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Spying on Whidbey’s sights

A former Central Intelligence Agency operations officer recently infiltrated Whidbey Island, conducting a thorough reconnaissance mission successful in identifying prime targets — for inspiring awe.

Lindsay Moran worked as a CIA “spook” for half a decade before leaving the agency to pursue a less covert occupation. Or more accurately, occupations. In addition to raising two small boys with her husband, a Washington D.C. photographer, the Harvard graduate writes for a number of publications including the New York Times. The latter job for the massively circulated periodical brought her to Whidbey Island in early September.

“Since leaving the agency, I’ve been able to write articles on a number of topics,” she said. “I most enjoy travel articles though, which enable me to combine some of my favorite activities: traveling, writing and ‘snooping about.’”

Published in the Travel section of the Sept. 21 edition of the New York Times, Moran wrote at length about what locals already know: Whidbey Island is a unique, best kept secret. The accomplished writer, however, was edifying a different audience, namely the rest of the country.

“It takes about an hour to drive the length of Whidbey Island, and less than that to discover that it’s nearly impossible to make a wrong turn,” she wrote in the article.

Moran and her family set up camp in Coupeville, staying for part of the time in a cottage at Garden Isle Guest Cottages and Vacation Home in Coupeville. Maintaining a low profile, an instinctual carry-over from her former life, she surreptitiously experienced the island from end to end. Garden Isle owners Dan and Darrellyn Currier were unaware that one of their guests might know exactly how many failed attempts there have been on Fidel Castro’s life.

“They just told me they were there for a family getaway,” Dan said.

Currier and his wife value their guests’ privacy. But when tourism ideas are solicited, the former Whidbey Tours owner is a wealth of information.

“I try to point out the good restaurants, the good hikes, things to do so they can really get around the beautiful island that we have,” Dan said. “I give them options. Coupeville is in a hub and you can access pretty much anywhere from here. You can do a lot in a day.”

Consequently, Currier’s respect for Moran’s privacy led him to believe the family in the cottage was doing nothing more than enjoying the island and Currier’s quaint spread.

“We had a wonderful stay at the Garden Isle Guest Cottages,” Moran said. “I didn’t tell Dan or his wife that I was writing an article until I was about to leave ... so I knew that their hospitality and helpfulness had been genuine.”

While chewing the proverbial fat with Moran’s husband shortly before the family’s departure, Currier first learned of the writer’s unique background.

“He said she used to be a spy in the CIA just as she was walking up,” Currier said. “I put up my hands and said, ‘I didn’t do it!’”

Whatever it was that Currier imparted to Moran, it paid big dividends in terms of positive ink for the second oldest town in the state.

“A logical home base for exploring both Whidbey and Fidalgo is the centrally located town of Coupeville, once nicknamed City of Sea Captains and still remarkably unspoiled,” she wrote. “A stroll down the tavern-and-shop-lined Front Street or out onto the long pier, around which squawking seagulls and fast-moving harbor seals feed on fish, feels like a walk back in time.”

In a short amount of time, the perceptive and highly observant Moran managed to glean from her incognito mini-trips that Whidbey Island’s residents are as diverse as its terrain.

“From the artist communities and quaint hamlets of Langley and Coupeville to the decidedly military milieu of Oak Harbor, it attracts all and sundry types: nature lover, history buff, avid boater, bird or whale watcher, painter, writer, military aficionado, outdoor sports enthusiast, leisure-seeking retiree,” she wrote. “Former and current Navy pilots and their families call Whidbey home, as do many an aging hippie or dreamy-eyed artist. Imagine ‘Top Gun’ meets ‘Cocoon’ meets ‘Hair’ — all on a visually astonishing sliver shaved from an edge of America.”

Moran visited Whidbey back in 2005 with friends from Seattle and she admitted it was love at first sight. Coincidentally, her brother, an EA-6B Prowler pilot, was stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station about a year later.

“I was delighted to have another excuse to visit the island,” she said, adding that Seabolt’s kept her family in excellent fish and chips.

Moran’s time in the CIA was more than committed to memory. Her book, “Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy,” chronicled her agency years of 1998 through 2003 humorously and with no small dose of candor. In accordance with her secrecy agreement, the entire book was vetted by the CIA’s prepublication review board before publication was authorized. The process afforded the author an overabundance of correspondence with the review board and the agency.

“In the end, I think they were fair,” she said. “While parts of the book were critical of the CIA — and while the tone was rather cheeky — there was remarkably little that I was asked to change or leave out.”

The book describes the fulfillment of a childhood dream, in Moran’s case becoming a spy, and what happens when that dream as it was originally imagined, reveals a far different reality.

“Writing the book actually was tremendously fun,” she said. “I had many funny stories to tell, but of course, was unsure if the agency would let me tell them. Many people about whom I wrote in the book — changing names and relevant details, of course — have been in touch with me, in some typically clandestine manner, to tell me how much they enjoyed the book, or how accurate the descriptions of agency culture were. In fact, writing the book made me realize how many memorable times I’d had at the CIA, how formative was the training, and how many good friends I’d made.”

Transitioning from covert operations to journalism has somehow worked for the busy mother. The events leading up to her arrival on Whidbey and the subsequent publication of the New York Times article are stories in themselves. By the end of their stay, the Morans’ presence at Garden Isle had left an indelible impression on the owners.

“It’s kind of fun to think that a spy came to Whidbey,” Currier said.

Moran’s article can be read in its entirety at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/21/travel/escapes/21american.html?_r=1&-r=1&oref=slogin&oref=slogin.

Garden Isle Guest Cottages and Vacation Homes can be reached at 678-5641 or visit www.gardenislecottages.com

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