Before he became a novelist, Matthews spent 33 years in the Operations Directorate, the clandestine wing of the CIA. For three decades he was undercover overseas, collecting secrets to help America fight the Cold War and the global war on terror. He began as a junior case officer pounding the streets of Iron Curtain-era Europe and rose to be chief or deputy chief at seven different CIA stations, winning a vaunted Intelligence Medal of Merit along the way. There’s a long tradition of British novelists — le Carré, Fleming, Cumming — with real-life intelligence backgrounds. But Matthews is the only American spy writer who spent most of his life as a spy. ... "Espionage is the world’s second-oldest profession. And what it has in common with the first profession is: Someone’s going to get it in the end." ... "You can tell a lot about a person from the way they eat," Matthews says, digging in. The way they hold their knife and fork, how well they hold their liquor. It’s all part of what he calls "opening the human envelope" — the psychological process of getting to know a potential source and exploiting his vulnerabilities. He says the process can take years, and the success rate is low. ... To recruit someone is to get him or her to agree to something absolutely illogical: committing treason against their country. So there is a modicum of being a little sneaky, a little manipulative, and sometimes a little cruel."
Women have been central to American spycraft since 1776, and they continued to play important roles in the World War II–era Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIA’s predecessor. Even so, the agency has a long history as a chauvinistic old boys’ club rife with sexism. ... Hollywood hasn’t prepared us for women like Bennett—or, say, Maja Lehnus, the CIA’s deputy chief financial officer, who’s been married for 29 years, has two children and was the first woman to hold six different leadership positions at the agency, including serving as the first female chief of the center responsible for combating the spread of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. ... At a time when the country may be just weeks away from electing its first female president, many Americans still have no concept of who’s keeping them safe—and that women play a critical role in that effort. Some may think CIA women were confined to the counterterrorism unit that pursued Osama bin Laden, which gained extraordinary attention after his death. In fact, women are operating at unprecedented levels on every floor of CIA headquarters and throughout its far-flung global outposts. Perhaps hoping to combat this misconception, the CIA granted Newsweek access to seven women from all parts of the agency, including a clandestine operations officer, a bombing expert and a weapons and space analyst. ... if you found yourself sitting across from any of them on the New York City subway, she’d look more like a tourist from the Midwest than a master spy.