July 17, 2012

Celebrating Women Special Agents: Susan Roley Malone

A Marine’s Grade-School Dream is Realized

Susan Roley Malone was one of the first two women special agents in 1972. This interview was conducted on June 21, 2012.

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Susan Roley Malone, the daughter of a Marine pilot stationed outside Washington, D.C., was in eighth grade when her civics teacher assigned a project to research a federal agency and meet some of the people there. This was a plum assignment, since Malone’s father was a pilot for the Marine Corps commandant, and the FBI’s Training Academy was situated on the Marine base in Quantico.

“The agency that I chose, of course, was the FBI,” Malone, 65, said during a recent interview in Kansas City, where the former special agent works as a civilian adviser for the U.S. Army. The young Malone had already read books about the Bureau and seen Jimmy Stewart in the 1959 film drama “The FBI Story.” She took a tour of the FBI, which only steeled her resolve to one day join to serve her country. There she met an agent named Bill Stapleton. “He talked to me at length about being an FBI agent,” Malone said. “But at the time, the agent position was closed to women.”

In college, Malone joined the Marine Corps Reserve. She graduated and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1969, serving in California and then Norfolk, Virginia. When FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972, she attended his funeral. Within weeks, the longstanding rule barring women from new agent training was repealed.

“I was encouraged by my friends and my own desires, and I applied,” said Malone, who had been contemplating law school. Two months later, she met her roommate, Joanne Pierce Misko, during a new agents swearing-in ceremony at FBI Headquarters.

“Of course, everybody wanted to see who we were,” Malone said. “Sometimes I felt like I was an exhibit in a museum because everybody would say, ‘Which one are you? Are you the Marine or the nun?’”

"I was encouraged by my friends and my own desires, and I applied."

Susan Roley Malone, FBI Special Agent
Joanne Pierce Misko was one of the first two women special agents in 1972. This interview was conducted on June 22, 2012.

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Malone’s background served her well on the firing range and stamina drills. But it was far from easy. “The FBI takes you from zero,” Malone said. “They wanted you to learn the FBI way, so the instruction was very rigorous. We went through all the physical training with our classmates and were held to those same FBI standards.”

New agent classes create a bond, and this was no different, even if it was the first class with women. In one case, it was Malone who coached a weaker male swimmer to improve enough to meet a requirement. “I said, ‘I’ll work with you,’ and he said, ‘Why would you do that?’ I said, ‘Look, we are all in this class together. It’s a teammate thing. We all have to graduate.’ It’s something that I learned from my Marine Corps training that I think that FBI does well as a family.”

After graduating, Malone was dispatched to the Omaha Division, where she eventually met her husband, Marine Col. George Malone. Her first cases included cattle rustling and train wrecking. “I wondered if my squad supervisor was teasing me,” she said. But both were problematic federal crimes, and cattle rustling was big business in a city full of slaughterhouses. Her capture of a deserter made her the first women in the modern FBI to make an arrest.

Malone moved next to San Francisco, where she worked on cases that included the Patty Hearst kidnapping and interviewing the Manson family.

Malone, whose home is in Maryland, was an FBI agent for seven years. She left in 1979 to rejoin the Marines and work for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the criminal investigative arm of the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Defense. Over the years, she has worked for the State Department and served in United Nations posts in Iraq, Jordan, and Indonesia. She retired from the Marines as a colonel in 1999 and from DCIS in 2001. Today, she’s working with the Army to provide soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq with first-hand knowledge of what’s happening on the ground, having just returned from a year-long deployment in northern Afghanistan. She credits her time in the FBI for much of her success since then.

“It goes back to my FBI training and investigations and talking to people,” Malone said. “The training and the interview techniques and the talent to get the complete story and gather the facts. That training throughout my entire career has held me in good stead and offered me the opportunity to share the gifts of a very special organization—the FBI.”