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A Covert Affair: When CIA Agents Fall In Love

This gem of a city superbly strung around the sparkling shores of Europe's largest Alpine lake is, in fact, only Switzerland's third-largest city. In the van's rearview mirror, I watch a woman come down the sidewalk. She's in a cream linen pantsuit and crocodile mid-heeled sandals. She's accompanied by a black Labrador retriever on a retractable leash.

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When the two come to the Hilton grounds, she gives the dog slack, and it bounds over a low hedge and onto the lawn. After a couple minutes the woman tugs the leash, the dog jumps back across the hedge, and they continue down the street. Who walks her dog in a cream linen pantsuit at seven in the morning? I wonder how it is the Swiss are so put together. I've been sitting in this van every morning for a week now. The shops all open precisely at eight-thirty, not a minute before or after.


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Unerringly, the owners come out with a bucket of soapy water and a stiff broom to wash the sidewalk. They follow it by a quick polishing of the window, and then a stepping back to check the window displays. Swiss orderliness would just be a curiosity, but it's a bane for anything we try to do here.

A couple of months ago we put a concealed camera in the suit pocket of a man's jacket hanging in a car. It worked fine parked in a two-hour zone for a couple of days. But then one day we were thirty minutes late getting back to feed the meter, only to find the car had been towed. A Swiss franc fine later we had our car back. The police didn't find the camera, but we learned our lesson about the Swiss.

It's hotter and more humid today than it was yesterday, a soupy haze rising off the lake. You can't even see the mountains. I never guessed it could get so muggy in Geneva. Every other time I've worked here, it was either fall or winter, when the place can really turn on the charm. There's that cosmopolitan allure combined with the feel of a small town on a beautiful lake.

Frankly, the tediousness of the job is starting to get to me — moving the van from parking place to parking place, sitting and watching. It doesn't help that I've yet to see the Russian mobster we're supposed to be on. Our inside officer assures us he's in Geneva, working out of an office at 14 chemin du Petit- Sacconex.

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But I'm starting to question whether he really exists. The only thing I can think is that if the Russian leaves his office, he's doing it in the middle of the night after we stop watching him. We've thought of testing that hypothesis, but the Genevois police would notice someone sitting in a van at night when most people are off the street. I get to drive the van for the same reason I got the motorbike in Athens: They can sit in a car all day, adjusting their makeup, exploring their purses, fiddling with the radio, and no one thinks twice about it. Alan, an ex-Marine from Texas, was going to spot me this morning, but showed up in a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops.

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Jacob sent Alan back to the OP, the observation post, because the way he was dressed, he wasn't about to go unnoticed. So Alan gets to spend the day in an air-conditioned suite on the seventh floor of the Hilton. Not that he's doing anything a whole lot more interesting than watching the street through a pair of binoculars. Maybe this whole gig is bad karma punishing us for our down-time last month. We dubbed our latest swing around Europe the "Tour de Bally," in honor of the midsummer shoe sales at the high-end store.

Then, in the rearview mirror, I see a car pull out of the drive at 14 chemin du Petit-Sacconex. The angle's wrong to see whether our Russian is behind the wheel, but Jacob or Alan, whoever is on the binoculars, will have clear view from the 7th floor.


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I look at the radio crammed between the seat and the gearshift. Come on, guys, I whisper under my breath. I pick up the radio and key it twice. This time I hold the key down and ask, "Did you catch that? I make a half turn to get a look back down the street, but a delivery truck blocks my view. I look at the radio again. Why hasn't anyone called it out? Even if it's not the Russian, they should have said something. Then the car goes right past me, and my heart pounds.

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It's the Russian for sure, the first we've seen of him in two weeks. I need backup, but there's no way I'm waiting another half month to latch on to him again. The Russian is two blocks ahead of me, merging into traffic. I don't think he's trying to lose me — it's just that he's a fast driver.

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He's switching lanes back and forth to pass, gaining distance on me. I need a red light to stop him. One does at the next intersection, and I nose into his lane, three cars behind him. That's enough cover for right now. But I need Jacob and Alan to take over. Otherwise the Russian's going to pick up on me. The innocent-girl-in-the-van act can only go on for so long. I keep the radio in my lap and key it twice to let Jacob and Alan know I'm still up on the network. But there's nothing in the way of an answer. I name each street as we pass them, hoping they're listening and will catch up.

I know I can't hang on like this much longer, especially if this guy turns off onto a street with light traffic. They have hired lawyers and hope to join the complaint. All of the women say they lost their security clearance because of their romantic relationships, making it impossible for them to continue doing their jobs. In some cases they were simply terminated.

Sheila, a CIA officer who spoke to ABC News on the condition that an alias be used, fell in love on the job but says she followed all the agency's rules. She reported every aspect of her relationship with a foreigner from one of America's close ally countries, from her first date to her first overnight stay. When she asked the CIA for permission to marry her foreign paramour, however, Sheila says the agency said no. She is now looking to join Griffith's discrimination complaint against the CIA.

The women are not arguing agency policy, but claim it is unequally enforced. They say that when gender roles were reversed — when male CIA agents were dating or marrying foreign women without authorization — there were few, if any consequences.

The EEOC complaint lists several different examples of men having unauthorized relationships, including one male officer who was allegedly promoted despite having a foreign girlfriend while working in a dangerous Middle Eastern county. It also requests the CIA strike all derogatory, inaccurate and falsely prejudicial material from the women's personnel files and agency records.

In its statement to ABC News, the agency said that "the CIA's code of conduct applies equally to all our officers, regardless of gender. If you're disingenuous about it, if you're in a relationship that has counterintelligence implications or you continue a relationship after being told to end it, you're apt to have trouble," the CIA's statement said. The women involved in the complaint could have a tough time winning their case, says one former CIA lawyer.

The agency argues in legal documents that revoking security clearances is a matter of national security and lies beyond any court's jurisdiction. Amy, a career CIA analyst who lost her security clearance because of a relationship, hopes to join the discrimination complaint. Speaking to ABC News under an alias, she described her passion for the profession.

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