OSS Operation Black Mail

  • Published

OSS Operation Black Mail: One Woman's Covert War Against the Imperial Japanese Army  by Ann Todd. Naval Institute Press, 2017, 280 pp. 

Ann Todd energetically eternalized the harsh realities of the unsung heroes in OSS Operation Black Mail. In particular, the account accurately followed Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh, the living legend and a retired case officer, who used black propaganda with her team in the China–Burma–India theater against the Imperial Japanese Army. Todd intimately portrayed McIntosh with eye-opening details as the acting head of the morale operations branch for the entire theater, which was an incredible feat in itself. After all, “although acting chiefs had come and gone in SEAC [South East Asia Command] and China, never had there been one for the entire theater,” which speaks volumes to how Washington knew that McIntosh was genuinely a force-multiplying leader (p. 108). Thus, Todd weaved covert historical events into a page-turning intelligence literature while remaining true to history.


Todd’s way of writing is not only captivating but also extremely educational because of her in-depth research on the subject and era. After all, Ann Todd had spent time in the military and graduated with a doctorate in History from the University of Texas at Austin. The author crafted the major highlight of this particular covert war from start to finish into 17 captivating chapters: (1) The Voyage before the Storm, (2) War, (3) Recruitment, (4) Learning to Lie, (5) In Theater, (6) Operation Black Mail, (7) Rumors and Threats, (8) Laying down the Sword, (9) A Woman in Charge, (10) Onto Calcutta, (11) China, (12) The Last Summer, (13) A Great Catastrophe, (14) Mercy Missions, (15) Operation Iceberg, (16) Going Home, and (17) Home. Todd researched and provided context at every opportunity to help the audience to understand McIntosh’s leading role in the covert war. With no surprise, Todd had more than 120 sources in her bibliography for this book.


If there were only enough time to read one chapter, “Operation Iceberg” would be the one to read because it covered the subtle and profound realities of operations, which history books tend to lose. History textbooks will teach that Operation Iceberg had five objectives: “(1) interrogate prisoners of war, (2) begin war crimes investigation, (3) survey American property, (4) gather information about the members of Operation Caprice, and (5) gather information about both Ripley I and II” (p. 175). Todd unearthed the realities of what life was like for Jane in Operation Iceberg. For example, “as a woman, Jane was not allowed on the ship, and so would be flown in on the first postwar plane” (p. 173). Many people know the outcome of history from textbooks, but very few understood the realities of how history happened.


While OSS Operations Black Mail enriches the intelligence literature to a high degree, one problem with the book is that McIntosh seems to be too flawless. This potential author bias could be a consequence of interviewing McIntosh, but not every character that occurs in the book due to death. Todd’s OSS Operation Black Mail is a book meant for anyone who truly wants to know the realities of black propaganda during the theater of “Confused Beyond Imagination.”

1st Lt David Chui, USAF

Wright–Patterson AFB, Ohio

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."