On Tuesday, President Trump made history by nominating Gina Haspel to become the first female director of the CIA. If she replaces Mike Pompeo, who would succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, her confirmation would mark a massive milestone for the spy agency, which has long been dominated by men.
Haspel, a 33-year veteran of the agency, is reportedly well-liked among CIA lifers. But she also has been condemned for her involvement in running a secret “black site” prison where detainees were waterboarded and subjected to other forms of torture.
Since the CIA was formally established in September 1947, not one of its directors has been a woman. When it was founded after World War II, a group of women — many of them former operatives from the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services — began working for Langley.
Women spies have long captured the public’s imagination. They’ve had starring roles in Hollywood dramas, most notably “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden, and Showtime’s “Homeland,” which stars an on-again, off-again CIA officer played by actress Clare Danes.
Here are some of the agency’s most notable female trailblazers.
The Maryland-born spy was known as “The Limping Lady” because she relied on a prosthetic limb after losing her left leg in a hunting accident. She worked for the OSS behind enemy lines in France to help foment the resistance against the Nazis. But she was being hunted by Gestapo chief, Nikolaus “Klaus” Barbie, who went by his own moniker, the “Butcher of Lyon.” Barbie once reportedly told his underlings, “I’d give anything to lay my hands on that Canadian b—-.”
With her life in danger, Hall finally fled France by trekking over the snow-covered mountains into Spain. She used her good leg as a snowplow and dragged the seven-pound wooden leg she’d nicknamed “Cuthbert” behind her, according to Judith Pearson’s 2005 biography of Hall, "The Wolves at the Door.” After the war, Hall joined the CIA, and last year the agency named a training facility after her.
Originally a journalist in Hawaii who witnessed the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, McIntosh — known as Betty — spoke fluent Japanese and worked as a propaganda specialist across Asia and Southeast Asia during World War II.
As an OSS officer in the Morale Operations branch, McIntosh participated in all manner of deception. Once, she whipped up and distributed a fake Japanese government order demanding that its soldiers in Burma surrender. She even made a Japanese POW write the directive in calligraphy so it would look realistic.
But it was another operation during World War II that always haunted McIntosh. She was asked by her superiors to deliver a mysterious chunk of coal to a Chinese OSS agent at a railway in the city of Kunming, in the south of China. She later found out from her second husband and a senior OSS official that the coal was actually dynamite. The Chinese agent had apparently boarded a train full of Japanese soldiers and threw the bomb into the train’s engine as it was heading over a bridge, where it exploded and killed most of those aboard.
These two women led the hunt for a Russian mole inside Langley who had been passing along some of the agency’s biggest secrets — the names of Russian informants — to the KGB. The mole turned out to be Aldrich Ames. By the mid-1980s, the CIA began noticing that several of its Russian informants were disappearing. Soon they concluded that the agency must have been infiltrated by a mole who was handing over the CIA’s most valuable information straight to its Cold War enemy.
The agency quietly assembled an investigative team, led by Sandy Grimes, Jeanne Vertefeuille, Diane Worthen, along with Don Payne and Paul Redmond. It took years of patience and painstaking work, but by 1992, Grimes began examining his finances and noticed mysteriously timed bank deposits into Ames’s account shortly after his meetings with a Soviet arms control specialist. After another two years, Ames was finally arrested.
One of the early members of Alec Station, Matthews doggedly hunted al-Qaeda well before the phrase became part of American vernacular. She quickly ascended the agency’s ladder and, at the height of the chase for bin Laden, was promoted to run a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan. On Dec. 30, 2009, according to a CIA internal report, she and fellow members of her team failed to follow standard safety procedures, and allowed a Jordanian doctor Humam al-Balawi — believed to be close to Bin Laden — onto the base without ensuring he wasn’t carrying explosives.
When al-Balawi was driven onto the base, he blew himself up, killing Matthews and six other CIA operatives. After the attack, Matthews received criticism that she’d been fast-tracked and was unqualified to run the base, setting off rounds of backlash from former and current CIA officers who claimed the attacks were sexist. Matthews’s role at the agency was depicted in the movie, “Zero Dark Thirty” and chronicled extensively by Post reporter Joby Warrick in his book, "The Triple Agent.”