I first heard about OSS Operation Black Mail: One Woman’s Covert War Against The Imperial Japanese Army at Book Expo earlier this year. It’s the story of Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh and her World War II experience as an OSS agent in India and China specializing in the ground-breaking work of black propaganda against the Japanese. The copy I read came to me through a giveaway on Shelf Awareness. It was just released from the Naval Institute Press on September 15, 2017.
OSS Operation Black Mail is a great read for those interested in WWII, intelligence work, or women at war. Coming in at 280 pages it isn’t overwhelming, in fact, I wanted more. There’s a rich bibliography that will lead the curious to related books and McIntosh herself wrote some books: Undercover Girl, a memoir about her OSS experiences (1947), and Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS (1988). She also penned two books for kids under that last name Heppner, Inki (1957) and Palace Under the Sea (1959). Lest you think she was getting soft writing kids books, Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA (which absorbed the OSS after WWII) had Palace Under the Sea translated into Japanese and sent McIntosh on an “extended working book tour” in Japan where she worked as a case agent during the Cold War years. McIntosh lived to be 100. She died in 2015.
OSS Operation Black Mail is the story of Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh and so much more. The bulk of this book concerns McIntosh’s experience in World War II and how the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operated against the Japanese in China-Burma-India. Along the way, we learn about how the U.S. intelligence community rapidly formed during WWII, the gender obstacles that women agents faced, interagency bickering, tensions between allies, and how agents operated on the ground, all from a very different theater of war—one that hasn’t been written about as much as the war effort in Europe or the Pacific. The book also touches on the early years of the Cold War, Hoover’s investigations into communist activities, and McCarthy’s fanatical assault on American citizens.
McIntosh was recruited into the OSS in 1943 due to her background as a reporter and her personal interest in Japanese language and culture. She was also not afraid of taking risks, as attested by her hike up an active volcano as multiple pairs of shoes melted under her feet.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, McIntosh was a reporter living in Hawaii. As author Ann Todd makes clear, prior to the Japanese attack, most Americans didn’t even know where Pearl Harbor was. Much of Betty’s warzone reporting from Hawaii didn’t make it past the censors. Although she was initially excited to be granted war correspondent status, frustration over not getting her reporting through the censors led her to take a job in Washington, D.C., where she wrote a column that focused on wartime rationing. She also attended Eleanor Roosevelt’s weekly women-only press conferences at the White House. Still, she felt like she was missing out on the war effort.
Please continue reading my review over on Criminal Element.
McIntosh was also featured in another book that I recommend if you’re interested in women’s WWII war activities, Kathyrn J. Atwood’s Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater, a young adult history book that was released in Fall 2016 from Chicago Review Press.