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When she landed her first job as a case officer in Asia, her station chief saddled her with “ridiculous” paperwork and assignments. “Jamaica had a notorious reputation as the agency's dumping ground, a dead-end post for misfits and losers.” )Another time, Brookner was close to recruiting a critical target she’d been developing for six months when her station chief was removed.The new chief arrived and wanted someone else to recruit the target. You say, ‘Let me think about it.’ Then you come back in calmly and say, ‘I thought about it, and this is why I think I should make the recruitment.’ He was still reluctant, but when I did it, I succeeded—and it made him look good,” she says.“Some of the instructors down there misbehaved and made sexual advances to the students—and they were rebuffed, of course—but the students were just trying to get through this very intense program,” she says.“They tried to push all the women into becoming analysts. That was ,” says Janine Brookner, who joined the CIA in 1968. When a new boss came on board, Brookner wrote a memo summarizing her contacts and their access to information. “He was one of the few men in the agency in those days where it didn’t matter whether you were a man or a woman; if you could do the job, he would use you. Not only did I do well there but he made sure everybody at headquarters knew about me.”Brookner once made a deal with a division chief: She’d work in his station for a couple of years, and if she did well, he’d make her a station chief. ’ He said, ‘You could go shopping.’”Brookner ended up accepting a station chief position that “none of the guys wanted...because of the dangers and problems in the station and in that country.“I insisted on going into operations.” She says she was one of six women in her 66-person officer training program. By the time my next chief of station got there, I knew people from the presidential palace all the way to the Communist Party. When it came time for that promotion, he offered her one of two undesirable positions in Latin America, where she’d have no chance of being promoted and no operations to oversee. But it was the only one I could get, and at least we had operations and a staff.” (While she cannot say where she was posted, .Once, a colleague was told she needed to show more executive presence should stop dominating meetings.“You can act like a man, but you’ll be judged like a woman,” Bennett says.

Even so, the agency has a long history as a chauvinistic old boys’ club rife with sexism. Perhaps hoping to combat this misconception, the CIA granted access to seven women from all parts of the agency, including a clandestine operations officer, a bombing expert and a weapons and space analyst. One was the first CIA officer to come out as gay and Despite their extraordinary accomplishments, these women have faced double standards and sexism, and for some, success has come at great personal cost. Thanks to Hollywood’s clichés, the American public has been largely kept in the dark about Virginia Hall, who joined the OSS in 1944, organized sabotage operations across France, mapped drop zones, and helped POWs to safety—all while disguised as an elderly female farmhand and with a prosthetic leg she named Cuthbert.

She briefed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice while in labor and has brought newborns to the office so she could lend her expertise during crises. So I say, ‘My job is to worry for you.’” She laughs again. We’ve got bad things going on out there.”At a time when the country may be just weeks away from electing its first female president, many Americans still have no concept of who’s keeping them safe—and that women play a critical role in that effort.

(After the Africa embassy bombings, Bennett’s boss, who loved babies, whisked away her 3-week-old daughter for hours while Bennett typed up a cable. Some may think CIA women were confined to the counterterrorism unit that pursued Osama bin Laden, which gained extraordinary attention after his death.

Her fifth child, a girl, was her “Fallujah baby.” Keep up with this story and more .

Ever since British secret agent James Bond appeared on film in the 1960s, Americans have been entranced by covert spies leaping onto moving trains moments after bedding exotic babes, or military-grade muscle men slicing through society’s criminal underbelly with the latest guns and gadgets. Bennett wrote the first report warning of Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s, years before 9/11, and she was one of the six women in the CIA’s “band of sisters” that tracked down bin Laden and inspired the 2012 thriller . ’ And I’d say, ‘I’ve got a list of nine, and I rotate through them,’ because there were just so many bad things that could happen, whether it’s a loose nuclear weapon or North Korea deciding they gonna lob one over….

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