Archive for the ‘Cultural Intelligence’ Category


I did not post much last year, and while I feel massively guilty over this fact, it is tempered with the reality that such is the life of the PhD student. However, given that is is January, I resolve to be a better blogger…we’ll see if this holds…because I am due to defend my dissertation this year…

But despite my bad blogger-ing, I did notice a heartening trend, particularly in the closing of the year. I noticed that the media was actually giving credit to the women of the trade in ways that did not involve perceived princess-ness, beauty, or even sex.

Wha-wa-wah!? you say? Women actually being noted for their competence? Skill? Tenacity? Dedication? Talent? Is this Backwards Land? Did I slip into a wormhole? Did the media actual wake up in 2012 and not the Groundhog Day existence of the 1960s that reporting on women in Intelligence has been perpetually waking up to since, well, forever?

Let’s run it down:

It began last September when a former Navy Seal, Matt Bissonnette, who took part in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden (yeah, I know, Usama-Osama, tomayto-tomahto, whatever – dead), reported the existence of “Jen”, a CIA agent whom he credited with tracking down the infamous OBL. Though I didn’t much care the descriptions of her being “feisty”, I certainly appreciated the use of the term “wicked smart”.

So, while terrific and all, a gal getting her due, what was more interesting was in what followed this initial reporting; reports of not only the existence of wicked-smart “Jen”, but of other women, equally talented, who work among the ranks of the typical white-male patriarchy that has plagued the Intelligence filed for so long.

Quickly on the heels of this reporting, follows the film “Zero Dark Thirty” a film about the hunt for OBL featuring the said-same “Jen” in the form of “Maya” (more on her in another post), a CIA agent working tirelessly for years in the hunt of the world’s most famous terrorist. The story of Maya is not about her being a broad in the field, but a tough, frustrated and determined agent who is often pretty difficult to like, especially when she is right, a trait which is normally heralded in a man and disparaged in women.

And of course, given the awards-circuit dominance of the Claire Danes playing Carrie Mathison on the TV show “Homeland” (more on her in another post – yes, I know, I’m behind), we start to see a trend – the portrayal and reporting of complicated, tough women doing the job, doing it right.

All of this makes for great fodder in the media particularly when there is a new spin to put on the story. Women are no longer just preternatural bombshells practicing “sexpionage”, but are a “new breed of agent” described as “secret weapons“. Something new. Something innovative. Something not ever seen before.

And here’s where I call shenanigans.

It is again a case where men and media fail to learn their history. In the said same reporting it is discussed how women served as the best “targeters” for capturing senior al Qaeda leaders immediately following 9/11, especially Jennifer Matthews, an agent key to the capture of Abu Zubaydah in 2002 (although later scapegoated for larger Agency failures). And, ahem, let the record show this article is written in 2012 – a full decade later the fact. So these women are hardly new to the scene.

And of course, this again denies the existence of women who have served in Intelligence all along as engineers, mathematicians, cryptographers, agents, operatives, etc – all dedicated, tough, talented, and relentless in their pursuit of a more secure nation.

So it is during this time that we note the passing of Jeanne Vertefeuille, a long-time CIA analyst largely responsible for uncovering the country’s most dangerous mole, Aldrich Ames, in 1994. Of course, Jeanne worked alongside a team of talented women, who have come to be known as The Sisterhood, that despite being hired in the CIA during a time when women were not exactly appreciated, still performed brilliantly, establishing careers and performing feats that anyone – men or women – should aspire to achieve.

I mention Jeanne in this post, not because she stands out above a few centuries of women in Intelligence, but because in light of the reporting of “Jen”, and “Zero Dark Thirty”, and the not-so-new-breed of female agents and analysts, Jeanne Vertefeuille received her full due in the national media, and is hailed as a hero for her service to her country.

Just as a lot of other women should be.

For me, 2012 ended on a high note: Women being recognized for their great work in national security. Granted the facts are hardly right and the historical interpretation is not exactly sound, but still, all said – I’ll take it.

Here’s hoping the men folk and the media keep it up.


A conference on analytical best practices is currently underway in the wonderful town of Dungarvan, located in Co. Waterford, Ireland.

