Recipes for intrigue: Julia Child's spy career revealed

Before she mastered the secrets of French cooking, Julia Child was enrolled in the school of espionage.

Before she mastered the secrets of French cooking, Julia Child was enrolled in the school of espionage.

The famous chef let slip the story of her war-era spying in a 2002 autobiography, but the release of thousands of documents from the U.S. national archives on Thursday confirms her participation in a secret organization formed by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Second World War.

Hidden among the 750,000 classified pages released Thursday is a picture of the vast spy network of military and civilian operatives called the Office of Strategic Services.

The archives released a list of 24,000 soldiers, actors, historians, lawyers, athletes, professors, reporters and others who agreed to collect information in an effort to combat the Nazis.

Child is not the only figure who went on to public renown. Others include:

  • Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg.
  • Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg.
  • Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a historian and special assistant to President John F. Kennedy.
  • Sterling Hayden, a film and television actor who appeared in The Godfather.
  • Thomas Braden, author of Eight Is Enough.
  • Miles Copeland, father of Stewart Copeland, drummer for the band The Police.
  • John Hemingway, son of author Ernest Hemingway.

The OSS was the first centralized intelligence agency created by the U.S. and was folded into the CIA after the end of the war.

Operatives, stationed around the world, are believed to have studied military plans, helped form propaganda against the enemy and worked to infiltrate enemy ranks.

Child, whose books and TV show introduced French cooking to the American public, applied for the spy post after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Then age 28, documents show she revealed to her future employers that she'd lost her previous job in the furniture industry after she could not get on with her boss.

She worked as a research assistant and file clerk, then worked directly for OSS chief Gen. William J. Donovan. She also was involved in a project to develop a shark repellent, to stop sharks from exploding underwater mines.

Later, she was posted to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where she met her husband Paul Cushing Child, also an OSS operative. She moved with him to France and later trained in French cuisine and opened her famed cooking school.

Child died four years ago at age 91.

The CIA, whose former director William Casey is an OSS veteran, had blocked attempts to release information about the agency, and former agents were committed to secrecy. However, Casey himself set a timetable for release of the classified documents.

OSS agents still living welcomed the opportunity to expose the scope of the OSS, which is turning out to be bigger than commonly known. It will take historians and archivists time to go through the massive amount of material released.

"I think it's terrific," said Elizabeth McIntosh, 93, a former OSS agent now living in Woodbridge, Va. "They've finally, after all these years, they've gotten the names out. All of these people had been told never to mention they were with the OSS."

With files from the Associated Press