GENERAL ARTICLES

SPY TRAPS

Radio music/ even football results/ have carried Nazi spy codes - - - But not safely enough

BERNARD NEWMAN November 15 1944
GENERAL ARTICLES

SPY TRAPS

Radio music/ even football results/ have carried Nazi spy codes - - - But not safely enough

BERNARD NEWMAN November 15 1944

SPY TRAPS

BERNARD NEWMAN

Radio music/ even football results/ have carried Nazi spy codes - - - But not safely enough

A SPY’S biggest difficulty is not to get his information—but to get it home. A German agent can pick up dozens of invaluable fragments of information without risk. But getting them home to Germany—there is the difficulty.

He can use a portable radio set, which is useful but highly dangerous. He can use codes or invisible inks— but censors know something about codes and laboratory men are clever at discovering reagents to bring out invLsible inks.

Hence spies try to use methods of communication which seem to be completely innocent; yet carry information. Take music, for instance.

It happened in Paris. On the Boulevard St. Germain the Nazis had commandeered a hotel for use as offices for the recruiting of French labor for Germany. The staff was a mixture of Germans and Vichy French. It also included a few others, for part of the domestic staff of the hotel had been kept on. One of them, a charwoman, was not a Vichy adherent. She had two sons prisoners of war in Germany. From time to time she brought fragments of information to a local French underground leader— scraps of paper from the wastepaper baskets, and the like.

In the first week of a January during the war the charwoman reported an unusual trifle. Some time previously office staff had been cleared out of a small suite of rooms and a number of Germans had moved in. They did not seem like the others; she got the impression that they were soldiers in civilian clothes. Further, they burned all their scrap paper.

At this the underground leader pricked up his ears. Every diplomat, spy and counterspy is trained to burn any confidential notes, but few other people do so. And it is a common German device to establish an espionage branch in an innocuous building.

The leader arranged for a special watch, for the charwoman was not the only friend in the hotel. First reports were disappointing. The suite of offices was kept apart, and no entry was possible, which again implied that something unusual was happening there.

The charwoman remained the only one to visit the rooms. She cleaned them out each morning, but there was always a German present. They were very ordinary offices, she reported, but in the principal room was a large radio. When she dusted it she had taken a casual glance at the dial. It was set at a certain wave length. She confirmed two days later that it was still tuned in to the same wave length.

This wave length pointed to a radio station in a neutral country. This information was transmitted to London, where monitors began to listen with intense concentration to the programs on that wave length. Even the advertisements were attacked with frequency tables and caterpillar letter rules in case they should contain codes. “It’s no use,” said the censor in

charge of the case. “This station broadcasts for 16 hours a day. The message it sends, if any, may go out in a couple of seconds. How can we hope to trace it? There’s only one way. I shall ask Intelligence to find out at what time this fellow in Paris listens in.”

This was much easier said than done but not impossible. The hotel electrician, an elderly man, was one of the staff retained. By virtue of his job he could arrange for the fuse to blow out for the lights in the particular suite of offices. This, in turn, gave him the opportunity to enter them. He was able to attach a lead to the wire from the floor plug to the big radio set, and eventually to connect it to a simple device that automatically registered when the set was turned on. The method was not foolproof. It might be that the Germans did not always listen in to the particular wave length. It would only be natural if they also tuned in for the news to one of their own stations.

The electrician’s report, made four days later, gave a jumble of times, but comparison with German radio programs was helpful. By a process of elimination experts decided that 7.30 to 8 p.m. was the most likely time.

A Dance Band

IT COVERED a dance band program, a very ordinary one. After an advertisement for a well-known tooth paste the announcer presented the dance band in the usual fulsome terms. It would play the following tunes . . . He read off a short list of popular airs. Then the band played on for about ten minutes.

More details about tooth paste, and another list of tunes followed from the announcer.

Records were made of the program, and a musician, called in for the job, attacked it in detail. A dozen times he played the records over, listening to every beat of the rhythm. He had to confess failure.

“There’s a catch somewhere,” he said. “Although there’s always a program of dance music from 7.30 to 8 p.m. it isn’t always given by the same band.”

The scene moves now to the capital of the neutral country where the radio station was located and where we had a good man. He was not a spy but occasionally he would look after German agents known to be in neutral territory. He was asked to solve the mystery of the dance bands. There was one obvious approach. Artists are not usually shy and reticent. He made the acquaintance of a dance band leader—for convenience, let us call him Brown. Mr. Brown was certainly not shy and related his past triumphs with great gusto. “You should see the bookings for the Hippodrome next week!” he announced. “All records are going to be broken.” The Hippodrome was in a town 50 miles from the capital.

