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Inside the CIA

Aired February 1, 2005 - 23:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN HOST: The lady is a spy. A former CIA agent comes out from undercover to talk about espionage, intrigue and unwanted advances.
Hello and welcome.

Most of the spies we see are in the movies and most of them tend to be men, so while we keep an eye on more serious subjects around the world, we thought it would be nice today to meet a woman who emerged from the Central Intelligence Agency with stories to tell.

Lindsay Moran worked in Eastern Europe and the agency's headquarters, but now she's retired from the field to raise a family and recount her adventures.

On our program today, the She-I-A.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new challenge Lindsay Moran faces is not unusual: motherhood. But until 2003, her very unusual challenge was convincing foreigners to commit treason.

(on camera): Do you believe that women make better spies than men?

LINDSAY MORAN, FMR. CIA AGENT: I think women do make better spies, because I think that women are and have been from an early age conditioned to listen, and as a spy, a lot of what you're doing is listening.

ENSOR (voice-over): On the day after she delivered the commencement address to her senior class at Harvard in 1991, Lindsay Moran first contacted the CIA about a job.

They sent her to the Farm, the secret CIA training school outside Williamsburg, Virginia.

MORAN: That was actually incredibly fun. It was like a two-month Outward Bound experience.

ENSOR: They jumped out of airplanes, they practiced recruiting spies.

(on camera): OK. So you invite a man to a restaurant.

MORAN: Right.

ENSOR: . for lunch. And here we are. What is that man thinking?

MORAN: Nine times out of ten, he's probably thinking that you're hitting on him, and that's OK at the beginning, and it's one of the reasons why I think women make very effective case officers. It's a lot easier as a young woman to ask a man out to lunch or to coffee and for it to seem perfectly natura.

ENSOR (voice-over): At CIA training school, Lindsay learned to drive with a sixth sense, tracking other cars which might be following her.

MORAN: If you can't tell when you're being followed, you're not going to be a very effective spy.

ENSOR: She learned to watch out for five, six, seven different cars that might all be helping to track her on her way to meet with an agent.

MORAN: I would often be wearing a skirt or shorts and sometimes I would take notes of the license plates and car makes and models that I saw right on my thigh, because I could be pretty sure that I wasn't going to be strip searched by the CIA instructors.

ENSOR: Lindsay learned to make left turns and U turns frequently so as to force the followers to do the same and to expose themselves.

The movie "The Recruit" she says captures pretty well the atmosphere of the CIA form.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to hand you the tools of the black arts, not witchcraft, tradecraft.

ENSOR (on camera): Hollywood presents the career you had as an enormously glamorous and dangerous profession. Is it?

MORAN: No, on both counts.

ENSOR (voice-over): The beautiful spy on "Alias," the one with the James Bond gadgets, that's far from reality, she says.

MORAN: At the end of the day, the CIA is a lot of people in sensible shoes sitting in cubicles.

ENSOR: Lindsay Moran worked for the CIA in Macedonia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. She worked on the Iraq desk at CIA headquarters during the Iraq invasion, but already she had doubts about her chosen profession.

MORAN: I did have a deep level of discomfort, even with the profession of being a spy and leading the sort of double life, and using people and lying to everyone who was close to me.

ENSOR: And gradually too she lost her faith in the CIA.

(on camera): Do you think it's an organization that is broken at this point?

MORAN: Yes, I guess I do. I don't have the answers as to how the agency can adequately infiltrate terrorist networks or combat terrorism. I feel that the agency has been incredibly slow to respond.

ENSOR (voice-over): So now Lindsay Moran has written a book. Some at the CIA regard that as a betrayal of sorts. She knows that well.

MORAN: It's not a threat to write a book about a dysfunctional intelligence organization. It's a threat to have a dysfunctional intelligence organization, and that was my ultimate conclusion.

ENSOR: Lindsay Moran, author, former spy, future mother.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.


MANN: We take a break. When we come back, a conversation with Lindsay Moran about her clandestine career.

Stay with us.



ANNOUNCER (voice-over): They're the top spies for their size.

