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Gina Haspel’s swearing in ceremony (Credit: Evan Vucci/AP)

From The Interpreter, an Australian blog about international politics.

two recently published books on counterterrorism, intelligence, and national security fly in the face of the notion that counterterrorism and national security is a man’s game and show that when it comes to gender and counterterrorism, there is much more than meets the eye.

The first book, The Targeterby Nada Bakos, is a personal memoir of a CIA analyst working on the counterterrorism mission. The second, A Woman’s Place: Counterterrorism Since 9/11by terrorism expert Joana Cook, is a gendered analysis of the global war on terror, examining the evolving and oftentimes contradictory roles women have played in counterterrorism discourse and policy.


Nada Bakos, former CIA
Nada Bakos, former CIA targeter.

….Bakos’ memoir also offers a useful corrective to the male portrayal, perpetuated by two fictional Jacks – Bauer and Ryan – of how intelligence actually works. Instead she describes how intelligence gathering and analysis is rarely one big 24­–style breakthrough, but a meticulous slog of piecing together incomplete and fragmentary information. Bakos’ account of the intelligence analysis behind terrorism targeting operations offers a more accurate though no less interesting depiction. Quoting Cindy Storer, one of the original members of Alec Station, Bakos describes how counterterrorism intelligence work is not so much connecting the dots but working a jigsaw puzzle:

Except there is no picture and there are no edge pieces. And not all the pieces fit the puzzle.

The Female Way

When so much of modern feminism has been about accepting and appropriating traditionally “male” ways and means and promoting women to do them, it is refreshing to have an account that acknowledges that it is traditionally “female” qualities such as attention to detail, understanding the intricacies of patterns and relationships, a heightened perception of risk to outmanoeuvre danger, and listening skills to discern motivations and vulnerabilities of others that are an alternative, more accurate, and (dare I say) more effective means of getting things done.

Cook’s analysis usefully summarises and incorporates theories of feminist security studies and an analysis of National Action Plans on Women, Peace, and Security, and how they have applied to counterterrorism and challenged traditional notions of security and war.

A Women’s Place highlights how gender considerations became more prominent over the course of the global war on terror, not only because there were more women counterterrorism practitioners but because, firstly, women became more of an operational threat as terrorists, insurgents, and supporters, and secondly, the promotion of the rights and status of women was increasingly emphasised in foreign policy and national security policy.

The Results

….Both Bakos in her personal narrative and Cook in her more comprehensive overview highlight a defining feature of counterterrorism in the 9/11 era. While the global war on terror had many tactical successes, such as the death of key terrorist leaders which Bakos helped deliver, these tactical successes did not lead to lasting, decisive victories.

Source: Counterterrorism: A woman’s game

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