MADRID – Aline Griffith, a New York-born journalist and fashion model who went on to become a Spanish aristocrat as the Countess of Romanones as well as a secret agent for the CIA, has died in Madrid on Tuesday aged 94, family sources told EFE.
Born in New York State on May 23, 1924, Maria Aline Griffith Dexter graduated in Literature, History and Journalism and always boasted that her double life as a spy enabled her to witness events such as the romance between Hollywood actress Ava Gardner and renowned bullfighter, Luis Miguel Dominguin.
Her marriage to a member of Spain’s nobility allowed her to access to “Madrid’s high society and wear exclusive haute couture garments.”
In 1947 she married Luis de Figueroa y Perez de Guzman el Bueno, Count of Quintanilla and later of Romanones, with whom she had three sons Luis, Alvaro and Miguel.
Considered one of the eternal “A-listers” in Spanish high society, from the 1950’s onwards, Griffith described in her memoirs titled “The End of an Era” her 1944 debut as a spy after she was recruited by the wartime United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the future Central Intelligence Agency.
Her task was to spy on “the Nazis” and carried out her missions under the codename “Tiger.”
“My training was very harsh, I was taught how to shoot, parachute and silently kill with a knife or even with a newspaper,” she said.
Religious and conservative, Griffith preferred to be labeled a secret agent rather than a spy.
“I don´t like it, it is a pejorative term,” she said. “I worked for love of my country, not to commit treason against other countries,” she stressed.
In 1944, aged 21, she landed in Madrid with the mission of spying on the German diplomatic mission in Madrid.
She took up residence at the Ritz hotel and mingled with the most select of Madrid’s society: aristocrats, bullfighters, and singers.
Her job enabled her to socialize easily and it opened many doors.
In those times, American whiskey flowed like water as the audience listened to Flamenco, she recounted.
“I have tried to harm no one. I hope nobody is bothered by my memoirs,” she wrote at her house in Madrid, an urban chalet surrounded by a halo of decadence, full of books, porcelain collections and hundreds of photographs, among them, many of her husband the count.
After the marriage, she gave up intelligence work.
“My husband forced me to quit my job, but I was so deeply in love that I didn’t care,” she said.
However, 10 years later, she was recruited again.
“Who could suspect of a Spanish aristocrat?” she used to say.
Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy, the Duchess of Alba, Imelda Marcos and the Dukes of Windsor were among her circle of friends.
Mother of three boys and a grandmother to 13 grandsons, Griffith never felt guilty of having worked away from home.
“I don’t spend all day chatting with my friends on the phone. I like to do my own things,” she said.