Ask Willa


The dangerous and heroic world of espionage animates our imagination in a way that creates exciting and mysterious heroes such as James Bond. But what about the heroines? Who are these women who risk their lives to keep our nation safe? And what is their real life world all about?.

In FSM's series, Ask Willa, you'll meet one such woman. Using the pseudonym Willa, this former CIA operations officer worked to protect our country for over 30 years. In her column you'll be taken into the life of a real operative - a sometimes frightening and always challenging world. Find out if you have what it takes to do the work of Willa, master spy...!

Willa's Welcome Note

Dear Readers,

Since this is my first article, let me explain that my name is not really Willa. That's my pseudonym (pseudo), well, part of it anyway. The rest remains classified. During my thirty-plus years as an operations officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations (DO), I used a pseudo for everything I wrote. The pseudo is not a name you say aloud to someone, rather it is a name that is used in all communications. The purpose is to protect the identity of the case officer who is writing or being written about.

Most pseudos are decidedly unromantic. Mine bore no resemblance to such glamorous names as "Alexis Carrington" or "Paris Hilton." No, mine was more in the line of Hazel Q. Zygoteendorfster, a name you would never see anywhere. But it served its purpose. It protected my true identity from anyone (a spy) who might try to intercept our communications and see my real name.

I also had an alias, well more than one actually. An alias is an entirely different matter. Aliases are used when you are involved in an operation, meeting an agent, doing clandestine work. Unlike a pseudo, with an alias, you have a name and a history (legend) that goes with that name, such as Jane Doe, sales representative with ABC Corporation. The depth of the alias identity depends on the complexity of the operation being undertaken. If you are using the alias for a single meeting which does not have ramifications, you will not need a long "legend." But if you are using an alias in a continuing operational relationship with a potential agent, you will need to have an entire background story, namely a legend, with name, history, backstopping, and knowledge of the field you claim to be working in.

Working in an alias identity can be exciting but you always have to remember to stay in character, just as in the theater, except in this case there is no margin for error, for missing a line or forgetting your character. Lives really can be at stake.

Pseudos and aliases are but two of the devices used to protect intelligence officers and agents from identification in the complex and compartmented world of espionage.

Stay tuned for upcoming insights into the world of espionage...


Please come back soon to read Willa's Questions and Answers! 

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