“1 thought you were broadcasting

here next Tuesday,” said our man, casually.

“Yes, we are.” But Brown’s tone was somewhat uneasy, and he turned the conversation abruptly. It was not possible to pursue the question after so brief an acquaintance, but it demanded further investigation.

In the meantime, in Paris, the electrician reported that several times a week, in the evening, a telephone call was put through to a military number at Tours. The information was significant. Near Tours was the headquarters of a German bomber force in France, which carried out attacks on southern and western England.

Yet it was useless to hurry our man in the neutral country. At the best he could do nothing until the following Tuesday.

Then he walked straight into success. He went to the town where Brown had said his band was appearing. And, over lunch, whom should he meet but Mr. Brown himself.

“Why, I thought that you were broadcasting in the capital today,” said our man.

Brown was cornered. Useless to say that he had been or was going, for the timing did not fit. Yet the truth was simple enough. By his contract with the tooth paste people his band was supposed to make u personal appearance. “Of course,” he explained, “in these days recording is so good that nobody would ever know the difference, but the tooth paste people don’t see it that way.”

So he hud to practice a very mild deception when he had a week’s engagement which didn’t fit in. All the other bands did the same. The tooth paste people? Oh, they didn’t live in the neutral country, so they wouldn’t know.

“We’ve worked out a good scheme. I share it with two other bands. My agent did it. We’ve recorded lots of numbers and our agent has found a man who puts them together beautifully. He connects them up himself he’s good.”

Musical Alphabet

So Jones flashed a message, much disguised, suggesting that London listen that evening to the connecting links between the tunes.

Now the musician censor had something definite to tackle. In between each tune a pianist improvised a few bars leading from one air to another, often changing key in the process.

Three hours later the musician reported to a group of Intelligence officers: “He’s using a musical alphabet

it’s been done before. He allots one or more letters to each minim”

“Just a minute,” interrupted one of the Intelligence officers. “Oh, I remember, the minims are the long notes, crotchets the short.”

“He doesn’t use the alphabet running up the scalethat would make it difficult to compose a flowing tune, since uncommon letters would find themselves linked with commonly used notes. So it’s almost what you would call a frequency table—so far as is possible.

“The most frequently used letter must be associated with the most frequently used notes of the scale. So the letter ‘e’ becomes the note ‘a’ and so on. His confederate at the other end could take it down if he’s a musician, just like shorthand.”

“But he can’t write a tune on long notes alone.”

“He might—a hymn. But he’s connecting up dance tunes, so he had to do a fair amount of padding, linking up the ‘message’ notes. Otherwise he would get no suitable melody at all—

certainly not the improvisation this appears to be. An apparently pointless succession of minims might arouse suspicion—hence the padding. I’ve taken down the air of his improvisation —here it is. Now fill in the letters below the notes. Read that!”

“Convoy leaves Clyde—Thursday.” “Incidentally,” the musician remarked, “I’ve also worked out the message in the other program recorded last week. It ran: ‘Nud Factory Switched Dux.’ I don’t quite get that.” “I do,” an Intelligence officer interrupted. “It means that N.U.D. Ltd. has switched over from making tanks to ducks--amphibious vehicles. The Germans don’t want us to have too many ducks. There was a sharp raid on the N.U.D. factory last night. And now what about this pianist—do we know anything about him?”

“I’ve been looking him up while our friend was busy,” a military officer replied. “There’d be no record of him at all. My guess is that he’s only a transmitter. Somebody at the German Legation collects the dope and passes on a condensed message to this man.” Later our man in the neutral country contacted the messenger who delivered a typewritten note to the code pianist two or three times a week. As a result the next typewritten message delivered to the pianist described succinctly how an actually abandoned factory in the midlands was engaged on a new type of radio detector. Three nights later the factory was heavily bombed. But this time the Germans got a terrific reception, losing eleven machines.

Football Pool

The innocuous letter to a friend in a neutral country is a useful stand-by, yet one of the favorite methods of communication is the “prisoner of war stunt,” as it is commonly called.

The basic idea is simple. A German agent addresses a letter to 12345C Private J. Smithson, Stalag Vil B.

There is no Private Smithson in this camp, but how are the post office officials to be expected to know that? When the letter arrives at the prison camp it is passed on to a German intelligence officer. It reads like an ordinary letter, but it is not.

It is an axiom of espionage that no method of communication is foolproof, however, and I can illustrate this best by a simple record of the case of the German spy who passed under a very ordinary name—we will call him Henry Miller.

