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What does spying for the CIA entail?

Spying For The CIA

Lindsay Moran (Former CIA Spy) gives expert video advice on: What does spying for the CIA entail?; What countries do CIA officers spy on?; How does the CIA decide where to send officers to spy? and more...

What does spying for the CIA entail?

Spying for the CIA entails usually living overseas or at least traveling overseas and recruiting foreigners to sell you secret information. Stealing secrets is how we commonly refer to it in the CIA. Your job is to break the laws of other countries. In some ways there's a thrill associated with that in that you're being paid to break the law, not the law of your own country but the laws of other countries.

What countries do CIA officers spy on?

CIA officers spy all around the world. We no longer have the cold war governing a lot of our intelligence operations, but that doesn't mean that we trust the Russians and they trust us, and we don't spy on each other. It's the spy versus spy game between us and the Russians, and it still goes on to this day. But, there's also a lot more co-operation between the CIA and other foreign intelligence services, as we all try to track terrorists. This fight against terrorism has become a global war and one in which we have a number of allies, and so rather than spy on them, we usually work with them and try to share information.

How does the CIA decide where to send officers to spy?

The CIA decides where to send it's officers based on where it needs the most intelligence, and currently you might see a great number of CIA officers in Iraq or in Afghanistan. But that doesn't mean that all of the CIA officers are there, because the CIA still needs to have a global presence. I think that we have suffered before from concentrating too much in one area and letting intelligence dwindle in another area. We've seen that particularly in the war in Iraq, that maybe we were too focused on areas that were hold-over's from the Cold War and not focusing our attention on an area like Iraq where we wound up having a lot of faulty intelligence.

What does a CIA officer actually try to find out?

While you are spying as a CIA officer, you pretty much have no life of your own because you're spending all of your time either meeting with your foreign agents, writing about your meetings with your foreign agents or planning meetings with foreign agents, trying to find a new place to meet the foreigner that's secret, maybe trying to coordinate a meeting in a whole different part of the world so that they're more under the radar screen. So, when you're spying there is virtually no time that you can devote to your own life because almost all of your attention and energy is focused on either recruiting foreign spies or conducting safe operations.

What type of equipment is given to CIA officers while spying?

A lot of people are surprised to discover that the tools of the average spy are pretty simple. I mean, you've got your car, you've got your memory, and sometimes you might take some notes. But there's not a lot of those cool gadgets you see in James Bond movies, like shoe phones and little cameras that might shoot out a spear at someone. So, really, the tools of the average spy are pretty rudimentary. You're relying foremost on your wits and, secondly, probably, on your training.

What training is most valuable while spying as a CIA officer?

The training that I think is most valuable is the surveillance detection training. Once you feel confident that you're able to detect surveillance, I think you feel a lot more confident meeting your foreign agents and running operations. The unfortunate thing is that even years of training and practice are not going to make you perfect. And there might always be a team of surveillance who are able to beat you. And so, that's part of the stress of being a CIA officer, you can never be 100% sure of anything. You can never be 100% sure that you're not being followed. You can never be 100% sure that you're getting accurate information. No amount of training can guarantee that.

What types of danger do CIA officers face while spying?

Ironically, I never felt that I was at a great deal in danger when I was a CIA spy. But that is not to say there are not dangers inherent to the job. A lot of CIA officers are working in war torn countries or countries where we have military actions going on. So that in and of itself is inherently dangerous. For me, I think the most dangerous aspect of being a CIA officer is the amount of driving that you do. You are driving a lot of the time and usually you are driving in foreign countries where they don't have the transportation infrastructure that we do. People drive like maniacs. The roads aren't good and you are driving around at night, usually unlit places and at the same time looking all around you to try to make sure you are not being followed. And I think people don't expect that aspect of the job to be the most dangerous but I would venture to say that is probably where you have had the most CIA deaths or injuries.

What are the toughest things about spying for the CIA?

I think one of the biggest challenges is really separating your personal life from your professional life. Or I guess, coming to grips with the fact that you're not really going to have a personal life. The job of being a CIA spy is pretty much a 24/7 job. And, the relationship that you have with your agents and with your CIA colleagues tend to supersedes the relationships you have with your family members and sometimes with your spouse. And this is kind of the expectation that the CIA has and the way the CIA culture is. It's similar to that the CIA becomes your family more so than anything else. And it can really have a detrimental effect on your relationship with your real friends and your family. And it is something either that you have to accept or face the fact that it is not the right culture for you.

What laws do CIA spies commonly break?

When spies are operating overseas, they're breaking one fundamental law that every country has, which is the anti-espionage laws. It's against the law to spy on us, and anybody that we catch spying in the United States we're probably going to either kick out of the country or throw in jail. And so, as an American working for the CIA, you're doing the same thing overseas. You're breaking the laws of that country by spying on them, and stealing their secrets.

How do CIA spies help America?

CIA spies help America by doing the nitty gritty work involved in gathering intelligence. That is, CIA spies are the ones out there who are kind of on the front line actually stealing the secrets that then our Washington policymakers use to determine foreign policy, to decide what we're going to do in a certain part of the world, to decide if we're going to take a military action here or hold a foreign government accountable. So as a CIA spy you're really working for your country. You're doing a lot of dirty work for the greater good of American ideals.

Does the CIA spy on Americans?

The CIA is expressly forbidden from spying on Americans. That's part of our law and that's supposed to be job of the FBI. Of course, there have been instances where the CIA has ended up gathering information about American citizens, but it's not supposed to happen. When we find that we are getting information about an American we really should pass that over to the FBI. That's their preview.

What would happen if a spy was caught in foreign territory?

If you, as a CIA officer, are caught in a foreign country, it really depends, both on what kind of relationship we have with that country, that is what kind of relationship the American government has with that country, and what your cover story is. Best case scenario, we have a good relationship with that country, maybe you have diplomatic cover and you're just sent home. And it's a glitch in your career but you're not thrown in a jail cell. Of course, nowadays, there's much graver threats that face CIA officers because you could be caught in a foreign country by a terrorist organization and they certainly do not follow the rules that we have set forth and that are kind of commonly understood between countries. So, worse case scenario, you could get caught by someone, by a terrorist group who imprisons you, tortures you, kill you. I mean, there are certainly great risks that CIA officers take in conducting business in certain parts of the world without any kind of a safety net.