According to accounts reaching Washington in the late 1980s, the Central Intelligence Agency station in Jamaica was a menagerie of misfits, incompetents and twisted personalities--an overstaffed way station for time-servers no one else wanted.
The deputy station chief reportedly assaulted his wife repeatedly, once throttling her until she passed out. Another agent was cited for getting drunk in a hotel bar and screaming out her rage against the CIA. A third allegedly threatened to kill his own security guards.
These sordid details leap out of a sex-discrimination lawsuit filed in August by the CIA agent--the first female chief of station in Latin America--assigned to clean up the Jamaica operation. The agency, declining to comment while her suit is pending, has neither confirmed nor challenged her account.
The officer, known in court documents as Jane Doe Thompson but identified by numerous sources as Janine M. Brookner, arrived in the Jamaican capital of Kingston in 1989 with a sterling reputation for prowess as a spy and for personal probity.
She immediately began to try to assert control over the mess she inherited. She tried counseling her wayward charges, wrote warnings into their performance appraisals and finally reported them to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
What happened next shocked most who had known Brookner, 53, during her stainless 21-year career at the CIA.
In what her backers described as a bureaucratic covert operation, the spies of the Jamaica station turned the tables on their boss, demanding that she be investigated by the CIA’s inspector general.
They portrayed her as a drunk and a sexpot. They accused her of cheating on her overtime slips and of misusing a CIA helicopter assigned to Jamaica for anti-drug operations. Today she is a discredited spy doing make-work in a windowless cubicle at CIA headquarters.
While the courts will ultimately decide the merits of the Brookner case, the episode has raised a larger question of whether the CIA, as she charges, is marked by a “pervasive atmosphere of machismo and sexual discrimination.”
Interviews with current and former CIA officials suggest there is substantiation for Brookner’s claim that the Directorate of Operations, the true heart of the CIA, is a male-run enclave whose very secrecy has insulated it from the larger society it is meant to serve.
Critics charge that the agency indulges and promotes hard-drinking, skirt-chasing male agents. They cite the case of convicted traitor Aldrich H. Ames, who was promoted into sensitive positions despite being--by his own description--a “falling-down drunk.”
The officials say Brookner’s case is surprising only because she rose so high and fell so hard, and that scores of other women have been methodically thwarted in their efforts to rise through agency ranks.
Lawyers representing female clandestine service officers are threatening a class-action lawsuit accusing the agency of systematic discrimination. Rod Boggs of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights said there is an egregious pattern of gender bias at the CIA. “I’ve been doing these kinds of cases--both in government and private industry--for more than 20 years, and I’ve never seen such clear-cut evidence of discrimination,” Boggs said.
But the case has narrowed from several hundred potential plaintiffs to about 50 or 60 female officers, not all of whom are willing to go public with their complaints for fear of retaliation. Observers inside and outside the agency say they expect the action to be settled before it reaches court.
CIA officials deny that sexual harassment and discrimination are rampant at the agency and are part of its culture.
Yet the CIA’s own classified “glass-ceiling study” conducted in 1991 found almost 50% of female officers said they had been sexually harassed. Most said they had not reported the incidents to male superiors because they believed to do so would be career suicide.
The study described the CIA as an “adverse work environment” for women and said reprisals against women “seem to go unchecked.”
In her suit, Brookner said she had been subjected to unwanted sexual advances from male bosses in virtually every assignment she held in the United States and abroad.
The Brookner and Ames cases also opened a window on another bit of agency dirty laundry--endemic alcohol abuse, particularly at the CIA’s foreign stations. Current and former officials--some very senior--say heavy drinking has been tolerated, even when it threatens security and operations, in a frat-house culture that appears to condone virtually any offense except snitching on colleagues.
Even when a pattern of alcohol abuse is widely known, as it was in Ames’ case, the agency appears loath to move against one of its own. It worries about the effect on morale and fears that disciplinary action could push a spiteful officer over to the other side.
What emerges from court documents and interviews with numerous CIA officials is a portrait of ordinary people with ordinary vices operating under extraordinary secrecy and duress. Often living under cover and forced to conceal their identities even from their own children, CIA officers tend to socialize among themselves in a protective cocoon. They drink as part of their work of recruiting foreign spies and to relieve the stress, isolation and tedium of their jobs.
