SPIES WERE ALWAYS STUPID
If you think the U-2 affair was a bungle you may be right, but you’re wrong if you think this is new. The espionage trade has more boneheads than masterminds, and most of the secrets they expose are their own
Until the farcical tragedy of the spy-in-the-sky affair of a few weeks ago, most people who thought about espionage at all probably had the idea that it's carried on by people of very superior intelligence and masterminded by wizards hidden in seemingly innocuous departments of the government.
Not so: acts of the most staggering stupidity have always occurred in the name of espionage and most spies are recruited from the ranks of drifters, grifters, sharpies and misfits. The myth that spies are clever is based on the small percentage of smart ones, the ones who don't get caught. They live to tell the tale, and often they cannot resist writing it as well. The literature on the subject of their exploits is impressive.
But for the most part espionage is a shocking waste of time and money. The experts estimate that little of the information gained by spies in the field is accurate enough to send home. Of this, still less is useful. The percentage finally acted upon is infinitesimal.
This makes the complex, dangerous, tedious, expensive business of spying seem more than slightly ridiculous.
Unknown amounts of money are poured out by powers great and small to subsidize people supplying information or misinformation that may or may not be worth anything, and the evidence mounts that we would do better to put this money straight down the drain or else use it to create a Department of Good Works.
For in the realm of espionage, truth is sillier than Hitchcock.
If. for example, you picked up a lurid paperback and read of a dark, handsome cipher clerk's coming under the spell of a mysterious, vaguely foreign older woman named Countess Anna Wolkolf and betraying his country's secrets along w'ith its code to her — well, that's a fairly routine plot and you might go along w'ith it for a few hours’ di vert is sen tent.
But if the writer then went on to describe how the young man grew tired of photographing the secret documents he smuggled out of the embassy and gave the work to a commercial photographer to do, you'd throw the book aside as implausible and an insult to your intelligence.
The man's name was Tyler Kent, and it happened.
In 19.39, when Kent was sent to London to work in the U. S. embassy, he fell in w'ith the pro-Hitler British Fascist crowd — fell, also, madly in love with Anna. The countess was in the pay of Germany, and she persuaded him to play post office in more ways than one. Between the start of the war and May 1940, Kent photographed, or had photographed, fifteen hundred secret papers. The pictures were given to Anna, who passed them on to an official in the Italian embassy, w'here they were put into the diplomatic pouch to Rome and then llown to Berlin.
It was woefully easy for Kent to sneak the papers out of the embassy at night and slip them back in the morning; he might have gone on indefinitely had he not become so bored with developing pictures. Eventually, lovers' meetings at Anna’s flat invariably followed by. of all things, a trip to the photographer's aroused the suspicions of the British counter-espionage people. I he photographer, incidentally, was under the naïve impression that he was doing a favor for the American embassy.
Since the U. S. was not yet at war Kent could not be charged w'ith espionage. He was sentenced to seven years and Anna got ten. For the same acts a year and a half later, he would undoubtedly have been hanged.
A runner-up for the title of Spy Most Unlikely to Succeed during World War II was Rogcrio de Menezes, a clerk in the Portuguese embassy in London. This young man was a great gadabout and barfly, and he was always broke; he leaped at the chance to earn an extra £50 a month when a German spy in
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“If Papen captured, don’t intern, send him to an
asylum,” the reply read
Lisbon employed him to find out, specifically, what the food situation in England really was, where the London AA guns were located, and the truth about Britain’s industrial potential.
Rogcrio's spy pay was rather quickly cut to £25 a month. He got all his information from bottle clubs and the London daily papers. Finally it even became too much of a chore to get the stuff into the diplomatic pouch, so he took to sending it air mail to addresses already high on the British censor’s stoplist. In the end, having accomplished absolutely nothing in the way of spying, he was fired, arrested, tried and jailed — a harsh fate for one who might better have been exhibited, at Mme. Tussaud’s.
Two more spies whose careers came to an end through stupidity were the agents Hitler dispatched to Scotland to finish off Rudolf Hess after Hess flew the coop with his own plan for world peace. These men were landed in a rubber boat on the Scottish shore. They separated, and arranged a rendezvous in Edinburgh. One went into a village station to wait for the next train and, feeling hungry, pulled out of his jacket a huge liverwurst. Since meat was extremely scarce and this type of sausage quite unknown in Britain, the stationmaster became suspicious and called the police. Within a week the second spy was picked up at the rendezvous.
The same lack of common sense prevailed in a spy ring operating in New York in the 1940s. It consisted mostly of German - American Bundists, whose sympathies were already well known to the police. They met regularly in a German restaurant in Yorktown, the German section of Manhattan, and used as their postal drop a German bookstore in the same district. Small fry though they undoubtedly were, they might have managed to do some damage if it had occurred to them to meet at Childs or the Automat, and to place their operative in the book department at, say, Macy’s or Gimbels.
