Archive for the ‘Hired Guns’ 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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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.

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.

Oh, boy. Here we ago again. The fourth reiteration of “Nikita”, a juvenile delinquent taken into the folds of a secret government agency and turned into a cold-blooded assassin extraordinaire! has premiered on television…again…

Of course, the 1990 original (and best) has already been covered, and I refuse, absolutely refuse, to discuss the 1993 American remake, or it’s bastard-step-sister, the 1997 television series. Because, really, they were poor and unsatisfying imitations of the French classic, so they do not bear mentioning let alone any sort of analysis. That being said, let’s just get on to the new girl in town.

So Nikita is back. She is Asian-American and embodied by the martial arts star Maggie Q. That alone is enough to spike my interest since I really liked her character in the severely underrated Mission Impossible 3. Unfortunately, it seems the show is heading in the direction of sexed-killer-fembottery and you need only to glance at the promotional poster to ascertain that. The plot, this time, picks up three years after Nikita leaves/escapes the agency and shows her as a woman returned, scorned, and hellbent on revenge.

In the film versions, Nikita leaves not only the  agency, but leaves behind her boyfriend as well because she sees herself as dangerous, damaged goods and beyond redemption. And I liked this ending because it doesn’t tie everything up with a pink bow, white wedding, and a house in the ‘burbs. Nikita is a messy character, she has enough control to take a life but no control when it comes to managing her own affairs. So, I rather dislike Nikita 4.0 because now the boyfriend has been killed by “Division” and Nikita wants to avenge not only his death but avenge her perceived ruin life, and save those in the evil agency’s evil clutches.

Now to me, this flattens Nikita, makes her boring and predictable. The whole “girl-meets-boy, boy-gets-killed, girl-gets-revenge” plot is tired and played out. Been there. Done That. Bought the T-Shirt. What made the original Nikita so interesting is that she really didn’t have a problem with the killing as much as she had problems between managing her day job and managing her cover. And that’s interesting. Why not run with that? Oh yeah, because that, too, has already been done…

Have Nikita return simply because she bored and she can. Or because she wants to take over. Or because she’s out of her ever-livin-gourd. The impetus of the dead boyfriend cheapens the original little sociopath we have come to love. That, and it rips off another girl-gone-rogue show, ALIAS, big time. And the bit about the planted protegé/mole? Really? I’m not hopeful of that plot element, I guess we’ll just have to see where it goes.

But I think this issue with Nikita and her new-found nobility is an extension of this blog’s last post. When it comes to the dames, popular culture portrays them as the Madonnas or the Whores with the heart of gold. Mass media, and maybe people in general, are not prepared to see women as unconscionable killers. Too bad, because if you want to do something fresh with this character, or the personality of an assassin, then you need to explore that dark side no matter how ugly or uncomfortable it may be.

I could be really teed off at this broad for dashing my hopes of what I thought would be a kick-ass thesis by accomplishing it first, but I am too in awe of her massive mental abilities, and as such, have decided to profile her instead.

Judee-doll was born in Ames, Iowa in 1948. A fairly normal upbringing ensued and resulted in classic mid-western dame. Judee attended Iowa State University where she earned a degree in both Speech and English minored in both Social Studies and Education. She quickly went on to earn a Masters in Speech Communication and a PhD two years later in Communication and Educational Psychology.

So let’s tally this up before proceeding:

  • Speech: verbal communication
  • English: written communication
  • Social Studies: ability to learn about people in context
  • Education: ability to teach people
  • Communication: a hefty blend of all of the above
  • Speech Communication: a further blend of speaking about all of the above
  • Educational Psychology: how people learn in educational settings

I’m not going to lie here: I expected her head to be size of mutant watermelon. I mean really, that is a heck of a lot of knowledge for one brain in such a short amount of time, but I Googled her and her head seems well-sized. So let’s continue:

Judee bounced around academia teaching in Florida, New York, Michigan and finally settling in Arizona where she is firmly installed a the University of Arizona. Her teaching and research interests according to her website read:

My primary teaching and research interests center on nonverbal and relational communication, with emphasis on such interpersonal communication processes and outcomes as expectancy violations, deception, nonverbal relational messages, conversation involvement and dominance, and dyadic adaptation patterns. I also have a subsidiary interest in mass media uses and evaluations.”

