Does the CIA have a double standard when its spies cozy up to foreigners? Veteran female officers speak out.
Nonsense, says the CIA. Agency officials, citing privacy restrictions, declined to respond directly to individual complaints, but they are adamant that the women have no case. "As a matter of course, we don't comment on pending litigation," says Mark Mansfield, the CIA's chief spokesman, but he insists that today's CIA plays no favorites. "Our code of conductand the very high standards to which CIA officers are heldapply to all our officers regardless of their gender." Some familiar with the CIA's handling of these matters, given anonymity, are more frank. "It's so easy to claim that there's a double standard," says one, who points out that many of the women were fired not for having affairs but for being insubordinate or concealing their relationships. "A decision to terminate someone's employment is not made hastily or lightly," the source says. "Invariably there's a darn good reason." Others stress that intimate relationships with foreigners have led to serious security breaches in the past and that the agency can't afford to be lax.
In their conversations with U.S. News, however, none of the women suggested that the CIA let down its guard. What they argue is not that their records were perfectthey are notbut that men in similar situations have been treated far more leniently. Consider, for one, the case of Sherry Norris.
Bright future. Norris (an alias) was part of a new generation of American spies. Fresh out of Boston University, she joined the CIA in 1996. After working to interpret top-secret imagery of terrorist sites, she made an unusual jump from analysis to operations and went off on a two-year tour in a South Asian country. By all accounts, Norris performed well as a young case officer, recruiting one spy in particular who turned heads at her CIA "station" inside the U.S. Embassy. Her job evaluations were strong and, as she neared the end of her tour, the future seemed wide open. Then she fell in love.
At a party, Norris met a Middle Eastern diplomat, an economics officer from a close U.S. ally. The attraction was immediate. They began to date, and Norris dutifully advised CIA headquarters of the relationship. A cable came back from her bosses approving the contact, but she recalls that male friends in the agency warned her to be careful. "They're tougher on women," one told her.
The relationship soon turned serious, and Norris told headquarters everythingeven when they first made love. "You have to report it all," she explains. "It was pretty embarrassing." To cover herself, Norris also wrote a cable listing all the people her friend worked with. "I didn't know what I was getting into," she now says. The response was chilling: One of the persons, based on years-old data, might have ties to that nation's intelligence service. This would hardly be unusualin any embassybut the CIA's security people came down hard. Norris, they said, needed to end the relationship.
Norris couldn't believe it. Other embassy staffers were embroiled in romantic affairs both inside and outside the office, she says, including several male CIA officers who were actively dating foreignerswith few questions asked. But her tour was nearly up and, unwilling to jeopardize her job, Norris promised she'd break things off when she left for America in three weeks.