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How the CIA’s top-ranking woman beat the agency’s men at their own game

  

Category:  History & Sociology

Via:  hallux  •  9 months ago  •  13 comments

By:   Liza Mundy - WaPo

How the CIA’s top-ranking woman beat the agency’s men at their own game

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


In the early history of the CIA, marked by towering male figures like  Allen Dulles William Colby  and  William “Wild Bill” Donovan , few careers proved more remarkable — and unlikely — than that of a Southern blue blood named Eloise Randolph Page. Page anticipated the launch of Sputnik when just about everyone else was taken by surprise. She was the top female officer in the CIA’s clandes­tine service in the 1960s and 70s and the first woman to head a major overseas station. She was physically tiny but larger-than-life, reactionary but visionary, snobby but able to overcome patriarchal provincialism to wield unheard-of influence, at a time when the agency’s sexist culture ensured most women’s career tracks were limited to secretarial and clerk roles.

Born in 1920, Page began her intelligence career during World War II as a secretary at the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s precursor. She was assigned to Donovan, the OSS chief, who liked to recruit from highborn families and must have been delighted that “Eloise,” as everybody called her, came from not only one such family, but two. The Randolphs and the Pages were two of Virginia’s oldest White families, with roots that went back to the origins of the common­wealth, and to slavery. “She was a classy woman,” as one female officer put it, “who belonged somewhere on a plantation.”


Page spent a couple of years keep­ing Donovan, a terrible administrator who said yes to everything and everyone, organized and on track. In 1945, she traveled to Belgium to join X-2, the only OSS unit granted access to Britain’s top secret “Ultra” code-breaking dispatches of Ger­man communications. There, Page identified adversary agents and kept track of them. By helping build a priceless roster of names of some 3,000 known or suspected spies for Axis countries and others, she advanced the United States’ still-nascent skills at “counterespionage” or “counterintelligence,” navigating the complex, hall-of-mirrors world of double agents and spy-versus-spy dealings.


She also worked with Swedish, French and Belgian counterparts to track Nazis and make sure they did not get away. Both liaison work and counterintelli­gence were jobs toward which women tended to be steered. Both were crucial, but not nearly as prestigious as on-the-street recruiting.



After the war — when many women were told to leave and make room for returning veterans — Page hung on, employing her wide acquaintance with scientists and academics to track technical ad­vances and wage a central contest of the Cold War: the scientific competition with the Soviet Union. On Oct. 4, 1957, Page was serv­ing as chief of the Scientific and Technical Operations Staff when the Soviets shocked the American public by launching the satellite Sputnik. The news media portrayed the Sputnik launch as a failure of intelligence, while members of Con­gress accused the CIA of being “asleep at the switch.” The actual failure was that of a male-dominated bureaucracy to listen to what a woman was trying to tell them.



According to an internal CIA study declassified in 2013, Page’s of­fice had compiled “dozens” of reports about Soviet plans to put a satel­lite in space, sourced from her “high-level contacts” in the scientific community. By May 1957, the agency well knew a launch was to occur, and roughly when. “It was to be between September 20th and Octo­ber 4th,” Page later stated in an interview. “We had everything else there was to know about it. We had the angle of launch, we had the date.”

But despite vigorous efforts, she could not get a gatekeeper — Jack White, head of a major committee in the Office of Scientific Intelligence — to accept what she was hearing. He dismissed the intelligence as Soviet disinformation. Page visited him to try to change his mind, warning him that “we are going to have an intelligence failure.” She bet White a case of champagne that the launch would occur, and after it did, she said, “You should have seen my office.” Full of champagne. Her office wrote a bang-up after-action report, and she received a letter from OSI saying that the information in it was “essential and indis­pensable.”

That Page succeeded at an agency where women were marginalized was not only because of her per­sistence but because she had spent enough time in backrooms to well know the darkest corners of Langley. From her time as a secretary, she accumulated her colleagues’ secrets. Of Donovan, she once said, “I had the goods on him, and I played it for all it was worth.” One case officer marveled, “She had the pictures on somebody,” — incriminating photos.


For all her apparent power, though, Page remained at a disadvan­tage. She exerted influence from a bureaucratic position rather than an operational posting. As she rose through the administrative hierarchy, Page gained wide say over budgets. Any baron who wanted funding for a covert operation had to get the go-ahead from Eloise. “She scared some of these men to death,” remembered Lee Coyle. “They were afraid to go into her office.”



