The CIA Has an Undercover Female Boss

A day after Julia Pierson became the first woman director of the Secret Service, it was learned that the head of the CIA's most secretive division has its first female chief as well.

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A day after Julia Pierson became the first woman director of the Secret Service, it was learned that the head of the CIA's most secretive division has its first female chief as well. Except no one will get to meet her, because like everyone else in her department, she's an undercover agent whose identity must remain secret. She was made the acting head of the Clandestine Service last month, just one week before John Brennan took over the agency's top job. The Clandestine Service oversees all of agency's undercover spies and their most cover operations.

She also may not have the job for too much longer, though, if certain critics have their way. The focus of The Washington Post story mentioning the appointment is actually about the internal resistance to making the "acting" part of her job permanent, in part because of her role in the agency's controversial detention and interrogation programs. She helped to run that program after the September 11 attacks and in 2005, the agent and her then-boss ordered the destruction of video recordings of several allegedly violent interrogations. The destruction was investigated by the Justice Department, but no charges were filed.

In any case, the appointment is another sign that the generation of women who first entered government service a couple decades ago are finally grabbing senior positions that have traditionally been reserved for men. As was noted after the announcement of Pierson's promotion, the spy and law enforcement agencies are still generally considered to be "old boy's networks," resisting changes that have more happened more quickly in other parts of the government. Yet, in both these cases, no one is even questioning whether these women are qualified. It's a just shame that the prejudices of the old days apparently kept women from getting the chance to earn those qualifications in the first place. 

So now that two of the most secret of "secretive" jobs you can have are in the hands of women—just as two of the most famous fictional spies in the world are also female—it's just more proof that women spies are having more than just a pop culture moment in the sun. They actually are calling the real life shots now.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.