His method was simple. He wrote frequently to a man who had fallen into German hands early in the war. Apparently he and his sailor friend were both interested in football and each letter included an enthusiastic account of the latest Charlton Athletic match, an accurate account, incidentally.

Apparently the two men ran a football pool partnership, a common enterprise. Miller wrote that he would continue it. “I’ll send in the coupons every week,” he wrote. “Then I’ll keep an account of the winnings and settle up with you after the war. So as to keep you posted I’ll send a copy of the coupon to you every week. I expect you’ve got a wireless in the camp so you can check the results. It will give you something to think about.”

At that time, in the first months of the war, there were few British prisoners in German hands, and two censors sufficed for the examination of their mail. The first was rather intrigued at the simple friendship which led Miller to keep his pal informed about their pool partnership, and one day mentioned it to his colleague. This second man, it happened, had himself dabbled in football pools, and he looked at the coupon with interest; then turned to his colleague.

“Well, all I can say is that they won’t win very much,” he said.

“This is neither intelligent forecasting nor haphazard guessing.”

Later in the day his colleague became uneasy. Why should a man who wrote an intelligent account of Charlton Athletic’s games make such an amateurish attempt at a football pool forecast?

When in Doubt

When in doubt a censor plays for safety. He had actually passed Miller’s letter but searched for it in the mail bag. As a matter of precaution he applied heat and chemical reagents for invisible inks, without result. Then he turned from the coupon to the covering letter and back again. Now another trifling suspicion absorbed him. Miller had written enthusiastically of the prowess of his favorite team, Charlton Athletic, yet in his forecast he had not given it to win—at home! There was something psychologically wrong here.

The censor settled down to a serious examination of Miller’s letter and its enclosure. He called in a friend who was an expert and their discoveries were interesting.

The football coupon was the basis of an ingenious code. It used, of course, the common markings 1, 2 and x for home wins, away wins and draws respectively. It also used an 18-letter alphabet. Some letters are employed so little that they can be eliminated— “q,” “v,” “x,” and “z”; “i” can be used for “j” and “y,” “c” for “k,” and two “u’s” for “w.” This is how Miller used the football pool symbols:

1 - a 21 - g 12x - o

2 - b 22 - h 1x2 - p

x - c 2x - i 21x - r

11 - d xl - 1 2x1 - s

12 - e x2 - m xl2 - t

lx - f xx - n x21 - u

Now examine the coupon reproduced in this article. (This is not Miller’s actual coupon, which today reposes in the museum at Scotland Yard, but I have reconstructed one to indicate the method.)

Each letter is on a different line, the spaces between having no significance. Reading down the first pool we decipher the message BELFASDAMSISM. This looks rather complicated until we split it up: BELFAS DAM SIS M.

Now the communication became clear and .mportant. In the early days of the war, before the land fighting developed, naval information was all important. By this code Miller managed to convey the news that the cruiser Belfast had been damaged, and would be out of action for six months.

It is ironic to think that Miller would have been alive today if he had had the sense to back his own team.

The Traitor of Metr

And for another example of the lengths spies will go to in order to get their information home, take the case of Heinrich Allenstein—the name Is fictitious—who fled from Germany in the year before the war. He had been a small-part actor and had done some radio work, but apparently his political opinions were suspect. At the outbreak of war the French police naturally regarded him with some suspicion; nevertheless he anticipated them by offering his services as a broadcaster to the newly formed Department of Political Warfare in Paris.

He prepared a set of broadcast appeals to the remnants of democracy in Germany, imploring his surviving friends to help in the fight against Hitlerism. His scripts were excellent.

Continued on page 48

Spy Traps

Continued from page 20

\ The Germans showed their concern in the fury with which they showered abuse on Allenstein. After the collapse of France he disappeared. On two separate occasions German propaganda radio publicly proclaimed regret that the Gestapo had been unable to lay their hands on “the traitor of Metz,” as they dubbed Allensteinmany of his broadcasts to Germany had been made from Metz.

Then on a night in Maj', 1941, a French fishing smack put into a small port in the south of England. On board were 14 Breton sailors who wanted to join the Free French Navy; and Heinrich Allenstein. He was gaunt and haggard, with every appearance of strain. This was understandable from his story—of long months in hiding, with a terrible fate awaiting him if he were caught.

Naturally he and the 14 sailors were carefully “vetted.” Allenstein’s record was excellent, of course. There were people in Britain who had met him and many more who had heard him. His first impulse was to volunteer for political warfare. While his application was received sympathetically there was no job for him.

