Archive for the ‘Decision Makers’ Category

Definitely not a spy, but this monarch held an even better title, one of “Spymistress”.

Americans tend to have this idea about England, where the country seems to preternaturally have its act together, however, not many Yanks know that at one time, The Great Empire once existed in a state of near chaos.

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) was the second daughter of the notorious King Henry the VIII, the chap who had a penchant for food and executing his wives, and the only child of Anne Boleyn, the King’s second wife who had her head lobbed off when Elizabeth was but a toddler.

Tons of intrigue and no small amount of scandal later, Elizabeth ascended to the throne at the age of twenty-five. She inherited a country with a warring feudal system, a slew of relatives who would possibly like to see her dead, a state of enmity with the Catholic Church that definitely wanted to see her dead, poor relations with neighboring countries, and empty coffers (i.e. England was close to being broke if it wasn’t already). The country, quite simply, was a mess.

Enter Elizabeth, young, beautiful, female, single. We all the know the story: the young queen must marry appropriately, secure a male child, which in turn secures the line of ascension, and preferably said marriage should be with either a Spaniard or a Frenchman so at least one of those countries would be off England’s back.

However, Good Queen Bess wasn’t having it. Whether it was the sterling example of her father, the rumored romance with a certain Lord Robert Dudley, the rumors of her being a man, or whatever, Elizabeth married herself to England and blazed forth what would be known as England’s Golden Age.

And the Golden Age really came about because QBI was exceptionally good at threat management and maintaining stability. Forces within France and Spain saw England as weak while forces within her country saw her as weak.  Ireland and the Catholic Church quite simply saw the queen as a threat to salvation and agreed she had to go. The task at hand, holding  England together, was a lot like juggling and Elizabeth certainly had a lot of balls in the air. She wielded the very idea of marriage like a tool of both domestic and foreign policy. She brought some semblance of organization to the Anglican church by firmly aligning it to the Protestantism. And she certainly kept close tabs on her foes through her excellent appointment of advisers.

Elizabeth’s inner circle helped her manage both domestic threats and threats from abroad. William Cecil, Baron of Burghley ran a tight financial ship and was responsible for bringing Sir Frances Walsingham, the father of modern-day intelligence practices, to the queen’s court.

With Walsingham in place, the queen was able to acquire the necessary domestic and foreign intelligence for decision-making. Walsingham infiltrated the Spanish military, secured the evidence for the execution of Elizabeth’s greatest rival, Mary Queen of Scots, and foiled any number of plots instituted by nasties within the realm.

All the while, Elizabeth and Walsingham had quite a contentious relationship. He was plain-spoken to the point of being blunt, a literal man of action, and while she had her hide to protect, Walsingham on more than one occasion offended her royal sensibilities.  But he did his job and did it well. It’s very hard to dislike a man who saves your neck day-in to day-out.

All this risk management allowed the queen to enjoy nearly a half-century on the throne. Quite a feat considering that at the end, Elizabeth died an unmarried woman, England’s future secured and a smooth transition of power to King James VI.

George Washington often stands out as the historical figure who best managed the spy trade, but he certainly never had to deal with the level of difficulty, treachery, nor had as many enemies painting targets on his back as Elizabeth had. Under close scrutiny, Elizabeth’s reign was not a rousing success, but in an era where it was exceptionally easy to die on the throne, managing to keep your enemies at bay for 45 years certainly says something about a dame’s, pardon me, queen’s acumen.


If I were a praying girl, I would be screaming “Amen and Hallelujah” from the rooftops today over the confirmation of Letitia Long as the new Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. But since I am not, let’s just discuss Long instead.

But if I may, can I comment on the fact that there are 16 Intelligence agencies in this country and we are only just now appointing a woman as the head of one? Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch, but it’s still akin to waking up today and feeling like it’s 1990 and not 2010. Baby, you’ve come a long way, but not long enough…

So who is Letitia Long? She is a longtime Navy-civilian professional entering the trade in 1978, where she worked in project engineering in the area of submarine acoustics, and climbed the ranks to join the Office of Naval Intelligence where she managed R & D programs.

From there, Long performed a dizzying rotation in the Senior Intelligence Executive Service while also serving as Director of Resource Management for the Office of Naval Intelligence in 1994. She then completed a hat trick by joining the Defense Intelligence Agency during this time where she eventually became the Deputy Director of Information Systems and Services in 1996.

Can you say “dayamm”? I’m tired just typing all of that.

Please let this be a lesson to everyone out there who is stuck in the belief that Intelligence revolves around poli-sci, history, and computer science. Long is a trained engineer. And let’s think about that: it involves design (establishing a requirement and refining it); building (collection, exploitation); testing (production), roll-out (dissemination); and checking (feedback when it’s given).

Engineers work in teams; they are often great collaborators. They require project engineers to manage them; someone to juggle the pieces and keep in mind the bigger picture. They require communication skills to dumb-down the technical terms for non-engineers (read: clients). And most importantly, they require sound, logical thinking lest the whole contraption falls apart.

