Tracy Walder delights in sending a photo of herself holding a gun. She describes herself as “uber feminine.” As the author of “The Unexpected Spy,” she details her life in the CIA and FBI, complete with redactions. She was recruited while a University of Southern California sorority student and spent years thwarting terrorist attacks and hiding in the trunks of cars on her way to debrief terrorists at black sites. Walder worked as a history teacher at The Hockaday School until January and now devotes her time to her daughter and book tour.
How did you get recruited by the CIA?
I went to a career fair at USC. The CIA had a table, and I gave them my resume.
What was the experience like, transitioning from college to the CIA?
I don’t really recall it being all that shocking. This was the late 1990s. People had no preconceived notions about the CIA like they do today.
What was your typical day like when you were in the CIA?
There’s really not a typical day. You move from office to office.
I saw that you have photos of yourself with a gun. Did you have gun training?
Yes. I outline the training in my book. Obviously, at the FBI, you go to Quantico. You have a lot of gun training.
Tell me about what you do now.
I stopped teaching at Hockaday in January, just before my book came out. I knew I couldn’t handle teaching with a book and my daughter. It was too much. I was a teacher for about 15 years — at a public school in California for five years and at Hockaday for about 10 years.
What was it like teaching at Hockaday?
It was awesome. I love those girls so much. I taught history there, and then I created a class for women on national security and foreign policy and terrorism. A lot of my students ended up going into careers in national security and homeland security. I have girls that went in the FBI and CIA. I guess you could say I created a little farm there of students who went into those careers because I think that women’s voices are missing in a lot of our foreign policy-making decisions.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Have more confidence in yourself. I feel like I did not have enough confidence in myself at all.
Did you experience gender discrimination?
Oh, yes. The chapters in my book on the FBI are pretty bad. The CIA was amazing. I’m still great friends with people who are there. Some were bridesmaids in my wedding. I really had an amazing experience with both men and women, but not at the FBI.
When you were a little girl, what did you want to be?
I always wanted to be a high school history teacher. That’s what I went to college to be.
Is your book being made into a television series?
Yes. Before it was made into a book, actress Ellen Pompeo of “Grey’s Anatomy” bought the rights to my life.
What’s it like on book tour?
It’s been so much fun. It’s been trial by fire. I got to be on “Good Morning America,” Fox News and all these different things that I would have never thought I would have ever had the opportunity to do.
I saw that your nickname was Malibu Barbie.
Oh no, that wasn’t my nickname. It’s one sentence in my book. It was when I was talking to an intelligence service in a foreign country. They just didn’t like me all that much. There was some politics involved, and that’s what these men called me.
What’s the deal about your love of pink?
That is a big part of my book. What I was trying to show is that sometimes we associate the jobs that I had in the operations side of the CIA and a special agent at the FBI as masculine jobs. Therefore, women who represent any kind of femininity whatsoever are marginalized or not taken seriously in those jobs. Because women don’t see themselves as feminine in those jobs, sometimes it’s a deterrent from women wanting to take those jobs. I know some people think, “Why do you talk about pink?” For me, it’s bigger than that. It’s about people seeing my femininity. That is who I am. I am uber feminine, and I make no apologies for it. I’ve won a ton of awards at the CIA. I had a lot of promotions at the CIA. I was the only female to graduate all the way through in my class at the academy. It’s OK to be feminine and do these things.
What did your Hockaday students think of that?
I think they were always so confused. I had a sparkle mouse, a sparkle stapler and a sparkle tape dispenser. My chair was hot pink. But then I had a picture of me and my gun and all my things that I had purchased from my time living overseas. It was quite the dichotomy.
What advice do you have for the Hockaday students who graduated in May?
They’re graduating in such a tough time. The best advice I have is to be resilient and be strong, which I don’t think is what they want to hear right now. I think that’s a hard thing to digest when you’re stuck in the middle of all this crazy, but I think this is going to make them better adults and better humans.
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