Classical Spies

Title:                      Classical Spies

Author:                  Susan Heuck Allen

Allen, Susan Heuck (2011).Classical Spies: American Archaeologists with the OSS in World War II Greece. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press

LCCN:    2011020863

D810.S7 A54 2011


  • “Classical Spies will be a lasting contribution to the discipline and will stimulate further research. Susan Heuck Allen presents to a wide readership a topic of interest that is important and has been neglected.” -William M. Calder III, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Classical Spies is the first insiders’ account of the operations of the American intelligence service in World War II Greece. Initiated by archaeologists in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, the network drew on scholars’ personal contacts and knowledge of languages and terrain. While modern readers might think Indiana Jones is just a fantasy character, Classical Spies discloses events where even Indy would feel at home: burying Athenian dig records in an Egyptian tomb, activating prep-school connections to establish spies code-named Vulture and Chickadee, and organizing parachute drops.Susan Heuck Allen reveals remarkable details about a remarkable group of individuals. Often mistaken for mild-mannered professors and scholars, such archaeologists as Princeton’s Rodney Young, Cincinnati’s Jack Caskey and Carl Blegen, Yale’s Jerry Sperling and Dorothy Cox, and Bryn Mawr’s Virginia Grace proved their mettle as effective spies in an intriguing game of cat and mouse with their Nazi counterparts. Relying on interviews with individuals sharing their stories for the first time, previously unpublished secret documents, private diaries and letters, and personal photographs, Classical Spies offers an exciting and personal perspective on the history of World War II”– Provided by publisher.


Date Posted:      February 22, 2016

Reviewed by Hayden Peake.[1]

Harvard graduate Kermit Roosevelt interrupted his PhD studies-he never completed them-to join the Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) in 1941 and went on to serve in the OSS. After the war, he was assigned to edit the then top secret OSS War Report. In his introduction to the declassified edition published in 1976, he lamented that “one cannot fail to be disappointed by the very small number of names mentioned.”[2] This was especially true in the entry for operations in Greece, where not a single name was included.[3] Classical Spies fills that void and adds a surprise: the OSS officers in Greece were archaeologists.

Brown University professor Susan Allen, herself a former field archaeologist, heard her first OSS war story during an “ouzo hour,” an informal get together of archaeologists on the island of Kea, in the Aegean Sea,

Dig director Jack Caskey told a tale about his days in the OSS and his role in the Cicero spy case, made famous in the 1952 movie Five Fingers. Reminded of the story 20years later when asked to give a lecture in Caskey’s memory, Allen decided to determine whether it was documented in OSS records. Her research not only confirmed Caskey’s account, it revealed the extent to which archaeologists had contributed to the OSS mission in Greece, a story not told until now.

The key figure in Classical Spies is archaeologist Roger Young, a Princeton PhD and heir to the Ballantine Ale fortune, whom Allen describes as a “coddled child of the gilded age.” (p. 30) He was working on a dig in Greece at the start of the war in Europe. When Italy invaded Greece and most of his colleagues left for home, Young decided to stay and help the Greeks fight Mussolini. But the government didn’t want foreigners. Allen tells how Young progressed from this situation to join the OSS, where he recruited many archaeologist colleagues-they knew the language, geography, and culture-to staff its Greek Desk in Washington and, later, Cairo.

The operational details of the OSS Greek Desk are fascinating in themselves, but they also reveal the archaeologists’ amazing ability to adapt to the requirements of intelligence operations and perform well as intelligence officers. The work was not all agent recruitment and collection. Allen describes the many turf battles that emerged with the archaeologists’ more experienced British compatriots. Equally challenging, the various Greek and Turkish political factions—monarchists, communists, fascists—often made support a real challenge. After the war, the archaeologists returned to their peacetime professions. None wrote a memoir of the experiences.

Classical Spies relies heavily on primary sources from the National Archives. Professor Allen unearthed the long lost official report of Jack Caskey that discussed Operation Honeymoon (detailed in chapter 10), his role in the Cicero case. The appendices provide an assessment of the contributions of the archaeologists, a listing of those involved, and the operations undertaken. Classical Spies fills a genuine gap in OSS history and is a truly invaluable contribution.

[1] Hayden Peake is a frequent reviewer of books on intelligence and this review appeared in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (19, 1, Winter/Spring, 2013, p. 113). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Di recto rate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at

[2] United States. War Department Strategic Services Unit. History Project. (1976). War Report of the OSS. New York: Walker and Co. Vol. 1, pp.viii, 3.

[3] Roosevelt, War Report, Vol. 2, pp. 119-24.

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