January 22 marks the 70th anniversary of the National Intelligence Authority, a committee set up to monitor the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) which was later absorbed into the Central Intelligence Authority (CIA) in 1947. On this occasion, we take a look at some famous people you might not have known were spies at some point of their lives.
The celebrated American-born French dancer-actress worked as a spy for the French Resistance during World War II. She leveraged her celebrity status to get close to high-ranking Japanese and Italian officials, sneaking secret messages in invisible ink on her music sheets and helping smuggle people to safety. She was awarded the Medal of the Resistance with Rosette and named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government. At her death, Baker became the first American woman buried in France with military honors.
During the Second World War, the United States government was suspicious of the presence of Axis sympathizers in the homeland, especially within the entertainment industry. This led the intelligence agencies reaching out to producers and actors to keep an ear to the ground, and actor Cary Grant was one of them. His most sensational reveal was that fellow actor Errol Flynn was allegedly a Nazi sympathizer and even wrote letters of support to Hitler.
Before she became a celebrated chef and cookbook author of French cuisine, Julia Child was employed at the Office of Strategic Services . Initially hired as a clerk, she later went on to work as a researcher assisting in the development of a shark repellent to keep undersea predators away from explosives. She was also posted to Sri Lanka and China, where her responsibilities included transcribing classified information from listening posts.
The Swedish-born Hollywood actress was one of the greatest screen stars during the ’20s and ’30s. However, she suddenly quit films in 1941 and became famously reclusive. It was believed that she started working with MI6 during this time and was tasked with gathering information on one of the world’s richest men, Swedish millionaire industrialist Axel Wenner-Gren. She allegedly played a pivotal role is smuggling physicist Niels Bohr from Copenhagen to Britain; Bohr went onto develop the atomic bomb later.
The author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was a Royal Air Force pilot during World War II before a near-fatal accident rendered him unfit for flying operations. He was next posted at the British embassy in Washington, D.C. at a desk job, using his flair for language to pen British propaganda for American newspapers. Dahl quickly established himself as a ladies’ man in the elite society and was tasked with developing friendships with influential women, or the wives of powerful men, to find out American secrets and information.
The creator of secret service agent James Bond was a spy himself. Fleming worked as a British Naval intelligence officer during World War II, maintaining communications between the admiralty and the branch of intelligence tasked with sabotage behind enemy lines. Given his skills, he was involved in drawing up a detailed organizational chart for setting up the Office of Strategic Services — an early version of the CIA created during World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1942, he was put in charge of a commando group called the 30 Assault Unit that would accompany infantry advances to seize documents from enemy headquarters.
The flamboyant playwright, composer, director, actor and singer of the ’40s was trained along with Ian Fleming in covert action at Bletchley Park. He was later appointed the head of the British Secret Service bureau in Paris to liaise with the French Ministry of Information. Talking about his wartime espionage work, Coward once said, “Celebrity was wonderful cover. My disguise would be my own reputation as a bit of an idiot…a merry playboy.”
One of the most glamorous leading ladies of the ’30s and ’40s, the German singer-actress was considered a spy in her adopted homeland of the United States, despite entertaining U.S. troops during the war and abandoning Nazi Germany. According to declassified FBI files, there was a formal espionage investigation against her from 1942 to 1944 at the order of then FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover. Dietrich attempted to win the trust of FBI officials by volunteering to spy for America instead. Her role involved “collecting observations about subversive activities in Europe” while on trips to the front to entertain the troops.
The iconic Hollywood actor was recruited to the Special Operations Executive, a top-secret group organized to conduct sabotage and espionage actions in occupied Europe during World War II. The details of Lee’s missions during this time are still classified. “I was attached to the Special Air Service from time to time but we are forbidden — former, present, or future — to discuss any specific operations. Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read in to that what they like,” he said in an interview in 2011.
While many believe that the legendary singer had strong Mafia connections, his association with the CIA is a fact not many are aware of. According to his daughter, the secret service agency agreed to overlook Sinatra’s mafia ties in lieu of his working as a CIA courier — smuggling documents and even people in his private jet on cross-country or cross-Atlantic flights.
The master escape artist assisted British and American intelligence agencies with information gathered during his traveling magic acts throughout Europe. He had a significant fan following in the German and Russian elite society who would unknowingly spill war details to the magician during after-parties which Houdini would pass on to the secret agencies.
ARTHUR J. GOLDBERG
The former associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States worked for the Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War. He took a break from practicing law during the war and started developing an information-gathering network behind enemy lines across Europe.
The multiple Oscar-winning director was a naval reserve officer before making films. While working as a secret agent during WWII, he alerted the agency about a suspected Japanese presence near the coastal areas of Baja in northwestern Mexico. Later, Ford directed many U.S. wartime propaganda films.
As the head of the powerful Genovese family, Charles “Lucky” Luciano was the undisputed boss of organized crime on the U.S. East Coast during the ’40s. However, he was sentenced for 50 years for promoting prostitution. Luciano offered to work as a conduit in the search for information about saboteurs who sank a French liner at the New York City dock in exchange for a commuted sentence. The association proved to be a success, and the mobster’s services were sought again ahead of the Allied invasion of Sicily. Luciano was subsequently released after serving just 10 years of his sentence and deported to Italy.
Graduating from Princeton University with a degree in modern languages and a law degree from Columbia University, the U.S.-born Major League Baseball catcher was often dubbed “the brainiest man in baseball.” During WWII, he became an officer at the Office of Strategic Services where one of his assignments was to assassinate Werner Heisenberg, the head of Nazi Germany’s atom-bomb project. The plan was eventually called off.
The tall, handsome actor was dubbed “The Most Beautiful Man in the Movies” by Paramount Pictures. However, after appearing in two films, Hayden went on to join the U.S. Marine Corps under the name John Hamilton. He was subsequently commissioned as an undercover agent during WWII. His role during the period involved shipping supplies to Nazi-resistant groups in Yugoslavia and parachuting into Croatia.
and what about modern day spies?
this is how the game is played..
you dont honestly think they stopped doing this practice do you? 🙂