To mark the DVD release of spy thriller The Debt (featuring MyDaily favourites Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain as Rachel - an undercover operative for Mossad) MyDaily jumped at the chance to quiz Lindsay Moran - a female former spy and author currently working at girls-only training academy Stiletto Spy School.
Read on for femme fatales, speedboat training and which item of clothing to pay attention to if you're using a disguise...
Hi Lindsay - so, as a former spy, how close to reality is The Debt?
"I watched The Debt on Monday and I loved it. It reminded me of what initially drew me to the world of espionage. Similar to Helen Mirren's character, Rachel, I was looking to do something for my country and had an idealised view of what being a spy would be like. What was so realistic about that move was it captures a lot of the non-glamorous aspects of being a spy."
Is being a female spy very different to being a male spy?
"For a female spy there are these extra challenges - maybe you're being hit on by a fellow agent, or you see that Rachel has these almost maternal instincts toward their captor, Vogel. It shows the added challenge of being a female spy. Really, espionage is a man's world and women can be great spies but you have additional challenges. [Rachel] gets pregnant during the mission and has morning sickness - it's the real world infringing upon the world of espionage."
So is the femme fatale label a fair one?
"Sometimes female spies get labelled 'Mata Hari' but at the CIA we're prohibited from using that [type of] quid pro quo and that kind of romantic or sexual relationship. But it does help to be a woman making initial contact, particularly because most targets are men. For the CIA we weren't trying to kill them, usually, so much as meet them and recruit them to be informants or sources of information. [But] you have to make it clear you're not going to sleep with them - you're not hitting on them which is usually the first thing they assume!"
"It's a combination of both. On the one hand women are attracted to the fun stuff - learning to bartend or seductive dancing - but really what they take out of it or what they're looking for, even if they don't realise, is this sense of empowerment. What [the classes] really give women, in addition to doing something cool, is this feeling of being able to protect themselves and that 'Wow, I could be a good spy'. They strike a nice balance."
Any CIA tips or tricks you could teach us?
"The most important thing I learned was being aware of your surroundings. In training we were in the middle of a lecture and all of a sudden these terrorist guys came into class and it was basically a hostage taking situation. They left and we realised it was a training exercise and we were asked to describe our attackers. It was amazing how people's ability to recall really wasn't that great.
[We learned to study] someone's face, the clothes they're wearing - particularly their shoes because when people change into a disguise usually they keep the same shoes on - then the same thing happened later and we were able to recall a lot greater detail.
You mentioned that spying involves a lot of speaking to strangers - what's your best ice-breaker?
One thing I used in training that I later used out in the field is the 'bump'. It's when you as the spy are trying to make contact with someone you've never met before so you have to think of some pretext to start a conversation. I pretended when I saw someone sitting on a couch in hotel lobby that I'd lost an earring in the cushions of the couch. Something as simple as that ended up striking up a conversation.
I actually used that in grad school when I was trying to meet a guy in the gym weight room - I pretended my earring was under the weight mat!
What do you make of the Russian spy-turned-celebrity Anna Chapman?
It's been a fascinating case to all of us in the intelligence community because it seemed like she was living the life of a spy - the intriguing and glamorous life we all envision that spies live - but it's unclear what the quality of information she was passing on was. To me it seemed like she was employed mainly as a social broker. Very good at making connections and friends.
What was the best thing about being a spy?
For me, the training was really the best part because that's the part where you're doing stuff like jumping out of airplanes and using weapons and driving cars round a racetrack really fast, crashing through barriers - you do nautical training where you're racing speedboats. I got the Most Improved award for our Crash and Burn class for defensive driving. If there's one thing I took away from my time at the CIA which will serve me for the rest of my life it's my improved driving ability!
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