Letitia Long: The Velvet Hammer Is the Latest Female Spy

Jessica Wakeman

letita long intelligence agencyScore one for the ladies: A major U.S. intelligence agency got its first female head today when Letitia A. Long (Tish Long) was confirmed as director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. In a public ceremony in Virginia today, she was praised by a former boss for being a "velvet hammer" who gets results.

Women have run some of the government's smaller intelligence agencies in the past. But Long's directorship is big news because the NGA is one of the country's 16 largest security organizations and boasts thousands of employees.

What exactly does it do? The NGA analyzes computer imaging of geographical landscape, both to support the military and to aid in humanitarian efforts. In recent years the agency its data has helped recovery efforts for Hurricane Katrina and California wildfires.

But Letitia Long's new position isn't just a cool job: it's also a groundbreaking one. Previously, the highest ranking woman at the NGA was only in the deputy position. That's typical of intelligence agencies in the U.S. According to The Washington Post, women only comprise 38 percent of women in the intelligence community and the highest rank women typically achieve is the #2 or #3 spots.

How do women fare elsewhere in Washington? According to data the White House Project, an organization that encourages women to run for political office:

  • Seventeen out of 100 senators are women.
  • Seventy-three out of 435 members of the House of Representatives are women. In 2009, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California became the first-ever female Speaker of the House.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the third female to hold the position after Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice before her.
  • Six out of 50 state governors are women.
  • After Saturday's swearing in of Elena Kagan, three of the nine Supreme Court justices are women. Kagan in the fourth woman in the court's history.

The figures aren't dismal, but they aren't anything to celebrate. Considering women are slightly more than half the population, it's discouraging that so few women have bust through the glass ceiling. Clearly, all areas of the U.S. government have a long way to go.

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