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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Coastal Carolina chapter.

Intelligence and National Security are key fields in governmental operations. There has been an increased interest in this work for years, and it is also growing in popularity among women. However, womens’ roles in intelligence communities have been downplayed tremendously. Their roles date back to the 1700s but have not been adequately acknowledged or appreciated until the past 30 years. Even then, women often must seek out support and fight just a little harder than men to succeed in the fields of Intelligence and National Security. 


History of Women in Intelligence

Womens’ involvement in Intelligence collection and National Security stems all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Housewives were recruited to spy on soldiers since they could go about their duties without suspicion. Since they never really drew suspicion, they were able to gather a lot of intelligence by eavesdropping on these soldiers, while simultaneously completing typical “housewife” duties such as cooking and cleaning. They even engaged in undercover operations and signaling certain messages by hanging laundry outside. 

In the Civil War, womens’ role in intelligence was much more dangerous, because there was a significant switch in gender roles almost 100 years after the Revolutionary War. Some women would disguise themselves as men to fight in the frontlines (think of Disney’s Mulan for reference). Others would participate in clandestine operations including roles as case specialists or intelligence agents. Clandestine operations are government acknowledged and approved attempts to gather intelligence secretly. To conceal the information women had collected, they often would hide documents within their hair accessories or clothing. 

In World War I, women were recruited in various roles, however, they mainly centered around communication and transportation roles, rather than front line collection or duties. During WWI there was one significant change in womens’ role in Intelligence referred to as “Hello Girls” which incorporated bilingual women who worked as switchboard operators overseas. This breaking ground was pivotal, not only for womens’ role in intelligence but also in the war. Women have been noted for helping the US advance their technologies for communication and messaging. Finally, in World War II, women were joining military operations. They were able to serve in the armed forces and continued the groundbreaking work in technological communications. 


Overcoming Discrimination in the Intelligence Field

Like many job positions, women (unfortunately) often faced discrimination within the intelligence field. In the 1990s, women faced many issues including fewer awards, unequal wages, sexual harassment, and fewer promotions. This initiated the “glass ceiling” study within the CIA, which focused on promoting and hiring more women, a more productive workplace, and cracking down on harassment. The “glass ceiling” study ultimately launched The Director’s Advisory Group on Women in Leadership, to further advance the role of women in the workplace and established clear promotion criteria to prevent exclusion of female promotions. 


Modern Day Women in Intelligence

Women have taken a large leap from undercover housemaids to their current roles in Intelligence and National Security. For example, the Alec Station was the unit designed for capturing Osama Bin Laden under the CIA post-9/11. This task force consisted of many intelligence analysts, the majority of which were women. Approximately three-quarters of the CIA officers working in black sites created for al Qaeda operations were women. As of 2015, women made up ⅓ of senior staffing with the CIA and a 46% rate of overall employees. As of 2019, for the first time ever, the top three CIA departments were run by women. Cynthia Rapp (deputy director for analysis), Dawn Meyerriecks (deputy director for science and technology), Gina Haspel (head of intelligence agency), and Elizabeth Kimber (operations directorate), were all holding top positions in the most crucial subdivisions of the CIA. 

Many groups are also set in action to not only support but help women rise even further in the Intelligence and National Security fields. The Amazing Women of the IC (intelligence community) is an organization to focuses on womens’ issues within intelligence and to promotes gender equality in the fieldwork. Women in International Security (WIIS) is another global organization to advance leadership and development within the international security realm. WIIS provides different types of programs and training to ensure women are adequately treated and prepared for security duties. There are countless other organizations to support women in National Security and Intelligence, including subdivisions such as cybersecurity as well!


For more information about the history of women in Intelligence and National Security, click here.


Kaitlin Serad

Coastal Carolina '22

Kaitlin is a Psychology (forensic concentration) major and she minors in Intelligence and National Security at Coastal Carolina University. Kaitlin currently works at a local restaurant owned by her family. She loves true crime, binge-watching TV shows or movies, and spending time with family and friends.