Islamic extremists, her overseers at the CIA’s Directorate of Operations cabled her that because “Subject may at one time have had terrorist ties,” Moran should “cease and desist from any further contact with Subject.”
Two years later, after a stint working on Iraq (news – web sites) issues before the U.S.-led invasion, Moran resigned from the CIA. She says she was frustrated with the crimp her career had put on her personal life and was disillusioned by CIA bureaucracy.
Her account is the latest in a series of critiques that have portrayed an agency slow to respond to new kinds of threats in countries that don’t have U.S. embassies and where cocktail parties violate Islamic law.
“When I was in training in 1999, the agency was still using this paradigm for training that, so far as I can tell, was implemented sometime in the Cold War,” Moran said last week in an interview.
Moran said she has friends at the CIA who have just completed training to be “case officers” for the Directorate of Operations. “I’ve asked them, ‘Are they still using the same training model?’ They say they are. We still have spy trainees who are being asked to troll the diplomatic cocktail circuit.”
Her year of training at “The Farm” – the CIA’s field academy for clandestine officers at a base outside Williamsburg, Va. – included paramilitary exercises, mock ambushes and parachute jumps. It also had a section in evasive driving that students called “crash-and-burn” and an exercise in which students at a pretend embassy reception sought to recruit “foreigners” to spy for the CIA.
She completed training in December 1999, a year after then-CIA director George Tenet, in a memo to his top lieutenants, declared that the CIA was at war with al-Qaeda. “I want no resources spared in this effort,” Tenet wrote.
CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said the agency negotiated with the author over some passages but cleared the book, which is scheduled to be in stores next month, because previously published accounts also described CIA training. Approval was granted during Tenet’s tenure as director.
Guilsher said the training for CIA field operatives has changed: “Certainly since 1999 training in the clandestine service has evolved considerably to reflect current realities.”
Some espionage techniques that Moran learned remain relevant. Agency officers in Iraq use their evasive-driving skills almost daily. And operations in Afghanistan (news – web sites) have increased, not lessened, the need for the paramilitary skills that Moran called irrelevant.
In an otherwise critical book review in The New York Sun, Martha Sutherland, an 18-year veteran of the Directorate of Operations, said Moran accurately describes CIA training, perhaps too accurately.
“I was shocked by the level of detail allowed by the CIA publications review board, as well as by how little has changed since I underwent the same greenhorn training 18 years earlier,” Sutherland wrote.
Moran’s description of training comes at a time when Tenet’s successor, Porter Goss – who criticized the CIA in his previous role as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee – is struggling to meet emerging threats of terrorism and weapons proliferation. Tenet told the 9/11 Commission it would take five years to fix human intelligence, meaning information gathered from people rather than through technology such as spy satellites. Goss has said he believes that prediction is optimistic.
Tenet has declined all interview requests since leaving the agency last summer.
Moran, a Harvard graduate, taught English in Bulgaria before joining the CIA. But she says that foreign experience almost thwarted her chances because CIA officials were nervous about hiring applicants with overseas ties.
Guilsher said the CIA is “actively pursuing individuals who have traveled abroad,” particularly if they have language skills relevant to the Middle East, Central Asia and East Asia.
Applicants with foreign relatives require additional security checks, Guilsher said, but as long as a job candidate is a U.S. citizen, such ties are “not an impediment to agency employment.” Last year, the CIA handled 138,000 applicants, “allowing us to be very selective,” Guilsher said.
In the book, Moran issues a warning to the next generation of spies. Career advancement comes from the number of sources a case officer recruits, Moran wrote, not from the quality of those sources. The result is the CIA tends to get information from low-level insiders and lacks the high-level sources who might know about secret nuclear programs or the next terrorist attack.
The problem, said Richard Russell, an intelligence expert at the National Defense University, is that the CIA “has not changed its business practices developed in the Cold War.”
Those practices yielded poor results in recruiting Soviet sources, Russell said. “And if those practices delivered poor results then, they’re even less likely to succeed today.”