MANN (voice-over): "Spy Kids" started as one movie and there have now been three. The single punch line for this series: that mom, dad and the kids all work cloak and dagger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Close your eyes. We don't want you to see this, OK.

MANN: Proof that in Hollywood, anyway, spies can have a personal life.


Welcome back.

In Hollywood, they can. In real life, lying to just about everyone you know for a living gets in the way. Even so, Lindsay Moran told us that she was good at the job when she went to work in Macedonia.


MORAN: I had a very successful first tour. A lot of people have asked me, well, did you leave because the agency wasn't happy with you, and that actually wasn't the case at all.

I left for a number of both personal and ideological reasons, but my first tour was very successful. A case officer's success is determined by his or her ability to recruit foreigners, and I found that I was quite natural at this. Although, I have to say at the end of the day I didn't really enjoy it.

MANN: Why not?

MORAN: Well, there was something about asking a foreigner to do something that I would never do, which is essentially to betray his or her country. That made me very uncomfortable, and I think that I was a bit načve when I joined the agency in not realizing that that would be the bulk of my work. That is what a CIA case officer or a spy does.

And one of my disillusionments with the agency itself was that I felt that our career advancement as case officers depended not so much on the quality of recruitments we had but on the quantity. That is, the more recruitments you could get, the better.

I describe in the book, the tail end of the book, an agent that I was running that was virtually useless to us, and I think it was obvious to me and obvious to many of our analysts back at headquarters that this was a useless agent, and I kept arguing to headquarters that we should terminate this relationship. We shouldn't be paying money to this person as a source when they weren't really providing valuable information.

MANN: There is one thing about you that is a surprise to a lot of people, which is, of course, you're a woman. You're a female, or were a female spy. Let me ask you about that before we move back to more serious issues. Did that work your work harder or easier? Does gender matter in the espionage business?

MORAN: I think gender does matter, and I actually think that it made my work easier. I've said before that the best CIA case officers that I knew personally, that is the most professional, the most productive and the most successful at recruiting, tended to be women, and I describe in the book how it's easier for a woman -- most targets that you're going to be going after in the international arena are men, and there is something about the dynamic, obviously, between a man and a woman. It's much easier as a woman to make that initial contact without sending up a bunch of red flags -- why is this person approaching me.

Now, nine times out of ten, the foreign male target.

MANN: They get the wrong impression.

MORAN: . might -- yes, they might get the wrong idea, and they might assume that you're interested in them romantically. So it is kind of a tightrope that you have to walk between feeding the man's ego and making him feel important and thereby hopefully potentially recruiting him to work for the United States, but at the same time never giving him the idea that there is going to be any kind of romantic liaison between the two of you.

MANN: I'd love to hear more about the way you finessed that, but let me ask you about another personal aspect of this, which is, of course the work is going to be difficult in some level, but I'm curious about how hard it was in terms of the skills you needed, in terms of the tasks you were given, and also just on you emotionally as a person who basically has to lie and misrepresent so much.

MORAN: Well, I think the job of a case officer is an incredibly difficult job, and I certainly commend people who stick with it through the entirety of their career, because on the one hand, you are swimming upstream in the river of agency bureaucracy, I guess, and the job does take an incredible personal toll.

And that is just sort of a fact of espionage, and something that I had to come to grips with and kind of weigh whether or not I felt like this was the best thing for me to do with my life.

But you are lying to your family and your friends and potentially to the person that you might end up marrying, and at the end of the day I think that it takes an incredible personal toll and changes you a little bit, and I describe that in the book.

I mean, the book is a very light-hearted memoir of my experience at the agency. What I really wanted to do was put a human face on the spy, because that's something that I don't think we've seen done before in CIA memoirs or even spy novels.

I wanted to do that particularly because I was a woman, to put a face on the female spy. I don't think that it's harder professionally for a female spy but in some ways I think it is harder personally to make that sacrifice of deciding that you're going to live a double life. A lot of men are perfectly comfortable with that arrangement.

MANN: You spent how long in the agency?

MORAN: Five years.

