After serving in CIA, lawmaker now has role overseeing it

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Abigail Spanberger spent almost a decade as a CIA operations officer. Now, she’s a third-term Virginia congresswoman who was just named to one of two committees that oversees the work of U.S. spy agencies.

The relationship between Congress and the U.S. intelligence community can be uneasy and is often adversarial. That’s especially true now as lawmakers demand answers about classified documents found in the private possession of two presidents and how the Biden administration is responding to a suspected Chinese spy balloon. And years of high-profile fights over intelligence matters have taken a toll, with some Republicans accusing U.S. intelligence of being part of a so-called “deep state” controlling U.S. politics.

Spanberger, 43, is part of a small group of former intelligence officers to have been elected to Congress. Like others with access to America’s top secrets, she will be called on to review intelligence matters in private and explain what she can to fellow lawmakers and the public.

“I know the lingo. I know the language. I know the culture,” Spanberger told The Associated Press in a recent interview in her office. “I hope that helps me do my job better. But I’m sure there will be points of frustration probably for me and for them, frankly speaking.”

She rejects talk of a “deep state” and called on other lawmakers not to promote conspiracy theories about intelligence or the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“The reality is other countries perceive that and they perceive that in a way that can’t be good,” she said. “As a former intelligence officer, I know that countries are watching us. I know because I wrote up those reports — you know, ‘there’s fighting with these two factions and this is what it means.’”

At least two other former CIA officers became members of intelligence committees — Republicans Will Hurd of Texas and Porter Goss of Florida, who chaired the House Intelligence Committee before being named CIA director under President George W. Bush.

The daughter of a nurse and a federal law enforcement officer who also served in the Army, Spanberger says she was drawn to national service and the idea of learning new languages and cultures. She worked as a postal inspector before joining the CIA in 2006.

As an operations officer, Spanberger worked on cases ranging from counterterrorism to nuclear proliferation. The specifics of her cases remain classified.

In the weeks since she was named to the intelligence committee, Spanberger says she’s already recognizing some of the names and programs in the classified materials she’s receiving. As a case officer, one of her responsibilities was to help inform the briefers who went before Congress.

She intends to push for more support for current and former officers who have reported illnesses consistent with a possible directed energy attack, in what’s broadly become known as “Havana syndrome.” The CIA last year deemed it unlikely that Russia or another adversary mounted a campaign to attack American officials with microwaves or other energy. Investigations are ongoing, as are stepped-up efforts to identify and compensate people who have reported cases.