Nazi letter to one of history’s greatest double spies found in Tokyo

Richard SorgeA congratulatory letter sent by a senior Nazi official to Richard Sorge, a German who spied for the USSR, and is sometimes credited with helping Moscow win World War II, has been found in Japan. The letter was sent by Joachim von Ribbentrop, a senior German Nazi Party member and Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is directly addressed to Sorge, who was himself a member of the Nazi Party, but spied for the USSR throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.

Born in Soviet Azerbaijan to a German father and a Russian mother, Sorge fought as a German soldier in World War I and received commendations for his bravery. But he became a communist in the interwar years and secretly went to Moscow to be trained as a spy by the Fourth Directorate of the Soviet Red Army, which was later renamed GRU —Soviet military intelligence. He then traveled back to Germany as a non-official-cover principal agent for the USSR, joined the Nazi Party and became a journalist for Die Frankfurter Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading newspapers at the time. When the paper sent him to Tokyo to be its Japan correspondent, Sorge struck a friendship with German Ambassador to Tokyo Eugen Ott, who eventually hired him as his trusted press secretary and advisor. It was from him that Sorge found out that Hitler was preparing to violate his non-aggression pact with the USSR, and promptly notified Moscow. His warnings, however, were dismissed as fantastical by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, whose government was caught by complete surprise by the eventual German onslaught. Several months later, when Sorge told Moscow that German ally Japan was not planning to invade Russia from the east, Stalin took the tip seriously. The information provided by Sorge partly allowed Stalin to move hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops from the Far East to the German front, which in turn helped beat back the Nazi advance and win the war.

The letter was found by Yoshio Okudaira, a document expert working for Japanese antique book dealer Tamura Shoten in Tokyo. It was among a stack of World War II-era documents brought to the antique dealer by a resident of the Japanese capital. The documents belonged to a deceased relative of the man, who was reportedly unaware of their contents or significance. According to the Deutsche Welle news agency, the letter was addressed to Sorge on the occasion of his 43rd birthday, and is dated 1938. It was written by von Ribbentrop’s personal secretary and includes a signed black-and-white photograph of Hitler’s foreign-affairs minister. The accompanying note commends the double spy on his “exceptional contribution” to the Third Reich as press secretary of the German embassy in Tokyo.

Okudaira, the document expert who realized the significance of the letter, said it is of historical interest because it confirms the high level of trust that the Nazi Party had in Sorge, who was never suspected by Berlin or by his German colleagues in Tokyo of having any connection with the Soviet government. However, Sorge’s espionage was eventually uncovered by Japanese counterintelligence, who promptly arrested and tortured him severely, before executing him in November of 1941. In 1961, the Soviet government awarded him posthumously the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, which was the country’s highest distinction during the communist era.

Newly released British files shed light on 20th-century espionage

Eric HobsbawmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Files released last week by Britain’s National Archives have brought to the fore interesting new clues on the history of intelligence operations in the 20th century. One of the files relates to Migel Piernavieja del Pozo, a Spanish journalist in his mid-20s, who arrived in the United Kingdom in 1940, ostensibly to cover British public attitudes to the war in the continent. Britain’s counterintelligence agency, the Security Service, also known as MI5, placed Pozo under surveillance, after the debonair Spaniard proclaimed in public meetings that he was grateful for German Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s support to Spain’s royalist forces and said he hoped Germany would emerge victorious from the war in Europe. The agency was right to do so, as Pozo eventually approached an agent of the Abwehr —Nazi Germany’s military intelligence agency— in the UK, and told him that he too was working secretly for Berlin. But the Abwehr agent, codenamed GW in MI5 documents, was in fact a double spy for the Crown and managed to pass deceptive information to the Spaniard. Eventually, Pozo gave GW a tin of talcum powder containing over £3,500 in banknotes, which is approximately $150,000 in today’s money. Professor Christopher Andrew, official historian of MI5, told The Daily Telegraph that the money supplied by Pozo was “probably the largest sum yet handed to a British agent” by a rival spy. Eventually, Pozo’s inability to acquire useful intelligence in the UK prompted his recall back to Spain.

Another set of files, also released last week by the National Archives, appears to show that C.A.N. Nambiar, a friend of India’s first prime minister and deputy to one of the country’s most fervent pro-independence activists, was a Soviet spy. Nambiar was known as an old comrade of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first elected leader of post-colonial India, who dominated Indian affairs for much of the last century. He was also a close associate of Subhas Chandra Bose, a pro-independence activist considered a hero by Indian nationalists, whose hatred for India’s British occupiers led him to side with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the early 1940s. After India’s independence in 1947, Nambiar worked as a diplomat in Berne, Switzerland, before becoming India’s ambassador to Sweden and later to West Germany. But according to MI5 documents released last week, an Eastern Bloc defector fingered Nambiar in 1959 as an agent of Soviet military intelligence, known as GRU. The source said Nambiar had been recruited while visiting the USSR as a guest of the Soviet state in 1929. Read more of this post