Then there was the German spy who was sent to Ottawa late in 1943. Liberally supplied with money, he spent freely, took long walks in the Gatineau Hills, and, when the tide of war turned strongly in the Allies' favor, gave himself up to the RCMP, asserting that since he had done absolutely nothing in the way of spying he was guilty of nothing and should be given asylum. He was held in custody and. at the war’s end, deported.
More dramatic defections have occurred in the last fifteen years, and out of them one fact emerges clearly: every Soviet embassy, consulate, or trade mission is a centre of espionage.
But Soviet efficiency is often impeded by the plotting and denunciation that appear to go on constantly in these establishments abroad. Shortly before Vladimir Petrov, head of Soviet espionage in Australia, lied the embassy and sought political sanctuary in 1954, Mrs. Petrov was accused of throwing a pie in the face of the ambassador’s wife. Within twenty-four hours, details of this pie-inthe-eye act had been dutifully relayed to Moscow.
“Soviet intelligence,” an ex-Communist spy comments, “is based on quantity, but a quantitative basis means much chaff, much nonsense and pomposity, and very much money.”
The booby prize of the century should undoubtedly have gone to Franz von Papen for the part he played in Germany's espionage in both world wars.
As military attaché in the U. S. in 1915, Papen enchanted the British by keeping careful track of his agents, their fees, names, and addresses, in a file marked Disbursements to Spies. He also kept his copy of the latest code where it would be handiest, in his desk drawer, unlocked.
His subordinate, Franz Rintelin, organized a brilliant sabotage campaign against Atlantic shipping, causing cigarshaped explosives to be placed in the holds of ships carrying munitions. Rintelin was personally responsible for sinking thousands of tons of Allied shipping and played hob with ship-loading by fomenting a scries of dockworkers’ strikes and organizing a longshoremen’s union that paid immediate strike benefits. However, he was fighting the battle al-
most single-handed and very much uphill with Papen in charge of things, and he was recalled to Germany.
Papen then sent Berlin a message (in a code the British had cracked) to say that Rintelin would be arriving as a neutral national aboard a certain ship. British naval intelligence met the ship as it touched at Plymouth and politely escorted Germany’s most successful saboteur to an internment camp.
Later, Papen was handed his walking papers by the U. S. government. He left for Germany with several trunks filled with secret documents. Although his person was guaranteed diplomatic immunity, British authorities at Falmouth, where his ship stopped briefly, ruled that his trunks were not. They confiscated everything, much to the attaché’s indignation and the considerable benefit of British intelligence.
A few months later Papen was in Palestine, where he escaped from his tent in Nazareth one jump ahead of General Allcnby, leaving, as usual, a slew of secret papers behind him. When this news was relayed to London, it is said to have provoked the following reply: "Forward
papers. If Papen captured, do not intern, send him to a lunatic asylum.”
Strangely enough. Hitler never did seem to realize the extent of Papen’s incompetence. At any rate, in 1939 he made him German ambassador to Turkey. Here Papen pulled off the prize boner of his career.
To understand this bit of espionage asininity, it’s necessary to know something of the German intelligence system at that time — or surfeit of it. For that, in fact, was the trouble: there was no one system and there was no top authority, instead there was a plethora of individual secret services in Germany, all in competition with one another.
T here was the Abwehr, or military intelligence, headed by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and Walther Nicolai, and there was the Nachrichtendienst, or Special Security Police division of the Gestapo, headed by Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had his own intelligence service, as did Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Goering and Alfred Rosenberg, to name but a few.
Kaltenbrunner, head of the security police, maintained an agent in every one of Ribbentrop’s embassies. The two men hated each other. Ribbentrop and Papen likewise hated each other. The cultured, devoutly Catholic Papen held the socialclimbing Nazi in contempt, but as ambassador he was responsible to Ribbentrop.
Thus Papen was running the embassy in Ankara at the orders of a man who hated him, and could count on interference from another man who not only despised his boss but was head of the country’s security police as well.
Kaltenbrunner’s agent in the Ankara embassy was Leutnant L. C. Moyzisch, ostensibly an attaché; his real job was to keep tab on the embassy staff, including the ambassador, and send regular reports to Berlin. In spite of their being in opposite camps, he developed a doltish admiration for the aristocratic Papen and regarded him as a first-class diplomat. Such is the mentality of security police.
In the fall of 1943, Moyzisch was approached by an Albanian, the valet of the British ambassador. Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, and offered a roll of film, ft was said to contain pictures of the contents of Sir Hughe's safe. Moyzisch consulted Papen, the ambassador consulted Berlin, and Berlin agreed to buy the film for £20,()()(). with the promise of more to come.
