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First woman to head major US intelligence agency

The United States has had three female secretaries of state — but until now has never had a woman lead one of its 16 major intelligence agencies.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The United States has had three female secretaries of state — but until now has never had a woman lead one of its 16 major intelligence agencies.

Letitia A. Long, 51, was praised by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as the right person for the job, as she took up her post as director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in a ceremony Monday at the agency's half-built, high-tech campus in Springfield, Virginia.

Long, in turn, saluted what the NGA work force has already accomplished, from aiding troops on the battlefield, to helping draw together intelligence from across the national security spectrum.

"I have never seen an agency as young as the NGA do so much in so little time," she said of the organization, which was established in 1996.

Long's 32-year career has led to a series of senior management positions: deputy director of Naval Intelligence, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and, most recently, second in command at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Long's old boss and mentor, James R. Clapper, newly confirmed as director of national intelligence, noted her 32 years of service, with 16 of them often working in agencies under his purview. Clapper warned her that as soon as he is sworn in as DNI, his "meddling" would continue in her next mission.

Long thanked him for "taking a chance on a young executive, way back when," and said she welcomed the meddling to come.

Long represents the vanguard of women in the intelligence community.

Women represent 38 percent of total intelligence work force, according to Wendy Morigi, DNI spokeswoman. In six of the most prominent agencies, 27 percent of senior intelligence positions are held by women.

A spokesperson for the NGA, Susan H. Meisner, had identified Long as the first woman to lead one of the nation's 16 intelligence agencies, but later conceded that women have led smaller intelligence agencies such as the State Department's intelligence arm.

Long has taken over one of the "top computer geek shops" in the national security world. The NGA synthesizes satellite imagery, using everything from the number of electric lines a city has to the density of the soil, to create three-dimensional, interactive maps of every spot on the planet. They're used by everyone from invading troops gauging whether a country's roads or deserts can handle tank tracks, to oil spill cleanup crews trying to decide where to deploy resources.

Long has the science-and-technology credentials to do it, with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech, and a masters in mechanical engineering from the Catholic University of America. Together with those high powered jobs, Annapolis-born Long and her husband have raised three daughters.