DURHAM, N.C.-- Sue Gordon led the Duke women’s basketball team from 1976 to 1980 as the only three-time captain in its history. Now, after more than 25 years at the CIA, she helps lead the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as its Deputy Director.
Gordon, then Sue Monroe, found herself at one of those tryouts at the start of her first year. That initial season, Gordon said, was the beginning of a transformative arc she watched the program undergo during her four years at Duke.
“It felt like kind of old school girls basketball,” Gordon said. “Our uniforms were generic, we played on East Campus, and we didn’t have any money. I can tell you all the players, they were all fierce, but they’re not names that anyone knows of.”
By her second season, the program began to visibly change. Debbie Leonard was hired as the new head coach, the team moved from East Campus to Cameron Indoor Stadium, scholarships became available to players and instead of playing teams like Elon, Guilford and Campbell College, Duke began playing teams like North Carolina, N.C. State and Maryland.
By the time she graduated in 1980, Gordon and her Duke women’s basketball program went from a team without scholarships that lost at times by 50 or more points, to a team that could compete with the top teams on the east coast.
“It’s crazy, by the time I was a senior we beat North Carolina, we beat Virginia and we were off and running,” Gordon said. “It took such a short time to go from almost high-end P.E. class to the beginnings of the basketball program that you see now.”
Gordon brought all the lessons she learned as a student athlete at Duke with her to the United States Central Intelligence Agency after graduation. She was initially hired by the CIA to perform analysis on biological warfare, but due to the long duration of time it took to receive a security clearance, she began working as an analyst of Soviet weapons systems.
As her career advanced, Gordon not only was involved in engineering analysis and building spacecraft, but also leading everything from information technology to technical collection to support services and cyber operations.
In January, Gordon was named the Deputy Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. There she helps lead 14,000 women and men that serve as both a combat support and intelligence agency. Teams of geographers, cartographers, scientists and analysts provide the information, maps and satellite images that help provide decision advantage for the nation.
Gordon has had a great amount of success throughout her career, but she also has had to deal with the emotional toll and humility that comes with her position.
“I’ve seen a quiet moment in the morning when I knew that we had gotten Osama Bin Laden,” Gordon said. “And I’ve lived the horror of when there was an attack and we lost some of our officers. I’ve brought patriots home for the last time and seeing the grace of families who, even in a moment of unimaginable grief, are still trying to comfort you because they know that the person they just lost was trying to keep America safe.
“I’ve seen stunning technical achievements where we have built things that make movies seem stupid. I feel like I’ve gotten a chance to see history before anyone knew what was happening.”
Although Gordon has spent her career working in national intelligence analyzing foreign weapons systems, helping build spacecraft and integrating cyber capabilities into all of the CIA’s operation, she graduated from Duke with a degree in zoology. Gordon said that exemplifies the value of an education at Duke.
“It doesn’t sound like a zoology major could be pretty successful in missile analysis and building spacecraft,” Gordon said. “But the truth is that foundation and fundamental curiosity that Duke taught me kind of carried the day. That’s what you have here at Duke. They taught me how to think. That’s the value of a Duke education living and breathing in Sue Gordon.”