Archive for the ‘Don’t Mess with this Dame’ 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.

ImageIn one of the most original Spy-Dame personas that I have seen in either film, book, or TV, the incredibly nuanced performance by Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, a Russian sleeper-agent on FX’s 1980s themed “The Americans”, is remarkable for the fact that, one, Elizabeth is a rare example of a fully-realized female character, and two, for the fact that the character wrestles with the seemingly mundane and quintessential female problem of trying to have it all – but with a twist.

Elizabeth (actually “Nadezhda”), raised in post-war, Communist Russia by a single mother, is a young KGB agent assigned to pose as part of a suburban couple in America with another KGB agent, husband “Phillip”. Elizabeth and Phillip only know each other by their American names as a method of protection in case they are ever caught. They arrive in America in the late 1970s and the series follows them years later as the live as an established married couple, produce two children, and reside in the suburbs while running a travel agency in Washington DC. The perfect cover as the couple navigate their secret life as deep-cover spies.

And Elizabeth is one tough customer: a master of disguise, a talented wireless radio operator, a skilled tradesman in espionage, pretty good at hand-to-hand combat, and a consistent strategic thinker – and all while also dealing with the appropriate amount of stress of being a mother. But here is where Elizabeth diverges from the norm: however harried Elizabeth may be as a mom, it is not to comedic effect. Elizabeth struggles with the balance of work-home life because first and foremost, Elizabeth is a dedicated Soviet, a loyal servant to the cause. While her husband Phillip often suggests early they either defect or disappear permanently in America as the country is not all that bad and their kids are as American as they come, Elizabeth will not here of it. She is The Job and The Job is not over. If her children are “too American” it is simply because Elizabeth is “not finished with them yet”.

Elizabeth plays the maligned disciplinarian in the eyes of her children while her husband is the “fun parent”, a fairly typical story construct on any level, but there’s an interesting duality in this spy thriller. While she does love her children and has, if not love, but strong affection for Phillip, they are still part of The Job in her mind and that influences much of her actions, as her family life is part of her cover, part of her job. For example, we learn early on that Elizabeth was assaulted by a senior training officer in Russia, and while this is a certain catalyst for events in the pilot episode, it is not something that defines Elizabeth as a character because the only thing that does define her is her commitment to The Soviet Cause. So a predator in the Soviet ranks is almost something she took in stride, as part of the job, until she decides it is not.

So how does a Dame have it all? How does Elizabeth manage marriage, children, and home while trying to champion Mother Russia and maintain a secret identity? Most often through cold reserve, tenacity, big-picture thinking, and the ability to give a good beat-down when warranted.

The bigger question that will face Elizabeth in the series is the constant test of her ideology and whether it will uphold as Elizabeth realizes that her Russian counterparts are not quite the patriots she has held them out to be, and then, what will her actions be?

Image

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.

I will be perfectly honest in saying that I had zero interest in Haywire and potentially seeing yet another film exploiting the sexed-up-killer-fembot stereotype that plagues modern Spy-Fi; but with the illustrious Steven Soderbergh at the helm, and not to mention an absolutely killer (pardon the pun) cast, there was no way not to see it. Result? Color me impressed.

Mallory Kane, former marine and private operations specialist, is at a cross-roads. She hates her boss/former lover, wants to quit her job, and move on with her life. However, when an op goes south, and by south I mean she is set-up to be taken out, she decides to put on her whoop-ass pants and open her big bag of tricks on those who have transgressed her.

Of course, this being a Soderbergh film, you have no sense of the plot until about 2/3 into the film; whereby the narrative starts somewhere in the middle, goes back to the beginning, and revisits the middle before plowing through to the end.

So here’s what to love about the character Mallory: she isn’t an angsty, girly, conflicted woman. She is an operative who contemplates her life goals and career, makes highly calculated decisions, and then goes about her business of assassinations and generally kicking ass in some of the best and most realistic fight scenes I have ever seen on film.

Here’s what’s to love about the actress, Gia Carano, who plays Mallory: she’s a champion mixed-martial artist with a body, and muscles, and who not only knows how to take a hit, but gives it back in spades. There’s a reality in that if you take a hit from a 6’5 guy, chances are you’re gonna feel it. This movie doesn’t shy away from Mallory taking an ass kicking. There’s also the reality that Mallory isn’t  a 90lbs fembot in stilettos with jutting ribs taking out guys 4 times her size and weight with a roundhouse kick (which by the way Hollywood – ISN’T. REMOTELY. POSSIBLE). But all that being said, I could have done without the Rambo-style make-up job at the end of the film.

Here’s what to love about the film: the back story. Covert Ops is a business. There are contract negotiations. Clauses. Addendums. Payment plans. Attempted poaching of employees. Jerky co-workers and territorial bosses. Operation specialists are not lone wolves. There’s a tedium to wet-work that necessitates team work and these teams come with a messy web of infrastructure supporting their every move. Mallory is keen on this end and makes sure to conduct some back door dealings of her own, not just running amok killing everyone who ruined her day.

