Julia Child – U.S. Spy?

Julia Child, a woman of so many accomplishments, also had a career in military intelligence. This seems to have surprised a lot of news editors out there.

New records have been released indicating that Julia Child was one of a 24,000 member spy network during World War II. Julia was employed by the Office of Strategic Services, an early and less scary version of the CIA created at the start of WWII by President Franklin Roosevelt. Julia met her husband, Paul Child, an officer in the OSS, on her first overseas assignment in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Later, they were posted in Kunming, China.

The National Archives released a list of the names found in the CIA records this week, and plan to make public the 750,000 pages identifying the vast spy network of military and civilian operatives. But I’m not sure why this is such big news. Both she and Paul always publicly admitted that she had a significant security clearance, even stating that she was privvy to all communication that came in and out of the OSS offices. What unclear is what role she played as “spy” beyond this is unclear. The main document the news reports discuss include her application, in which she commented she was “impulsive” because she once quit a department store job abruptly when she didn’t get along with a manager — God love her.

The as the Boston Globe reported today, her experiences in the OSS have been well documented. In fact, the CIA ran a story on its web site in December 2007 about Julia’s intelligence career, noting:

“From 1944-1945…Julia served as Chief of the OSS Registry. Julia — having top security clearances — knew every incoming and outgoing message that passed throughout her office, as her Registry was serving all the intelligence branches. During her time in Ceylon, Julia handled highly classified papers that dealt with the invasion of the Malay Peninsula. Julia was fascinated with the work, even when there were moments of danger.”

Not long ago, I found this interesting story that goes into detail about Julia’s life in the OSS, from washing her stockings in her helmut to the security clearance she was offered as part of her assignments abroad.

I’m happy for all the fuss, though. It reminds everyone that she was a remarkable woman with a profound impact on so many people. Tomorrow would have been her 96th birthday.

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