Organized by the Mercyhurst College Institute of Intelligence Studies in Erie, PA the conference seeks to examine analytical best practices across a variety of fields and, hopefully, come to understand how these best practices may be applied to the intelligence field.

Business professionals, doctors, economists, forensic anthropologists, just to name a few, have all been invited to discuss how they interpret and assess data; compare their processes and methodlogies; and evaluate the meaning and signifance of data.

There’s quite a few dames in the crowd, I’m pleased to say, as both delegtes and panelists. Go to enough of these intel type conferences and you’ll notice they tend to be guy-heavy and dame-light. I have my eye on the Chief Inspector of Ireland’s Garda Síochána, Kathleen O’Toole, and I’m hoping she’ll allow me a few questions to post back here.

Wish me luck, updates to come. Meanwhile, check out the Facebook coverage of the event.

Let me begin this entry by writing that I really, really wanted to like this museum because not only is it a fabulous idea, but I believe the history of intelligence to be extremely important to our understanding of the geopolitical, political, and cultural history of America.

That being said, the museum, sadly, is a bit of a mess, but of course, that may be entirely dependent upon level of interest in the topic…

The International Spy Museum is located in the Penn Quarter of Washington DC. The museum is privately owned (part of the problem perhaps?) and is conveniently located across the street from National Portrait Gallery. Which was a good thing because the day I went, it was cold, windy, and sleeting, and due to the horribly vague policies about tickets on their website, I didn’t realize you needed to buy tickets for an entrance time.  Nonetheless, I was not going to be deterred, waited for my entrance time at the gallery across the street (perfection as always, I love DC museums) and finally entered the museum.

First impression is that the owners are trying to make this a slick and flashy carnival ride. The interior is dark with an overly engineered lighting concept with a lot of dark, shiny surfaces. It really felt like someone had watched the opening credits of “ALIAS” one too many times. A museum attendant directs you to an elevator, you are crammed in a slew of people, and promptly lifted to the next floor.

The room you enter upon leaving the elevator is waiting space where you are encouraged to browse names, pick one, memorize the background info, and make it your cover.

The thread of a “cover” that you are supposed to carry through the museum doesn’t make much sense when there is no direction where to go, where to use it, and if you do know where to go, then it is three people deep at any given station. Actually, “three people deep” ends up being the overriding theme of the museum because the architecture of the building in which the museum is housed in a old and narrow building with a lot of weird angles and hallways.

The displays are crammed together, oddly organized, and of course, one room – one tiny room – is devoted to the dames and it’s a mess…and set-up like a bedroom…and a badly planned cliche…

Other exhibits are set up in hallways, one even is a stairwell, and really, what the hell are these people thinking?

Oh, yeah! Money! Because the gift shop is the most spacious and well organized space in the joint, all designed for you to purchase over-priced knick-knacks to your heart’s content.

It’s too bad really, the museum is a fabulous idea. It’s the just the blatant desire to make a buck here makes it all go so very wrong.

Maureen Baginski is a distinguished member of this Agent’s favorite tribe of dames: cryptologists. After a long and successful career at the NSA, Baginski left to take on the world of domestic intelligence clean-up at the FBI as the first Executive Assistant Director of Intelligence.

Baginski (1953-), who graduated from college with degrees in Slavic Studies specializing in Russian literature, joined the NSA in 1979 in an effort to pay the bills. She began as a Russian language instructor at the National Cryptologic School and through the decades, was assigned to a good deal of management posts including the NSA’s 24-hour Watch Center.

Baginski is known for a career of calling it like it is and suggesting reform from within. In 2003, Robert Mueller of the FBI tapped Baginski to enter their ranks and reform the way the bureau handles domestic intelligence from top to bottom.

Now let’s all step back a moment and consider this. Reform the FBI. Baginski was a career NSA gal and while intelligence agencies have certain things in common, Baginski was moving over to an entity where she didn’t speak the proverbial language and had to learn and understand the culture right quick in order to be effective.