“She was in a position like J. Edgar Hoover to make or break a per­son,” said an operations officer, Mike Kalogeropoulos. “She knew where the bodies were buried. She knew the real story about everything. No­body touched her.”



In 1978, Page became the first woman sent to head a major overseas CIA station, taking over as Athens station chief. “You would have thought the world was going to end,” recalled a CIA officer working in the inspector general’s office, who heard the chatter in the halls and beyond. “The reaction was so strong; it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, how can this happen, this is a disaster, this can never be!’”

While it may have been, at least in part, a gesture toward equality or a reflec­tion of Page’s talents and deserts — the officer who promoted her, John McMahon, was seen as well intentioned when it came to women — in Page’s own view, her appointment represented a shrewd risk-benefit analysis by male rivals who wanted her out.

Nearing 60 years old, Page was dispatched to the CIA training facility near Williamsburg, Va., known as the Farm, almost four decades after she started her career during World War II. “She was five foot one, and skinny,” recalled Kalogeropoulos, who was beginning his own career at the same time. Kalogero­poulos found himself standing at the firing range behind a woman old enough to be his mother. “She fired and the gun flew right out of her hand. She went flying into the mud.” Page got up and tried again. Kalogeropoulos was deputized to “hold her shoulders as she shot, so she wouldn’t fall backward. I’m about 200 pounds, six feet tall, I’m holding this yellow-haired woman pointing down at the firing range.”

Rather than thank him, Page, upon learning his name, remarked that his surname was too Greek, and he should change it to Kellogg.


Kalogeropoulos’s first posting was to Athens, so he ended up work­ing for Page. She liked him, and he liked her; over sherry on Fridays, she shared her understanding of why she’d been sent abroad. The men “were trying to get rid of her,” she told him. In her former position overseeing policy, staff positions and funding, she enjoyed, they felt, too much power. The barons resented her ability to approve or reject their budget requests and disliked having to come to her and grovel.



Men at headquarters had been pressing Page for years to go over­seas, she told him. She had no real desire to serve in an overseas capac­ity and was able to put them off, saying she had to care for her aged mother. When her mother died, however, the pressure intensified. “They said, ‘You have to go, or we’ll cashier you,’” Kalogeropoulos re­membered her saying — meaning that they would find a way to ease her out altogether.

The agency’s barons offered her one of two stations: Canberra, Australia or Athens, which was more “operationally vibrant,” to put it mildly. Athens was a hard, risky assignment. Three years earlier, Athens station chief Richard Welch had been murdered by left-wing terrorists waging a guerrilla war against the right-wing Greek regime. He was succeeded by Clair George, another bigfoot chief who later would be implicated in the Iran-contra scandal and convicted of lying to Congress. “It was a horrible time in Greece,” one covert officer recalled. The top job here was not one for the faint of heart. “She picked Athens just to show them up,” said Kalogeropoulos.


The men at headquarters thought they were setting her up for failure. Greece was a patriarchal culture, and there were fewer women more conventionally feminine, and conventionally Anglo-American, than Page. She hated olive oil, detested lamb, favored sherry and cocktails over retsina or ouzo.



To everyone’s surprise, the Greeks embraced her. “They liked her because she was very nice to them,” Kalogeropoulos said.



But many aspects of her behavior were egregious. In Athens, there was a Black family who helped take care of her residence; Page required one of the children, a boy of 8 or 9, to salute anyone who entered. It was racist and objectionable in the extreme. The U.S. ambassador was appalled. Page didn’t care. She also ignored directives from headquarters if she disagreed with them.


Even as the Greeks embraced Page, some of the men in Athens Station chafed under her leadership. So they ran an operation against her, working with allies back in Langley. As a ploy, Page was summoned to headquarters to sit on a panel. During her absence, an emissary from Langley paid a visit to Athens Station. The emissary called the station’s officers in, one by one, and solicited criticism of her, assuring them he himself would replace her as chief. They said “she was inexperienced, she didn’t know squat, really trying to nail her to the wall,” Kalogeropoulos recalled.



