Archive for the ‘Undercover’ Category

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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.

Miss Jenny is an interesting little mystery. Not as interesting nor as tragic as the drama surrounding Agent 355, but a nice little mystery all its own.

Miss Jenny, as we understand, was a French-speaking Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War who infiltrated the French camps during 1781 and passed information along to the British. Acting on intel that the French were moving troops in an impending attack on New York City, Miss Jenny was out and about trying to confirm the information when she was caught by a French guard.

The little minx held to her story that she was looking for her French-Canadian father, a story which did not appear to go over well, and consequently, Miss Jenny was turned over to none other than George Washington. Further questioning achieved nothing because she stuck to her story despite rigorous questioning. Washington handed her back over the French, who in a last ditch effort, attempted to make her talk but to no avail.

The French carried out a traditional punishment of the time, lobbing off a gal’s coif, as more stringent forms of punishment without proof would be unthinkable and mostly because the “wisdom” of the era saw women as not being intelligent enough to be spies. Hair cutting as punishment has a long and distinguished history in the Arab and Islamic world, the Europeans during the witch hunts in Medieval times, and the French and Dutch during World War II when humiliating female Nazi sympathizers.

Miss Jenny, sans hair, was released and immediately made her way back to the British camp in New York where she reported her findings. The British responded by holding their position in New York rather than the original plan to move on.

Luckily, the French and Americans switched gears and launched an attack on Yorktown, which proved a pivotal battle in the war. To date, the real-life identity of Miss Jenny has never been confirmed.

We only know of Miss Jenny due to the meticulous nature of the British and their OCD-like abilities in record keeping. Baron Ottendorf, a German mercenary whom Washington gave the boot thus inducing him to switch sides in the war, relayed the tale of Miss Jenny to Sir Henry Clinton, a British military commander, in the form of a letter which is in the keeping of the Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

Marina Lee

Posted: September 1, 2010 in Abwehr, Blame a Dame, Britain, Espionage, MI5, Undercover, WWII

There’s all sort of animal, vegetable and mineral that fall under the umbrella of “Nazi”. I’ve seen Nazi clowns, Nazi dogs, Soup Nazis, and Nazi film-makers; but I’m going to be honest here, the very idea of a Nazi ballerina comes pretty close to taking the proverbial cake.

The broo-ha-ha erupted this past week upon the declassification of WWII documents from British security services and then vomited all over the Web about this Tiny Dancer being responsible for the British defeat in Norway in 1940.

HOWEVER, let’s ask the obvious question here: Fact or Fiction? Base or Baseless? Less Filling or Tastes Great?

Is the story being spread around the globe about Marina Lee the real deal or this just another episode of our favorite show Blame-A-Dame?

Here’s what we know: Lee was born in Russia during the revolution, her parents were killed by the Bolsheviks, she was a trained dancer, she fled to Norway where she married and taught at a dance school. It’s easy to see why she is targeted in this scenario. She spoke 5 languages, she was decidedly beautiful, being a dancer provided her with excellent cover, and also, back in the day a dancer was more akin to being a “loose woman” so it afforded a determined spy a little more access to those in vulnerable positions.

But none if this is what anyone would call proof. The conjecture that is being bandied about is that Lee bamboozled strategic plans by the Brits out of a General Auchenlik and then slipped them to a German agent. Presto-change-o the Brits lose Norway to the Nazis.

But here’s the rub: this is neither proven nor dis-proven, hence the term conjecture, and in the weighing of evidence, the accusation does not hold. The BBC report on this story bears the headline: Blond Nazi ballerina ’caused war set back’ which let’s admit, is spicy stuff, but the first line of the article goes on to read that: secret government paper suggestThis is a far cry from stating “that beyond a shadow of a doubt this dame ratted us out.”

Google “Nazi Ballerina” and you’ll come up with hundreds of articles, most of them supporting the “validity” of the tale. This little gem by journalist Guy Walters points out the obvious “junkiness” of the evidence. Thank.You.Guy! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I have no problem calling a spade a spade but let’s make sure we’re first actually dealing with shovels and not wheelbarrows.

Is it worth examining why these tales of female agents capture the imagination so forcefully? On one hand, the conditioned response harkens back to traditional stereotypes would have you believe that women are soft and fragile, noble and righteous. While other stereotypes play off the seemingly innate fear men have over beautiful broads thus the gorgeous Spy Dame is the epitome of all that is dark and dangerous about the mysterious female form. In the end, we deal with the same gender issues that have plagued society for years and they all seem to center around women either being the Madonna or the prostitute.

We saw this nastiness arise earlier this summer in a subject I am loathe to mention: Anna Chapman, alleged agent in the Russian Spy Ring that was busted in the US earlier this summer. While everyone talks about the “flame-haired“, “femme fatale“, “great-in-bedness” of Chapman, does anyone stop to consider the story? Taken into consideration, she really comes off as a spoiled diplomat-brat-mail-order-bride who minored in real estate and majored in partying. During the set-up for her take-down, she was handed, by undercover Feds, a passport to deliver and Chapman called her daddy to ask what she should do (daddy’s response was to turn the passport in to the police). Hardly the acts of a trained Spy Dame! Seriously, Virginia Hall is rolling over in her grave.

But the point is this: all of that detail is lost in the flame-haired-femme-fatale-great-in-bedness of the story…well, that and the pictures of her in a tiara

So let’s get back to Blond Nazi Ballerina at hand…Marina Lee: Spy Dame or Dame Blamed?

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.

muriel_byck_00_photo_tnSOE agent,  Muriel Byck (1981-1944), reminds us that while war may be a messy business, it is quite literally, also a dirty and germy business as well.