The court papers and interviews also depict a climate of frequent debauchery and unchecked libido, protected by a cult and culture of secrecy and the largely unaccountable power of foreign station chiefs and senior barons at CIA headquarters. Women are viewed by many as a hindrance or, at best, an operational tool to lure potential agents into spying for the CIA.
“It’s more fraternal than machismo in the Directorate of Operations,” a former senior CIA official said. “It’s a circle-the-wagons culture spurred on by elitism. They are very supportive of one another because they see themselves as the centurions, the guardians, and their task is difficult and not readily understood by anyone else.”
Added another former top agency official: “It’s an organization with a sense of mission, like the carrier pilot fraternity. The idea that a woman could do this diminishes the thing. It’s all about the male ego.”
Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey asserted in an interview that he was determined to change this culture, although he admitted it was at least a five- to 10-year task.
“I am committed to making any changes I need to in order to ensure that the D.O. (Directorate of Operations, as the clandestine service is known) is not a white male fraternity. Not only is it unjust to be a white male fraternity, it is ineffective,” Woolsey said.
“It is excellent for the D.O. to have a spirit of camaraderie, the way a good military unit does, where people take care of one another. (But) it is also important that in doing so, they deal with one another’s shortcomings in a fair and disciplined way, as was not done in the Ames case.”
The sexism and the tolerance for heavy drinking and incompetence that Woolsey vowed to change have led to incidents such as these:
* At least two of the current top operations directorate chiefs have had sexual affairs with subordinates, the Brookner suit alleges. One of them was discovered in flagrante delicto with a female employee on the couch in his office at CIA headquarters.
* Edward Lee Howard, who later became a spy for the KGB, went to the CIA’s medical services office in 1981 for counseling because he believed he had a serious drinking problem. The counselor dismissed his concern. “I’ve got people who sit in the parking lot at headquarters, drinking,” the adviser said, according to David Wise’s book on the Howard case, “The Spy Who Got Away.”
“I’ve got one lady who filled her windshield wiper dispenser with vodka and rigged the line so the hose comes inside the car. When she’s caught in traffic, she can turn on the wipers and squirt herself,” the counselor said, telling Howard to “settle down” and come back if his drinking got worse.
* The CIA station chief in Taiwan some years ago became enamored of the wife of one of his junior officers. To facilitate his seduction of the woman, he repeatedly sent the husband on extended and dangerous out-of-town assignments. The marriage eventually dissolved and the station chief married the woman, according to a former CIA officer who served in the region at the time.
* In another sexual-harassment complaint against the agency, a CIA secretary said her career was ruined after she rebuffed the attentions of the station chief where she was posted. She applied for another foreign job but was told that she was “too attractive” to be sent to that post. Later she was informed that there was a “psychological/medical” hold on future assignments because of her earlier complaint, which revealed her to be too “headstrong” to merit promotion. The woman’s attorney, Pamela B. Stuart, said it was “inconceivable that a man would be denied an overseas job because of his looks” and alleged that her client was a victim of “bureaucratic psycho-terrorism.”
* In an episode alleged in the Brookner case, a female CIA case officer in Jamaica suffered repeated bouts of depression and binge drinking after her numerous failed affairs, including one with a married Drug Enforcement Administration official based on the island. The woman, referred to in court documents only as “Rachel,” got roaring drunk at a public bar at the Wyndham Hotel in Kingston at a January, 1990, party for U.S. Embassy, CIA and Secret Service officials. Rachel reportedly revealed to all within earshot that she worked for the CIA and endangered the cover of several other undercover officers attending the party.
* The Brookner suit also tells of a drunk senior operations directorate executive falling over a coffee table while lunging for a female guest at a party in Caracas, Venezuela; of a former chief of clandestine operations who got so plastered during a meeting with foreign intelligence officials that he could not remember whether he had revealed sensitive internal information to them; of a top overseas agent nicknamed the “afternoon chief of station” because most mornings he was too hung over to show up for work.
Agency defenders say the days of heavy boozing and womanizing are past and point to the rising numbers of women in the clandestine service and throughout the agency. Overall, 42% of CIA employees are women; 38% of workers classified as professionals are women.
Woolsey noted that six of the 13 senior CIA officials who report directly to him are women, including the general counsel, the comptroller, the head of the equal opportunity office, the head of congressional affairs and the director of the National Intelligence Council.
