- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

Espionage was the profession of a group of about 40 men and women, now in their 80s and 90s, who gathered yesterday at the International Spy Museum in Northwest to swap tales of intrigue. These former World War II spies fought a “shadow war” as operatives in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Fairfax resident Lloyd Smith was one of the local residents in attendance who had risked his life in covert missions.

Mr. Smith, now 85, single-handedly rescued 26 nurses and medical personnel from enemy territory after their plane disappeared over Albania in November 1943. “I was to get them before the Germans could,” he said.

Armed with a pistol, Mr. Smith infiltrated the country, avoided German patrols and convinced local forces that he was on a mission of human compassion. With the help of guides, he located the missing party outside the city of Kue.

Yesterday, holding a scrapbook on his lap, Mr. Smith pointed to a yellowed photograph of 13 nurses posing on their getaway boat. “They were beautiful,” he said, grinning.

Mr. Smith was among 300 former OSS agents interviewed by author Patrick O’Donnell for his new book, “Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of the Men and Women of WWII’s OSS.” Mr. O’Donnell signed copies of his book while its subjects caught up on old times.

Seated next to the author was former George Washington University professor Edward Weismiller, the first agent to control a double agent in occupied Europe.

Now 85 and suffering from glaucoma, he was a young Rhodes scholar poet when he joined the OSS in 1943 and set the standard for counterspy work.

“It’s the work of professional lying, and apparently it was easy for me,” Mr. Weismiller said. “Poetry is the work of telling the truth — it was a paradox in my life.”

His casework with Juan Frutos, a German spy code-named “Dragoman,” is still studied by intelligence agencies.

“It’s a textbook case,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Counterintelligence involves knowing how to mix truth with lies to throw off the enemy, and requires thorough planning to be successful.

Through Dragoman, Mr. Weismiller misled the Germans about Allied operations in Cherbourg, France, and even learned the identities of other German spies in the region.

“It sounds simple, but you’re creating an entirely new set of reality for that agent that has to be reality for the Germans. If he got one fact wrong, then Dragoman’s cover would be blown,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

“I learned by the end of it that I was one of the best liars to come down the pike,” Mr. Weismiller said. “It was a very disturbing thing to find out about myself.”

After the war, Mr. Weismiller returned to poetry and became a leading scholar on the works of John Milton. He moved to the District in 1968 when he became an English professor at George Washington and enjoys the many lives he has led.

“I’m a poet, I’m a counterspy, I’m a teacher and a scholar,” he said.

Even though he is mostly a scholar these days, editing a commentary on Milton and hoping to publish his fifth book, Mr. Weismiller says part of him will always be a spy at heart.

“It’s still in my mind; it’s very much alive in my mind,” he said.

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