Archive for the ‘Counterintelligence’ Category

I am quite remiss in posting about Sandra Grimes aka spy chaser extraordinaire. I created a draft on her after I posted on the Dames Hunting Ames, and but then instead followed up on her friend and cohort, the late-great Jeanne Vertefeuille after her passing, and then really meant to dig in and finish after Grimes and Vertefeuille published Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed. But alas, my dissertation work  is all consuming.

So here we are with something fresh: ABC TV doing a procedural on Grimes and the CIA in her hunt for the mole in the new show The Assets. Between that and a rather surprising reddit AmA by the illustrious Ms. Grimes, I feel obligate to finally, FINALLY giver her her due.

Grimes (1945 – ) is one of those individuals who is seemingly born to the life. Both of her parents worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (now Oak Ridge National Laboratories) on the Manhattan Project. The amount of secrecy surrounding not only the project, but the town itself due to the large number of people employed by the government there, could certainly influence or make one predisposed to a life of government service and national security in particular. Grimes studied and excelled in Russian during her teens and formally enrolled in Russian Studies at the University of Seattle where she received her degree.

Now this is 1966, the Cold War is well underway, and what is a gal to do with a degree in Russian if not work for the CIA? Starting off in clerical services and working her way up to the division handling  the double agent Dmitri Polyakov, a Russian asset and CIA informant (who was later arrested based on information provided by both Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, and executed for treason in 1988). Through diligence and no small amount of auto-didacticism, Grimes learned every facet of Soviet Intelligence and worked her way in to senior analyst position, then a division officer, a section chief, and later a deputy chief. It was through these experiences that she met her friend and colleague Vertefeuille.

By the late 1980s, it had become clear that CIA communications had been compromised by Soviet intelligence services. Through an extensive mole-hunt, Grimes and her task force had narrowed their gaze to Aldrich Ames, their fellow co-worker who had been taking large bribes from the Soviet Union in exchange for money for years resulting in the second greatest loss of assets in US history.

Grimes retired from the CIA in 1991.

So now Hollywood is getting in on the act with a TV series based on this infamous mole hunt. The show chronicles the years of initial loss and discovery of the existence of a mole within the CIA. And Grimes is front and center in the series which is refreshing for it’s under-played action sequences and patient story telling. It is incredibly fascinating in a particularly boring way, but yet still oddly riveting at the same. Maybe because it isn’t a hopped, testosterone soaked clam bake of sexed-up killer fembots indulging in typical Hollywood Spy-Fi? Most certainly.

And while the Grimes “character” in the show experiences the equally boring and typical “issues” facing women, like how to make time for family and career, here’s the kicker: she has an amazingly supportive husband who encourages her in her work. This is new. I have yet seen this kind of portrayal in the media for our Intel gals. Not that she should need male permission in the first place, because really, when are the gender roles ever reversed on that issue? But that said, I would have been just as happy having zero back story on Grimes, knowing nothing of her personal life, and having the story focus just on her doing her job. Sigh – c’est la vie. Maybe next time.

I cannot predict the longevity of such a show. Those in Intel will undoubtedly sink their teeth into the details, but that requires dragging out the narrative, and unfortunately that type of pacing may not last with a general audience – although it would most certainly be good for them.

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The first thing you need to know about Maria Isabella “Belle” Boyd (1844-1900) is that she refused to be ignored. After that, you need to know that the first thing about her informs the second thing about her, which was that she was one of the most successful Confederate spies, if not one of the top, during the American Civil War. An original wild child and l’enfant terrible, Ms. Boyd worked her mojo on many an unsuspecting male resulting in the one of the most interesting espionage careers this country has seen, from either man or woman.