At this time Scotland Yard was interested in a neutral businessman suspected of doing work for the Germans as a sideline. All his contacts were being checked up. Most of them were legitimate business acquaintances, but one or two were not. Why, for example, should he visit Allenstein?

Allenstein’s record was irreproacnable, but some parts of it had necessarily I been taken on trust. For example, he was in hiding in France from June, 1940, to May, 1941. The French underground organization undertook the task of checking up on Allenstein. Their report left no doubt; they had traced direct links between Allenstein and the Germans. Allenstein was a German spy.

Spider and the Fly

As the Scotland Yard Inspector read the report, in the room with him was one of the chiefs of M.I. 5. We will call him Colonel Smith.

“I’m going to get him a job—the ! one he wants,” said Col. Smith. “I shall ask the BBC to take him on as a broadcaster in the European service. We will let him broadcast to Germany, as he wants to do.”

So Allenstein received a polite note from Broadcasting House. There was now a vacancy on the staff of the German section; if he wished to be considered for the post, would he communicate immediately with the Director of Political Warfare? He was appointed to the job after one ox two tryouts.

Allenstein’s principal task was to prepare and speak a short commentary after the news; the general theme was, of course, to discredit Hitler and lower German morale. The Germans have always been nervous of such broadcasts, jamming them on all possible j occasions.

But this time the jamming was intermittent and was done in England, not in Germany.

Nevertheless, apparently some parts i of his talking homilies got through. The Germans took up their denunciations of “the traitor of Metz” where they had left them off in 1940.

The close watch kept on Allenstein I had led to interesting discoveries involving the shadowing of more suspects. Now circumstances arose which made it necessary to arrest one

of these men. Evidently the arrest of his confederate frightened Allenstein. He made a vain attempt to get over to Dublin.

“Well, it’s a clear case, anyway,” said the Scotland Yard inspector. “There’ll be no doubt about the verdict.”

“There won’t be any verdict—not yet.” Col. Smith smiled. “I’m going to do a Miiller on him.”

The case of Miiller is a classic. He was a German agent active in England in the last war, and eventually caught out because of the clumsiness of an associate. His arrest was not announced. Instead, one of our men took up Muller's job, sending periodic reports to Germany.

Spy Understudy

“I’ve got a good actor ready,” Col. Smith went on. “He’s been studying Allenstein carefully against such an event as this.”

Thus “the traitor of Metz” continued to make his broadcasts for several weeks after Allenstein had been carted to prison.

Then the series ceased abruptly. Col. Smith was an artist, who knew exactly how far he could go without arousing suspicion. There was no reason why Allenstein should not stand his trial.

We have read a detailed account of Allenstein’s career, but the most interesting point has been omitted—what messages did he send to Germany, and how?

Allenstein’s broadcasts, I have said, were of the usual propaganda type. Here is a paragraph from one of them, made on March 10, 1943.

“The latest bulletin from Moscow is encouraging for the democrats. In the Ukraine the invaders are firmly held, while at Novorossiisk in the Caucasus the same story is told, Hitler’s gamble has failed, as brute force must always fail when pitted against the spirit of a united people. Contrast his vituperations with the sincerity and generosity of Mr. Eden’s promise to restore Norway’s sovereignty and prosperity once the war is won—as it will be won—by the democratic powers.”

Now the idea becomes quite clear. Take the initial letters of all the proper names—Moscow, Ukraine and the rest. They spell out M-U-N-C-H-E-N, and München we know as Munich. It was no accident that the RAF dropped 500 tons of bombs on Munich that same night. The Germans were not warned, for this part of Allenstein’s broadcast was well and truly jammed.

Naturally his manuscripts were carefully examined. The innocuous parts were allowed to go out normally—the paragraphs which counted always, ran into heavy interference or “technical hitches,” although Allenstein did not know this, of course.

And now, as a matter of interes here is a paragraph from a broadca made by the “traitor of Metz” whil Allenstein was held in jail. On this occasion there was no technical hitch: the date of the broadcast was April 16, 1943, when the Tunisian campaign was at its height.

“Still Eisenhower’s Armies press on. Following the capture of Sfax and Sousse, Enfidaville has now been taken by the advancing Allies. And enemy reinforcement plans were again handicapped by another heavy raid on Naples. I say ‘reinforcement plans’— do 1 really mean ‘evacuation plans’? Assuredly the reign of evil approaches its inevitable doom.”

The code read “Essen” but the point is that on the night of April 16 a powerful force of RAF bombers raided Stuttgart.