A person who can accomplish honing all of those skills is a golden egg and it looks like NGA just got theirs.

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.

Millicent Jessie Eleanor Bagot (1907-2006) could smell a rat at twenty paces and had an illustrious career as one of the UK’s premier spy hunters and what we now call Whistleblowers.

The last decade has been full of Dame Whistleblowers so we should pay particular attention to the woman who made a career of sniffing out the phonies amongst us.

Bagot began her life as the daughter of a solicitor, raised by a French governess, and was later educated at Oxford’s Lady Margaret Hall where she studied the Classics. Bagot went to work for the special branch of the Metro police and later moved on to England’s Ministry of Defense working for both MI5 and MI6. This is slim pickings for developing a profile of Millie, and maybe her early life wasn’t as interesting as her career, but it sure would be great to know what made this lady tick.

Bagot the career lady, however, was a lad’s worst nightmare back in the day: a competent female taskmaster with an opinion and a voice. Apparently someone had the good sense to think that such traits recommended her and so Bagot began to move up the ranks.

Bagot specialized in Communism and was a well-regarded Sovietologist. She was the first to warn Intel community that notorious MI6 English double-agent, Kim Philby, was a member of the communist party and not who he appeared to be. She was ignored, of course, but despite Philby’s escape to Moscow in 1963, I hope Millie felt some small measure of satisfaction in knowing she was right.

Bagot was the first woman to reach the rank of Assistant Secretary at MI5. She received the MBE in 1949 for service and later advanced to CBE in 1967 at her retirement. Famed director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, even wrote to Millicent expressing his admiration.

However, even in retirement, Bagot did not call it a day. With her exceptional memory and famed ability at finding patterns in massive amounts of information, she continued working part-time sniffing out active spies and also writing what some call the definitive account of the Zinoviev Affair.

Millicent finally called it quits in 1976, after a debilitating stroke claimed her prized memory and left her infirmed for the rest of her life. A sad and drawn-out end for such an amazing woman with a truly brilliant career.

225px-edith_wilson_cropped_2In honor of Election Day, I am going to devote this entry to all things presidential. Edith Wilson (1872-1961), second wife of Woodrow Wilson and First Lady of the United States from 1915-1921, is remembered by a number of titles including “The Secret President” and “The First Lady to Run the Government”, but I like to think her as the “Unofficial First Female President of the United States”. The ultimate Decision Maker.

The Bolling family hailed from the great Commonwealth of Virginia during colonial times. Edith herself descended from a fantastic line of people including Pocahontas and George Washington. The daughter of a judge, Edith grew up a proper Virginian lady, married a prosperous jeweler, Norman Galt, and lived a comfortable life in Washington DC. After the death of newborn son in 1905 and the unexpected death of her husband in 1908, Edith was a widow for 7 years before being introduced to President Woodrow Wilson through a cousin and marrying him after a very brief courtship.

With Wilson being 58 to Edith’s 43 years, Edith spent the majority of their marriage trying to keep her husband in good health under the strain of the presidency during World War I. Edith lost that battle and Woodrow had a stroke in September of 1919.

Not trusting the Vice President, Thomas Marshall, to assume control, Edith immediately cut off all access to her husband. All communications went through Edith who then decided what to present to Woodrow and what not to present and delegate elsewhere. This is where thing get interesting. According to Edith, as written later in her memoirs, she claims not to have made a single decision and insists every thing was passed by Woodrow for him to decide.

edith_wilsonNow this is matter of much debate. Many medical experts claim that due to the severity of his stroke, Woodrow Wilson would not have been in any condition to make any decisions. It is due to this assumption that many consider Edith to responsible for the numerous diplomatic errors during Woodrow’s confinement.

So let’s consider this. If Edith did in fact pass everything by her husband that she deemed important, that’s still a highly influential act. We all have biases and prejudices that affect our judgement and Edith would be no different during her “screening process”. What she deemed unimportant and delegated to someone else may have had sweeping consequences. That person may have had radically views from her husband and may have approached whatever was passed on to him in a completely different manner. To the level of which this happened we’ll never know.

The hope of all intelligence analysts is that the Decision Maker understands what the hell they are trying to brief them on. Edith was obviously a well-educated women, but you still have to wonder what exactly came before her during that time and how much she really understood.

But I’m not going to go as far as to say this is a bad thing. Yes, the first Lady is not an elected official. But look at the amazing women who have been First Ladies. Given their intelligence, their acumen, their experience of having lived a life of politics, well, let’s just say that Abigail Adams or Eleanor Roosevelt certainly would have had no problem getting my vote.

As we know, Woodrow Wilson died three years after leaving office. Edith herself passed on at the ripe old age of 89 in 1961, the same day that the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was to be dedicated in Washington DC.