This is a film about loose ends. Normally, loose ends are the bits of fluff in our life we mere mortals need to tie-off, but this being the movies, and one about assassins, means that loose ends are not tied-off as much as they are macheted. Mallory has to make a clean and permanent break with her past which invariably comes with quite the body count.

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.

I’m not sure I have fully processed this movie about a genetically engineered super-soldier in the form of a teenage girl locked inside one damn twisted fairy-tale-esque nightmare, but here we go…

The movie opens with a young girl in the Arctic tundra stalking an elk (or was it caribou?). She nabs her prey only to then be attacked by an older man, whereby an fantastic fight sequence ensues. Of course, we learn this older man is dear-old “Papa” and we begin to wonder what kind of home life this child leads.

Well, it’s one of languages, and encyclopedic knowledge, and living off the land, and mastery of both martial arts and any object you can get your hands on to kill another human being.

Hanna is on lam, born on the lam actually, and her home life has been crafted by Papa to prepare her for her enemies because Hanna, as we come to discover, is a highly prized asset by a certain American spy-outfit. Hanna was genetically altered as an embryo in a reverse-twist on the Bionic Woman, where Hanna wasn’t re-built as a super-human hybrid but constructed as one.

Long story short: Hanna ends up back on the radar where CIA baddie, Marissa Veigerly, a link to Hanna’s conception, is trying to track her down. Hanna must realize the truth of her beginnings and protect herself from those who would destroy her.

So what does it bring to the table? There’s your usual Spy-Fi stuff about experimental science, assassins, and rogue agents chasing each other around the globe, and while I thought this movie would go down the path of nepotism (a subject I loathe: supposed inherited greatness), it actually brings up a rather interesting debate on nature versus nurture.

Sure, Hanna is genetic engineering marvel. She was created to be great, stellar genetic material that also makes her a liability, but the irony of the movie is that it is only by relentess training and realizing her true and full potential that she can protect herself. Hence, growing up isolated in the woods in the Arctic circle, learning as many languages as she can master, and becoming the ultimate survivalist.

But the fly in the ointment is actually two-flies: one, Hanna’s isolation makes her susceptible to over-stimulation where a TV, a fan, and a light switch is enough to drive her bonkers; and two, Hanna is an adolescent girl with enough pubescent hormones to power a small city.

There’s no resolution to Hanna. I rather enjoyed that as I don’t care much for pat endings. But two things I have found really fascinating about this film: the first, the director, is re-knowned for English romance films; and two, the that in an all-United-Kingdom-and-Commonwealth acting troupe, the baddie, Marissa, played by Cate Blanchett, has a Southern accent, thus keeping alive a tradition where Americans represent the baddies as Brits but the Brits represent our American-evilness as somehow being Southern.

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.

High profile people make the most interesting spies. Their fame and subsequent connections allow them access to places everyday schmoes can only dream of (like a certain Miss Baker  during WWII). It makes me wonder though about Princess Stephanie Julianne Richter zu Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst (1891 – 1972), a high-society, Austrian of Jewish descent married into German royalty and a spy for Hitler: does this odd relationship say more about a famed wild child-celebutant or a keen self-preservationist?

Stephanie was born in Vienna, Austria, and raised in the lap of luxury. Her training as a ballet dancer, charm and good looks helped insert the young Miss into the highest social circles. It also helped Stephanie get into a good number of fixes over the years as well.

At the tender age 22, Stephanie found herself knocked-up with the illegitimate love child of an Archduke/Prince. The family’s money and connections manage to cover up her indiscretion through a hasty marriage to German Prince Friedrich Franz von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst.

The child was born and raised with Hohenlohe name. Stephanie herself took to royalty like a Cinderella and a glass slipper. Despite her divorce in 1920, Stephanie continued on with her “Princess” shenanigans all throughout Europe and was involved with anyone from a British newspaper tycoon to a Nazi diplomat. It was during this time that Stephanie began her association with one Adolf Hitler, who intimated her with the moniker “My Dear Princess”. She held close relationships with the Nazi elite and managed to secure yet another title, one of “Honorary Aryan“, a pretty important title if you had but a drop of Jewish blood in you during those times.

During the 1930s, Stephanie took up residence in London and circulated through London society. The assumption during this time was that she was spying for Hitler and using her charms for propaganda and the Nazi cause. Not a hard sell as the London elite of the age had plenty of Nazi sympathizers among their ranks. Passing correspondence and arranging meetings between noted Britons and high-ranking Nazis, Stephanie even arranged the infamous meeting between the abdicated King Edward VIII, now Duke of Windsor, and his American wife, Wallis Simpson, with The Fuhrer in 1937. The British government kept a close eye on her though, noting her influence with Hitler and how he actively sought her advice.

With Germany effectively being broke during this time, one wonders how the Princess managed to support herself. Well, she did so by becoming the paid mistress of a British Lord. The relationship eventually fizzled and Stephanie went as far as to sue the Lord in court (she lost) demanding continued payment as was promised to her for life. Considering the payments were regarded as a “retainer”, one doesn’t have to go far to guess what kind of services were rendered.

