Glamour: Why These Two Former Female CIA Agents Are Running for Office
By: Caitlin Moscatello
When Abigail Spanberger decided to run for Congress in Virginia’s Seventh District, step one was telling loved ones—including her three daughters—she was entering politics. Step two: dropping the bomb that she used to be in the CIA, before news broke. “I had concerns my girls would be at school and kids would say, ‘Oh, your mom was the “spy,’” she says. It is a point of interest on the trail: “Women—men too, but especially women—hear my background and say, ‘That’s badass.’”
Spanberger, 38, a Democrat, is looking to unseat Rep. Dave Brat, a Republican and member of the Freedom Caucus. She had spent months exploring a potential run, but Brat’s vote to repeal Obamacare last May pushed her over the edge, even if it meant she’d have to talk publicly about a part of her life she’d shared only with her husband, parents, and sisters. “I knew that once those three letters, CIA, came out of my mouth, I could never go back.”
Under presidents Bush and Obama, Spanberger’s job as a CIA operative was to persuade foreign nationals to share information with her. “Sitting across the table from someone committing espionage on behalf of the U.S. and being their only point of contact—it’s a heavy responsibility,” she says. Such meetings could require days of travel with no communication. “I’m very good at, ‘This is Plan A, but these are all the things that could go wrong, and here are the ways we can adapt,’ ” she says. Her agility (and her foreign affairs expertise) could sway voters in her June primary.
Elissa Slotkin, 41, a Democrat running for Congress in Michigan’s Eighth District, is also former CIA. As a Middle East analyst with expertise in Iraqi politics from 2003 to 2011, she evaluated caches of intelligence after the U.S. invaded Iraq and presented it to senior officials, including the president.
After the CIA she served as the acting assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs before returning home to Michigan a little over a year ago “to reset.” She was considering her next career move when Rep. Mike Bishop, the Republican incumbent, voted to repeal Obamacare. As with Spanberger, that moment triggered her decision to run. “Obamacare needs to be reformed, but to repeal without a replacement? Something broke in me,” says Slotkin, whose mom died of ovarian cancer in 2011, after struggling to get insurance with a preexisting condition. “I had that experience so many people have had: My mother was on the MRI gurney, and they would not wheel her in until I wrote an $8,000 check.” Slotkin is poised to be the Democratic nominee and outraised Bishop by over $100,000 in each of the first two quarters of her campaign, mostly from small donations from individuals.
Slotkin’s and Spanberger’s districts lean Republican, but they hope their CIA experience and work across party lines can sway voters tired of partisanship. “I did three tours in Iraq and nobody ever asked me my party,” says Slotkin. “I know what it’s like when our government focuses on a mission and gets things done.”