Nancy McNally

Posted: October 30, 2008 in Decision Makers, Honorable Mentions

Anna Deavere Smith served as National Security Advisor, Dr. Nancy McNally, on TV’s “The West Wing” for seven seasons. On a fictional level, she beats Condleeaza Rice to the finish line for an African-American woman serving in the position. On a real level, she plays Paul McCartney to Allison Janey’s John Lennon, aka dynamic duo of McNally/Cregg. Check out this 2001 episode regarding an arms deal with the fictional country of Qumar:

The scene certainly exemplifies how much life can sometimes suck when you are a decision maker. That personal politics unfortunately rarely coincides with geopolitics. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but as a National Security Advisor, Nancy would have taken that medicine often particularly when she would be so much more privy to information the average Jane would not be.

It’s important to note that from an analyst’s perspective, the intelligence process does not necessarily solve problems. Sometimes intelligence merely recognizes a problem, sometimes it addresses the problems, sometimes an analyst makes recommendations that feel more like a choice between a variety of terrific evils and not at all a solution.

What you have to respect about the McNally character is that she has to recommend the lesser of multiple evils. She has to put aside her biases, she has to bury any personal opinions she may or may or may not have on the matter, and try to put forth the best possible options. What is brilliant about the character is that the options are awful, she knows it, but she owns them anyway. And there’s no magical solution that makes everyone happy at the end of the day. That’s some real life there.

About the only complaint I can make about McNally, is that she didn’t receive enough play on the show. Seriously, the producers of the West Wing did a great disservice by not making her a more integral character.

Anger most grandmothers and you’re sure to get a time-out or denied your milk and cookies. Anger this grandmother and she orders one the most far-reaching and deadliest covert operations of all time.

Whatever your view on the region’s politics, there’s no denying Golda Meir’s (1898-1978) place in history as the “Iron Lady” of Israel.

Born in Russia Meir’s family fled the pogroms and found themselves in America. Meir was a pistol early on. Working to help support the family, organizing fundraisers for disadvantaged classmates at school, and later becoming a suffragist and labor activist, Meir proved her mettle as a force to be reckoned with.

Meir married and moved to Palestine in 1917. She traveled back and forth between Palestine and the US raising funds for settlements. Her skills did not go unnoticed and after settling with her family in Jerusalem, Meir went to work in politics.

The Nation of Israel was formed in 1947 and Meir was along for the ride working her way up the ranks until she was made Prime Minister in 1969.

In 1972, 11 Jewish athletes were murdered at the Munich Olympics in what came to be known as the “Munich Massacre”. Meir, outraged at what she felt was a lack of action on behalf of the world governments, formed Committee X and authorized “Operation Wrath of God” in which the Israeli Mossad tracked down and assassinated members of Black September and the PLO who were believed to have been involved in the Olympic plot.

30+ years later and the reverberations are still being felt and the controversy still ensues. The sheer amount of intel needed to pull off such an op is something few people can get their heads around. Many missteps occurred resulting in the loss of innocent life. No one is entirely sure how long this op even lasted. It is suspected to have gone on for 20 or more years.

But the Iron Lady continued on until severe criticism over Israel’s lack of preparedness in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 contributed to Meir eventually resigning and retiring in 1974.

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.

C.J. Cregg

Posted: June 27, 2008 in Decision Makers, Honorable Mentions
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Say what you will about the politics of the show, but TV’s “The West Wing” accomplished a very important feat: the writers of the show provided us with a fully realized female character at a time when women characters on TV kinda sucked. Okay, so C.J. was not a spy-dame, per se, but this lady was obviously vetted with some heavy-hitting, top secret, White House info. A very crucial part of the intelligence process does lie in the relationship with the decision makers at the top, and C.J. was a respected female voice in the White House inner circle. And hey, let’s face it, Allison Janney rocked this role like the Beatles on a rooftop.

Given the intel she was privy to, C.J. had to know what to say, what not to say, and how much to say at any given time. As White Press Secretary, C.J. faced the firing lines on a daily basis. For her troubles, she was targeted by a stalker, Islamic hate groups, rabid conservatives, and garnered the insufferable Secret Service code name of “flamingo”. But C.J. handled it all with style and grace while fighting a constant internal battle of the Old Boy’s Club that is politics for which Janney rightfully earned no less than 4 Emmy Awards for her portrayal.

Any fan of the show can name a favorite moment. C.J. had all the best lines, most in front of the press corp when she unleashed her barely contained fury. But the true moments of glory were when C.J. used her smarts to play the game and held her tongue.

Of course, when she let loose the ballistic missile of words, you’d best not want to be on the receiving end, that’s for damn sure.

And though, I’m not sure about the reality of a transition from White House Press Secretary to White House Chief of Staff, this Agent is willing to suspend disbelief for her gal C.J.

Although, let’s be honest here, despite C.J.’s political smarts, nervy persona, and single-minded determination towards the task at hand (and seriously, I will never forgive the show writers for not making C.J. the VP candidate after Leo died), the crowning glory of all that was C.J. was her incisive humor. So for purely gratuitous purposes, I have to post my favorite C.J. moment: