Aline Griffith was a stunning, well-educated fashion model from upstate New York who was sent to Franco’s Spain during World War II as a spy code-named “Tiger.” Her assignment from the Office of Strategic Services, a CIA forerunner, was to gather information on Nazi sympathizers, including the Spanish dictator himself, in what was officially “neutral” Spain.

Her overall aim was to aid the success of the Allied invasions of Europe in 1944. But she fell in love with a Spanish count and, in the decades after the war, became one of that country’s most-photographed members of what Spaniards call “la Jet” (the jet set) or “los beautiful” (the beautiful people).

In her shimmering diamonds, rubies and emeralds, the Countess of Romanones, as she was known, was seen in the company of sultans and movie stars, of first ladies and fashion tastemakers. Her Rolodex included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Ivana Trump, publisher Malcolm Forbes and Imelda Marcos of the Philippines. Griffith once attended a costume ball at a French palace at which Audrey Hepburn wore a bird cage over her head, while Griffith and Wallis Simpson, the American-born Duchess of Windsor, hunted down a suspected Soviet mole working for NATO.

A self-confessed “adventure junkie,” the countess said she packed a pearl-handled pistol in her handbag for many years and confessed to her husband only on the night before their wedding in 1947 that she had been an agent of the U.S. government. He persuaded her to give up spying – for her own good and for the good of Spain – but Griffith later said she continued to periodically engage in clandestine work for the CIA.

“Espionage becomes like a drug,” she told People magazine in 1990. “It makes life very exciting. You know things other people don’t know – you’re always going under the surface.” In another interview, she said: “My training in the U.S. was very harsh. I was taught how to shoot, parachute and silently kill with a knife or even a newspaper.” She did not reveal how to kill someone with a newspaper. She also learned, she said, to unlock safes and pick pockets.

Griffith died of undisclosed causes Monday in Madrid at age 94, according to her three sons, having spent most of her married life in an urban chalet in the Spanish capital and with getaway homes in Marbella and a pied-à-terre off Park Avenue in New York.


She documented her espionage career in three nonfiction books: “The Spy Wore Red” (1987), “The Spy Went Dancing” (1990) and “The Spy Wore Silk” (1991), but they drew criticism for embellishing, even fictionalizing some of her exploits. In 1991, Women’s Wear Daily said it had checked her work with the Office of Strategic Services and other archives and believed she had “embroidered” her spying escapades.

The fashion newspaper said that from 1943, she was a code clerk who had worked her way into a low-level intelligence job, passing on gossip within Spanish society. It said there was no evidence of her shooting a man who tried to kill her or of her helping the Office of Strategic Services uncover a double agent, as she had recounted in “The Spy Wore Red.”

An anonymous former intelligence officer told Women’s Wear Daily that the countess’ tale of successfully tracking down the Soviet mole with the help of the Duchess of Windsor – they invited suspects to sumptuous dinners and charmed vital information out of them – was misleading at best. “It took the whole CIA two years and about 200 people to do it,” the officer said.

In a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times, the countess insisted: “My stories are all based on truth. It’s impossible that whatever details of any mission I did would be in a file.” Griffith said she had changed the names of many of those mentioned because they were still alive and might be embarrassed. The CIA has never commented on her role.

In 1994, she wrote an admittedly fictional book, “The Well-Mannered Assassin,” based on the Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal. She claimed that she had unwittingly gotten to know him.

“He came to Spain escaping from France because he had killed several policemen,” she told the Dallas Morning News after the book was published. “He got this job in a company of my husband’s and he started coming to the house to deliver papers. . . . I told my husband, finally you’ve got a well-mannered, nice young man in that office. He speaks good English and couldn’t be nicer.”


Mary Aline Griffith was born May 23, 1923, in Pearl River, N.Y., a town with a large Irish-origin population near the New Jersey border. She was one of six children of a father who worked in his own father’s printing-press factory and also sold real estate and insurance. Her mother claimed to be a descendant of the Mayflower pilgrims.

Aline, as she was always known, was sent to the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y., founded by the Sisters of Charity. Her poise and striking looks attracted modeling agents and, while still living at home, she was hired as a model for the Vienna-born fashion entrepreneur Hattie Carnegie in Manhattan.

After the United States entered World War II, she said she felt helpless as all her male friends went off to serve in the military. “Nobody young wanted to miss something like that at that moment,” she told the Times. “But I couldn’t get into anything because I was 20 years old when I graduated from college, and you had to be 25 to get into something that would take women overseas.”

She said she went on a date with a young man with connections to the Office of Strategic Services who helped smooth her entry into the clandestine group. For three months on a private estate near Langley, Virginia, close to where the CIA was later based, she and one other woman trained with 30 men, learning to parachute, fire .25-caliber Beretta pistols and automatic rifles and prepare for potential suicide by swallowing a poison “L-Pill” if caught by the enemy.

The OSS sent her to Spain with the cover of a rich American socialite working for the American oil mission, which sold petroleum to Spain, in the hope she could infiltrate Spanish high society.

On arrival, she booked into the Ritz Hotel in Madrid, the place to see and be seen among Spanish and international royalty, celebrities and artists. She started by recruiting Spanish women – from cleaning ladies and hotel clerks to hairdressers – who might pick up stray information on Nazi sympathizers.

It was in Madrid that she met Count Luis de Figueroa y Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno, Conde (Count) of Quintanilla and later of Romanones, who descended from early Spanish nobility. He died in 1987. She is survived by her three sons and more than a dozen grandchildren.

When she re-entered the espionage trade, she said she was motivated by the thrill of having a secret life. She claimed to have helped track down art stolen by Nazis and hidden in Spain and prevent a coup attempt against King Hassan II of Morocco.

“In a way, it was selfish,” she told People magazine. “I got accustomed to living with a certain amount of tension: I would have frightening encounters, and I would be quaking, and I couldn’t tell Luis.”