But none of the four substantive baronies of the CIA--the directorates of operations, intelligence analysis, administration and science and technology--has ever been run by a woman. And only the administration directorate has a woman as its No. 2 official.
There has been a marked increase in the assignment of female spies overseas in recent years, according to CIA statistics. As of last month, 30% of clandestine officers overseas and 20% of station chiefs were women. The first female chief of station was not named until 1979.
But women still are a rarity at the executive level. Only 12% of the top officers--the Senior Intelligence Service--are women, and no woman has ever reached the No. 2 spot in the operations directorate.
Brookner might have been on her way to breaking that glass ceiling had the questionable charges that sank her career not arisen. She was slated to be chief of station in Prague, beginning this summer, which might have led to a bigger European station and eventually to a top job at Langley.
Instead, she was brought down by allegations that might be laughable had the CIA not taken them so seriously.
Brookner was accused of drunkenness by subordinate officers she had disciplined for intemperate public drinking. She was described as a “sexual provocateur " by two officers who said that while she never actually touched them, she gave the impression that she “might make a pass.” She was cited for wearing “brief shorts and thin T-shirts with . . . no perceptible or very skimpy underwear"--in her own home in a tropical climate. She was accused of lying on her overtime sheets--to the tune of $150.96 over several years.
Numerous witnesses--including many of Brookner’s former CIA bosses, several ambassadors with whom she worked (including former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick), her ex-husband and her son--have said the charges against Brookner were ludicrous and utterly inconsistent with her reputation for sobriety, rectitude and personal modesty. Some said the charge that she wore provocative clothing was especially surprising because she has a long scar from open-heart surgery and self-consciously dresses to conceal it.
Either those witnesses were not interviewed by the CIA’s inspector general or their testimony was ignored in his final, devastating report. An agency official said it was standing policy to include relevant favorable comments in such reports and noted, “I know of no exceptions.”
How, then, to account for Brookner’s fate? A senior CIA official said the suit exaggerated her abilities and suggested that, even without the allegations, she was not destined for a high-level post. He hinted that there were other factors, classified and confidential, in her record that would disqualify her.
Absurd, replied Brookner’s lawyer, Victoria Toensing, formerly chief counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department’s top counterterrorism official. Brookner’s downfall can be attributed to a conspiracy by vicious subordinates she had disciplined and to a culture receptive to charges against women, said Toensing, now a Washington attorney with the Los Angeles-based firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.
“This is how they treat a turncoat,” said Toensing, who generally has supported the agency in the past. “They were trying to teach her a lesson.”
She said Brookner’s accusers were schooled in the arts of intrigue, treachery and deception, and used them all to destroy her.
“These are people who believe that women can be tools or weapons, but they cannot be colleagues,” Toensing said.
All of this is mildly amusing to Eloise Randolph Page, the CIA’s pioneer female operative, now retired after more than 40 years in the spy trade--dating back to the wartime Office of Strategic Services. She said proudly that she was the “first woman everything"--branch chief, division chief, station chief.
But, Page said, most of the current women at the agency who complain that they have been denied promotions probably did not deserve them. She contended that the agency has gone “too far too fast” in trying to integrate women into the covert operations branch.
“Frankly,” Page said, “there weren’t that many women capable of being case officers or running operations. They sent women where they shouldn’t have been, so they didn’t perform all that well.”
Yet, by her own description, Page’s career path was potholed by sex discrimination at every turn. She asserted that sexism in the operations directorate was “endemic and part of the culture.”
When Page was first considered for the position of chief of station, in Oslo in the early 1970s, then-Deputy Director for Operations Archie Roosevelt vetoed the promotion, saying he would never have a female station chief.
She was later offered two window-dressing posts--station chief in Canberra and in London. She turned them down because the United States did not run operations against Australia or Britain.
“I was not going to be exploited,” Page said. “I was not going to be a token.”
In 1979, Chief of Operations John McMahon decided to appoint her chief of station in Athens, a key post earlier held by Richard Welch, who was assassinated by leftists in 1975, and Clair E. George, who later became operations director until he retired in the backwash of the Iran-Contra scandal.
More than 30 years after the founding of the CIA, the agency was to have its first female chief of station.
“When McMahon announced it, at the end of a list of 15 senior appointments, you could have heard a Kleenex drop in that room. It was unbelievable,” Page recalled. “Half of the men walked over to congratulate me. And half of the men walked out of the room without saying a word.”