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Women in Intelligence, Part 2

By DIA History Office

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March 20, 2014 — In celebration of Women’s History Month, the DIA History Office provides the following history of women in intelligence. This is part two of a two-part series

The World Wars

Margaretha Gertruda Zelle MacLeod – commonly known by her exotic dancing name, Mata Hari, or Eye of the Morning – is perhaps the most famous of all female spies, at least by reputation. Ironically, there is no solid evidence that she ever spied for anyone. Yet in 1917, she was convicted by the French of spying for the Germans and executed. The evidence was circumstantial: she spoke five languages, moved in any number of different worlds finding discreet accomplices in all of them, and had lovers in every capital of Europe – especially in Germany. The Dutch dancer has come to be associated with what is perceived as the “glamorous” world of espionage and as “une femme fatale.”

Constance Babington-Smith played a tremendous role as an interpreter of aerial reconnaissance photography in the search for Hitler’s secret weapons. Working at Medmenham, England, she detected the German’s V-1 jet-propelled pilotless aircraft near Peenemunde, Germany. Later, Winston Churchill personally acknowledged her contribution to photo intelligence.

Aline, countess of Romanones, born Aline Griffith in New York, was recruited in 1943 as a deep-cover Office of Special Services (OSS) agent in Spain. Infiltrating the highest levels of Spanish society, the German Nazi regime provided her with secrets that helped the allied cause. Her activities resulted in several narrow escapes from attempts on her life. Ultimately, she met and married a Spanish grandee and withdrew to a life in New York and Spain. She has written several books roughly based on her experiences.

Virginia Hall was the only American civilian woman during World War II to receive the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism. Working with the OSS, she returned to France after being discovered by the Gestapo on a previous mission. Her sabotage operations against the Germans destroyed bridges and disrupted enemy communications. Hall organized three Free French battalions, distributed radios and weapons, aided downed airmen and worked with the French Resistance movement on many highly dangerous missions. She was considered one of the OSS’s most outstanding agents.

The Cold War

Clare Boothe Luce – a distinguished author and playwright, former U.S. congresswoman and ambassador, magazine editor, and wife of Henry Luce, the Time-Life co-founder – was selected by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Her contributions to intelligence began early in the century when she republished the works of Homer Lea, a military strategist who advocated the use of intelligence in support of operations, and continued until her death in 1987. Among her many honors was the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Eloise Randolph Page was secretary during World War II to MG William E. Donovan, chief of OSS, working for him in Washington, London, Brussels and Paris. With the founding of the CIA, she transferred into the organization and made espionage and intelligence her life’s work. From 1975 until 1987, she was the CIA’s highest-ranking female officer and first female super grade, the agency’s first female chief of station, one of the CIA’s experts on terrorism, and the first woman to head a major intelligence community committee. One of 50 CIA officers honored as an agency “trailblazer” for their career service, her award citation called her “a role model and . . . a champion of using technology to solve operational problems.” After her retirement from the CIA, she became a consultant on terrorism to the DIA and an instructor at the Joint Military Intelligence College.

Lt. Col. Mary Becka served as the first female defense attaché. The defense attaché system was placed under the management purview of the DIA in 1965. Becka was assigned to the male-dominant and Muslim country of Chad during its war with Libya, also known as the “Toyota War.” She gained the president of Chad’s confidence and he sought her advice – in spite of her gender. She was an acknowledged expert on Sub-Saharan Africa.