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Some little girls fantasize about fairy-tale weddings—frilly white dresses, yards of tulle and lace. Others look forward to donning surgeon’s scrubs or a police officer’s badge. But at age 6 Lindsay Moran had different dreams: The free-spirited child saw herself going incognito as a CIA spy.

Moran never lost that vision. “I wanted to serve my country while fulfilling a lifelong dream of entering what I was sure would be the endlessly exciting world of espionage,” says the now 35-year-old Northwest resident. After she graduated from Harvard, Moran sent her résumé to the CIA, determined to prove her father wrong. “You smoked pot,” he’d said. “They’ll never hire you.”

Five years, later Moran got her wish. She was off to Washington, D.C., for CIA “screening,” which turned out to be a weeklong mindfuck: confusing multiple-choice questionnaires, invasive drug tests, grueling polygraph sessions, and an encounter with a crotchety shrink who labeled her “sexually deviant” for having had non-missionary-style sex. In her first book, Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy, Moran writes that afterward she felt humiliated and was convinced she would never be hired. Yet she was.

It didn’t take long for Moran to realize that life as a spy was nothing like that of Sydney Bristow. Sure, there were glamorous moments during her two-year training in Langley, Va.: crashing cars into barriers while driving 60 mph, disengaging a 70-pound military pack from her legs mid-skydive, defending herself against border-patrol officers delivering trumped-up charges. But early on Moran felt isolated and anxious, disturbed by the web of lies spies are forced to tell. “I was always nervous that I was being followed or my phone was being tapped or my house was being watched,” she remembers.

Adding to her mounting disillusionment, she says, was the CIA’s reluctance to change Cold War–era spy-vs.-spy tactics in an intel world that was becoming more and more complicated. Her first assignment overseas, in Macedonia—where she was to recruit foreign informants by playing upon such vulnerabilities as financial problems or family illness—did nothing to change her feelings.

She was also bothered by what she saw as sexual double standards being played out: “Women were [seen as] more susceptible to flattery…” she writes. “Women presented a greater security risk. Women were weak.”

Then came the CIA’s failure to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks, followed by the United States’ decision to go to war with Iraq—a move that Moran says convinced her to leave the CIA for good in 2003.

After her resignation, Moran crafted the first four chapters of Blowing My Cover, a book she hoped would “open some people’s eyes to the way the intelligence community operates.” Because of the CIA’s bureaucracy, she first had to get approval from the agency’s Publication Review Board before publishing her memoir. The then-board-chairman read those chapters, called her, and said, “This is never going to fly,” she remembers. Undeterred, Moran finished her book, sent it back to the board—which by this time had a new chair—and got the green light.

When her book hits stores this week, Moran is prepared for fallout. In fact, one critic has already surfaced: Martha Sutherland, an ex-CIA case officer who, in the Dec. 16 edition of the New York Sun, wrote a scathing review calling Moran a “spoiled Ivy Leaguer [who] tried the spy game for a lark.”

At first Moran was upset. Then she felt empowered.

“I thought, This is great, because I write about these completely out-of-touch, slightly embittered characters who have spent their careers at the agency, and one has emerged out of the woodwork to criticize me,” she says. “You don’t write a book like this without expecting to ruffle a few feathers. As far as I’m concerned, there were a few feathers that needed ruffling.” —Heather Morgan Shott