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ARTEinEnglish9 karma

Gabriele Gast has had an exceptional career as a mole. For 17 years she worked as a top analyst for the Western Germany secret service when in fact, she was loyal to the Eastern German (Stasi). She even managed to adopt a disabled child during these years! No matter what you think of the Eastern German regime and the methods used by the Stasi, such a career is a real accomplishment and she's considered one of the best spies East Germany has ever had. I would also mention Jonna Mendez, who was the equivalent of Q in James Bond for the CIA : she would train the agents in the field to use gadgets and disguises such as cameras hidden in pens, make up, etc. At the end of her career, she was head of the CIA Disguise Department and she received help from magicians and Hollywood make up artists to create the gadgets. Her husband Tony is very famous at the CIA : he did the same job and inspired Ben Affleck's movie Argo. In Jonna's profile, it seemed to me reality was even cooler than fiction.

ARTEinEnglish8 karma

I can only talk about Gabriele Gast because she's the only German female spy I met. She was highly respected by Markus Wolf, the head of the Stasi foreign intelligence service, because she was so valuable. East Germany was famous, at the time, for using male operatives, surnamed "Romeos", who were sent to West Germany to seduce single secretaries working for the government (a lot of women were single at the time, because of all the deaths from the Second World War). Some "fake" weddings were organized, with fake priests and fake bestmen. There are some stories about women who committed suicide when they learnt their husband was actually East German and hadn't married them out of love, but to manipulate them to get information.

ARTEinEnglish7 karma

Hello, and thanks for this really good question! You are absolutely right. As long as people picture intelligence officers as men, female intelligence officers will be less suspected of being spies, which gives them a real advantage in the field. A former DGSE officer (the French foreign intelligence service) once told me that you wouldn't suspect a woman wearing stilettos following you to be a spy, contrary to a man looking like a military. It's a bit exaggerated/cartoonish to say thing this way, but it's true.As for your second question : the secret services around the world have long been mainly masculine. That's why the common image people have of a spy is masculine too. Even though it would make a lot of sense to have more women working in the field, the process of hiring them is very progressive and in the Western services women are still a minority in operation units.

ARTEinEnglish5 karma

I don't really know. I only interviewed female professional intelligence officers. As such, they never use sex to get information. Honey pots do exist (the Russians and the Chinese still do it for example), but to set them up secret services usually hire prostitutes (not intelligence officers). So I wouldn't know...

ARTEinEnglish5 karma

No, it wasn't easy! When I started my research I was a 27 year old journalist and I had never written about Defence or Intelligence matters. To start with, I decided to meet with male former military and intelligence officers to introduce myself and talk about women in intelligence in general. Once I felt they were confident enough, I asked them if they would help me find women who used to work in the secret services (retired women, I realized, are easier to talk to, because they are more likely to be "allowed" to talk). They would then put me in touch with former colleagues who would look for female colleagues... It's the logic of asking a friend if he knows a friend who knows a friend who knows a friend, etc. Because you have to remember that during the Cold War there weren't many women in intelligence, so finding them to set up interview was tricky. That's the method I used for the "unknown" women I wanted to meet. Other women were public figures, such as Jonna Mendez (CIA) or former MI5 director general Stella Rimington (UK). But for them too, it proved necessary to have a network to reach them. I had found Jonna Mendez's phone number on the internet, believe it or not. But I didn't feel confident calling her saying "hey I am a French freelance journalist, would you like to talk to me?" I thought it'd be more successful if a CIA colleague called her first on my behalf. And it worked just fine.