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

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

British Nazi was in fact MI5 double spy, new book reveals

Arthur OwensBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Welsh nationalist, whose aversion to British rule led him to spy for Nazi Germany during World War II, was in fact a double spy for Britain, and was instrumental in helping he Allies win the war, a new book reveals. The book, Snow: The Double Life of a World War II Spy, by Madoc Roberts and Nigel West (At Her Majesty’s Secret Service, A Matter of Trust, etc), centers on the life of Arthur Owens, who was recruited by the Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence, in 1935, during a business trip to the Continent. Given the operational codename JOHNNY O’BRIEN by the Germans, he quickly began providing Berlin with inside information on Britain’s military buildup in the run-up to the War. But, according to Roberts and West, who base their account on declassified government documents, British counterintelligence agency MI5 became aware of Owens’ espionage activities and eventually recruited him as a double agent for the Crown. According to the book, Owens, who was given the codename SNOW by his British masters, became one of the human intelligence cornerstones of MI5’s XX (Double-Cross) System. Consisting of a close-knit group of deception specialists, XX is known for a series of outrageous —and often highly successful— covert operations during World War II, including Operation FORTITUDE, a plan to deceive the Germans about the location of the invasion of Europe by the Western Allies. The authors claim that agent SNOW’s activities successfully lured a large number of Nazi agents into the arms of MI5, thus eventually paving the way for some of MI5’s greatest wartime counterintelligence successes. In fact, it is believed that Owens’ pro-Nazi activities were so convincing, and his operational cover so deeply buried within the XX System, that in 1941 his MI5 handlers recommended that he be interned in a British prison. But the book alleges that, while in prison in Dartmoor, England, SNOW continued his intelligence collection for the Crown and kept feeding his handlers with information extracted from the prison’s German inmates. Read more of this post