Archive for the ‘Revoking Her Dame Card’ Category

tumblr_lwjey98RlV1qz9qooo1_1280_thumbHuzzah! The ban barring women from combat positions has been lifted! This is a good thing, especially considering that women have served on the front lines in unofficial combat and intelligence positions for over a decade now, but in the immortal words a one Eddie Izzard: “Ein minuten bitte…”

The story is that in the same week that Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, ended his tenure by lifting the ban preventing women from serving on the front lines if they are qualified to do so, an employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency celebrated this progress in equality by presenting a briefing about “How to Dress for Success”. Now this is a perfectly acceptable presentation if it suggests sensible shoes, clothes that travel easily, and how to adjust a flak jacket to accommodate female anatomy, but – sigh – such was not the case. Invaluable bon mots such as suggesting makeup, high heels, and color! seem to be the message of the day, which is all fine and good if that day were in the 1960s, but apparently the DIA is a little slow on the upswing.

In a time where women are finally being realized as the proverbial smart-bombs that they are, it seems it is still not enough to be competent and smart if you are not first and foremost a sex bomb. The worst part of this whole debacle is that this nonsense is coming from a woman, which further goes to show that women are equally capable of not only firing a weapon, but firing said weapon into their own feet, thus proving, that at the end of the day, women are their own worst enemies.

To its credit, the DIA officially announced their “regret” over the briefing, clarifying that it was “unapproved” with the Director Lt. Gen Michael Flynn going as far as calling it ” highly offensive”.

So at least there is that…

I think we’re way beyond explaining how the media misrepresents the spy trade but the fact remains that certain people get drawn in by those little falsehoods and it has very real consequences.

Odile Harrington (1961- ), a young white woman recruited by South African Intelligence in 1986, then controlled by the white minority government during the Apartheid era, to go and spy on the African National Congress (ANC) in Zimbabwe. Odile was young, dumb, and thoroughly unprepared for the fate that befell her.

In a 1990 interview, Odile admits “I think it was an extremely unwise and a naive decision. With the role that spying plays in the media on TV and in newspapers and books and so on, it really doesn’t look as dangerous as it really is. It’s actually seen as more glamorous.”

Odile was a young college graduate, the daughter of a doctor father and an artist mother, who had a reputation as being a bit of a bimbo when she joined the spy trade. She thought she was serving her country. She thought the ANC, which in all fairness was the largest guerilla paramilitary group in the region, was a threat to South Africa. Like many white people of her generation living in South Africa, she was raised with no small amount of fear of black people.

Her mission, and she chose to accept it, was to infiltrate the ANC posing as an anti-apartheid activist. And while she spoke nothing of her training, it all went horribly wrong from the get-go when she repeatedly shot herself in the foot.

Mistake #1: Instead of using a correct method of  transmitting information, like say, a dead-drop, Odile instead tried to mail an envelope to South Africa filled with incriminating information including a picture of a potential target.

Mistake #2: Odile handed off said envelope to a policeman to mail for her and the policeman turned her in to Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization.

Yup, she is credit to Spy-Dames everywhere.

Now one of two things should have prevented this whole catastrophe: one, given her reputation prior to joining SA Intelligence, her recruiters should have realized during a background investigation that she was a flighty bird and removed her; and failing that – two, her handlers should have better assessed her during training and removed her from contention for active service.

But what happens instead is that Odile is arrested, whipped, starved, raped, nearly drowned (and I don’t care what the Pres. George Bush and cronies claim, it’s still torture), and is sentenced to 12 years in prison. This is actually a lesser sentence handed down by the Zimbabwe courts due to the admitted treatment of Odile as a prisoner.

But what else happened to Odile while imprisoned? She received an education. She had black cell-mates whom she listened to (when she wasn’t fighting them), she read the local papers, she came to understand the point of view of blacks in her region who were marginalized at every turn. She realized she was wrong.

Flighty bird or not, it takes a lot to change a mind.

Of course, during this time, the South African Commissioner of Police disavowed her, but over the next few years, Amnesty International took up her case, and eventually, the infamous President F.W. de Klerk negotiated her release and she returned to South Africa. In an interview following her release, she actually stated her wish to return to Zimbabwe and work in the area of race relations.

When asked if she would spy for the ANC instead, Odile replied “No, I think it’s best to call it a day.”

Granted, the media has amped up what I like to call Spy-Fi (spy fiction) with slightly more reality: the gadgets are little more real, sometimes the agencies, and occasionally the tradecraft. But there’s still this lone-wolf, sexed-up killer fembot thing they have about the women in the trade. Every spy-dame is a lone super-woman in a miniskirt flirting her way out of danger. And while this false belief about the business alone should filter out the innocents from such a life, you have wonder how many people are still drawn to it based on that fantasy.

…well, not everything, but it feels pretty close. Honestly, I’m at odds with this post and its subject matter.

weblogo3I am referring to the Stiletto Spy School where for a mere $395, a gal can spend her weekend learning some basic self-defense, how to play poker, and “advance seduction skills”, and honestly, I’d rather not know what that entails.

Like it’s bastard step-sister, aka The “Sexpionage” Conference, this sort of nonsense bothers me to no end. You can’t fully blame the boys for a woman’s lack of respect in the intelligence trade when a fellow dame rats us out with this kind of malarkey.

But here’s the thing: the concept isn’t half bad. If this outfit wanted to spend a weekend solely instructing women on the basics of HUMINT, or signals intelligence, or cryptology, or some basic tradecraft like dead drops and brush passes, I would be all for it. That not only sounds like fun to me, but something that also happens to be very real to the trade. I liken the endeavor to my feelings towards Riverdance. I really don’t accept the notion that in order for the public to enjoy the simple and lovely dance form of Irish Step Dancing, one must sex it up, tart it out, and generally bastardize its very existence. Yes, I really dislike Riverdance. Go see the real thing sometime, it will surprise you.

It is in this vein of thought that the powers-that-be at the Stiletto Spy School felt the need to make the spycraft experience “more appealing” by slapping a pink-flavored sex-stink on it with educational lessons in, and I’m not joking here, pole-dancing, making a martini, and let’s not forget that “advance seduction skills” class (and, yup, I still don’t want to know what that is about).

So, where does that leave us? Shall I embark on the rant of the devaluation of women here or does it seem inherently implied?