Born into a prosperous, socially prominent, and slave owning family, Belle made her way into the world back when West Virginia was sans “West”. Already a bit of a renegade and agent provacateur, there’s an amusing story of Belle showing up to a party she was forbidden to attend on a horse. Horseback riding is not so unusual in those parts and in those days, but when you show up to a party on a horse and ride the horse into the house where the soiree is being held, well…you get the picture.  Belle, despite her notoriety for being a bit of a problem, managed to be  educated at Mount Washington College in Baltimore, Maryland and after graduation, made the rounds as a Washington DC debutante.

After Virginia seceded from the Union, the Boyd family firmly planted themselves on the Confederate side of the squabble. Union troops occupying the ShenandoahValley, upon encountered the Boyd home in Martinsburg, found nothing short of a big ole’ Stars and Bars was flying out front, courtesy of our dear Belle. This instigated a row over which, long story short, Belle shot a Union soldier dead in cold blood. Since Belle was just a girl, she exonerated of the charge but more or less kept under house arrest.

Belle made use of her time by romancing a one Captain Daniel Kelly into revealing Union military secrets and attempted to smuggle them to Confederate camps via a house slave. When caught, Belle was threatened with death should her shenanigans continue. And let’s just say this would be enough for any sane young woman to cease said shenanigans, however, our dear Belle, saw this as merely wake-up call to improve her super-secret communication skills. Her parents saw this as a ripe opportunity to ship Belle off to the relatives in Front Royal, Virginia in the vain hope that Belle might actually behave herself.

No such luck.

By Fall of 1861, Belle had begun work as a courier between generals Jackson and Beauregard. She used her greatest weapon, her charm, to gather information and talk her way out of some pretty tight spots. It’s interesting to note here that Belle (evident by photographs of her) was not particularly pretty. It really was her personality and her way with men that made her so succedssful. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the men involved didn’t think enough of women at the time to view her as a credible threat.

Her charm was not foolproof, however, as Belle did manage to get herself arrested in 1862, but was then released in 1863 during a prisoner exchange when the prison warden became smitten with her. She was arrested again in 1864 when after volunteering to deliver Confederate papers to contacts in London, England when the ship she was sailing on was captured by a Union blockade.

It was here that we really discover learn what makes Belle tick.  Somehow, she was released from custody where Belle then escaped to Canada. But here’s where it gets interesting: she eventually arrives in London a few short months later, but then marries Union naval officer, Samuel W. Hardinge, one of the officers who seized the ship she was on.

So, you have to start questioning Belle’s motives at this point. On one hand, she has gone through a terrific amount of effort to spy for the Confederacy, so naturally, you assume Belle to be a true believer in the Confederate cause. But then to marry a Union officer? This doesn’t jive.

Hardinge has to return to the United States where he is quickly charged with aiding and abetting a Confederate spy. Belle is so well known to Union troops that she is referred to as the “Siren of the Shenandoah” or the more accurate “Cleopatra of the Secession”. Hardinge is soon released but then keels over dead. Meanwhile, Belle is in London, broke, and pregnant. A journalist persuades Belle to write her autobiography in effort to make some cash. Belle does and in 1865, Belle Boyd: in Camp and Prison, a two volume set no less, comes into being.

But let’s get back to Belle her motives. She is seemingly passionate for the Confederate cause but marries a Union officer. She is 21 years old and somehow thinks her life story merits a two volume chronicle of her exploits? Oh, she also becomes an actress, marries yet another Union officer, and later, an actor from Ohio. Belle supports herself by touring around the United States lecturing on her war time escapades which are often questioned by historians.

This is a chick that likes to be in the spotlight. She likes attention. If you read the introduction to her memoir, it compares her to Joan of Arc. I don’t know about you, this makes someone like Belle all the more dangerous. For a small woman, she had an ego the size of Virginia. For her, this was all one big game centered around one Miss Boyd. Had the Union officers been smarter, I have no doubt they could have very easily persuaded her into switching sides.

There’s something to admire about Belle though. She isn’t beautiful but she is plenty smart and pretty damn fearless. She understands her targets  – men – and knows how to work a situation to her advantage. This is a far cry from the modern era where spy-dames are nothing more than sexed-up killer femmebots, so you have give Belle her due even you don’t agree with which side of the war she placed herself.

