CIA? Me, a Spy? Oh, My

The Day The Agency Called

Diana Riggs as Emma Peel

I’m not sure what prompted the recollection. I was just sitting on the couch watching some silly spy movie for the 17th time with Handsome Hubby. Somewhere between the commercials, the snacks and nodding off, I engaged in a little middle-aged woolgathering, the way we of a certain age do from time to time. I remembered something I hadn’t thought about in a long time – my own, true-to-life, almost CIA spy adventure.

I was young. (Like I said, it was a long time ago.)

I had studied in the then-Soviet Union, had two degrees in Russian Area Studies – political science, history, language, and economics, and spoke Russian with some degree of fluency.

Then the CIA called. You know, that CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency. I was about 24 at the time, a newspaper reporter in my hometown, Las Vegas.

The call wasn’t entirely unexpected. A family friend, a former spy?, had followed my academic and professional career and asked was I interested in talking to the CIA. I didn’t take it seriously, but said, “Sure,” and then promptly forgot about it.

Then the call came. An appointment date and location was set. It was in the Spring. Spring in Vegas is already warm and that particular day was really warm. You might say it was hot.

How I Almost Became a CIA Spy

Recovering from a broken leg and wearing a cast, I knew I would need to prop up my leg during the interview. So, I needed to wear pants, dressy pants, conservative, CIA-ish conservative pants. In a dazzling display of bad judgment, I chose camelhair pants on that unseasonably hot Spring day.

The interview took place at McCarran International Airport. I had trouble finding a parking place and had to hobble on my crutches a significant distance from car to the meeting room.

Miraculously, I arrived on time to the interview but panting and sweating – the epitome of a cool, calm, collected spy gal.

The CIA operative, I mean HR rep, detailed the various branches of service within the agency, which was informative and kind since it gave me time to catch my breath and stop sweating. I cannot remember all the divisions he named. I think there were five. I knew I wasn’t interested in the administrative side of the spy game, so that was out. I quickly eliminated from consideration the espionage branch. Surely, myopic, uncoordinated, unathletic, scaredy-cat me didn’t fit the she-spy profile. So, I said I was interested in the academic division.

“Oh, no,” the man replied quickly. “With your language skills and time spent in the USSR, you’d be perfect for the espionage branch.”

Secret Agent Ma’am

To the sound of Johnny Rivers singing “Secret Agent Man,” I tried picturing myself in Diana Rigg’s/Emma Peel’s sexy leather form-fitting jumpsuits.

I stifled a giggle and asked for spy-biz details. In a most animated voice, he described how I would be given a cover identity, which would be my “day” job, but that I would also work undercover for “The Agency.”

Since I was a reporter, that would make an ideal cover; or perhaps since my degrees were in Political Science, maybe I would prefer working for a government agency like the U.S. State Department or the U.S. Agriculture Department. I could decide, there was time.

At first, it had seemed silly, a lark going for this interview. Now it felt surreal and a bit scary.

Here I was a reporter used to sharing the information I gathered each day with the general public. Now standing in front of me was a man asking whether I could gather intel and keep it secret. Here I was used to asking my “off the record” news sources to trust their careers and reputations to me. Now a man was asking whether I could cultivate secret sources and ask them to trust their very lives to me.

There’s a man who leads a life of danger / To everyone he meets he stays a stranger/With every move he makes another chance he takes/ Odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow…
Lyrics, Secret Agent Man, Johnny Rivers, 1966

Who Do You Trust?

I was getting nervous. Which meant I started making stupid jokes. “So, er, I’d say stuff like ‘General, please pass the caviar and the secret documents.’”

“Yes, exactly,” said the CIA recruiter without cracking a smile. “Exactly.”

“Uh, would I tell my parents?” I asked.

He said I could. That was a relief.

“When I get married, can I tell my husband?”

“If you trust him,” came the deadpan reply.

I thought of lecturing the man on my belief that the essence of the matrimonial bond was trust, but decided if he didn’t know that, what was the point. He probably wasn’t the trusting sort.

By this point, my head was aching as much as my broken leg. The interview continued for some time. I don’t remember what else was discussed. In the end, the recruiter and I left it that I would think about it. I forget if I was supposed to call him or if he was going to call me. In either case, neither of us called.

The Road Happily Taken

Like I said that was a long time ago. Funny how we middle-aged folks tend to recall things at the oddest moments, isn’t it? Woolgathering and wondering about the “what if I had?” moments of life seem like second nature at times, don’t they?

Fortunately, if we’re lucky, we conclude that we made the right decision and chose the right fork in the road.

For my part, I know I wouldn’t have made a very good spy. I cannot even keep surprise birthday parties a secret. I am more than content, with the life I have. And while it is fun to daydream about “what if,” I know that I’m much happier saying, “Honey, please pass the red pepper flakes and another slice of pizza.” It doesn’t have the cache of “General, please pass the caviar and the secret documents,” but it works for me.

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What about it, my dear Middle-aged Muddlers? Do you have any favorite “what if?” career or life choice moments you’d like to share? Please comment.

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