Loading......

The business of Intelligence is one of the oldest professions in the world

Intelligence Agents

The business of Intelligence is one of the oldest professions in the world. Throughout history, it has attracted a unique and diverse group of selfless individuals willing to take repeated risks for this country, often without ever being recognized or acknowledged for their contributions. Read about the women who chose this profession or were chosen by it. Additional reference materials are cited for further research.


Modern-Day Intelligence Agents

Intelligence and espionage has been traditionally seen as a masculine realm. Yet, the profession has always attracted highly competent women. During the 1950s, the CIA was forty percent female while major private companies of the time were only 30 percent female. Women in intelligence still received little recognition in the early days of the CIA, since they were not trusted with executive or undercover positions. By 1992, only 10 percent of upper management positions were filled by women; the percentage was even lower for undercover positons. 

As of 2013, women are appreciated as invaluable members of the intelligence force. Nearly half of the CIA, or 46 percent, is female. More significantly, 47 percent of the CIA's intelligence analysts are female, as well as 50 percent of the support staff and 40 percent of its undercover operatives in the National Clandestine Service. Finally, for the first time in history, five out of eight of the highest positions in the CIA are held by women, which include the positions of Deputy Director, Executive Director, CIO, Director of Support, and Director of Intelligence.  CIA director John Brennan emphasizes that he appointed these women because they were the best people for the position and not because of their gender. He adds, "Women make us better. Minorities make us better. People with diverse experiences make us better. What we need to do is be able to have a diverse workforce with...different ways of analysing." Notably, he says that unlike other men, women can be highly and uniquely perceptive about the way a man acts.

The number of women in high level positions has increased in other parts of the intelligence community. Fran Fleisch is in the NSA's third highest position as the executive director, Lieutenant General Mary A. Legere is the first female Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence in the Army, and other women are serving as directors of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office.

Perhaps it is because intelligence is seen as a "man's job" that women perform so well as rarely expected female intelligence agents. In a field where secrecy and surprise are crucial, women may have the greatest element of surprise. Some say that targets lower their guard around women since they are perceived as less threatening than men, particularly if the agent is also a mother. This is one reason why the British M15 has made efforts to recruit middle-aged mothers through parenting sites such as Mumsnet. 

Women also possess traits that make them uniquely skilled in intelligence. David Shedd, the deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, notes that "women as a rule tend to have stronger intuitive skills, and in the world of intelligence, where you are often dealing with less than perfect information, that intuitive nature is important...Men tend to be more fact-based." In a Forbes interview, former CIA spy Lindsay Moran says that women tend to have better people skills, street smarts, nurturing instincts that can be applied when handling and training foreign sources, and better listening skills. Others note that women tend tohave a "more consultative, collaborative approach." Mothers, once again have an even greater edge, as they have gained valuable life experience from having children and raising families. Some mothers can have especially strong relationship building skills that are a "vital talent for spies trying to recruit informants." 

For more information about the intelligence field, visit the official pages of members of the United States Intelligence Community, which include the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.


Famous Female Agents of the Past

Ann Bates
British Spy
Revolutionary War

Mary Bowser
Union Spy
U.S. Civil War

Belle Boyd
Confederate Spy
Civil War

Pauline Cushman
Union Spy
Civil War

Emma S. Edmonds
Union Spy
Civil War

Rose Greenhow
Confederate Spy
Civil War

Nancy Hart
Confederate Spy
Civil War

Harriet Tubman
Union Spy
U.S. Civil War

Loreta Velazquez
Confederate Spy
U.S. Civil War

Elizabeth Van Lew
Union Spy
U.S. Civil War

Edith Cavell
Allied Spy
World War I

Mati Hari
German Spy
World War I

Virgina Hall
American Spy
World War II

Jacqueline Nearne
Allied Spy
World War II

Odette Sansom
Allied Spy
World War II

Sonia
Soviet Spy
World War II

Violette Szabo
Allied Spy
World War II

Judith Coplon
Soviet Spy
Cold War Era

Maria Knuth
Soviet Spy
Cold War Era

Back To Top