Belle Boyd continued on, making money on her former notoriety. She died of a heart attack in the Wisconsin Dells in 1900 after giving what was no doubt another rousing recollection of her exploits to, oddly enough, a Union Veterans association.

Belle is buried in Wisconsin.

320px-elizebeth-friedman1Elizebeth Friedman (1892-1980), in three words: What A Broad.

Elizebeth was one-half of the Dynamic Duo of Friedman and Freidman. Although married to the reknowned cryptographer William F. Friedman, Elizebeth was quite the crypto-dame in her own right and is often to referred to as the America’s first female cryptanalyst.

Let me first say that I could spend this entire entry musing about the type of love letters the Friedmans sent to each other (D197%6 B9G#!& = Dearest Billy), but it’s time to get to work:

Elizebeth was born the youngest of nine children in a Quaker family. She graduated college with a degree in English Literature although she dabbled in quite a varied amount of other subjects. She was fluent in German, Latin and Greek.

After graduating college and trying to find herself via the public education system, Elizebeth was to drawn to a job at the Newberry Library in Chicago presumably for its Shakespeare collection of which Elizebeth was quite the aficionado.

However, a brilliant secretary performing the initial interview for the job, directed Elizebeth instead toward George Fabyan. Fabyan is credited with having the first private think tank dedicated to cryptology in the nation. He immediately hired Elizebeth to work at his facility Riverbank, in Geneva, Illinois, where Elizebeth worked on a project attempting to prove Sir Francis Bacon as the true author of “Shakespearean” work. The belief was that Bacon enciphered the work and by decoding the works, one could discover the Bacon’s identity.

Interesting sure, but hardly the good stuff. It was during Elizebeth’s five years at Riverbank that she met and eventually married her husband, William, a fellow and brilliant cryptographer. However, the outbreak of WWI and the creation of MI-8, the US Army’s Cipher Bureau, inspired the Friedmans to jump ship and head to Washington. DC proved to suit Elizebeth well.  She worked for US Naval intelligence which led to a stint at the Treasury Department and it was there that Elizebeth really began to shine.

Remember that the 1920’s were the time of Prohibition. Elizebeth put her smarts to the task of deciphering communiques, via both written and radio-communicated messages, between smuggling rings. During her tenure our gal-pal was responsible for solving over 12,000 messages. All done by training a cadre of cryptanalysts and by staying abreast of improved deciphering techniques and the subsequent hardware that was being developed which kept her one step ahead of the game.

But her career wasn’t all busting rum-runners and smugglers. Among her many exploits, Elizebeth created a security system for the International Monetary Fund, was responsible for breaking the code on notorious American spy Velvalee Dickinson (more on that dame later), and broke Chinese codes for the Canadian government despite the fact she didn’t even know the language. That’s one hell of a career right there.

But not the end of Elizebeth’s story. After retiring from government work, Elizebeth and William returned to their work on Shakespeare eventually publishing the definitive book arguing against the idea of Sir Francis Bacon being the real author of the works.

William passed on in 1969 and Elizebeth set to work compiling their career worth of papers into a stunning collection of cryptographical works. She passed along herself in 1980 in New Jersey.

Nada Nadim Prouty, aka “Jihad Jane” is a Lebanese immigrant who over-stayed her welcome on a visa in 1990. She faked a marriage for citizenship which then allowed her to not only received clearance and a job at the FBI in 1999, this dame cross-channeled and went to work for the CIA in 2003 as well!

She must have very busy to-do lists.

So let’s get down to it: Overstayed visa? Crime #1. Fake marriage? Crime #2. Lied on application to FBI/CIA? Crime #3. Used position at agencies to check up on herself and the criminal activity of a brother in law who supports terrorist groups? Crime #4.

The list of offenses against this skirt is adding up.

Side note: Seems that Prouty’s brother-in-law, a Detroit-based restaurateur, had been funneling money into a charity operation that supports Hezbollah. He was about to get nabbed for tax evasion when he hiked up skirts and fled the country back to Lebanon where he currently resides. The question is for what purpose Prouty used her position to make unauthorized checks on herself, the family, and Hezbollah.

Wow, this whole story is one big twisted knot of yarn. And this Agent can see both sides of it. On one side, you could say this dame was crafty enough to find a chink in the armor of the security clearance process to infiltrate the FBI & CIA and use the place as her own personal playground for aiding and abetting terrorism.

The other side of this is that, yes, this Prouty did some bad things, like immigration fraud, but she is also regarded as one of the CIA’s top-guns and proved to be ever so helpful in all that nastiness in Iraq in the Clandestine Services. The FBI seems to think pretty highly of her as well. This broad was involved in the investigations of the USS Cole bombing, a high-profile kidnapping, and an overseas assassination of a US diplomat.

Obviously, the Intelligence Community leaned towards door #2, because Prouty, who fully cooperated, fessed up, had her citizenship revoked, paid a nominal fine, and is serving no jail time. Possibly in rewards for what was a job-well-done in service to this county.

The thing to take away from all of this seems to be the flaws in the background checks. Prouty was screened prior to an overhaul in 2001 of the Security Clearance process which was instituted after the whole Robert Hanssen affair. But she passed the polygraph and other checks into family in Lebanon seemed to check out. So this really comes down to a matter of ill-timing.

Last heard on Prouty: she is in Immigration Limbo. Because she is so heavily vetted with national security information, for her safety as well as the for the protection of top-secret info, she has not yet been deported.

1990’s were not a good time for the US intelligence community. Both the FBI and CIA has suffered terribly at the hands of traitors in the form of Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, but it is Ames who is considered to have done the most damage to the CIA’s overseas assets.

Ames began working for the CIA in 1962, by 1969, he was a case officer. Adultery, followed by a consequential divorce, alcoholism, and not being able to live within his means made Ames the perfect candidate as a double agent. Ames began spying for the Soviet Union in 1985 and did not cease until his arrest in 1994. During Ames’ career as a traitor, 10 Soviet agents working for the US were executed, at least 10 others were sentenced to life imprisonment in the Gulag, and it is assumed that hundreds of intelligence operations were revealed to the Soviets.

The CIA suspected a mole but put little resources toward the endeavor. The idea that someone within The Old Boys Club betraying them, was too much for the guys at the top to deal with. But finally, in 1986, an obligatory team was put together to track down the CIA’s most deadliest mole.

Enter Jeanne Vertefeullie. Jeanne was a quiet, solid, 54 year old case officer for the CIA since the 1950’s. She was a bit of loner but was in possession of an astounding institutional memory. Before the time of supercomputers, if you needed to sniff out clues in a thousand or so case files, one needed to have a supa-dupa memory chip in their noggin. One would need to be intimately familiar with every fact from every case related to that problem. Jeanne had not only the experience but that memory chip and set to work tracking down the mole.

Jeanne was given a small team and only a smaller wink of hope, but the addition of fellow Intel-gals from the Agency, Fran Smith and Sandy Grimes, both veterans in Soviet Intelligence, gave Jeanne the experience she needed to set to work.

Now no one ever said that the CIA was a bastion of Female Empowerment, in fact, sadly, after so many years, it is still quite the opposite, but the skirts who have had the fortitude to stick it out and carve out a place for themselves inside the Agency, must be admired. Of course, during the time of this investigation these dames on the Mole Hunt were often referred to as the “Little Gray-Haired Old Ladies”, but these ladies were going to have the last laugh.

Eight years of diligent work finally paid off in the capture and imprisonment of Aldrich Ames. Consider this: Jeanne turned 60 in 1992 and was thus forced to retire from the CIA as was policy. Sure, she could of traipsed off into the sunset and left this Mole Hunt behind to become someone else’s problem, but she stayed on at the CIA as a contractor for the sole purpose of catching her man. After 6 years investment into the case, Jeanne was not about to give up when her quarry was in her sites.

Also consider that during the final years of the chase, Ames was assigned to the CIA Counterintelligence Center where he was in an ideal position to cover his activities and direct the investigation towards other colleagues. Which he did.

When Ames was brought in for questioning and sat face to face with Jeanne Vertefeuille, the broad heading up the team that brought him down, Ames calmly and casually informed her that he had offered up her name as a possible mole.

Stella Rimington (1935-), British spy-dame, was the first female Director General of Britain’s MI5.

So how does a skirt with a with a degree in English and Archival Administration become Britain’s top spy? Simple, Stella and her husband were working/living in India in 1967, where Stella found herself working for a representative of MI5 as an assistant. Stella learned the trade and upon returning to London in 1969, she applied for a permanent position with the agency, thus beginning a long and illustrious career.

Stella worked the ropes in counterterrorism, counter-subversion, and counterespionage. Obviously she was regarded as a darned smart bird, as she was promoted to a Deputy Director position in 1990 and was part of a historic trip to make nice with Russians in 1991 after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It was shortly thereafter that Stella was promoted to Director General.

A feeding frenzy ensued with the local media in trying to identify Stella and unauthorized pictures of her eventually reached the newspapers. This either coincided or inspired (you choose) MI5’s decision to increase their transparency with the public at large and, for the first time, publicize their acitvities.

Being a Poster Girl for all things-spy can’t be an easy task and Intel Chiefs in general don’t have a long shelf life, but Stella stuck it out for four years before retiring in 1996. For her service to her country, Stella was awarded Dame Commander of Order of the Bath.

Stella is now a private consultant, novelist, archivist, and so clearly the inspiration for the Dame Judi Dench’s appointment as the character “M” in the Bond franchise. I find myself dissecting all the Bond movies now just waiting for Stella to make a cameo.

The name is Stella. Dame Stella.

Elizabeth Van Lew (1818-1900) was a Quaker educated daughter of a Virginia plantation owner who became a Union Military spy during the Civil War.

Aside from Elizabeth’s involvement in the Mary Elizabeth Bowser spying affair, Van Lew was openly Pro-Union, an abolitionist, openly provided food and clothing to Union POW’s (also helped a few escape as well), and used a great deal of her own fortune to finance her espionage activities for which, oddly, she was never arrested.

Many thought Elizabeth generally strange and she garnered the nickname “Crazy Bet”. Crazy or not, Van Lew operated a hugely successful spy ring that infiltrated both the Navy and Army War Department of the Confederacy. On the cheeky side, Van Lew communicated her intelligence to Ulysses Grant by sending him flowers wrapped in a Richmond, Virginia newspaper (because she developed a cipher system for the newspaper to be decoded), and even smuggled messages out of Virginia via hollow eggs.

Highly praised for her valuable intelligence work during the war, Van Lew was rewarded with, well, nothing. Her family fortune was spent on her intelligence activities and she was ostracized from her Richmond neighbors. She died penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave until the family of a Union soldier whom she aided donated a gravestone.

Like her fellow sister-in-the-know, Mary Elizabeth Bowser, Elizabeth Van Lew was inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

Genevieve Feinstein (1912-2006) was my kind of gal. A math-whiz with dreams of becoming a teacher, she was veered off course when she took an exam to be a government mathematician and decided to use her smarts for the common good.

Genevieve became a cryptanalyst for the US Signals Intelligence Service and in 1939, began work on decoding Japanese diplomatic messages. In 1940, Genevieve broke the code and her breakthrough allowed SIS to build a machine to decrypt the Japanese (US code name “Purple“) cipher machine. I don’t think I need to remind you how many lives this saved in the process.

After WWII, Genevieve continued working in cryptology and advancing cryptological research. Genevieve was one of the many women who worked as cryptanalysts on the Venona Project.