“To this day, Barbara [Robbins] is the youngest officer memorialized on our Wall. She was the first American woman to die in Vietnam and the first woman in our Agency’s history to make the ultimate sacrifice. Nine women since then have fallen in service to our mission. Today we remember them all, with great love and great admiration.”
CIA Director Leon Panetta — Memorial Ceremony (2011)
“Dear Molly, Could you tell us how many stars on the Memorial Wall are known to represent women? Regards, Intel Today”
Question to Molly Hale (February 4 2019)
On February 4 2019, CIA Molly Hale went digital. I could not resist firing the very first question on Twitter! How many CIA women are honoured by a star on the CIA wall? Molly Hale’s answer is unfortunately horribly ambiguous. And in fact, almost completely useless. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
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This question was the very first tweet sent with the #AskMollyHale hashtag! About 25 minutes later, Molly began to post a few tweets about herself…
Please, read the question carefully:
“Could you tell us how many stars on the Memorial Wall are known to represent women?”
Well, Molly Hale never replied to me. And although it breaks this old man’s heart, it is perhaps not entirely surprising.
Nevertheless, on March 22 2019, Molly posted the following message:
Dear Fallen Stars,
We have an ivory-white marble wall in our lobby at CIA Headquarters that stands as a silent, simple memorial to honor the women and men who have given their lives in service to our country.
Currently, there are 129 stars carved into the marble of the CIA Memorial Wall: 91 are unclassified. Of those, 11 represent women.
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Officially, the first female CIA officer to die in the line of duty and receive a star on the Memorial Wall was Barbara Robbins.
She was killed only two years after joining the Agency – in March 1965 – when terrorists bombed the US Embassy in South Vietnam. She remains the youngest CIA officer to receive a star, at just 21-years old.
However, what many Agency history buffs don’t know is that the first ever CIA officer to die while working for the Agency was also a woman: her name was Jane Wallis Burrell.
At a time when most women in US intelligence worked in clerical roles, Jane was a CIA counterintelligence officer who served in all of CIA’s predecessor agencies: the, the Strategic Services Unit, and the Central Intelligence Group.
On January 6, 1948, an Air France flight from Brussels crashed on its way to Paris, killing all five crew members and 10 of the 11 passengers. Among the dead was a young woman who the press said was either a clerk or a courier. She was neither. Jane was a CIA officer, and her death—only 110 days after CIA was officially established the previous September—makes her the first CIA officer to die while employed by the Agency.
We know don’t know much about Jane’s activity at the time of her death. She was returning from a trip to Brussels, but there are no records to indicate whether or not she was on vacation or an official operation.
Jane was not a candidate for a star on the Memorial Wall because the wall commemorates Agency employees who died in specific circumstances: deaths from accidental crashes of commercial aircraft have generally not qualified. Still, her service with CIA and its predecessor organizations was honorable and she deserves to be remembered.
When any CIA officer (male or female) dies in the line of duty, their names frequently must be kept secret. Sometimes, the first time that families hear that their loved one worked for the Agency is when that officer has died. However, with the passage of time, we’ve been able to unveil many of the fallen, and share their heroic stories with the public. If you’re interested in reading more about the lives of our fallen officers, see our “Feature Story” section on CIA.gov and look for articles from our “Remembering CIA’s Heroes” series.
Please, read again the first sentence:
“Currently, there are 129 stars carved into the marble of the CIA Memorial Wall: 91 are unclassified.
Of those, 11 represent women.”
The answer is unfortunately horribly ambiguous. It is indeed unclear if “of those” refers to the 91 unclassified stars, or to the 129 total number.
Let me explain.
The people familiar with this blog know that I have written a series of post about the CIA women memorialized with a star on the agency’s Memorial Wall at its headquarters.
Obviously, I wrote ten stories. So, who is the “missing star”?
In September 2016, Abigail Jones published a piece in Newsweek titled “Women of the CIA“.
“There are more women in the CIA than ever before, with women operating at unprecedented levels on every floor of CIA headquarters and throughout its far-flung global outposts.
Yet women remain underrepresented in executive-level jobs and the clandestine service.
The Memorial Wall, in the lobby of the CIA in McLean, Virginia, has 117 stars, honoring the agency officers who’ve died in the field.
Eleven represent women.”
So, the conclusion is rather obvious. Either, I have so far missed the story of a woman CIA officer known to be honoured by a star. (That is if 11 refers to the 91 known names.)
Or else, the name of that person has not so far been declassified and in this case, someone has been nutty and passed classified information to Abigail Jones in 2016.
Have a Question About the CIA? Ask Molly! — CIA Website
Remembering CIA’s Heroes: Barbara A. Robbins — CIA Website (August 2 2013)
CIA Molly Hale Just Answered Intel Today Question. Well, Not Really…