So you might be asking yourself:  Why does this dame deserve a post on this site? Simple, because she performed research  in something that I predict will become massively important in years to come: automated detection of deception

Long story short, aside from the usual verbal and non-verbal cues people provide when trying to deceive, Judee and her team developed a tool called “Agent 99” (named after the female Get Smart characterlove it!) that can detect (not always but there’s always room for improvement) deception in text messages.

Wow, wow, and more wow. In a world where Twitter informs the public of a major revolt inside a seemingly closed society, or is used as a tool of communication and deception in a government experiment, or is used to proffer information during a natural disaster , sound decisions making is going to depend on the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, the noise from the signal, the mayo from the baloney. So this Agent 99 tool? Pretty damn useful.

And Judee exemplifies what I love most about women and their contributions to Intel: they come from where you least expect it.

This, of course, still means I am stuck in search of a thesis topic…

March is a month near and dear to this Agent’s heart. Hailing from a hard-core Mick family (and not of the Only-On-St.-Patrick’s-Day varietal), March is a month of cultural celebration and a sort of history month of relatives past.

You’re going to be reading a lot about the Irish ladies of the Spy-Dame variety in the next 30 days, so I suggest you hunker down with a good Shamrock Shake and brace yourself.

Cumann Na mBan Constitution

Cumann Na mBan Constitution

The Cumman Na mBan (Irish Gaelic for Women’s League) was formed in April 1914 as an organizational off-shoot of the Irish Volunteer force in the early days of the Irish War for Independence. Though the men would condescendingly refer to it as a “ladies auxiliary” they forgot to read the fine print of the group’s constitution which supported the brandishing of arms (read: guns) and the encouragement of armed insurrection, which is exactly what came to be.

Recruitment was fairly democratic and members of the Cumann Na mBan hailed from white collar professions, well-to-do families and working class backgrounds.  Women were trained in medical care, what we would today refer to as signals intelligence, and performed drills with weaponry as it was available.

Of Cumann Na mBan’s exploits, the most famous is the participation of no less than 40 members in the infamous Easter Rising of April 1916. Skirts armed with guns entered the General Post Office in Dublin alongside the men and can be counted among most of the strongholds the rebels took throughout the city by the end of the day. I write “most” because Eamon de Valera, rebel leader and future President of Ireland, refused to allow women to fight alongside his own self out of the some misguided attempt of chivalry…or chauvinism…take your pick.

(I think de Valera had a highly mistaken notion that the oppression of the English over last 800 years had only affected the Irish men-folk)

Woman wearing Cumann Na mBan uniform

Woman wearing Cumann Na mBan uniform

And the ladies didn’t just sit along on the sidelines feeding the men. Women acted as scouts, gathering intelligence of British troop movements, and couriers, transferring messages and arms across town to various encampments. More than a few of the dames also acted as snipers at locations such as St. Stephen’s Green and Dublin Castle.

And of course, many women of Cumann Na mBan also died during the fighting.

Of the 70 women arrested for the Easter Rising, more than half were of Cumann Na mBan. They served as “guests” of the British government at the notorious Kilmainham Jail for their efforts.

Following the Easter Rising, Cumann Na mBan was a galvanizing force in the community raising relief funds for families of the Easter Rising participants. They also entered the political process as they campaigned fr the Sinn Fein in the 1918 elections in which Countess Markiewicz, one of their most esteemed members, was elected Teachta Dala. Countess Markiewicz, a captured Easter Rising participant, was in prison during this time.

For the duration of the war, members ran safe-houses, collected arms, served in local government, and ran the Irish Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Irish Republic.

Following the end of the war, Cumann Na mBan members were highly vocal in the vote against the 1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty with Britain that resulted in the separation of Northern and Southern Ireland. 419 of 482 voting members passed ballots to negate the treaty which, unfortunately came to pass regardless.

Members on the march in 1916

Members on the march in 1916

The group continued the cause for Irish freedom and associated with other groups such as Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army and the Fianna Eireann that sought the unification of Ireland. However, the government had other ideas and banned the organization in 1923, imprisoning suspected members in Kilmainham Jail.

The Cumann Na mBan still exists. Over the last 20 years or so, the group aligned or dis-aligned itself with various Irish paramilitary organizations that sought to “continue to the cause”. Numerous leaders have been caught and jailed for gunrunning amongst its more common activities. In 2000, the British Government officially listed the group as a terrorist organization, as of 2008, the US government has yet to follow suit.

I came across this article today regarding a female student’s lawsuit against the famed Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut.

Miss Porter’s is a 165 year old institution noted for such venerable students like Jackie O and Gloria Vanderbilt.

