My Secret Life at the CIA

We kept it under wraps for a long time. Only family members and a few friends knew, and they did their best to keep it a secret. It was a burden, the kind that affects everything you do in your life; it determines the kind of friends you keep, the activities you engage in, and the trajectory of your whole life. But after more than a decade of hiding from the world, I am finally ready to come clean.

So here it goes (stomach churning)… For all of those who wondered why it seemed like I had gone missing, dropped off the planet, or was completely unsociable, the truth of the matter is that I was working as an intelligence officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (yes, the CIA). I know those three letters conjure up thoughts of wild adventures, mystery, and intrigue. I got adventure alright: I lived in war zones and conflict-prone locations where I felt the daily bomb blasts of suicide explosions, hunkered down to avoid stray bullets during firefights, and tried not to let sickness consume me (in one country it seemed like the officers were perpetually ill for two years). As for mystery and intrigue? We got some of that too, but not the kind of drama you might imagine.

We saw a ton of the world but we worked harder than we will ever work in our lives. For ten years we were steeped in nothing but security, counterterrorism, and counterintelligence issues. If it didn’t happen in my part of the world, then I didn’t pay attention to it. American politics? American culture? I barely noticed. The long, repetitive names of Middle Eastern terrorists or the inner workings of al-Qa’ida? Got it.

For those of you who knew me from high school or college, you might wonder, “Sweet Michele in the CIA???” Yep. It’s true. I’m still sweet, but I am no pushover. I realized during my first trip to Egypt that I had to learn to be aggressive or I would be eaten alive on the streets of Cairo. I rescued the bits of my personality that had been pushed aside in order to be a well-liked southern girl—-and figured out how to employ them to survive.

Because I was conditioned to hide for so long, I have struggled to make this blog a reality, far after I had determined to do so. While everyone was moving towards full disclosure through Facebook postings, tweets, and blogs, I had receded from society and tried to hide my life. It has been enormously challenging for me to move in the completely opposite direction.

But that’s all behind me now! I have officially joined the digital age and let the cat out of the bag. The shaking of hands could not prevent me from finishing this post and fulfilling the urgent calling on my life: to use my skills as a (former) intelligence officer in the quest to motivate and inspire. While the “coming out” part still feels uncomfortable and scary, seizing the opportunity to inspire others feels really good. Here’s to life’s great adventures!


All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official positions or views of the CIA or any other U.S. Government agency. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying U.S. Government authentication of information or Agency endorsement of the author’s views. This material has been reviewed by the CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos Flickr via Compfight cc

Categories: FeaturedWomen's Issues + Awareness

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Michele Rigby Assad

After obtaining a masters degree in Arab Studies at Georgetown University, Michele applied—along with hundreds of others from the university--to work for the CIA. After a long and grueling hiring process and a year of intensive training, she became an intelligence officer for the National Clandestine Service, the covert (operational) arm of the Agency. Serving for a decade as a counterterrorism officer, Michele worked in all of the awful places you hope you’ll never visit, including Iraq during the height of the war. To date, Michele has traveled to 45 countries, lived in six of those, and has a lot of crazy stories to tell about life overseas. While working for the CIA, Michele initially decried the traits that made her different from senior male officers, but later realized that these traits were what made her a great intelligence officer (empathy, intuition, strong interpersonal skills). Now she’s on a mission to show women that they have the elements to be a Femme Fatale—the incredibly intelligent and operationally astute woman that gets stuff done. After years of service to her country, Michele has left the undercover life behind and now works as an international management consultant focused on Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. She has a more “normal” life now and a lot more time to do the things she loves: writing, cooking, traveling for pleasure, walking on the beach—and most of all, inspiring others!

  1. Hey Michele! I was happy to read the candid information you shared about working for the CIA. I am a female currently applying and have had all the thoughts you mentioned before even starting the process, especially the desire to give full disclosure when the questions are somewhat unclear during testing. Please wish me luck and if there is anything else you can share before I move into the interview phase (fingers crossed) please do! I am also a mother of a fourteen-year-old and am unsure how this will all affect her…..Thank you!

  2. Sorry you were disappointed Joel. Coming out was a big deal for me, so sorry if that wasn’t exactly the article you were looking for. Appreciate you reading it anyway :0)

  3. Great question! It’s hard to live a life like that for ten years–it takes a lot out of you, especially the locations that I was working in. We worked crazy hours 6-7 days a week, separated from friends and family, in difficult places. You can’t do that forever. Plus, working in a big bureaucracy is EXTREMELY challenging as I’m sure you can imagine. Oh the joys of the U.S. government 😉

  4. So are you just announcing your departure from the CIA? Because the title is a little misleading. I realize that you’ve been away for awhile but I kinda expected to read a story about a good-looking female CIA officer who was also into women. That intrigued me, your story so far…not so much.

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