Review Essay

Queen of Spies

Daphne Park, Britain’s Cold War Spy Master

Paddy Hayes, Overlook Press, New York, 2016, 336 pages

John G. Breen, PhD

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Queen of Spies Book

In early February 2016, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for 2016-2019 to the public, which offered “a unified roadmap for diversity and inclusion goals, actions, and accountability measures at the CIA over the next three years.”1 This strategic framework was informed, in part, by the 2013 “Director’s Advisory Group on Women in Leadership” report, the culmination of an effort led by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, which addressed the question, why are more women at the CIA not being promoted to the highest leadership positions?2 The study came to the somewhat unsatisfying conclusion that there was “no single reason” why women in the organization were, presumably, not getting promoted into the ranks of the Senior Intelligence Service. The ten recommendations of the Director’s Advisory Group were simply a menu of “best management practices.”3 According to a 2015 statement by then CIA Director John Brennan, the subsequent 2014 Diversity in Leadership Study identified “cultural, management, and organizational issues that contribute to a lack of diversity in the Agency’s leadership.”4

As of 2013, women represented approximately 46 percent of the CIA’s workforce—a slight improvement from 38 percent in 1980.5 Promisingly, the number of women holding the ranks of GS-13, 14, or 15 increased from 9 to 44 percent in that period.6 These are agency-wide statistics, but what remains unacknowledged is the percentage of women who have made their way to the heights of the Directorate of Operations—leading the case officers who clandestinely recruit and handle the CIA’s spies, and who conduct presidentially directed covert action. This is the most important work of the CIA, representing some of the agency’s greatest successes and most publicly embarrassing failures. Women have indeed held some senior leadership positions at the CIA—notably, the first-ever female deputy director of the CIA, Avril Haines, who then moved on to become the deputy national security advisor to the president in 2014.7 That said, there has never been a female director of the CIA, nor to anyone’s knowledge has there ever been a female deputy director for operations—the officer in charge of the Directorate of Operations.

Paddy Hayes, in Queen of Spies, explores the role of women in espionage, detailing the life and career of Daphne Park, who rose to the most senior ranks of the British Secret Intelligence Service (BSIS) as an area controller for operations in the Western Hemisphere—United States, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Hayes takes the reader back to Park’s childhood in Africa and to her initial foray into espionage and covert action during World War II with the Special Operations Executive—the organizational equivalent to the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA. Her subsequent career in BSIS included notable espionage assignments to Moscow, the Congo, and Vietnam. Park served in the Soviet Union at the height of the mid-1950s Cold War, handling clandestine Russian agents in the most challenging of counterintelligence environments. In the Congo, Park was involved in the now infamous removal from power and death of the country’s leader, Patrice Lumumba.8 And, in Vietnam, she was the BSIS representative to North Vietnam, stationed at the British Consulate in Hanoi from 1969 to 1970. Daphne Park retired from BSIS in 1979. She became the principal of Somerville College, Oxford, from 1980 to 1989, and she was named by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as a board member of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Park’s career makes for interesting reading, and the author does an admirable job weaving her exploits into the larger fabric of Cold War intrigue.

Her story is, of course, incomplete without addressing the immense challenges Park faced as she attempted to move up the ladder of an organization dominated by an old-boys’ network. Very early in her Special Operations Executive career, when she was training three-man covert-action teams for Operation Jedburgh, Park dared to question the abusive leadership style of her male superior, only to be dismissed from her position and questioned whether she had been sleeping with her trainees.9 As her career blossomed in the Congo, so too did unfounded rumors that she was romantically attached to one of her contacts. As Hayes notes, “this was the risk that single women, and not just those in the SIS, ran: any perceived closeness to a male was considered grounds for tittle-tattle and speculation.”10 BSIS regulations became hurdles to overcome for females hoping to rise to the most senior levels; female BSIS intelligence branch officers were not allowed to marry until well after the end of the Cold War.11 Hayes relates that Park, as it turned out, had a decades-long love affair that she was forced to keep a secret from BSIS—“that option wasn’t open to her if she wished to see out her service in SIS.”12

What makes Queen of Spies particularly good is not so much these exemplars of the inane challenges she faced, but the glimpses the author provides into the ultimately triumphant character of Daphne Park. This reader, though, could not help but ask the question, with all the cultural, management, and organizational hurdles put in front of her, what could Park have accomplished in a fully supportive organization? Hopefully, we are now asking similar questions about the role of women in the CIA and in other organizations within the national security enterprise. If the right candidate can be identified, one way to address these questions would be to ensure that the next director of the CIA or director for operations is the best person for the job—and a woman.


  1. “CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] Releases Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for 2016-2019,” CIA website, 9 February 2016, accessed 25 May 2017,
  2. CIA, “Director’s Advisory Group on Women in Leadership,” unclassified report (Washington, DC: CIA, March 2013), accessed 25 May 2017,
  3. Ibid., 14; a summary of the group’s ten recommendations appears on p. 2.
  4. “Statement from Director John Brennan on Improving Leadership Diversity at CIA,” CIA website, 30 June 2015, accessed 25 May 2017,
  5. “Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright Speaks at CIA in Honor of Women’s History Month,” CIA website, 19 March 2013, accessed 25 May 2017, The General Schedule (GS) is the pay scale for most federal employees; 13 through 15 are the highest GS levels. The next levels up are in Senior Executive Service positions.
  6. Ibid.
  7. “Statement by CIA Director John Brennan on the Selection of Avril Haines as Deputy National Security Advisor,” CIA website, 18 December 2014, accessed 25 May 2017,
  8. Paddy Hayes, Queen of Spies: Daphne Park, Britain’s Cold War Spy Master (New York: Overlook Press, 2016), 173.
  9. Ibid., 32.
  10. Ibid., 201.
  11. Ibid., 212.
  12. Ibid., 244.
John G. Breen, PhD, is the Commandant’s Distinguished Chair for National Intelligence Studies at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

July-August 2017