Nightly News   |  November 14, 2013

Sisterhood at the CIA

For years, women have been making important contributions to the Central Intelligence Agency. Today, nearly half of the CIA is female, and women have been promoted to five of the CIA’s top eight positions. NBC’s Ann Curry reports.

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>>> tonight we have a report from inside this nation's clandestine service , specifically about the women inside the cia . nbc's ann curry has been granted rare access inside the cia to report on a transformation that's been taking place for years. the growing number of women who now hold some of the most powerful jobs within the world's leading spy agency.

>> reporter: to see this famous photo of officials watching the raid against osama bin laden you would think it was an operation managed mostly by men. at the cia , it was women leading the analysis that tracked down bin laden . fran moore is the agency's director of intelligence.

>> some of the people that did the longest sort of, most intense work on the maanalysis were women .

>> reporter: the main character in "zero dark thirty" was modeled after the woman on the ground who relentlessly stalked bin laden for years. the real team behind the scenes was also mostly women , say moore and sue gordon , the cia 's director of support.

>> if those individuals hadn't been working the issue at that time i'm not confident we would have been successful.

>> reporter: the fact is today nearly half of the cia is female. women have been promoted to five of the cia 's top eight positions. in his first interview as cia director john brennan explains why. are there any qualities women bring that men might not be able to bring to the cia ?

>> i am very surprised at how perceptive and insightful women can be about how a man is acting -- whether it's a foreign government leader, military official or somebody who is sort of carrying out their daily duties.

>> reporter: back in world war ii , a few women did serve as spies. betty macintosh passed along explosives in china that blew up a train. doris borer in italy analyzed aerial photos for troop drops and found nazi concentration camps . and still --

>> we were referred to as the girls. i was doing the same thing as lieutenants and generals. here i was with the girls.

>> the girls.

>> reporter: at today's cia , fran moore is the first woman with children in her job, a position that once seemed out of reach.

>> i never had the tap on the shoulder that we think you are capable of running a team.

>> reporter: now nearly two decades of change later we brought together two generations of agency women .

>> we wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. because you did that, we don't have to fight that battle.

>> no.

>> quite as much as you did. because you did it.

>> reporter: because they did, it appears seeing a woman director of the cia is no longer a question of if, but when. ann curry , nbc news, washington.