Blogs > HNN > Part Seven: An Intriguing Cynthia

Oct 21, 2010 1:44 pm

Part Seven: An Intriguing Cynthia

The same night Winston Churchill's flying boat put down on the Anacostia River, Cynthia and her lover crossed the Connecticut Avenue bridge prepared to break into the code room at the Vichy Embassy. She had been recruited for this mission that March, three months earlier. To say that her duties that night were carefully planned would be an understatement. The complexity of the break-in was staggering. She and her lover, the Vichy press officer, had spent weeks acquainting the embassy's night watchman and his German shepherd guard dog with their antics, that they were having an after-hours lover's tryst. They would bring champagne. If all went as planned, they would lace the guard's glass and his dog's water bowl with barbiturates in a moment of badinage. As soon as the guard and his dog were safely asleep, they would let an ex-convict, a safe cracker, in through the front door of the embassy. His job was to break into the code room and crack the old Mosler safe, which held the cipher books used by the French Navy. While Cynthia and her lover returned to the salon to spoon, the convict was to spirit the ciphers by private car back across the Connecticut Avenue bridge, turn left up a steep hill and park in front of Washington's most elegant spy nest, the Wardman Park Hotel. There the ciphers would be photographed as quickly as possible and then returned to the embassy safe. Cynthia and her lover had just four hours to make the plan work.

While most of the Vichy embassy staff was compromised, either in the pay of one or another of America's or England's intelligence services, provided Cynthia a measure of security. Further, the rifts and political unease within the embassy among Vichy loyalists proved disruptive. That helped, too. But even within and embassy shaken by division, the risks of Cynthia's operation were enormous. Failing to return the code books before the embassy opened the next day might create an international incident. The uproar would have been far worse with the British Prime Minister on American soil.

Months in the planning, Cynthia's break-in was not especially urgent. It could have waited until after Churchill had returned to England. But it went forward. Both the American and British spymasters pressed on. Had Cynthia been captured or exposed, French propagandists would have played the event like a scene from Madame Bovary.

Part Eight: Politics and Break-ins

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