The Spy Who Loved Newport

0
4386
Share this:

When Dayna Williamson was a young girl growing up in Newport Beach in the 1970s she wasn’t much different than most local Corona del Mar kids.

“I used to go to Coco’s on PCH a lot,” she recalls.

But in Williamson’s case, the Newport Beach lifestyle didn’t give rise to a mom, professional woman or philanthropist. She became a CIA agent, prowling the alleys of places like Sarajevo, looking for bad guys such as a Hezbollah cell.

As a kid and young adult, Williamson lived the carefree lifestyle that most who grow up here come to know and love.

Dayna Williamson's 1976 CdM High yearbook photo.

Williamson has always had a love for sailing and grew up at home skimming across Newport Harbor in a variety of sailboats. She learned her boat skills at the Balboa Yacht Club on Bayside Drive with her family. She went to Lincoln Elementary School from 2nd grade on and later went on to Corona del Mar High School, part of the Sea King class of 1977.

 

She even worked as a hostess at the legendary Ruben E. Lee restaurant.

Her life was nothing but fairly routine for a kid from this area, especially a girl coming of age in late 1970s Newport Beach. Like most teens then and now, unsure of what she wanted to do with her life after high school, Dayna enrolled at UC Berkeley and tried to figure what life and a work career might have in store for her. She went on to earn a degree in physical education from Berkeley.

Soon after, she was attending UCLA working on a masters degree in social welfare. She was dealing with street-tough kids in an LA gang-intervention program.

“It was a lot different, and the opposite of Corona del Mar,” she says.

One day she came across an ad on campus for a decidedly different kind of work. This was a career that had never really before crossed her mind, but it got her attention. The company recruiting was a very special kind of business. It was, in fact, known as just “The Company.” And it was looking for new recruits. It was the United States Central Intelligence Agency – the CIA.

Williamson readily admits she wasn’t exactly the adventure-seeking adrenaline junkie that Hollywood would have you believe CIA spies are suppose to be.

“I had never fired a gun in my life,” Williamson says. “I went on a trip to London when I was young, but hadn’t really done any traveling.”

Not exactly James Bond material, even she readily admits.

But she applied anyway, and in 1991 she landed the job and went to work for the CIA in LA. She was the only one, other than her employers, who knew where she really worked.

The CIA, Los Angeles version, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for Williamson. Long days commuting from Newport to run background checks on prospective CIA employees wasn’t exactly the adventure she was looking for when she joined the spy agency.

She wanted a lot more.

Soon, she got it. The agency recruited her internally for its overseas operations branch. The kind of CIA spy work most people associate with the agency. At the time the CIA – long known as a “boys club” – was looking especially for women. Dayna jumped at the opportunity.

“I applied ‘cause I thought it was something that would be an adventure,” she says. “I didn’t tell my parents that I got the job.”

Soon she was on her way from Southern California to the CIA secret training facility known as “The Farm” outside Washington DC. There she would learn the spycraft of America’s frontline intelligence agency.

Simply put, she would be trained to be a “professional liar.” The term was a common one for a man she would later come to know in the CIA and fall in love with: a fellow CIA agent named Bob Baer.

Baer and Williamson didn’t know at the time, but their paths and lives would soon cross.

 

Dayna Williamson Baer today.

Williamson trained extensively in the ways of clandestine intelligence and how to stay alive and not get caught by America’s enemies. She also became what they call inside the CIA a “shooter.” An agent whose firearms skills could make the difference between life and death. This was the same Newport kid who hadn’t even handled a gun until the early 1990s.

All along in Newport, Williamson’s family and friends had no idea what she had been up too. She had a career, but it was not what it seemed to them. She traveled extensively and lived in the Washington DC area, but that was about all they knew.

It was her job to lie to them and she did a good job of it. This did not leave her personal life unscathed. Her marriage to an attorney withered under the secrets and long-distance demands of life as a spy

Soon Dayna’s life would take a decidedly CIA twist. She was sent off on a mission to war-torn Sarajevo to try and hunt down a terrorist cell that was trying to kill the CIA’s station chief in the area.

Dayna, Khyber and Bob Baer.

There she would meet another CIA agent named Bob Baer. Baer was a longtime CIA operative and was her superior at the agency. Baer and Williamson spent a lot of time together on that mission, but both say they didn’t exactly hit it off at first sight.

“I thought he was nutty,” Dayna laughs.

Both were still married at the time. Still, Baer was taken by her. But it was against CIA rules to fraternize with subordinates.

The mission in Sarajevo turned out to be a bust, but the relationship would endure. Later, back on American soil, Baer would ask Williamson out to dinner. She took him up on another offer to go hiking in the Swiss Alps. Their relationship developed and later they were married.

Almost three years ago they adopted a daughter from Pakistan. They named her Khyber, for the famed mountain pass that threads its way between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Now both Dayna and Bob have retired from CIA life. Bob left the CIA under a cloud in 1998 and went into a career writing books and consulting with media organizations as an expert. Dayna is now mostly a stay-at-home mom taking care of their newly adopted daughter.

Much more of their story can found in a new book they’ve co-authored called “The Company We Keep: A Husband-And-Wife-True-Life Spy Story” published earlier this year. The pair is currently on a tour promoting the book. The storyline follows both Dayna and Bob’s CIA separate then intertwined CIA careers and personal lives over the past few years.

For Bob it’s the latest in a long line of books he ’s written since leaving the CIA. One of Bob’s most well known was made into the movie “Syriana” which starred George Clooney. This is Dayna’s first book.

The couple now splits their time between homes in Berkeley and Silverton, CO. Dayna says they’ve considered moving back to Newport in recent years because they still spend a lot of time here with family and friends, most of whom still live in Corona del Mar.

After all these years not being able to talk about her career as a CIA agent, she is now able to tell her family and friends some of what she did for those many years.

Williamson speaks openly about why she still loves her hometown of Newport Beach. She says it’s because of the idyllic lifestyle she grew up with here and that still exists today.

Also, one thing Dayna still loves to do is sail, and she is teaching Khyber to do the same.

Dayna Williamson, right, grew up sailing in Newport Harbor.
Dayna now enjoys sailing with her daughter, Khyber.

 

 

Share this: