Are women agents better at remaining silent than their male counterparts when interrogated?
In 2005 I interviewed a retired Canadian operative from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) who worked with both the CIA and MI6 during the Cold War. He commented that he preferred to ‘run’ women agents because they not only functioned ‘under the radar’ (less suspect) in Russia but also, because if caught, they didn’t talk; that women would ‘go to the grave’ before revealing state secrets. I heard a similar comment when I interviewed Celine, an SOE agent (Invisible Women Episode 7); she stated that none of the SOE women agents of WW 2 broke their silence even when tortured. An example is Noor Inayat Khan, an SOE wireless operator, who remained silent during the many sessions with the Nazis as represented in the film A Call to Spy.
In a recent iNEWS article it was reported that Dai Li, spymaster and head of Kuomintang (KMT) Army secret service in China invented a specific torture technique during the 1940s to break female Japanese spies. In the 1930/40s Japanese female soldiers were specially trained to blend into upper class Chinese culture, taught singing and dancing and Chinese, in order to gather intelligence during the Sino-Japanese War. These female agents were known to the Chinese but elusive. They were extremely well trained and and if caught, proficient at resisting interrogation and the usual torture techniques.
Dai Li looked for a specific method to deal with women agents and through examining ancient texts he discovered the use of ice sitting, first noted in 206 BCE in the Western Han Dynasty. Sitting on ice over time does irreversible damage to the body and this slow cold technique is apparently especially difficult to withstand. Apparently it worked on some female agents while the usual methods did not.
The comments and information above begs the question, if trained women agents are better at remaining silent and keeping secrets under interrogation than male spies, why would this be? From my research and psychotherapy practice, I know this may be in part due to the fact that women daily have to hold parts of themselves back/keep aspects of themselves undercover in their daily lives due to cultural norms and expectations. Western women are born into a masculine dominant culture and learn early on how to fit into society while at the same time finding ways to circumvent it in order to express themselves fully. In life, work and relationships it may be crucial that certain aspects/desires are not outwardly expressed and the ability to do this may certainly transfer over to espionage interrogation even when it involves torture.