Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Teach a Man to Fish

Posted: October 15, 2009 in Uncategorized
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I used to work in a male dominated industry with a testosterone driven company. I spent my first two months flailing, doing everything to fit in with the guys that didn’t involve sexual harassment or body-noise jokes, when I was extended an invaluable piece of advice:

“You’re not a man. Stop trying to act like one and you’ll do fine.”

This advice was from “M”, a grizzled, crotchety, misogynistic, middle-manager who had seen dozens of my kind come and go, and by “go” I mean flee. His advice, I realize now, was meant to drive me off, but it had just the opposite effect.

You see, because my job was mostly held by other males who more or less bulldozed their way through the ranks, the only way I knew how to behave was like the men who had come before me. And because I was not a man, I could only fail at behaving like one.

So I took M’s advice and I changed my approach. I acted as I thought I ought, not as how I thought the last guy before me had. This meant is was okay to be feminine, okay to dress like a woman, thank you, and okay to be appropriately emotional. I wore colored suits and carried a handbag as well as a briefcase (because dammit it makeup just doesn’t fly around inside those things). By not acting like a cut-throat male, I was able to fly below radar and focus solely on my work, not my competition.

And because I was considered differently and considered non-threatening, I found, as a woman, I could say things the men could not. I could push boundaries because in some cases, my male colleagues focused only on each other. Since I was constantly underestimated, I always over delivered. And shockingly, I never had to compromise myself in the process. My male bosses appreciated my nearly flawless work, work ethic, and the lack of office drama I brought to the table. After my first year, I was promoted well above that of my male peers. I had misjudged the male management structure in my company, but I was paid in kind by them not misjudging me.

So it doesn’t surprise to read that women have proven amazingly successful in the counterinsurgency program in Afghanistan. And it’s not just that we misjudged women here, it’s that we have misjudged men (of the Afghan variety) and an entire culture as well. So just why is it that the American military can not get their act together, yet again, on a no-brainer such as allowing the ladies to continue their good work?

Let me put this in turns certain men can understand: we all agree that Boise State is a stellar college football team deserving of a chance to play with the big boys, so what exactly is stopping them? Tradition? Because it’s always been this way? This is a valid excuse?

Afghanistan has been a piece-meal war for far too long. If the gals are getting the job done, then don’t fix what isn’t broken.


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.

A not-great film with some spectacular casting, 2001’s “Charlotte Gray” tells a story of a Scot SOE dame played by Cate Blanchett who joins the infamous unit after her pilot boyfriend is shot down over France.

When we first meet Charlotte, she is a returning from her native Scotland to London where she is employed. WWII has already begun and Charlotte has a rather terse conversation with a gentleman on the train regarding her opinions on the subject. He notices she is reading a book in French and hands her his card.

Charlotte is later reintroduced to the gentleman at a party where it is explained to her that said gent would like to recruit her for the SOE. Charlotte begins mulling it over when she then meets Peter, the man with whom she immediately becomes smitten.

Peter goes off to war and is later reported to have been shot down somewhere over France. This incident serves as the impetus for Charlotte to finally join the SOE. We get to witness her physical training, weapons training, radio instruction and briefings. At some point, Charlotte is deemed suitable to go operational and we get to witness what Vera Atkin’s job was largely about, and then Charlotte parachutes into France.

From there, we meet to the French Resistance leader, a local boy who doesn’t particularly like Charlotte and further complicates matters by taking in two small Jewish boys after their parents were shipped off to the concentration camps.

Charlotte gets to play nursemaid to the children by day while she helps disrupt train lines by night. She meets with handlers and tries her best to remain under the radar of local informers. All the while she is desperately trying to find out information about her boyfriend Peter.

The best scene of the film occurs when Charlotte first arrives in town and attempts to make contact with a fellow SOE agent. The woman is distraught, informs Charlotte she has been identified as an agent, and what follows is a terrifically tense few moments of police inspection while the stricken agent is led away. Charlotte later learns the agent was executed.

It’s a sloppy narrative with a lot of loose ends and one of the most anti-climactic endings of all times. But the movie was shot in a French country town where real SOE agents operated and as a period piece, you get a good sense of what these ladies were up against.

