Women hope to bring end to CIA's 'old boy' network

March 28, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The CIA's operations directorate -- where the spies work -- has long been one of Washington's classic "old boy" networks. But it may not be much longer.

Roughly 200 women in the directorate are saying that they have been deprived of promotions and power. They are considering filing a class-action suit, charging that they have been blocked from posts as covert operatives, case officers and station chiefs, according to lawyers and women involved in the case.

The top jobs at the Directorate of Operations, the clandestine service that conducts espionage abroad, have always been for men only, lawyers and former intelligence officers say. Fewer than 10 women hold positions of real power in the directorate, which has more than 2,000 employees, they said.

Women serving as case officers, recruiting and controlling foreign agents, and as station chiefs, supervising CIA posts in foreign capitals, are almost as rare.

The agency's director, R. James Woolsey, says he wants to change all that, but it is a long time coming.

"There were never any senior women to look up to in any part of the agency," said a woman recruited and trained to spy in Moscow in the 1980s by the directorate, or DO. "They never had a female case officer until the mid-1970s. Historically, it's a man's organization.

"To me, the DO has a military feel, and the women there were expected to be secretaries," said the woman, who has since left but spoke on condition she not be identified.

"Women do make very good case officers. But they would channel women into being reports officers, editing raw intelligence. I think there was a glass ceiling."

Another woman who worked as a CIA spy abroad and now serves at the State Department put the case bluntly. "The sexiest jobs are the covert jobs. . . . Women's careers on that side were severely limited."

Any litigation in a class-action case would involve issues of secrecy, national security and feminism. The women at the CIA, as members of the clandestine service, could not be named in public; a suit would have to be titled "Jane Doe vs. Central Intelligence Agency," lawyers said.

The complaint, dealing with the inner workings of the most secret sections of the CIA, would almost certainly be sealed by a federal judge at the agency's request.

And the only woman at the top of the agency's power structure, the general counsel, Elizabeth Rindskopf, would have to defend the agency if the suit is filed.

The agency is aware it has a problem and says it has taken steps to correct it.

David Christian, a CIA spokesman, said women now represent more than 37 percent of the agency's professional employees and that the percentage of women at senior levels of the agency had increased from 6 percent five years ago to nearly 12 percent today.

The agency's No. 2 administrator is a woman; so is the agency's comptroller. Women hold some senior analytical positions as well. They are heavily recruited at dozens of universities. In the CIA's intelligence analysis and science and technology directorates, women now hold third-ranking positions.

In 1991, the year the women at the CIA first raised their voices in protest to senior officials, the agency undertook what it called "the Glass Ceiling study" to see if artificial barriers against advancement existed.

"These problems did exist," Mr. Woolsey told the House intelligence committee last October. "Women and minorities were concentrated in the lower grades. Promotion rates in the period 1985-1990 ran higher for white, professional men than for women or minorities at the same starting grades. . . . This is not PTC our vision of where the agency should be."

Two of the lawyers representing the women, Martin D. Schneiderman and Michelle A. Fishburne of the Washington law firm of Steptoe & Johnson, said they were "working with the CIA in negotiations to address concerns expressed by women employees and to ensure equal opportunity within the Directorate of Operations."

A third lawyer in the case, Roderick V.O. Boggs, executive director of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, said that the CIA's history of promotion practices "fits into a pattern that we've seen in many other federal agencies, such as the FBI and the State Department."

Women at the State Department have pursued a class-action suit for 18 years without a final settlement, although an agreement on promotions -- a major unresolved issue -- is within sight, said Monica Wagner, who represents the women.

"The crux of the problem is that the foreign service has been essentially white, male and Ivy League," she said. "It's the same at the CIA: when you think of spies, you think of men. Even though we've come a long way, we still have a way to go."

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