Real Life Women Spies

on December 7, 2009 in Misc

Portrait of a middle eastern woman wearing a black hijab

I just started a book I’m already in love with:  Sisterhood of Spies – The Women of the OSS, by Elizabeth McIntosh.  The OSS was, of course, the predecessor to the CIA.

Anyway, the second chapter is about the exploits of Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, code name Cynthia – and boy, was she one smart wild wolf woman.  Years ago I read a biography of her but have since forgotten many of the details.  This is a good refresher.

Women in World War II

During WWII Cynthia helped to obtain German and Italian codes and was pivotal in obtaining the code books of Vichy France, a feat that saved many lives when the Allies invaded North Africa.  She was highly educated, spoke French like a native, and of course was beautiful, elegant, stylish, and cool as chilled martini under pressure.  In comparison Layla is warmer, more ethical and definitely not as sexually voracious.  Still I admire Cynthia (except for the way she would later be an uncaring parent to her two children.)  As a writer it’s reassuring to know that such dramatic women with adventurous, thriller-type lives really do exist.

Some great stuff that’s relevant to my own thriller novel:

One of the men Cynthia worked with on the assignment was a second story man and expert safecracker.  He was known to her only as the Georgia Cracker and had been in prison when he was recruited by the OSS.  The OSS desperately needed to get a hold of the code books kept in a safe in a locked and guarded room in the Vichy French Embassy in Washington, D.C.  They had to be taken out, photographed by OSS photographers nearby, and then returned to the safe, all within hours.

For sake of this mission, Cynthia boldly initiated an affair with an anti-Nazi married official in the embassy who agreed to help her.  They carried on their affair after hours at the embassy in order to make the night guard assume they were merely paramours.

The plot thickens.  Cynthia picked locks.  Slipped a sleeping drug to the guard and his dog.  Got the Georgia Cracker into the building.  The Cracker spent THREE HOURS (not minutes, like in the movies) figuring out the safe’s combination.  He and Cynthia had to try on a second and third night to get the code books out of the building.  At one point she was secreted away to a paneled truck on a deserted beach, within which the Cracker showed a similar safe to her and “instructed her in the ‘feel’ of a safe mechanism:  hesitate between each turn of the dial; listen as the tumblers drop into place before going on to the next sequence.”  During one tense moment Cynthia stripped naked except for her pearls and acted as if she had been caught by a suspicious guard in flagrante with her lover.

The end result of all this cloak and dagger?  Cynthia succeeded.  Mission accomplished.

Oh, and after the war Cynthia married her French Embassy lover.

You know, when I read real-life exploits like this, I know that my own novel The Compass Master hews much closer to reality than readers might suspect.  That’s a good feeling.

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