MANN: Did you ever kill anyone? Did you ever break in anywhere? Did you ever break the law? Did you ever do anything that you really for the rest of your life will regret?

MORAN: That's usually the first question, did you ever kill anyone. And I can happily report no, certainly not on purpose, I don't think. No, I never killed anyone, and -- but you do break the law. That is your job as a CIA case officer. You are breaking the laws of other countries overseas. And that is the inherent risk of being a case officer.

And also a little bit, I think, of the inherent thrill to many case officers. And to myself, included, before I became disillusioned with the agency, that you're getting paid to sort of partake of a high-risk daring- do, that is breaking international law.

On the one hand, you know that if you have official cover, as I did, probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you is that you are going to be sent home.

MANN: Just one last question for you. The CIA, it has a very mixed reputation. Around the world, it's regarded as a very sinister, even evil organization. Inside the United States it's regarded as a disappointment, that it isn't more successful, especially after September 11. Some people say it's a failed organization. You were in it. What is the best way to sum it up do you think?

MORAN: Well, I think the best way to sum it up is it's an organization made up of humans. I mean, the agency collects what is called human intelligence, and what I try to convey in the book is that everyone involved in that is a human and has human foibles, and I think I'm very forthright about my own foibles and weaknesses in the book.

And when you have a conglomeration of people with human frailties and foibles, you're never going to have a perfect organization.

That said, it is a disappointment to me that the agency has dropped the ball, I think, and has had such a succession of intelligence failures. I would never describe the agency as sinister or evil. But ineffective -- I would describe the agency as highly ineffective, and the time that we're living in right now is a time when we can't afford to have an ineffective or dysfunctional intelligence organization.

MANN: Lindsay Moran, author of "Blowing My Cover," thanks so much for this.

MORAN: Thank you.


MANN: We have to take a break. When we come back we continue on to the more serious problems facing the entire CIA.

Stay with us.


MANN: Porter Goss is the now the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Since he was confirmed in the job late last year, about 20 senior officers have left. The comings and goings part of one of the biggest shakeups in CIA history.

Welcome back.

We heard Lindsay Moran allude to it. Ever since September 11 and then the war in Iraq, the CIA has been under a cloud. Over the last few months, the organization of U.S. intelligence gathering has begun changing. The people who do the intelligence gathering have been changing as well.

Goss says he wants the CIA to get back to the basics of the spy business, move more clandestine agents more aggressively into more places.

A short time ago we got in touch with Melissa Boyle Mahle, a former CIA officer who has also written her own book called "Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA from Iran Contra to 9/11."

She says there is no real consensus on what to fix there.


MELISSA BOYLE MAHLE, FMR. CIA AGENT: You know, I think that's part of the problem, that there isn't a consensus.

I mean, first of all, the intelligence community is not completely broken. Americans do not need to fear for their national security, you know, to that degree, but there are some real weaknesses within -- particularly within the CIA and then also in the community, how we communicate with each other and how we work together.

And this is a very important issue to work out now because, frankly, September 11, we see that as a result of our intelligence services not being able to work together.

MANN: Counter-terrorism and the Middle East were among your specialties. They obviously played into what happened on September 11. When it comes to those two particular key areas, how is the CIA, how is American intelligence doing?

MAHLE: You know, I think -- I mean, I give us a B, maybe even a B- minus.

We are out there doing some very threshold-pushing operations. Certainly if you start talking about renditions and picking up terrorists off the street around the globe, you know, this is very significant activity, but what we need to do is be a lot more aggressive. We need to get back to the basics of recruiting spies, human spies, around the globe, running these agents, don't be afraid to get down and dirty to do our jobs and to get the kinds of intelligence inside these terrorist groups that will allow us not only to stop operational planning and operational exploits such like we saw on 9/11, but also to shut down these networks and to get at the larger issue.

MANN: That sounds like the kind of thing that the new director of intelligence, Porter Goss, might be saying.

MAHLE: Yes, you know, it is exactly what he is saying. He's talking about getting back to basics on one hand, but also doing the work very differently, in non-traditional ways. And I think he's thinking in the right direction.

