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Women reject $1m CIA pay-off

The CIA faces fresh embarrassment with the rejection by a group of senior women officers of what they consider an inadequate $1m (pounds 600,000) out-of-court settlement of charges of rampant sexual discrimination within the beleaguered US spy agency.

News of the rejection - signalled in federal court papers filed by the dozen female employees who brought the class action suit three years ago on behalf of some 300 of their colleagues - is a bitter blow for the new director, John Deutch, as he embarks on reforms designed to put the CIA's host of recent woes behind it.

The charges, never seriously disputed by CIA management, centre on the agency's elite Operations Directorate, which recruits spies and handles covert operations overseas. For years the section functioned as an exclusive white male club, in which women rarely achieved high rank, and even the brightest were routinely treated as virtual secretaries by their male counterparts.

The original settlement reached in March provided for $990,000 of back pay for more than 100 women officers, 25 of whom received retroactive promotions. Fifteen more were reinstated in the directorate after having been transferred to other work. But the women are now blaming their own lawyers for accepting terms that do not reflect the years of indignity suffered.

In submissions throwing new light on past practices, one woman said she was told a plum assignment she sought was "too dangerous" for her. Another woman, with 28 years' service,says that any one who complained was automatically labelled as unqualified, or a "security or emotional problem".

Most damning, however, is supporting testimony from five men serving in the directorate, who also believe the settlement is insufficient. One unnamed officer of nine years' standing wrote that he was "appalled by the ... sexual harassment and promotion discrimination". He claimed that as a white male and "part of the privileged hierarchy" he was privy to "the back channels and secret files" kept on female victims.