In what capacity have women served in intelligence? Eugene Poteat-former CIA Scientific Intelligence Officer and IWP Professor Emeritus-sought to provide an answer and dispel falsehoods about the role of women in intelligence in a lecture entitled “Women in Intelligence: Fantasy vs. Reality.” Professor Poteat discussed two flagrant misperceptions: first, women only serve as sex objects and second, women “lack the fortitude… to face that dangerous environment at all.” To confront these two fallacious assumptions, Professor Poteat presented a historical review of espionage and highlighted the contributions of brave, clever women from around the globe.
Prof. Poteat opened his talk by reaching back to Biblical times. “Moses,” Professor Poteat reminded his audience, “sent spies into the land of Canaan to see if it was as advertised.” After initially demurring, the people of Israel later returned under Joshua, who dispatched only two spies to the city of Jericho. Upon arriving, this duo spent the night with a harlot. The implication: “the spies were women.” In fact, Professor Poteat emphasized, “Bible stories are mostly about women spies,” whether in the form of Joshua’s duo or in the exploits of Delilah in stealing the knowledge of Samson’s superhuman strength.
Professor Poteat pivoted to American history to demonstrate that women played a critical role from the American War of Independence onwards. Reminiscing about the conflict, British officer Major Beckwith reported that “the rebels did not outfight us; they outspied us.” Professor Poteat focused on George Washington’s espionage operations and noted that from the capture of Major John Andre to the activities of the unknown Agent 355, women played a preeminent role.
While espionage operations declined following the American War of Independence, Professor Poteat illustrated time and time again that women boldly dedicated themselves to causes they believed in-spying in the name of the Union or Confederacy, cracking complex military codes, and changing their very identities to protect and serve the national interest. In many of these escapades, Professor Poteat underscored that “women were the most useful spies compared to men.”