MANN: He's not just thinking, though. It would seem to be a housecleaning, almost even a witch hunt, going on at the CIA. What is your sense of what he's been up to so far?

MAHLE: I think what he has done is, first of all, he's brought in his own management team. And this is important. You know, any CEO will come in and bring in his own managers or her own managers.

He has done that but what he hasn't done very well in my opinion is articulate his vision in a way down to the troops, so that the troops can see, yes, that they are -- indeed, this vision is going to take them in a direction that they want to go and that they need to go.

There is a real fear of change within the directorate of operations, in particular, within the CIA, and he's butted up against that fear and that culture that is resistant to change. So we've seen a lot of resignations and we've also seen some firings as he tries to remake his management team, not just on the senior levels but down at the middle levels as they rearticulate just how we're going to do business different.

MANN: We had news this week that Robert Gates who used to be director of Central Intelligence, has turned down that job. How interested should we be in the problems that the Bush administration seems to be having filling that key job?

MAHLE: Well, first of all, I think this time lag is very important, because it can send the impression that this is not a priority, whereas this really -- finding the new director of national intelligence should be a key priority for this administration and for the nation.

But you need also to find the right person, who is going to be a person close to the president and also have the skills and the proven experience of being able to manage large organizations, large structures, and lead, not just manage but lead. Take them to new directions.

So finding the right person is very important. Now, why aren't people coming out of the woodwork to say, you know, I want this job, I have a chance to shape the future face of U.S. intelligence. Well, there is a real concern that the DNI, the director of national intelligence, won't actually be empowered to do anything. He'll be kind of like the counter- narcotics czar, and our history with that was not very good. It was a figurehead.

MANN: There is another phenomenon going on, the idea that the new national intelligence director wouldn't be a powerful figure. The Pentagon, under Donald Rumsfeld, seems to be eating away at some of the CIA's traditional authority, some of its traditional mandate. How much are we seeing in the turmoil inside the CIA an additional phenomenon, which is that the Pentagon is doing its best to sidestep the CIA? The intelligence agency, the traditional intelligence gather apparatus is simply losing its importance.

MAHLE: You're speaking in the language of turf wars, and one of the things that we learned from 9/11 is that we cannot be in the turf war game anymore. We cannot have bureaucratic internecine warfare.

What we need to do is work as a team, and I think the real question to be asking here is, yes, we have a problem with insufficient intelligence being collected by human sources, and how are we going to get around that. And so we hear about this new organization within the Department of Defense.

The question we need to be asking is, OK, if this is a new capability, how are you going to integrate it into the other human, so to speak, operations, and how are you going to fuse these capabilities, and are you just going to be robbing Peter to pay Paul, because you have to realize, there is a real resource problem here. I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about people, especially in the Middle East, people who have experience as case officers, people who speak Arabic, people who know the culture. Where are you going to get these people? And if you're just going to be taking them from other human operations, how are you being a force multiplier?

MANN: Let me ask you one last question. For the longest time, we were used to our spies being secret agents. We didn't hear from them. Now people like you are writing books. There are a lot of people like you writing books. There must have been half a dozen over the last year or so that have emerged of ex-CIA officials coming forward to explain what's wrong with the agency and their views perhaps on how to fix it.

Why are we hearing so much from former insiders now?

MAHLE: It does sound like a growth industry, but you know, when I started thinking about writing my book, the reason why I decided to do it was because there was nothing out there about the agency really in the 1990s. We had lots of literature about the 1960s, but that's ancient history. And I worked as a recruiter for the agency, hiring new employees to come in and work as case officers, to do the work I did, and I heard again and again from these young people, "But what is it like to be in the CIA? What's it like to be a woman in the CIA? What does a case officer actually do?"

And I think that what you see now today with these books coming out is an attempt by insiders, former insiders, to fill that void.

MANN: Melissa Boyle Mahle, author of "Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA from Iran Contra to 9/11." Thanks so much for being with us.

MAHLE: Thank you for having me.


MANN: And that's INSIGHT for today. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.



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