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March 28, 2005

Pillow talk

An article in the Sunday Times of London with the headline "Women agents sue CIA for 'pillow talk' sackings" has a wonderful opening:

WHEN top officials in the CIA accused one of their most senior women agents of being a "sexual provocateur" who harassed subordinates and wore "no perceptible underwear", they had no idea how much grief she would cause them.
But it does raise a question or four: No perceptible underwear? Isn't underwear by definition supposed to be worn underneath? Are you supposed to see it? At the CIA, are women supposed to wear it (as in Woody Allen's film Bananas) on the outside so we can check?

Sadly, however, the rest of the article fails to answer these questions. For reasons I can't quite fathom, the Times focuses instead on the lawsuit this former agent, now a lawyer, is bringing on behalf of seven female agents.
More than 20 years after she sued the CIA for ruining her career — winning a $400,000 payoff in the process — Janine Brookner is still hounding her former employers. A former CIA station chief in Jamaica, she has become one of Washington’s most intrepid lawyers, representing spies who have fallen out with the government.

Last week she launched what may be her most ambitious attempt to penetrate the secrecy surrounding the CIA’s inner workings. She is trying to establish a class action on behalf of women agents alleging sexual discrimination by the agency.
The CIA prohibits agents from entering "close and continuing" relationships with foreign nationals. Agents must report any sexual contact with foreigners and are then subjected to lie-detector tests.

The lawsuit essentially claims differential treatment of female agents.
Brookner, 63, represents seven women who have allegedly been fired or reprimanded for becoming involved in illicit affairs. "What they are looking for is people having sexual relations with foreigners and becoming vulnerable to blackmail," she said last week.

"But we know a lot of men who have done this and not been punished. The women are getting fired, the men are not. The fact is, they just don’t trust women and pillow talk."
One plaintiff is a former agent who supposedly was "one of only two Arab-speaking female operatives in the CIA’s clandestine directorate of operations." She was fired.
"I read her record. It was fantastic," said Brookner. "And they fired her because she had sexual relations with a foreign national. So stupid."
So stupid? The CIA for firing her, or the agent for having sexual relations with the foreign national? Maybe we'll have to watch Bananas to find out.