An affair with Hitler’s top-aid, Fritz Weidemann, saw Stephanie through the rest of the 1930s. When Fritz was name consul-General to the United States and assigned to the San Francisco post, she followed. She traveled back and forth between the US and England but settled in the US after the official outbreak of war. Her spidey-senses a tingling, she became fearful the Brits might arrest her as a spy. However, the US, despite not taking part in the global festivities, kept a close eye on the minx. FDR famously wrote that the activities of one Princess Stephanie made her “worse than 10,000 men”.

Stephanie’s relationship with Fritz ended and after her visas ran-out in 1941, she was detained by US immigration. However, yet another affair, with the head INS no less, prolonged her stay in the country, and even saw her put up in a hotel in DC for a spell.

But as we all know too well, all good things must come to an end. In 1941, the FBI arrested Stephanie. She was placed in a detainment camp in Texas until her parole in 1945. But she made good use of her time there, she helped the OSS develop a psychological profile of Herr Hitler and was influential in a 1943 report “Analysis of the Personality of Adolf Hitler“.

After the war, Stephanie resumed her affairs in post-war Germany, targeting men who were best able to support her lifestyle. She lived to the ripe-old age of 81 and died in Geneva, Switzerland. A good long life, longer and better than most who lived during those times.

A very good book about this dame and her exploits was crafted by Martha Schad and is definitely worth a read.

I cannot believe I am about to blog about Lana Kane, aka sex-bomb super-agent of Archer‘s fictional spy-outfit “Isis”, but here we go…

If you haven’t seen the anachronistic FX animated Series “Archer”, then you’re in for a treat. The show is snappy, dirty, raucous (great word – don’t get to use it very often), and abso-freakin-lutlely hilarious. Of course, I can see where it would offend someone with more “delicate sensibilities”, so if you’re one of those, you best skip it altogether.

Lana Kane, voiced by the highly-nuanced Aisha Tyler, plays a constant second-fiddle to the slightly dumb and misogynistic Sterling Archer, spy extraordinaire!, of Isis, a security agency run by Archer’s fabulously wicked mother.

Lana is mostly a consummate pro when on the clock. She’s regimented, disciplined, and not above shooting Archer in the foot when he’s being an ass, which is pretty often. And the running joke on her monster paws is amusing. However, Lana does introduce a great point of contention in the co-ed workforce and that is the difficulties of “inter-office dating”.

Lana’s dating fiasco with Archer is followed up by her equally disastrous relationship with Cyril, agency comptroller, and further muddied by a fling with an agent from a rival outfit. Lana’s not about to let a bad-man get her down, but it does frustrate the beejeebers out of her when she can’t escape the idiocy that are her former flames.

Tune in for name drops on tradecraft and obscure pop-culture references, but mostly just tune in because it’s so damn funny.

“YUP!”

A pint-sized hacker with a photographic memory and a dark past is the standout character is Stieg Larrson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and fills out a trio of books called The Millenium Trilogy (in the US anyway, in Sweden it is referred to as The Men Who Hate Women trilogy).

Salander copes daily with her troubled childhood or, as she refers to it, as the time When All The Evil Happened. According t0 Swedish society, she is labeled mentally incompetent and is officially a ward of the state. In the novels it is hinted that she may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome, but personally, if I experienced this girl’s childhood, I might be more than a little anti-social myself.

Lisbeth uses her super-computer powers to facilitate her job as a freelance private investigator.  She works when she wants, with whom she wants, on what she wants, and at her own leisure. She is surly, taciturn, and disappears for weeks, sometimes months, on end but turns in such brilliant work that her exasperated employer can not help but keep her on. Why? Simple, because Lisbeth is the best.

Salander is a problem solver. But what’s interesting is that she doesn’t get a thrill so much from solving a problem as much she does from the process. Her approach is what really snags the reader. The tougher the problem, the happier and more engaged Salander is. And believe me, her solutions are not for the weak. Burn her once and she’ll burn you back with an attack that makes Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like a water balloon fight.

Lisbeth is described in the book as an “information junkie with a child’s play on moral and ethics”. I couldn’t disagree more with the assessment. Lisbeth has an agenda and while her agenda does not necessarily meld with polite society, it is often effective and for the best of everyone involved. She is a highly rational actor with perceived unreasonable reactions.

If there is any complaint I would have about the character is that I would love to see more of her inner dialogue when it comes to methodology. Lisbeth is so utterly fascinating I find myself hanging on every word to see what she does next.

Josephine Hart once wrote that “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.” No truer words could ever be written  as it applies to Lisbeth Salander. She is no one’s fool and certainly no one’s victim. This girl has taken shots that would take down an elephant, but she refuses to acknowledge that fact. Not acknowledging keeps her going and decidedly drives her work and her thought process as exemplified in her constant mantra Analyze the Consequences.  However, at the end of the day, this also prevents Lisbeth from making real connections with people, particularly those who wish to help her.

And Lisbeth doesn’t want those connections. She enjoys her anonymity and the peace it brings her by living on the fringe of society where she can be left alone to do her work. I wonder if she could be quite so effective at her job, blending in, sneaking about, observing, if she were more connected to this so-called “polite society”?