And of course the question is always posed: what does “culture” have to do with anything? Every business, school, neighborhood, or in this case, government entity, has its own unique culture unto itself. Culture being defined by a dictionary as: the behaviors and beliefs, characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group, or the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

The FBI has operated as a law enforcement agency since its inception. It is a very male dominated, gun-loving place where intelligence analysis is a side dish of peas to the pot-roast of busting bad guys. To change the culture, the mindset of a nearly 100 year old institution, is no minor undertaking performed with one’s Easy-Bake Oven. To accomplish this task, Baginski is using nothing less than a Viking professional series range with dual fuel capacity…metaphorically speaking that is.

The end result? Well, that would be classfied now wouldn’t it? The old addage that successes go uncelebrated while screw-ups suffer very public indignities does apply. And in the five years since Baginski took the post, it’s been very quiet on the FBI homefront which I am sure we can all agree is very good thing.

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926 ) was one rip-roaring, bad-ass skirt. An academic, travel writer, explorer, cultural anthropologist, diplomat and spy, this broad can reasonably claim to be the founder of modern day Iraq.

Bell, daughter of a famous industrialist and clearly born into a life of British privilege, first gains props for being the first woman to graduate Oxford with a degree in history. Her wanderlust kicked in after graduation when after visiting an uncle who was the British Minister in Tehran, Persia (you know this place better as Iran), Bell wrote her first book Persian Pictures.

Bell spent a number of years bouncing about the continent learning mountaineering, archaeology, and picking a language or two (Actually it was 6. This bird had an enormous brain). In 1899, Bell found herself again in the Middle East where she became the human bridge from the Middle East to Europe, publishing books, mapping the area, photographing ruins and learning the culture. In 1909, Bell came into acquaintance with T.E. Lawrence. You might know him better as Lawrence of Arabia.

In the outbreak of WWI, Bell joined Army Intelligence in Cairo, Egypt. She proved her worth to the organization in teaching her “superiors” the local languages, customs and ways of political maneuvering. We Americans only recently wised-up about this in Iraq and now employ the practice called “Human Terrain Analysis”.

After a year, Bell finally managed to get her bad-self sent to Basra (Iraq) where she and T.E. Lawrence organized the revolt made so famous in the movie.

When the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1919, it was Bell who was commissioned to provide analysis of the area. Nearly a year later, Bell presented what many feel to be a definitive report on the subject that rather strongly supported Arabic leadership, but this went clearly against the agenda of her superiors and Bell found herself put out.

So here’s the important lesson to be learned in Intelligence and political infighting: Decision Makers do well by listening to their analysts. Bell’s recommendations were ignored because the British wanted strict control of oilfields without any thought or care as to how this would affect the region. And it wasn’t so much that Bell contradicted what they wanted to hear, I’m sure the old “What does she know? She’s just a girl” played no small role in this scenario as well.

Which is shame, because while Bell’s influence established the modern day borders for Iraq, the failure of the Decision Makers to heed Bell’s advice, is clearly seen as history repeats in modern day Iraq as differing cultural values and religious ideologies still plague the area. Just as Bell said it would.

To her credit though, Bell stuck it out and aided the newly crowned King of Iraq and acted as a King’s advisor in local customs that influenced everything from business to politics. Bell even went as far as to supervise to the appointment of the King’s cabinet. But Bell was burnt out and exhausted by the end of it. She is famously quoted as saying “I’ll never engage in creating kings again; it’s too great a strain”.

The years took their ultimate toll on the Uncrowned Queen of Iraq. Heavy smoking, desert climate and some vicious malaria ravaged Bell’s health. She developed a not pleasant chronic lung condition (possibly lung cancer) and eventually overdosed on sleeping pills in Baghdad in 1926. She was interred in the British cemetery with a large outpouring of people to mourn her death.

Other accomplishments in the extraordinary life of this dame include the founding the of Baghdad Archaeological Museum and Bell’s appointment as Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

And the final lesson to be learned here: History is not always written by the victors. “History” is often written by the schmoes lucky enough to have met an American writer and broadcaster who glamorize certain men’s adventures without getting all the facts straight. As was the case with Lowell Thomas popularizing “Lawrence of Arabia” and leaving our gal Gertrude out in the cold.

Time to get Gertrude out in the spotlight where she clearly belongs.