Lillian McCloy's debut memoir, Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant: Undercover & Overwhelmed as a CIA Wife and Mother, is a fascinating inside look at an undercover life. McCloy is a brilliant story teller, sharing honest emotions without becoming sentimental. Her husband's new assignments required learning to live in new and diverse cultures and often created palpable tension. This is a fascinating reading adventure. Sometimes I had to remind myself this is not a novel, its Lillian's life. Wow!
Lillian McCloy grew up in Canada, worked as a paralegal and sang as a big band jazz singer before marrying Frank McCloy. She purposely excluded details that could jeopardize the safety of any agents serving our country now or then. She changed most of the names of those they interacted with in Frank's various assignments to protect "the innocent and the sly."
McCloy begins her story when she is seven months pregnant with their second child. Her husband was in Washington D.C. applying for a position with the Foreign Service. He called her: "...they want me for the C.I.A. but you can't talk about it." A few hours later, she went into labor. Her neighbors drove her to the hospital and provided child care for toddler John. Whether it was fear for the premature baby or the intense labor pain, McCloy repeatedly babbled to her neighbors, the doctors and nurses, "My husband is in the C.I.A." She blew her husband's cover before he was officially hired. Meanwhile baby Kristin was born, five pounds and perfect. She quickly learned the unbendable code, "No need to know."
Frank McCloy had been an only child, born late in life to over-protective parents. He wasn't allowed to ride a bike until he was twelve. As he grew older, he became a daredevil, always choosing the riskiest sports and life choices. McCloy believes that serving in the C.I.A. was inevitable for her charming adrenalin-junkie husband.
The author's strength is in her vivid recall of the details of her eight years in Spain, two years in India, six years in Japan, and a year in Venezuela. Their third child was born in Spain and Spanish was her first language. All three of their children became proficient in Spanish earlier than in English. She believes in learning a language by immersion, and it worked well for them in Spain. Later they found that Spanish wasn't much help in India or Japan.
Deep cover agents are responsible to the cover company to do the actual job. When McCloy's husband was assigned to a company as vice president of sales, it was his responsibility to quickly learn the job and succeed in that position. Only the company president and Frank's immediate superior were informed of his other, very real job. He had several passports and their lives were often juggling acts. They made friends easily with other 'ex-pats' and tried to keep low profiles while enjoying the local cultures.
Frank McCloy was an undercover case officer. C.I.A. agents are those whom case officers recruit to do the spying for them. When working deep cover in the C.I.A., your name really never appears anywhere, not even in payroll. Deep cover agents have no contact with the U.S. Embassy in foreign countries—unless a message must be conveyed. The word "spy" is never used, except in jest.
Undercover means you are on your own; there is no one there to help you. If you are arrested, you go to jail. Your name appears nowhere and you have become nobody. You are forever out in the cold. It is not a surprise to learn that the C.I.A. is an emotionless and unkind place to work. Consequently, it's no wonder that excessive drinking is often a big part of the cover. Yet I can't help admiring the raw courage of these men and women who choose the C.I.A. life for the good of us all.
Lillian McCloy knows who she is and what she stands for. You will too, after you read this classic memoir.
Lillian McCloy was born in Canada. She currently reside in the U.S. and travels as little as possible.
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