Painting of the Oprichnik for use in an opera

Painting of the Oprichnik for use in an opera

The suit is based on the harassment of said student by a group of girls who referred to themselves as the “Oprichniki“. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it was the name given to the Russian secret police squad under the command of Ivan the Terrible in 16th century Russia.

Aside from feelings of revulsion and outright disgust, I find this whole story fascinating on a number of different levels. Obviously, I fail to understand women undermining other women. If one of us gets ahead, we all get ahead and I believe that sisterhood will further our united cause, so female bullying rather gets this Agent’s Irish up sort to speak.

Okay, rah-rah feelings aside, what really interests me about this story is that the history of the Oprichniki is not solely attributable to a guy. It is believed by a great number of scholars that it was the second wife of Ivan the Terrible, Maria Temrjukovna, that founded the idea of this brutal organization most noted for the abduction, imprisonment and subsequent torture of the Czar’s internal enemies.

Secret police have been used throughout history as a way of those in power retaining their power. They gather intel on real and potential enemies and then neutralize these enemies through such methods as impalement, throwing “offenders” in vats of boiling oil,  and being drawn and quartered, to name a few choice methods.

Makes you rethink the whole idea of Hell’s fury in relation to women feeling put-out.

Also makes me wonder about a group of high school girls referring to themselves in such a manner and what this means to society as a whole.

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.

Delilah

Posted: October 16, 2008 in Espionage, Hired Guns, Skirts Who are a Problem, Undercover
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Time to get Biblical! I’ve said forever that the dames have a long and honored history of espionage and depending on what you believe, this story is either true or it is not. Either way, it’s a grand and ancient tale of a broad performing intelligence related activities.

So what does a Biblical gal like Delilah teach you about intelligence gathering? Well, as this Agent’s mama always said: you gotta get a man on the rug before you pull it out from under him…

Delilah of the Old Testament was from the valley of Sorek. The Philistines at the time were having some trouble with a young rapscallion named Samson and they approached lady Delilah about getting the inside info on the secret of Samson’s super-human strength. They figured (rightly) that Delilah was Samson’s sort of gal and under the “right circumstances” this gal could get the scoop they previously had been denied.

So as we know, Delilah took the cash and set about enticing Samson. But it wasn’t as easy as all that. Samson didn’t give up the goods right away and fibbed to Delilah a number of times before finally revealing the truth that his strength was in his hair.

Now as any woman know, good hair is in fact the key to a happy life. I know, I know, how anti-feminist of me, but I dare say, every man, woman, and child utilizes the tools they have available to them and I am at no loss for stories of how some guys go ga-ga-gooey over hair. Believe you me hair is a weapon. Anyhoo-so Delilah was inclined to believe this last tale and called in the guards to shave Samson’s head while he slept in her lair.

The Philistines took it a little far in that they also gouged out Samson’s eyes and made him a slave for ridicule. But Samson’s hair grows back, he regains his strength, pulls down a temple crushing a whole mess of Philistines and thus, Biblical history is made.

And what became of Delilah? With the exception of her name becoming synonymous with temptation and seduction, the dudes who wrote the book (in typical fashion) left out what became of the broad.

And this agent rather enjoys the fact fact that inventor/actress Hedy Lamarr stared as the little minx in the 1949 film “Samson and Delilah”. Rather ironic, wouldn’t you say?

Tzipi Livni

Posted: September 17, 2008 in Hired Guns, Israel, Mossad
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Interesting news coming out of the Holy Land, one in the form that the current Foreign Minister of Israel, and likely future Prime Minister of the Land, is a former Mossad Agent.

Tzipi Livni (1958-) is the daughter of militant Israeli activists (both parents were arrested at one time or another for terrorism). After serving compulsory military time and one year of law school, Livni joined the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency.

Details of her service are not known, but we do know Livni spent significant time in Europe and not behind a desk during the 1980’s when Mossad agents were tracking down Arab terrorists throughout the continent.

Unlike her parents, Livni supports the creation of the Palestinian state and Israeli withdraw from the West Bank, but she does not support Israel surrendering the Golan Heights. She takes a very tough stance on Syria and Iran and has stated on several occasions that Iran must not be allowed to become nuclear.

With polls showing Livni being preferred 2 to 1 over her opponent, it’s looking like Israel will be getting a new “Iron Lady”. This Agent also thinks that maybe her opponents best stop fussing over her “lack” of military experience.