Historian names wartime British spy who fooled Nazi sympathizers

Eric RobertsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A British counterintelligence agent, who managed to neutralize an extensive wartime network of Nazi sympathizers in the United Kingdom by pretending to represent the German government, has been named. Regular intelNews readers might remember our post about a wartime agent identified only as “Jack King” in files released by the British National Archives in February. “Jack King” was the operational codename given to the agent by his handlers in the British Security Service, commonly known as MI5, which is tasked with counterintelligence duties. Senior officials at the agency described “King” as “a genius” at luring Nazi sympathizers in the UK. The files show that “King’s” work helped MI5 identify hundreds of residents in Britain —most of them British citizens— as committed Nazis who were prepared to pass national secrets to Berlin. “King” reportedly utilized his pro-German contacts in the southeast of England and was able to infiltrate pro-Nazi circles operating in and around London. He did so by posing as an agent of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police. He quickly gained the trust of some of the most fervent pro-German activists operating in the British Isles. These included Edgar Whitehead, Hilda Leech, and Marita Perigoe, a Swedish resident of the UK who was so fervently pro-Nazi that she once dismissed Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists as “insufficiently extreme”. When the “Jack King” files were declassified, some intelligence historians suggested that the operational codename referred to John Bingham, a legendary MI5 office and fluent German speaker who is said to have inspired John le Carré’s fictional character George Smiley. But Cambridge University historian Christopher Andrew, who in 2009 authored In Defense of the Realm, an officially-commissioned history of MI5, has revealed the name of “Jack King” as Eric Roberts. Professor Andrew told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that Roberts was an unassuming suburban bank clerk who lived in a small market town called Epsom in Surrey. Roberts was born in nearby Sussex, in southeastern England, in 1907, married at a young age and had three children —two sons and a daughter. His MI5 files document that, by the time World War II started, he was “thoroughly familiar” with networks of Nazi sympathizers in the south of England, though just how he had managed to do that remains a mystery. Roberts eventually attracted the attention of Maxwell Knight, a legendary MI5 spymaster who headed the organization’s Section B5(b), tasked with infiltrating subversive political groups in Britain. Read more of this post

Hitler was regular crystal meth user, intelligence files show

Adolf HitlerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A recently discovered set of documents compiled by American intelligence during World War II show that German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was a regular consumer of crystal methamphetamines, which are today considered a Class A drug. The previously secret file, which consists of nearly 50 pages of evidence, was produced by the United States Military Intelligence Corps, the intelligence branch of the US Army. It was located by American wartime memorabilia collector Bill Panagopoulos. He told Britain’s Channel 4 television, which later this week will be broadcasting a documentary on Hitler’s numerous drug addictions, that the Nazi leader became reliant on drugs in 1936. He was first prescribed a regime of strong painkillers by Dr. Theodor Gilbert Morell, a German physician who was notorious for his unconventional medical treatments. Morell, who became Hitler’s personal doctor, gave the German dictator Mutaflor, a pain reliever that helped him with his frequent stomach cramps. Soon, however, Hitler went back to Morell for more, and the Berlin-based doctor, who Panagopoulos describes as “a quack, a fraud and a snake oil salesman”, began prescribing the Nazi leader increasingly dangerous cocktails of drugs. Among them were barbiturates, such as Brom-Nervacit, stimulants, including Cardiazol and Coramine, sedatives, primarily the morphine-based Eukodal, and even bulls’ semen to boost his testosterone levels. According to the US intelligence dossier, by late 1943 Hitler could not complete even simple daily tasks without the help of a mix of prescription stimulants and sedatives that included over 74 different medications. Chief among them was Pervitin, described by Morell as an “alertness pill”, but which was in fact a highly addictive concoction of crystal methamphetamines. Pervitin was known among addicts as a drug that induced a powerful feeling of euphoria. Its long-term effects, however, included the extreme hypochondria and rapid deterioration of mental functions. Predictably, Hitler was displaying both symptoms by the summer of 1943, when, according to the dossier, he took Pervitin right before his final meeting with Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Read more of this post

More on British wartime honey-trap operative ‘FIFI’

