Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, one of the remarkable spies of World War II, died last week in France at the age of 98. Like so many intelligence officers, she had a gift for getting people to talk. But she had something else: dauntless, unblinking courage in facing the enemy.
De Clarens stole one of the vital secrets of the war — Germany’s plans to build and test the V-1 and V-2 rocket bombs at Peenemünde. Her intelligence encouraged the British to bomb Peenemünde, delaying and disrupting the program, and “saving thousands of lives in the West,” said R. James Woolsey Jr., then CIA director, at a private ceremony at the agency in October 1993 honoring de Clarens.
How did this charming, diminutive woman accomplish her mission impossible? She listened. De Clarens was a fluent German-speaker, and in 1943, she teased the first threads of information about the rocket program out of some German officers she had befriended in Paris as a translator. And then she kept pulling on the string.
“I was such a little one, sitting with them, and I could not but hear what was said. And what they did not say, I prompted,” she told me in 1998. “I teased them, taunted then, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane. I kept saying: ‘What you are telling me cannot be true!’ I must have said that 100 times.”
“I’ll show you!” one of the Germans finally said, eager to convince the pretty, young Frenchwoman. He displayed a document from Peenemünde; de Clarens, with her photographic memory, registered every word and transmitted the information through her case officer to London.
Her code name was “Amniarix,” and she was part of a British spy ring in Paris known as the “Druids.”...