Muriel was born to French Jews in London although she was primarily raised on the continent, first Germany, then later, France. Muriel appears to have bounced back and forth between England and France for college and university, but eventually settled in England  in the mid-1930’s.

Byck took on a number of different jobs, none too remarkable. She worked in a theater, then as a Red Cross volunteer, and later a secretary. The secretarial work seemed to lead into war-related work as she also became an Air Raid Precautions warden.

Muriel then transitioned into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and was promoted to an officer position. Naturally, Muriel spoke excellent French so it wasn’t too far a jump for her to eventually be recruited for the Special Operations Executive.

After training and three abortive attempts to jump into France, Muriel (Codename: Violette) arrived April 9, 1944. She performed duties as a wireless operator and trained local talent for the task.

Needless to say, the usually activities of evading German detection by moving around from time to time while working one’s tail off to aid the war effort takes its toll on anyone. However, a little over a month in country and Muriel began exhibiting signs of serious illness. She collapsed in the field and a doctor working for the Resistance diagnosed her with meningitis, a serious disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.

muriel_byck_01_photo_tnThe problem here, is that the Germans kept sharp tabs on hospital patients, so just traipsing in the door was out of the question and sneakier means became necessary. Muriel was admitted as the niece of her uncle (read: supervisor), both of whom were evacuees from Paris. Muriel was finally admitted to a hospital but it was too late. Not six weeks after landing in France,  Muriel Byck, aged 25,  died in the arms of her supervisor.

The local population of Romarantin, France, where Byck was laid to rest,  heralded her passing as a heroine of the Resistance and commemorated the anniversary of her death  until she was moved to the Pornic War Cemetery, the burial grounds for many British servicemen who died during the war.

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?

Won Jeong-hwa (1974-), a North Korean expatriate to South Korea was arrested over the summer for being a spy-dame.

Nothing is truly known of Won’s early life or her possible motives. What is known is that Won defected to South Korea seven years ago and was exemplified as the ideal defector from the North. She was employed touring military bases lecturing on the evils of the communist regime and this is where things get sticky.

Won is accused of photographing military bases, weapons, gathering intel on South Korean military officers, and keeping tabs on other North Korean defectors. There’s some speculation that she was sent in to assassinate another high-profile defector, but evidence is shaky at best.

However, as patrons of NOC agents are wont to do, North Korea is disavowing Won and leaving her to her own devices.

In the meantime, this mother of one is asking for leniency. She claims to have been arrested for theft in North Korea and forced into the trade when the state made threats against her family. It should also be mentioned that Won is a second generation spy. Her father was killed years before during an operation gone sour in South Korea.

To date: Won has been sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. I think this is telling in that South Korea is quick to execute when they are absolutely certain of guilt. But this incident has really shaken up intelligence in South Korea in that they believe Won is the tip of the iceberg of North Korean agents running amuck in the country, and for a government that prides itself on being able to spot the baddies, this is a big deal.

Let’s hope they don’t let pride get in the way of good intel work and start rounding up “the usual suspects”.

Before I lambast this movie into the great hereafter, this Agent must make a confession: she laughed her hiny off when first she saw it…at the dollar show. And in retrospect, I think I want my dollar back.

Sandra Bullock plays Gracie Hart, a foul and unkempt FBI agent amongst a group of Frat-Pack FBI dudes who regard her warily. What we get to witness is Gracie being turned into a Sexed-Up-Fembot. Not of the Killer variety, but a Fembot nonetheless.

The plot goes that there is a beauty pageant that is about to go kaboom, literally, and the FBI is on the case. Gracie goes undercover as a New Jersey beauty queen after monumental help from Michael Caine who teaches her to masticate her food with her mouth closed.

Frivolity and hilarity ensues as Gracie tries to ingratiate herself with the contestants (all of whom are suspect), learn their bizare tribal behavior (like swilling fat-free hot cocoa, waving, and fluttering her hands while faking tears), all while duking it out with her pageant handler, Caine, who declares her to be an unfinished woman.

Hmmmmm….so it’s not enough to be competent, smart, and have to put up with the thinly veiled misogyny on the job, but you also have to endure it while looking “hot” as well? Any Intell analysis aside, what the hell kind of message does this send to all the young girls who saw this flick?

Back to movie: Largely, Gracie gets by using her gut instinct. Basically what we call Abductive Logic. And not to diminish finely tuned instincts for a job, but we’re talking bomb threats here and mass murder on a public scale, you’d think they’d use more than just a gut feeling to solve the case. Yes, I know, this is Hollywood…

As you might have guessed, Gracie cracks the case, gets the guy, and finds a balance between between her kill-instinct and her feminine side. Sigh, how sweet. How sweet that the FBI is portrayed as bunch of bumbling idiots not totally up to the task of matching wits with a psychotic pageant mistress. But I’ll give kudos to the film for being equally insulting to both men and women. Points for parity!

Personally, if this is how the film industry insists on portraying women, then this Agent sides with the La Femme Nakita course of action. Nakita learns refinement, but only as a tool and nothing more. At heart, Nakita is a goofy, maladjusted, awkward girl, and her alias “Josephine” is the one with the mascara and the lipstick. “Josephine” is not the end-all-be-all of Nakita’s existence as an agent or a person.

Like Gracie, Nakita operates on almost pure instinct, but there’s training, skill, technique and method to back it up- not a frilly dress and and antiquated sense on how a woman should handle herself.

And to this Agent, that’s one finishing school I think all dames should attend.