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03.29.12

Lynnae Williams: The CIA Spy Who Tweets

Lynnae Williams has a beef with the CIA—and she’s using her Twitter account to tell the world about it. In the process, Eli Lake reports, she may be disclosing a few details the agency would rather not publicize.

The Twitter feed belonging to Lynnae Williams at first glance looks like most Twitter feeds. There are tweets about what she is reading (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Madame Bovary); tweets about politics (leans toward the Occupy movement); and tweets about food (tuna casserole, carrot-cake muffins). 

But on closer inspection, the feed features something rare for Twitter and even the Internet: detailed disclosures about the CIA. On Tuesday for example, Williams tweeted, “The #Farm is #CIA's training center near #Williamsburg, Virginia. I think it's the Kisevalter Center or something.”

In other tweets, Williams, who in 2009 spent nearly four months training to be a CIA spy, details her own experiences with CIA case officers, psychiatrists, and the special security division of the agency that serves as the CIA’s police force. In short, Williams since late February has been disclosing details of her brief CIA career in 140 characters or less.

I caught up with the 35-year-old would-be spy on Wednesday at the Washington mission for the Palestine Liberation Organization. She was interviewing for a job there in government and press relations. “The interview went well,” she said, even though “I don’t have substantial knowledge in the area. I don’t speak the language.” Williams, who does speak Japanese, added, “I don’t know enough about the [Arab-Israeli] conflict, but I hope they resolve it.”

Williams says she began tweeting because she wanted an outlet to tell the world about her disputes with the CIA and what she calls a pattern of corruption at the agency. She also publishes a blog called CIA corrupt. “I wanted to start the Twitter account with my blog to get out my message,” she says.

A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment for this story. Another U.S. intelligence officer, who was not authorized to speak to the press, told The Daily Beast that the agency is aware of the Twitter feed and that Williams is a hot topic on classified social networking, such as the classified intelligence community version of Facebook known as A-Space. Williams has disclosed her official medical records on her blog and other personal documents related to her time in the intelligence community.

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Eli Lake discusses his story on Lynnae Williams.

Williams’s main grievance with the agency revolves around her termination. Williams says that as a trainee in the agency’s national clandestine service, she was sent to Dominion Hospital, a public mental-health facility in northern Virginia. Williams referred to the hospital in the interview and her Twitter feed as the CIA’s “psychological prison.” She said the place had white walls and inedible food, and that doctors there urged her to take Risperdal, a drug commonly prescribed to schizophrenics and Lithium, a drug prescribed to manic depressives. 

Williams says she refused and eventually her parents drove up from Atlanta and discharged her. “They wanted to keep me for observation,” she said. “It’s not a nice place, it’s dilapidated. It’s called a hospital, but it’s a prison, you can’t get out unless they let you out.”

All told, by Williams’s account, she spent one night at Dominion Hospital in 2009 and then another five days in the hospital's outpatient program.

Melissa Ozmar, a spokeswoman for Dominion Hospital said, “We’re not going to disclose information about what patients we see that work for certain agencies. Given the proximity of our facility, it is not unrealistic to think that employees and their families for some agencies would seek help from our hospital.”

Ozmar declined to discuss Williams or her stay at Dominion. “It’s not our practice to discuss anything about our patients,” she said. When asked if she agreed that the hospital was like a prison, Ozmar said, “ For patient safety we do have restricted access. But the hospital could not in anyway be compared to a prison.”

Williams say she first applied to work at the CIA in 2006, while she was earning her master's degree at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. She landed a job instead at the Defense Intelligence Agency as an analyst. At first, Williams says, she worked on counterterrorism projects, then on studies of China’s leadership. In 2007, she says, she was shipped out to a clandestine facility in Iraq, where she worked as an Arabian Peninsula analyst.

In July 2009, Williams says she was transferred to the CIA’s national clandestine service training program, where she took the “field tradecraft course.” Williams says her life changed permanently on Oct. 27, 2009, when a colleague reported her to CIA security for what she says was "bizarre and inappropriate behavior," such as looking on classified computers for information about herself and telling colleagues that she was being followed. She had a meeting with a CIA psychiatrist that day, who ordered her to take a medical exam, with urine samples, and inquired about her self-acknowledged attention deficit disorder. “She asked me about my family’s mental-health history,” Williams says of the CIA psychiatrist. “My aunt has schizophrenia—I did not tell her that.” Later that evening, Williams had an auto accident and says she was cited by Washington, D.C., police for leaving the scene. After that, Williams says, the CIA ordered her to Dominion Hospital.

Since her time there, Williams has been fighting a largely losing battle with the agency. In 2010, she says, her security clearance was suspended and the agency stopped paying her salary. She is pursuing legal redress against the CIA for wrongful termination, but her odds don’t look good. On Wednesday, Williams posted on Twitter a response from the American Civil Liberties Union declining to take up her case.

Mark Zaid, a national-security attorney who regularly represents intelligence officers in legal actions against the U.S. intelligence community, said, “Based on the current state of the law, unfortunately the judiciary will not adjudicate adverse clearance decisions, no matter how abusive, incorrect, or absurd they may have been."

Zaid says that medical issues at the CIA can at times “be used as weapons,” adding “I have had CIA clients sent to alcohol and drug treatment. The agency has spent thousands of dollars for people to get treatment and then they fire them, which doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Without a security clearance, Williams will not likely be able to find employment with intelligence contractors, as many retired intelligence officers do. Nonetheless, she says she will continue to apply for jobs in foreign affairs. She also intends to continue tweeting. “I did not think of myself as a whistleblower.” But on further reflection, Williams acknowledges, “I suppose it would be an appropriate term.”