She was small, too small to be a danger to anyone.
And she was attractive, a good-time girl, maybe even a little flighty.
Plus, she had a talent for getting people, particularly men, to talk to her.
Those traits hid her steely courage, creativity, resourcefulness — and, maybe most importantly, a photographic memory.
Jeannie Rousseau was a young woman in Paris during the Nazi occupation in the early 1940s. She was a brilliant linguist and spoke German fluently and thus became valuable to the Germans in the city. By day, she was a translator and an endless flirt. By night, she was a member of Georges Lamarque’s Druids network, a French resistance organization that gathered intelligence for the Allies.
The information that she provided was an immense help to the Allies.
In particular, she was shown the plans for Germany’s V-1 and V-2 rocket systems. She provided detailed drawings of the plans from her photographic memory, and that led to the Allied bombing attack on Peenemunde, where the rockets were being developed. The raid disrupted the work there, and Allies credit her with saving thousands of lives.
Just before D-Day in 1944, an Allied plan to evacuate some of their important agents, including Rousseau, was betrayed, and she was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Camp administrators never learned her real identity, however, because of confusion in communications. That did not save her from some harrowing experiences over the next few months that nearly took her life.
After the war, Rousseau got married and lived quietly, working as a translator. She never made much of her war work and claimed modestly — and not quite correctly — that other people had done much more than she had.
She was awarded the Central Intelligence Agency’s Seal Medal in 1993 and told her story fully to David Ignatius of the Washington Post a few years later. She died in 2017 at the age of 98.
One of the great questions about her work was how she got the Nazi officers to give her so much information. She flirted with the officers where she worked, but it never went beyond that. She never traded sex for information. That would have been suicide.
Here’s a portion of Ignatius’ 1998 story:
“I had become part of the equipment, a piece of furniture,” she recalls. “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.”
How does one “prompt” occupying forces to reveal military secrets? She explained: “I teased them, taunted them, 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 said. How,‘ I asked, and he answered: It’s here on a piece of paper!’ “
So the German officer displayed a document explaining how to enter the test site at Peenemunde, the specific passes that were needed and what color each one was. Jeannie, with her photographic memory, recorded each word in her mind. Her friends were so trusting, and so eager to impress, that they even showed her drawings of the rockets.
David Ignatius: AFTER FIVE DECADES, A SPY TELLS HER TALE – The Washington Post
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Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, David Ignatius, Druid network, French resistance, Georges Lamarque, Jeannie Rousseau, New York Times, Peenemunde, spying, V-1 rocket, V-2 rocket, Washington Post, William Grimes