Current and former members of the Central Intelligence Agency are fed up with the way Hollywood portrays fictional analysts in film and on television.
Several of the agents have spoken to The New York Times recently to vent their frustrations over how they are depicted, often emotional alcoholics who sleep with terrorists and seduce assets, according to The Times.
“The problem is that they portray most women in such a one-dimensional way; whatever the character flaw is, that’s all they are,” said Gina Bennett, who first began her career sounding the alarm on Osama bin Laden in 1993. She has been an analyst in the Counterterrorism Center for more than 25 years.
“It can leave a very distinct understanding of women at the agency-how we function, how we relate to men, how we engage in national security- that is pretty off,” Bennett continued.
Agent Sandra Grimes, who helped unmask her colleague Aldrich Ames as a double agent for the Russians, agrees with Bennett.
“I wish they wouldn’t use centerfold models in tight clothes. We don’t look that way. And we don’t act that way,” she insisted.
When asked if she was wearing a Tory Burch dress, as seen on TV, Bennett replied: “I couldn’t afford anything like that. It’s probably Burlington Coat Factory.”
Bennett also takes issue with the way her fallen co-worker Jennifer Matthews was portrayed in the film Zero Dark Thirty.
Scenes show an enthusiastic Matthews baking a cake for a Jordanian source, who ended up having explosives strapped to his body, before the two planned to rendezvous on his birthday. Her friends say the film painted a distorted picture.
Several of the agents are also upset with NBC’s State of Affairs, which stars Katherine Heigl. They explain they believe the series fails to add stability to its female lead.
During the premiere for the show, Heigl’s C.I.A. analyst gets obliterated on shots at a bar before picking up a stranger and scolding her therapist for being “judge-y.” She then briefs the female president of the United States.
There seems to be a consensus among women at the agency that the “honey pot” image of C.I.A. women who use sex to get secrets, similar to how Carrie did in Homeland, is nothing more than Hollywood sensationalism.
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” said a retired covert officer named Meredith. “For me, working in the Middle East, there’s a lot of attraction for Middle Eastern men for Western Women. I don’t mean necessarily sexually, although they may be thinking that. But curiosity, if nothing else. And we certainly have played that.”
Meredith says when it comes to sex, “you need to remove that off the table very quickly and clearly. Sometimes it’s ‘Get your hands off my knee or I’m going to break it,’ or you put as many people into the room as you can.”
Bennett also explained the struggle between personal and professional life as a female in Intelligence.
“I briefed Condoleezza Rice while in labor,” she recalled. “I’d tell her about the global jihad and then I would turn away and breathe. When these two worlds clash, they clash really hard.”
“I deal with people who are trying to kill lots of people and horrendous, painful ways. So I have a wall; it’s really tall. Unfortunately, though, what happens what time is you can’t click it on or off. You just block the sensation of feeling,” she continued.
Agent Kali Caldwell said when she worked in the counterterrorism unit, she would decompress by calling her mother on the way home or stop to grab a bite to eat.
While the agency is becoming more female friendly, and has evolved from its “macho days,” the agents think their gender works in their favor, and they want Hollywood to stop portraying them so inaccurately.
“Women don’t think more intuitively than men, but we tend to trust our own gut less. We are not going to put all our money in one basket,” she said.