Spy vs Spy Week

Cross; Double Cross

When you start reading some historical accounts of espionage and counter-espionage, you start to realize that Great Britain is a master of the craft. Going all the way back to Elizabeth I and probably before, the Brits had developed a large network of spies and perfected the art of running spies. This skill proved very useful during the dark days of World War 2.

The Double Cross System started very early in the war. Run by MI-5’s Twenty Committee (get it? XX is double cross and twenty! Those wacky Englishmen!), the Double Cross System was a counter-espionage and misinformation effort using turned Nazi spies. The Brits would feed information to the turned spies to then send back to their Abwehr and Sicherheitsdienst (SD) handlers. The key was to give the Germans just enough real information to keep them hooked, then fill it in with a bunch of hokum.

One of their best agents wasn’t even in the UK. Agent Garbo was actually in Portugal. However, he convinced his handlers in the Abwehr that he was in the UK using nothing more than maps and guidebooks. The Abwehr, desperate for illicit knowledge of British goings ons, bought it hook, line and sinker. He even managed to create a whole phantom network of spies. Garbo showed MI-5 what he had done and they absorbed him into the Double Cross System. Germany, completely buying what their spy network in the UK was telling them, stopped sending new spies to the island nation in 1942.

Among the successes of the Double Cross System was Operation Fortitude. Operation Fortitude was an elaborate misinformation plot to direct German attention away from Normandy in preparation for the D-Day landings. Nazi spies would report on different insignia they saw on uniforms and vehicles. They also reported on the large number of troops in the south-central portion of England, which were actually there. However, they said there were only a few troops in southwest England when there were actually many troops there. The spies in the southeast reported on the Operation Quicksilver forces — real and fake forces that were supposedly amassing in preparation for invasion.

The reports were tailored to allow German military planners to “connect the dots” and determine where the most likely landing site would be. The Third Reich figured it would be Pas de Calais, the closest point of France to England. They became so convinced of this based on the Double Cross agents information, that they held 15 units at Calais even after the Normandy invasion thinking that the Normandy invasion was the diversion.

After the war, Sir John Cecil Masterman who headed the Twenty Committee said, “we actively ran and controlled the German espionage system in this country.” Post-war analysis of the espionage trade in WW2 would prove this to be very true. MI-5, via the Double Cross System, controlled virtually every Nazi agent in their borders and, therefore, the flow of information back to Germany.

What does this have to do with technology? Well, many of those Nazi spies were using special radios and even Enigma machines. All this proves is that all the fancy gadgets and contraptions in the spy world are only as good as the allegiance of the men using them.