- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 1999

When Elizabeth P. McIntosh sat down to write a book, she decided to follow the dictum “write what you know.” So she’s written about women spies during World War II.

After all, she was one herself.

“Our job was to undermine the enemy through any means possible, including slanting the truth and creating rumors,” the reserved Leesburg, Va., resident says of her 2 and 1/2-year stint in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor of the CIA.

Mrs. McIntosh, 84, who wrote children’s books after her espionage days, sounds almost Patton-like in describing her work in morale operations: “We also dropped leaflets from the air and broadcast false and misleading reports over the radio. You find somebody’s weakness and then play on it.”

Her new book, “Sisterhood of Spies,” has garnered some national attention. She recently was interviewed on the A&E; cable television station and has provided technical advice for several U.S. and British documentaries.

In a pleasant, cheery voice, she says she didn’t intend to go into spying after graduating from the University of Washington in 1935 (the OSS wasn’t founded until 1942).

No, the journalism major wanted to be a sportswriter for her sports editor dad at the Honolulu Advertiser in the Hawaiian Islands, where her mother was a school teacher.

“This was great fun, but one day I covered a swimming meet. My father said I’d never make a good sportswriter because I spelled the name of the winner [Duke Kahanamoku] wrong, so I moved to another department to cover the waterfront and do feature stories,” Mrs. McIntosh says.

Feature writing suited her, and her assignments allowed her to meet Jack Benny, Mickey Rooney, Groucho Marx and other Hollywood stars who would visit the islands on cruise ships.

The Scripps-Howard newspaper chain hired Mrs. McIntosh as a feature writer, covering stories out of the islands, including Pearl Harbor.

She was there on Dec. 7, 1941.

“It was early on a beautiful, sunny, Sunday morning when I was listening to a radio program featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and all of a sudden this voice crackled through, The islands are under attack. This is the real McCoy.’ ”

“I never forgot that. Two minutes later the phone rang, and it was my photographer saying the Japanese had just hit Pearl Harbor. We were about 35, 40 minutes outside of town. On the drive in, there were people going to church, walking their dogs, children playing baseball as if nothing unusual was going on.

“When we got into Honolulu, you could feel the tension and urgency of the moment. I was assigned to the hospital that day because they couldn’t get me out to Pearl Harbor. I always felt that this was because I was a woman. They only sent the men in to cover the story, but I did get out the next day.

“The Hickam Field firemen were brought in, all burned and shot. It was the first feeling you got of a war beginning. The next day it was tragic to see all the boats, including the Arizona, which had become just a gurgle of sound and bubbles coming to the surface.

“One lasting impression I have of Pearl Harbor, more than the sight of burned out ships and the acrid smell of the bombs, was the sight of the birds on the ground killed [from explosives]. There were myna birds, doves and sparrows. They were all just lying on the ground. It was a strange feeling and an unsettling sight for a place as beautiful as Hawaii.”

Mrs. McIntosh had been studying Japanese in Hawaii and been living with a Japanese family for a couple of years when Scripps-Howard sent her to Washington to cover the White House.

She became involved in the OSS through an acquaintance of her father’s, Atherton Richards, an assistant to OSS founder Gen. William J. Donovan.

“I had heard about a chap working in a strange organization,” she recalls of Mr. Richards. “He had invented a machine that would cut sugar cane because all of the people from the islands had been put into uniform and no one was working in the fields.”

Mr. Richards wanted her to work for his organization, but she would accept only if he could get her assigned overseas, where major events were happening.

She first served briefly in New Delhi, India, in 1944 before moving behind Japanese lines in western China, conducting morale operations against the Japanese in Burma and later in Kun-ming, China. By “morale operations,” she says, she means playing on someone’s weakness to undermine morale.

“One good example of this is that Japanese soldiers were taught never to surrender,” Mrs. McIntosh says. “It was at the end of the war, and the Burma campaign was getting pretty bad because the Japanese were fighting to the death.

“The Japanese high command restated the severe punishment which would follow any soldier who surrendered in battle. We were trying to figure out some way for them to give themselves up because they were running out of food and ammunition. They were vulnerable.

“We were able to get a Japanese POW to forge an order that stated under certain conditions, when soldiers were outnumbered in battle, unconscious, too ill to fight, or without ammunition, it would now be permissible to surrender and demand fair treatment under the Geneva Convention.”

After serving in the OSS, Mrs. McIntosh returned to the States and in 1947 married Richard Heppner, a leader of OSS operations in China who had become an assistant undersecretary of overseas affairs for the Pentagon.

She went on to work for Glamour magazine, but found it was not terribly exciting. From there she went to Voice of America as a radio information specialist writing news reports.

She also began to write children’s books but was aching to get back into some action. She contacted an old friend, CIA chief Allen Dulles, and told him she wanted to go back to Japan.

In Japan and by this time a widow, the intrepid traveler met Fred McIntosh, an Air Force fighter pilot who had logged 102 missions over Germany. They married in 1964.

After her overseas duty for the agency, Mrs. McIntosh returned to Washington to work until her retirement from the CIA in 1973.

“Sisterhood of Spies” is her second book; the first was “Undercover Girl.” The idea for the new book rose out of her talks with members of Veterans of Strategic Services, an OSS veterans group, who felt as she did that there was a need to tell these stories and record their personal histories for future generations.

And yes, Mrs. McIntosh is writing another children’s book about squirrels.

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