When Page returned, she called the staff into the secure room and divided them into two groups. One group consisted of those who had ratted on her; the other, those who had not. She turned to the rats and “proceeded to tell everybody what they had said. It was supposed to be confidential, and she just — it was just incredible,” Kalogeropoulos re­membered. After that, he said, two case officers left the station. “She threw them out.”



None of this made her a revolutionary. She came from the same elite background as many of the men she worked with and shared their outlook along with their tactics. A hard-line anti-communist, she was right-wing to the point of being blinkered. When the conservative Greek govern­ment fell in 1981 and socialists took over, Page “wouldn’t let us report on it.” The radio silence out of Athens Station amounted to an intelli­gence failure.


After three years, Page completed her tour in Athens. Upon her return, she was shunted back into desk jobs — effectively put out to pasture. She went on to serve at the Defense Intelligence Agency, but never again in operations or at Langley. In her 2002 obituary in The Washington Post , an unnamed colleague summed Page up: “She was a perfect southern lady with a core of steel.”



This article was adapted from the new book   “THE SISTERHOOD: The Secret History of Women at the CIA,”   by Liza Mundy. Copyright © 2023 by Liza Mundy. Published in the United States by Crown, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.



Liza Mundy is a former Washington Post staff writer and the New York Times best-selling author of five books, including   “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.” [amazon.com]








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Hallux
PhD Principal
1  seeder  Hallux    9 months ago

My pantheon of great women continues to expand exponentially.

 
 
 
George
Junior Expert
2  George    9 months ago

Only misogynists and chauvinists are surprised by this. When will the left stop being surprised by the fact that women are equal and in many ways superior to men.

 
 
 
Michael C.
Freshman Expert
2.1  Michael C.  replied to  George @2    9 months ago

Only misogynists and chauvinists are surprised by this. When will the left stop being surprised by the fact that women are equal and in many ways superior to men.

And that's why-- recently many (not all!) on the left have become more misogynistic and chauvinistic. And now so many have become anti-Semitic as well (a hatred that for some times has been found mainly on the Right). jrSmiley_5_smiley_image.png

 
 
 
Hallux
PhD Principal
2.2  seeder  Hallux  replied to  George @2    9 months ago

Ah yes, there are only "misogynists and chauvinists" on the left. What a 'surprise' you comment is. Find another seed to put your heels up.

 
 
 
Greg Jones
Professor Participates
2.2.1  Greg Jones  replied to  Hallux @2.2    9 months ago

So you don't want opinions that disagree with yours?

That de facto prior restraint (censorship) is typical of the far left.

Betty Page had a lot of influence upon men also.

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
2.2.2  Texan1211  replied to  Hallux @2.2    9 months ago
Ah yes, there are only "misogynists and chauvinists" on the left.

That is an odd interpretation of his post.

 
 
 
Hallux
PhD Principal
2.2.3  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Greg Jones @2.2.1    9 months ago
So you don't want opinions that disagree with yours?

If I did not I would delete them and I have never deleted anyone's since being here.

 
 
 
Hallux
PhD Principal
2.2.4  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Texan1211 @2.2.2    9 months ago
That is an odd interpretation of his post.

With apologies to the Bard, his comment history fell in my path and I tripped over it. /S

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
2.2.5  Texan1211  replied to  Hallux @2.2.4    9 months ago

I guess you can place any new definition of words necessary to meet your needs.

 
 
 
Hallux
PhD Principal
2.2.6  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Greg Jones @2.2.1    9 months ago
That de facto prior restraint (censorship) is typical of the far left.

His comment is still there, what censorship? Hell, I was not even tempted to flag it. 

 
 
 
Hallux
PhD Principal
2.2.7  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Greg Jones @2.2.1    9 months ago
Betty Page had a lot of influence upon men also.

Seems to be what much of this article is about ... @!@

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3  Kavika     9 months ago

All the BS above aside Ms Page is another in a long list of formidable women that have served our country with great distinction and heroism.

Two of my favorites and Catherine Leroy a war correspondent with the 173rd Airborne who made a combat jump with them in Operation Junction City, in Vietnam, and Dickey Chappell another war correspondent who was KIA with the US Marines in Vietnam.

Both are still honored today by the respective units.

 
 
 
Hallux
PhD Principal
3.1  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Kavika @3    9 months ago
All the BS above aside

Thank you.

 
 

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