The oldest living CIA 'spy girl' reveals her greatest schemes

In a quiet ceremony at CIA headquarters in Virginia on Sunday, March 1, the agency celebrated the 100th birthday of one of its most unique spies.

“Her many achievements and storied life are an inspiration to all women,” said CIA Director John Brennan to honour Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh, a reporter turned operative who engaged in some of the most cloak-and-dagger schemes over four decades as one of the few female spies at the agency. Born in Washington, D.C., McIntosh got a degree in journalism and worked as a reporter for several papers. Based in Hawaii, she covered the attack on Pearl Harbour first-hand, providing dramatic accounts of that tragic day.

Betty McIntosh

Two years later, she was working in Washington covering then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House when she got an assignment to profile an industrialist, who happened to be working undercover for General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the legendary chief of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor agency to the CIA. He recruited her to work for the OSS, which was using the art of spycraft to outwit the Nazis and the Japanese army.

Fluent in Japanese, McIntosh’s job was to create black propaganda — rumours meant to deceive the enemy. Many of her fellow spies in the OSS’s office of Morale Operations were artists and writers who created fake stories.

Stationed in India, she helped mock up forged Japanese government orders that purported to inform that country’s troops that it was permissible to surrender, which had long been viewed as an unacceptable and shameful act. To get the order in the hands of the Japanese, McIntosh got a Burmese agent of the OSS to kill a Japanese courier travelling through the jungle and place the forged document in his knapsack.

When the troops discovered the courier’s dead body, they found the order and assumed it was authentic, according to a profile of McIntosh on the CIA’s website. Many of the soldiers subsequently surrendered to American forces.

Betty McIntosh

Another time, she delivered what she assumed was an ordinary chunk of coal to a Chinese operative of the OSS waiting near a train station in the city of Kunming.

It was actually “Black Joe,” a fake lump of coal stuffed with dynamite.

The agent took it with him on a train full of Japanese soldiers. As the train crossed a bridge over a lake, he “threw the coal into the engine, jumped out, and as the train crossed the bridge, the train exploded,” McIntosh told the Washington Post.

Later, she was flown behind enemy lines with future famous chef Julia Child on a small plane into China, where she worked in a “black radio station,” writing scripts intended to confuse Japanese listeners.

Sometimes, the scripts weren’t that far off the truth. The day that US forces dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, the station’s fortune teller read from McIntosh’s script, predicting that “something terrible is going to happen to Japan…to eradicate one whole area of Japan.” It was just a coincidence since McIntosh actually didn’t know about the top-secret plans to drop the bomb.

After the war, she returned home, got married and wrote for fashion magazines, which she found so boring that she convinced the CIA to hire her. Though she has written several books about her time in the OSS, her years at the CIA remain a mystery since she swore an oath to never reveal her work for the agency.

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