Lindsay Moran spent several years as a case officer at the CIA after graduating from Harvard and later wrote a 2005 book about her experiences, "Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy" (Putnam), a ribald retelling of the manifold challenges of being both adventurous and female at one of America's stodgiest and strictest national-security services. In a interview with NEWSWEEK's Michael Hirsh, Moran reflects on the career of fellow spy Valerie Plame Wilson, who spoke publicly before Congress for the first time on Friday since her identity as a clandestine operative was "outed" by newspaper columnist Robert Novak in July 2003. Wilson's exposure lead to the recent trial and conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, on perjury and obstruction charges. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: In general, how difficult is it still for women working inside the CIA?
Lindsay Moran: The CIA remains very much a good ole boys network, and to move up through its ranks as a woman is certainly challenging. That said, the most successful spies—that is the CIA officers who were most adept at getting recruitments—whom I knew were women. The job relies greatly on a.) intuition and b.) a refined set of social skills. In my experience, these traits seemed to appear and/or develop more naturally in female CIA officers.
Do you think the sort of cavalier treatment of a CIA career that Plame got could happen to a man inside the clandestine service?
I think the CIA and the intelligence community as a whole certainly would have had a more outraged response had Plame been a man. To begin with, all of the supposed ambiguity about whether or not she was "under cover" likely would not have been issue. To anyone inside the agency, it's obvious that Plame's true identity was indeed classified information, and that no matter what duties she was involved in at the time of the leak, she remained a covert officer. To be honest, I do not think her name would have been leaked in the first place had she been a man.
What is the impact in the long run of the Plame case?
The fact that it happened is a loss to the agency—longtime covert operatives like Plame don't grow on trees—but, more importantly, it sets a dangerous precedent, suggesting that it's OK to "out" a CIA officer. So far, no one has been held accountable for that particular transgression.
All that said, it's probably the best thing that could have happened to Plame in the long term. Instead of dwindling in obscurity in the bowels of Langley [CIA headquarters], she's landed herself a handsome book deal and unprecedented notoriety as a former spy. The CIA retirement package isn't nearly as attractive!