Then began one of the most outlandish episodes in the bizarre history of espionage, Operation Cicero. Roll after roll of films of secret British papers were delivered to Moyzisch, who developed them, paid for them, and sent them to Berlin. There. Ribbentrop and Kaltenbrunner wrangled over what would be done with the information they contained.
When Ribbentrop kept some rolls from Kaltenbrunner, Kaltenbrunner ordered Moyzisch to send the stuff direct to him and not, through Papen, to Ribbentrop. On no account was he to let Papen see any more of it.
Moyzisch obeyed this order until he developed the picture of a report that showed that Turkey was prepared to permit the infiltration of British servicemen. This was of such importance that Moyzisch took it at once to Papen.
Papen thereupon paid a call on the
Turkish foreign minister, demanding an explanation. Turkey was supposed to be neutral. As soon as the Turk could get rid of the indignant German ambassador, he in turn rushed to call on the British ambassador. Sir Hughe realized that Papen's knowledge could come only through a leak in the embassy. Security regulations were tightened immediately; Papen had effectively cut off his own most valuable source of information.
The most ludicrous part of Operation C icero is that the Germans made no use of the photographs taken by the ambassador's valet. In Germany. Ankara was not regarded as a sufficiently important post to warrant the information that came out of Sir Hughe s safe. Berlin remained suspicious of its authenticity to the end. although it was as bona fide as Churchill himself.
The Germans were often victims of this kind of error, and their love of method and system resulted in the capture of a good many of their agents. British spy training, on the other hand, seems to have been a much more individual affair. Where the Germans seem to have depended on turning out a mass of competent agents, the British concentrated on a few really expert ones.
American spies have been noted for their love of delivering le mot juste. In 1944 a member of the Office of Strategic Services, for example, sent Hitler probably the most unusual postcard the Führer ever got, if he ever got it, and signed it: "An American officer already in Germany." The message itself w'as very short and very rude.
Such heartening bravado would not occur to a woman in the same circumstances. But although they're essentially more cautious, women spies are usually even less useful than men. Sir Basil Thomson, director of intelligence at Scotland Yard in the first war, declared that if he had his way he would never employ women. " They do not make good spies,” Sir Basil said.
The glamorous espionne of film and fiction who seduces the high-ranking officer and obtains the plans of the fort, factory, rocket-launching site, or whatever, is in real life just as apt to have the tables turned on her and fall genuinely in love with her victim. Then lie seduces her. and she winds up betraying her own country.
Yet women spies capture the imagination. and are usually rated out of till proportion to their actual accomplishments. For example, Mata Hari spied for money and she spied for love, and since she was a greedy woman with the morals of a mink she had an infinite capacity for both. But her use as a spy was so limited that she was betrayed to the French by her own spymaster. Wilhelm Canaris, and was shot by a firing squad.
Yet even an accepted master of spying like Canaris can make a wrong move — in 1944 he took part in the plot against Hitler and was subsequently executed by the Nazis.
Shooting spies in wartime or jailing them during periods of peace seems to have as much deterrent effect on espionage as capital punishment has on murder. Like sex and baseball, spying still goes on.
Perhaps the silliest episode of all was the Case of tiie Missing Code Book, which took place at the Italian embassy in Berlin in 1929. A Yugoslav spy approached an attache’s secretary and offered her a large sum of money if he could borrow the code book overnight. Figuring that if a poor country could pay ,^o well a rich one could pay even better, the lady made a deal with the French ambassador, pinched the book,
and took it first to the French embassy to be photographed before giving it to the Yugoslavs.
Well and doubly paid for her trouble, she tried to return it the following morning and was dismayed to find that her boss was already in the office and there was no way of sneaking it back. After a hectic day. the ambassador came in to find out why work was moving so slowly, whereupon the attache confessed that the code book was gone. So terrified were the two men of what Mussolini would do to them when he found out that they decid-
ed not to report the matter at all but to try to figure out all messages from Rome from what they remembered of the code.
The secretary was never suspected and after a suitable interval was able to resign and. presumably, to retire. The eodein-the-head system of communicating wobbled along for five months before word of the theft reached official ears in Rome and the entire stall was recalled to face the wrath.
No doubt any country must keep tabs on other countries. Perhaps it s necessary for us to maintain a horde of anonymous
informants all over the world sending back fact and falsehood and fiction for our government to assess and. it is hoped, act upon.
But with today’s carefully controlled official leaks, with spy spying upon counterspy. and international ploy countering ploy in ever-crazier complexity — with all this and the grisly prospect of the total destruction of all people that on earth do dwell staring us in the face, he seems to have had a point, that character who first remarked: “Military intelli-
gence is a contradiction in terms."