Letitia Long takes helm of Pentagon intelligence agency
Stella Rimington needn’t worry about Letitia Long stealing her thunder. The former head of Britain’s MI5 countersubversion agency, now the successful author of five spy thrillers and a memoir, is nearly a household name in the United Kingdom, not to mention many a bookstore here. But it will be a while before even Washington insiders know who “Tish” Long is, much less any other female at the top of a U.S. intelligence agency.
That’s because there aren’t any others, although the senior intelligence ranks are positively crammed with them. Installed Monday as chief of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the people who try to make sense of what spy satellites see, Long is being billed as the only woman to ever head a “major” U.S. intelligence outfit (although ranking the NGA as equal to the CIA, FBI, DIA or the eavesdropping, code-breaking NSA is a stretch; women have also headed the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, arguably far more influential than the NGA).
The U.K., meanwhile, has already had two women -- counting Dame Rimington’s successor, Eliza Manningham-Bullers -- running its inarguably heavyweight counterspy service.
France, which, mais oui, counts Jean D'Arc as a national hero, nearly made it three.
In 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy considered appointing Bernadette Malgorn, a ministry of interior official, to take over the DGSE, France’s foreign espionage and counterterrorism service. But in the end he didn’t, leaving Malgorn in the same category as many a female spook also-ran in Washington.
Likewise, the flutter of speculation that President-elect Obama might appoint a woman to run the CIA or other major intelligence outfit fell flat.
At the time, the leading names floated about town were Joan Dempsey, a career Pentagon intelligence official who had served as CIA Director George Tenet’s chief of staff; Maureen “Mo” Baginski, a former top NSA official who had helped reorient the FBI toward counterterrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; and Rep. Jane Harman, the hard-edged California Democrat who had won intelligence community plaudits for working across the aisle in support of Bush administration national security programs.
Ostensibly, Obama could have had any of the three to run the NGA. Instead, the White House reached down into the ranks for Long, a career DoD intelligence official whose B.S. in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech and masters in mechanical engineering from the Catholic University of America seemed to equip her perfectly to run "one of the ‘top computer geek shops’ in the national security world," as the A.P.’s Kimberly Dozier put it.
Unlike nominees to run the CIA and Directorate of National Intelligence, Long's appointment did not need Senate confirmation.
Which was convenient for the White House, already under fire for continuing many a Bush administration national security policy. From 2003 to 2006, Long served as deputy to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s intelligence chief Stephen Cambone, a controversial figure who ran some of the Bush administration’s most aggressive security initiatives.
One was the so-called Talon electronic data program, “which collected and circulated unverified reports about people and organizations that allegedly threaten Defense Department facilities,” The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reported.
After a national outcry, Cambone’s successor, James Clapper, now the DNI, dismantled the program (although elements of it lived on elsewhere in the Defense Department).
Long was never publicly branded as a role player in Talon, and indeed, she evidently thrived under Clapper, going on to become deputy chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he “dual-hatted” for the Pentagon.
It was Long's second stop at DIA, where in the 1990s she was deputy director for information systems and services and “directed DIA’s worldwide information technology and communications programs,” according to her NGA biography. “Ms. Long was also DIA’s first Chief Information Officer,” it said.
She definitely got around. Long also did a stint at the CIA, between 1998 and 2000, running its intelligence community outreach shop. And before that, she was a senior naval intelligence official.
What little public record of Long’s views exists shows an intense interest in integrating the work product of Pentagon intelligence agencies and improving their foreign language capabilities.
The spy agencies’ language deficit, she told a congressional panel in 2004, would not be easily fixed, because it was “part of the larger issue of lack of language skills in the nation.”
Nor would the disparate intelligence agencies easily be brought to heel, she predicted.
“The walls between the cultures exist because each agency has a separate mission,” she was characterized as saying by the Pentagon’s news service. “For this reason, she said, they will be hard to tear down.”
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a member of the House intelligence committee and close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, called Long "an important role model for all the women in the intelligence community."
Dianne Feinstein, the Californian Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, struck a similar note.
“As new head of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Ms. Long will also be the first woman to lead one of the major intelligence agencies, with a multibillion-dollar budget and thousands of employees,” Feinstein said in a prepared statement. “This is an important appointment, and I hope that she will bring a new and determined management ability to this agency.”
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