By Jay Holmes
In our last post, The Spy Who Loved–Booty Spy Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, we looked at the early espionage escapades of Booty Spy Amy Elizabeth Thorpe. Renowned for conquering hearts and libidos, she was just getting warmed up at a time in her career when other booty spies would be moving on to desk jobs.
After the Nazis completed their conquest of France in June of 1940, the US remained neutral. Along with a few other Americans, Amy Elizabeth Thorpe did not remain neutral.
The Nazi-controlled Vichy French government, led by Marshal Philippe Pétain, was strongly anti-British while trying to maintain commerce with the US and other neutral nations. Most of the French military and government officials who were serving in French colonial positions and French embassies around the world remained in their positions and formed the collaborationist Vichy government. However, Pétain’s new government could not effectively realign the personal allegiances of all of its civil servants and military personnel overseas. While officially those individuals remained loyal to the French government, many of them felt that they could best remain loyal to France by overtly or covertly opposing the Vichy administration. This created a sudden windfall of opportunities for the UK intelligence services and their sympathizers in the US. Amy Elizabeth Thorpe-Pack had the perfect set of talents to identify anti-Vichy French patriots and exploit their predicaments.
Amy, or “Cynthia” as she was now known to MI-6, didn’t waste any opportunities. Agent Cynthia took on the cover of an American journalist and directly contacted the Vichy embassy in Washington, D.C. In May of 1941, she met the French Press Attaché Charles Brousse and quickly guessed that he was not an enthusiastic servant of the Vichy government. The fact that the forty-nine year old Brousse was married to his third wife and that he was a sophisticated “Don Juan” type did nothing to dissuade Cynthia. Brousse had met his match.
How long it took Brousse to realize that he was the pigeon rather than the hawk in his latest conquest is anyone’s guess. It didn’t matter. He was in love with Amy and not in love with the collaborationists that ran what was left of France. Brousse quickly began cooperating directly with Amy in her intelligence work against the Vichy government.
While outmaneuvering the Vichy government when it was so riddled with anti-Vichy French patriots might have been easy, Amy faced a more serious foe in Washington, D.C.—the FBI. FBI Director J Edgar Hoover took his orders from President Roosevelt, but on matters of foreign policy, Roosevelt and his cabinet members never trusted Hoover. Hoover was a staunch isolationist. He was aware that the US was operating a privately-funded, fast-growing intelligence war against Nazi Germany that was, at the time, without congressional approval, and he didn’t like it one bit. In particular, he didn’t like it that he wasn’t running the operations. Hoover considered the “new breed” of intelligence operatives to be a threat to his power in Washington, and he used the FBI to try to foil them.
Amy was bold in action. She simply moved into the same hotel where Charles Brousse and his wife lived and used good ‘field craft” to overcome FBI wire taps and surveillance without running afoul of Brousse’s spouse. By July of 1941, Amy was confident enough in her relationship with Brousse to request his help in obtaining the French naval cipher system without alerting the Vichy government. Brousse explained to Amy that the code system was tightly guarded, and that only two people had access to it. He explained that he was not in the confidence of the cipher clerk or his assistant, and that they were staunch Vichy loyalists. When Amy suggested a nighttime burglary to access and copy the ciphers, Brousse explained that it would be impossible because they were locked in a heavy safe each night, and the area was patrolled by an armed guard accompanied by a guard dog.
At this point, it became evident that President Roosevelt was aware of MI-6’s scheme to get the French codes. Bill Donovan, Roosevelt’s head of the fledgling US Office of Strategic Services provided Amy with a skilled safe cracker. Brousse informed the security guard that he would be using his office at night to have an extra-marital affair, and he gave the guard a small bribe to keep quiet. Amy and Charles started using the embassy for regular love making, and the guard got comfortable with the arrangement.
One night, they gave the watchman some spiked champagne, and the safe cracker went to work. After much effort, the OSS safe cracker eventually opened the safe, but there was not enough time to safely remove, copy, and replace the books. They had to suspend their attempt.
A second attempt with new safe information (and without the safe cracker) failed when Cynthia could not open the safe, even with the supposed combination.
On a subsequent night with the safe cracker in tow, they tried a third time. When Amy sensed that the guard had grown suspicious, and that he was approaching the office where they were supposedly in an act of love rather than an act of burglary, she quickly undressed and told Brousse to play along. Sure enough, the guard entered the office. Fortunately, they appeared to be doing something more natural and common than espionage, so the guard apologized and left. Amy, Brousse and the OSS safe cracker were then able to get the codes copied and properly placed back into the safe. We now know that the US and the UK were simultaneously running other operations to obtain the French naval and diplomatic codes. However, Amy at the very least verified the accuracy of the information.
Fortunately, the same code system was still in use during the US led invasion of Northwest Africa in November of 1942. The US and the UK were thus able to conduct their operations safe in the knowledge that the French Navy in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria would offer less than full resistance to the invasion. Most of the French in North Africa simply wanted to make enough noise to avoid further Nazi action against the French homeland.
After the US was attacked by Japan in December of 1941, the US declared war against Japan. In turn, Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy declared war on the US. Amy continued to work for both British MI-6 and the US OSS.
During an interview after the war, she was asked if, as a woman from such a respectable background, was she not ashamed of her “libertine” activities in her espionage efforts. Amy laughed and pointed out that both the US OSS and British MI-6 assured her that her efforts had saved the lives of thousands of allied soldiers and sailors and that, “Wars are not won by respectable methods.”
After the war, Amy’s nominal husband, Arthur Pack, committed suicide. Charles Brousse and his wife divorced, and Amy Thorpe married her one time “pigeon.” They lived in a castle in France, and by all accounts, the old spooks were genuinely in love and happily faithful to each other. In 1963, Amy Thorpe Brousse died of cancer. Charles Brousse died ten years later when his electric blanket short circuited and set the castle on fire.
It is rare for an agent employing “honey pot” methodology to last so long in the field after targeting even one high profile pigeon. Amy was not only successful with multiple high profile targets while working in dangerous areas like Poland and Czechoslovakia, she also eluded the FBI while conducting a major operation in Washington, D.C.—at the same time as being emotionally involved with the operation’s target. She was, in short, miraculous.
Much of Amy’s early work with MI-6 still remains hidden in the past. But from what we do know, she was, without doubt, one of the bravest and most productive allied agents of the World War Two era.