Women take spy world by storm

Avril Haines as Biden’s DNI marks a new age

President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines speaks at his transition headquarters in the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware, US, November 24, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS)
President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines speaks at his transition headquarters in the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware, US, November 24, 2020
Female spies are taking over.
With the announcement that Avril Haines will be the next director of national intelligence in the Biden administration, alongside CIA Director Gina Haspel and two women on the Mossad’s high command, the future of women’s rise in intelligence has already arrived.
Haines is not a spy by training. But she did spend several years as deputy CIA chief and deputy national security advisor during president Barack Obama’s tenure after handling a series of complex security issues in other positions.
When Haines was appointed deputy CIA chief in 2013, she was the only woman to have reached that high of a rank. Subsequently, Haspel became deputy chief and then CIA director in 2018.
CIA officials who spoke to The Jerusalem Post have given Haspel credit for helping women make some additional progress in the CIA.
At the Mossad, sources close to Director Yossi Cohen have told the Post that he is enthusiastic about the spy agency being led by a woman.
What has brought so many female agents to such prominence now?
Some of it is natural evolution, and the fact these agencies are professional organizations focused on results.
Just as women have risen in prominence to greater roles of authority in both the US and Israel in the long arc of history, it was inevitable this would happen in intelligence.
Another piece is specific processes within the particular agencies. Decades ago, there were women in both agencies and women in some managing roles, but the general percentage was less equal than today.
For example, the Mossad is currently almost half women, and some recent public recruiting campaigns were specifically focused on women.
The more an agency is made up of women from the ground up and the more there are in the defense establishment in general, the harder it becomes to not appoint female candidates at the top.
In the past, it might have been easier to pass over one female candidate when all of her competition were males.
In the US, some of it probably relates to President-elect Joe Biden’s mantra of assembling a government that “looks like America.” By the time he is done, he may have a female vice president, defense secretary, director of intelligence, Treasury secretary and UN ambassador.
In the Mossad it certainly helps that not only Cohen, but his predecessor, Tamir Pardo, and other recent former Mossad heads support the trend.
And of course, credit must go to the specific candidates and major recent exploits of the women themselves.
Haines moved from being a player in international law issues at the State Department to becoming a major force in forging counterterror and drone-strike policy during the Obama administration.
When John Brennan, Obama’s top adviser on drone strikes, took over the CIA, he eventually brought Haines with him to be his No. 2.
She had already rubbed elbows with top CIA officials during debates over the targeting rules. That put her in a more powerful position when she had to carry out a restructuring of the agency, especially in the technology and cyber spheres.
Next, Haines is known for multiple run-ins with the aftermath of the post 9/11 US policies permitting waterboarding certain terrorist detainees.
In 2015, she was assigned to bridge a variety of differences between the CIA and a special US Senate task force led by Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein.
The issues included how much of the Bush-era torture to disclose as well as problems in cooperation between the sides.
When Haspel was nominated as CIA chief, Haines was one of the more prominent voices from the Democrats’ side of the spectrum to support her nomination.
This was despite Haspel’s involvement in approving at least one waterboarding incident about 15 years prior.
These stances by Haines have burnished her credentials as tough enough for the job among intelligence-types.
But they also necessitated her making public pronouncements over the last year professing her liberal values to avoid opposition from some Democrats characterizing her as insufficiently progressive.
She has been defended by many Obama-era officials from attacks of being insufficiently progressive.
They have noted that she was a big force in getting more detainees transferred from indefinite detention at Guantanamo, increasing the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the US and in reducing the volume of drone strikes.
It is not particularly clear where she will stand on Israel-related issues. Yet, generally she mixes progressivism with pragmatism, something the generally pro-Israel Biden is known for.
Haspel has kept an extremely low profile as CIA director to try to avoid the ire of President Donald Trump. Still, in her few public comments, she has projected a serious and no-nonsense aura.
In statements before Congress and a few university appearances, she tried to emphasize the extent of Iran’s threat.
When one congressman asked her in January 2019 if Iran was complying with the 2015 nuclear deal, she only said it was after noting that it was starting to take measures to likely violate the deal in the near future (about which she turned out to be right.)
Reportedly, Haspel was also a force in pushing for assassinating Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani in January.
In April, sources close to Mossad’s Cohen told the Post that despite domestic political instability at the time among multiple Trump nominees for the post of national intelligence director, the Mossad’s relationship with Haspel was ironclad, and that she was the key player for Israel.
The identities of the top two women on the Mossad’s high command are classified. But it is known that they head the Human Resources Division and the Training Division. Further, some relatively recent exploits of Mossad female agents have hit the front pages.
A key surveillance spy in Israel’s seizure of Iran’s secret nuclear archives in Tehran was a woman. Women were also among those given special awards by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the operation.
According to the book Mossad by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal, one of the two agents who scoped out the site on the night of the mission was a woman. She was an engineering graduate who spoke Farsi, used cutting-edge electronic equipment to obtain crucial photos and had surveilled the site multiple times.
In the same book, it is revealed that several women participated in the Vienna operation to uncover Syria’s nuclear secrets in 2007.
Among the activities carried out by the female spies were fooling Syria’s atomic energy chief into giving up his hotel room key so it could be copied and luring him away from the hotel while other agents gained access to his room and his computer.
In addition, the book claims that a female agent assassinated an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran in 2010.
Two operatives on a motorcycle placed a bomb on Majid Shahriari’s vehicle, which killed him. The agent who attached the explosive device to the car was a woman.
With top-notch candidates and stories to go with the new trend, it seems women reaching the top of the intelligence world was almost inevitable.