Not the best representation of a spy-dame on film, and waste of talent on the behalf of an amazing cast, but for a period piece, “Charlotte Gray” is worth checking out.

Kelly Warren (1966-), part of the Clyde Lee Conrad US Army spy-ring, was convicted of consipiracy to commit espionage and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 1999.

Clyde Lee Conrad was a sergeant in the Army serving in Germany during the final days of the Cold War. He, along with 3 other Army personnel, including Army Private Kelly Warren, a clerk with access to top-secret documents also serving in Germany, sold NATO defense plans of Western Europe should the Soviets decide to invade. The happy recipients of this intel were Hungarian Intelligence Officials.

Not much is known about Warren except that she is from Georgia, served in Germany from 1986-1988, and it is assumed that due to her extremely low pay, Warren was induced, monetarily, to join the ring. She wasn’t nabbed until 1997 and it took until 1999 to finalize her conviction. Cohort Conrad died in prison of a heart-attack in 1998.

Kelly Warren has earned a special distinction in the case. Usually, those nabbed for espionage are middle-aged white gents. Warren is the first female in the military to ever be convicted of espionage. Her reward for such an honor is likely to be serving a full sentence and will not be released until 2024, at the age of 57.

1990’s were not a good time for the US intelligence community. Both the FBI and CIA has suffered terribly at the hands of traitors in the form of Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, but it is Ames who is considered to have done the most damage to the CIA’s overseas assets.

Ames began working for the CIA in 1962, by 1969, he was a case officer. Adultery, followed by a consequential divorce, alcoholism, and not being able to live within his means made Ames the perfect candidate as a double agent. Ames began spying for the Soviet Union in 1985 and did not cease until his arrest in 1994. During Ames’ career as a traitor, 10 Soviet agents working for the US were executed, at least 10 others were sentenced to life imprisonment in the Gulag, and it is assumed that hundreds of intelligence operations were revealed to the Soviets.

The CIA suspected a mole but put little resources toward the endeavor. The idea that someone within The Old Boys Club betraying them, was too much for the guys at the top to deal with. But finally, in 1986, an obligatory team was put together to track down the CIA’s most deadliest mole.

Enter Jeanne Vertefeullie. Jeanne was a quiet, solid, 54 year old case officer for the CIA since the 1950’s. She was a bit of loner but was in possession of an astounding institutional memory. Before the time of supercomputers, if you needed to sniff out clues in a thousand or so case files, one needed to have a supa-dupa memory chip in their noggin. One would need to be intimately familiar with every fact from every case related to that problem. Jeanne had not only the experience but that memory chip and set to work tracking down the mole.

Jeanne was given a small team and only a smaller wink of hope, but the addition of fellow Intel-gals from the Agency, Fran Smith and Sandy Grimes, both veterans in Soviet Intelligence, gave Jeanne the experience she needed to set to work.

Now no one ever said that the CIA was a bastion of Female Empowerment, in fact, sadly, after so many years, it is still quite the opposite, but the skirts who have had the fortitude to stick it out and carve out a place for themselves inside the Agency, must be admired. Of course, during the time of this investigation these dames on the Mole Hunt were often referred to as the “Little Gray-Haired Old Ladies”, but these ladies were going to have the last laugh.

Eight years of diligent work finally paid off in the capture and imprisonment of Aldrich Ames. Consider this: Jeanne turned 60 in 1992 and was thus forced to retire from the CIA as was policy. Sure, she could of traipsed off into the sunset and left this Mole Hunt behind to become someone else’s problem, but she stayed on at the CIA as a contractor for the sole purpose of catching her man. After 6 years investment into the case, Jeanne was not about to give up when her quarry was in her sites.

Also consider that during the final years of the chase, Ames was assigned to the CIA Counterintelligence Center where he was in an ideal position to cover his activities and direct the investigation towards other colleagues. Which he did.

When Ames was brought in for questioning and sat face to face with Jeanne Vertefeuille, the broad heading up the team that brought him down, Ames calmly and casually informed her that he had offered up her name as a possible mole.