Christine Marie ChilverBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
New material, including photographs, has emerged on ‘agent FIFI’, a World War II-era female British intelligence operative tasked with using her good looks to test the ability of male spy trainees to withhold sensitive information. As IntelNews reported last week, FIFI was the operational codename of Christine Marie Chilver, a British subject born in London of a British father and a Latvian mother, who was educated at a German-language school in Latvian capital Riga before attending Sorbonne University in Paris. In 1941, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) hired Chilver as a counterintelligence operative and tasked her with accosting SOE spy trainees at restaurants and bars and trying to entice them into revealing government secrets, in an effort to evaluate whether spies-in-training could “keep their mouths shut”. One declassified SOE document said FIFI was selected for the task due to her “unusual gifts of courage and intelligence”. According to British National Archives historian Jonathan Cole, FIFI became “a legend of SOE” and “a symbol of seduction”, and was rumored to have slept with a number of trainees in order to “find out whether they talked in their sleep”. Another SOE report noted that Chilver’s looks were “too striking and foreign for English tastes”, but added that most of the SOE trainees targeted by Chilver were foreign-born, so her cover as a French journalist was both adequate and suitable for her continental image. This past weekend, London-based newspaper The Sunday Telegraph published several photographs of Chilver, which were given to the paper by one of the wartime operative’s few friends, Janice Cutmore. Initially employed by Chilver as a house cleaner, Cutmore eventually cared for the retired SOE agent until the end of her life. When Chilver died, she left part of her estate to Cutmore, along with a single album of photographs of herself, many of them from the 1940s and 1950s. Cutmore told The Telegraph that, after leaving the SOE, Chilver cohabitated with her fellow-SOE operative and lifelong companion Jean ‘Alex’ Felgate, whom she never married. Read more of this post

WWII files reveal ‘glamorous’ female spy used to test trainees

Special Operations Executive plaqueBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
British records from World War II released this week have revealed for the first time the existence of a “glamorous” female intelligence operative who used her good looks to test the ability of spy trainees to keep sensitive information. The agent’s name was Marie Chilver, and she was the daughter of a Latvian mother and an English father. She appears to have drawn the attention of British intelligence in 1941, shortly after she helped a British airman shot down over France return to Britain. Chilver came in contact with the Special Operations Executive, a top-secret organization established in 1940 by the British government in preparation for the war in Europe. Its mission was to organize espionage and sabotage operations in Axis-occupied Europe and to assist underground resistance groups. The documents show that the SOE initially thought Chilver was a German spy. However, once her identity was verified through several background checks, the highly secret agency employed Chilver as a counterintelligence operative. She was given the operational codename “FIFI”. Her duties apparently involved accosting SOE spy trainees at restaurants and bars and trying to entice them into revealing government secrets, in an effort to evaluate whether spies-in-training could “keep their mouths shut”. Utilizing her “glamorous looks”, blonde hair and elegant dresses, Chilver would pose as a French freelance reporter and would approach selected SOE trainees to see “if they had learned how to keep secrets”, according to the wartime documents. But the files reveal that, more often than not, FIFI was able to extract classified information from the trainees. In one case, Chilver reported that a Belgian SOE trainee had told her nearly “all there was to know about him” by the end of a short evening. The SOE proceeded to promptly dismiss the young Belgian a few days later. The declassified documents include a transcribed interview with FIFI, who claimed that her counterintelligence methods were “absolutely fair” and were “mild and innocent” when compared to what the SOE trainees would have to face in the field. Read more of this post

Failed Nazi spy mission in UK ‘was sabotaged by German dissidents’

Abwehr clerks in 1939By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A new book authored by a German historian argues that a botched Nazi spy mission in World War II-era Britain was deliberately sabotaged by anti-Nazi intelligence officials within the ranks of the Third Reich. In 1940, Adolf Hitler was actively laying the groundwork for Operation SEA LION, Nazi Germany’s plan to invade the United Kingdom. In preparation for the invasion, the German leadership authorized the Hamburg bureau of the Abwehr, Nazi Germany’s military intelligence agency, to send into Britain a group of Nazi spies tasked with helping pave the way for the invasion. In September of 1940, a dozen Nazi intelligence operatives entered Britain during nighttime infiltration missions, some by parachute, and some by small inflatable boats. They had ostensibly been selected for the mission based on their ability to assimilate into British society. But Operation LENA, as the Abwehr codenamed the project, ended in abject failure. The near-comical behavior of the Nazi spies led to all of them getting arrested by British authorities within weeks. Some were detained after locals reported that they spoke English with heavy foreign accents. Nearly all of them lacked basic understanding of even the simplest British customs: indicatively, two of the spies were arrested in Scotland when they were found cycling on the wrong side of the road. Others were caught carrying German sausages and other continental consumer items among their personal belongings. The mainstream historical explanation of Operation LENA’s utter failure coincides with a British wartime report, which attributes it on the Nazi spies’ “own stupidity”. But a new book published this summer by German historian Monika Siedentopf, argues that LENA had been compromised from the very beginning by anti-Nazi officials inside Germany’s military intelligence community. The book, published in German by DTV Premium, is titled Unternehmen Seelöwe: Widerstand im deutschen Geheimdienst —in English, Operation Sea Lion: Resistance Inside German Intelligence. It is based on Siedentopf’s six-year study of material in the German National Archives, as well as in the personal wartime archives of senior German intelligence officers. She argues that Operation LENA stands out in its amateurism compared to other wartime infiltration operations by Germany’s Abwehr. And she concludes that LENA’s failure was not due to operational incompetence, but rather resulted from deliberate sabotage by a group of anti-Nazi intelligence officers. Read more of this post

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