From The Daily Telegraph 14 December. You’ll have to make up your own minds up about this one.
Aline, Countess of Romanones, who has died aged 94, was an American-born model, self-proclaimed spy, author and socialite renowned for her extremely colourful memoirs of espionage in wartime Spain; in later years the guest list at her dinner parties in New York included the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy, Ava Gardner, Salvador Dalí and Donald Trump.
During the war Aline Griffith, as she was then, was employed as an OSS code clerk at the US embassy in Madrid, with the workname Butch. (The Office of Strategic Services or OSS was a precursor of the CIA.) According to her version, she was soon slipping through the crevices of the Catholic upper crust, which had been infiltrated by the Nazis.
Her contact, so she claimed, an agent called Top Hat, told her: “I hope you have a wardrobe to meet the demands of Madrid’s social life. If not, I recommend a visit to Balenciaga.” Certainly style and beauty were never a problem, and interviewers spoke of how she was bedecked with rubies, diamonds and emeralds; since 1962 she had regularly appeared on the International Best Dressed List.
to her own account, Aline Griffith was Agent 527, codename Tiger. She decoded messages by day and, by night, attended glittering parties, during which she would rifle through her hosts’ bedrooms as they watched flamenco in the salon.
“Of course I felt terrible about that,” she admitted. “They were inviting me, and I was going there to discover if they were Nazi agents.” She said that she kept a Beretta in her handbag, while in her girdle were several yards of microfilm.
She undertook her “espionage” in bars both seedy and sophisticated, at elegant balls and within the walls of grand country houses. When a body turned up, it was inside a grand piano.
On another occasion she said she was leaving an event at a Madrid country club when a double agent put her in a car with a driver who tried to kill her. “He pulled the car to the side of the road and I jumped out and he started running after me and he grabbed me. I had high-heeled shoes on,” she recalled. She then shot him, she claimed. “I had to leave him there, and naturally I didn’t wait to take his pulse.”
Among Aline’s other stories were that in the 1970s she used a royal boar-hunting trip to warn King Hassan II of Morocco, a family friend, of an impending coup; and that she uncovered a plot to kill General Franco. She made her claims in three breathless memoirs – The Spy Wore Red (1987), The Spy Went Dancing (1990) and The Spy Wore Silk (1991) – and a novel, The Well-Mannered Assassin (1994).
Promoting these with a flashing smile on NBC’s Today show in America, she felt the need to assure viewers that it was “all true”. But reviewing The Spy Wore Red in The Times, Hugo Vickers wrote that it was incredible “in every sense of the word”.
Historians of espionage pointed to the many inconsistencies, exaggerations and downright inventions in her accounts. Rupert Allason, writing as Nigel West, observed in his book Counterfeit Spies (1998) that she seemed “remarkably unembarrassed to be exposed as a fraud” and in his Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage (2009) he commented: “Although Aline had served as a cipher clerk in Madrid … her supposedly factual accounts were completely fictional.”
Claus von Bülow went further and suggested that if she had been employed as a spy, it was only in “a horizontal capacity”.
Aline Romanones was unrepentant. “My stories are all based on truth,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1991, pointing to a ringing endorsement from William Casey, former director of the CIA, on the cover of her first book. Nevertheless, she was banned from Veterans of OSS events.
Full obituary with photographs.
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The life and times of the Greatest Generation, the heroes (British and Allies) of WWII.