11 June 2007

Infernal female CIA affairs

Infernal female CIA affairs
Toby Harnden
Monday, June 11, 2007

The small band of women in the elegant Georgetown drawing room overlooking the Potomac River were once leading lights of the Central Intelligence Agency.
They included Arabic, Farsi and Chinese linguists. Among them were veterans of clandestine operations in Iraq, among Palestinian groups on the West Bank and against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. As spies, they lived under assumed names, lying even to their families about what they did. They recruited human "assets" and have been privy to America's secrets, which they still vow they will take to their graves.

With Iran edging closer to a nuclear bomb, Iraq descending into all-out sectarian slaughter and Beijing's military might building inexorably, their combined expertise would be of immeasurable value a few kilometers further down the Potomac from Washington, at the CIA's Langley headquarters.

But the women, ranging from their twenties to late forties, were not gathered to plot how to undermine Iran's government or prevent Hamas radicalizing another generation of Palestinian youth.

Instead, they were discussing how to sue the same CIA - which they refer to as "the Agency" - on whose behalf they had risked their lives for years.

Their security clearances now revoked, they are banned from contacting former colleagues still working under cover and have been pronounced unfit to serve their country. Their crime? Engaging in "close and continuing" friendships with foreign men. Male spies have long reveled in behavior that James Bond would have been proud of - and, like the fictional MI6 man, received a mixture of indulgence and faint disapproval. But women are still being forced out of the CIA for such transgressions. The group was meeting in the drawing room of Janine Brookner, a Washington lawyer and former spy of 24 years' service, who was the CIA's first station chief in Latin America. Now she is taking on the US government as the attorney for a sexual discrimination class action against the CIA.

Lora Griffith, the only former spy of the several dozen involved in the class action who is prepared to reveal her name, spent 19 years in the CIA's Directorate of Operations serving in the Middle East, South Asia and Europe. A Farsi speaker, she specialized in counterterrorism issues involving Afghanistan and Iran. In 2001, based in a European city (the precise location remains classified), one of her roles was to act as a liaison with an intelligence officer from a country that is a close ally with the United States, attempting to close down al-Qaeda networks.

"It was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and we were working closely together in an emotionally charged situation," she said. "There were sparks between us. It was short-lived but there were feelings." As was required - anything more than a casual contact with a foreigner must be reported in writing by a CIA officer - Griffith told her superiors about every meeting they had. "The only thing I didn't report was our feelings for each other," she said.

In true Bond fashion, she exploited the relationship to benefit her spying. "He went over the line sharing information with me he probably shouldn't have. I would write it all up and report it back to Langley. He wanted more of a permanent thing, for me to remain in the country." After six months, Griffith broke off the relationship. Later she returned to a posting at CIA headquarters. One morning, members of the CIA's Office of Security appeared at her desk. "They invited me into a conference room and began conducting a hostile interrogation. Fundamentally, I was accused of espionage."

She was questioned three times while wired up to a polygraph, or lie-detector, machine but, she insists, no indication of any deception was charted.

After the third session, the polygrapher, who boasted that he had forced the FBI's notorious KGB mole Robert Hanssen to confess, switched off the machine and asked Griffith if she had discussed US staff with the foreign intelligence officer. Griffith, bemused because the foreign officer knew many people at the embassy, answered that she had. The polygrapher abruptly ended the interview.

The next morning, an official demanded she return her badge and she was escorted from the building. Her career was over.

The crux of the class action is that male officers can have relationships with foreigners with virtual impunity.

A spy called "Rusty," a veteran of paramilitary operations, was engaged in a passionate affair with a foreign airline stewardess. While operating secretly in a hostile Middle Eastern country, he suddenly disappeared. He subsequently surfaced in another country, the stewardess on his arm, having revealed his alias to her. He was recalled to Langley and admonished, but his career did not suffer. Today, he is the CIA station chief in a key Arab country - one of the most sensitive intelligence jobs in the world.

Griffith says there are many other examples. But having passed gruelling CIA courses, undergone weapons training, learned how to conduct a dead drop and identify a double play, these women are not likely to give up easily. THE DAILY TELEGRAP

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