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World War II
A Narrative History


"Masters of Deception"
(1943)
Anthony Cave Brown
Bodyguard of Lies, Vol. 1 (1975)


By the spring of 1943, all Allied secret agencies were fully operational and another dimension of the great conflict -- the secret war -- was rising in tempo and violence. Deception would soon come to dominate this labyrinthine war; and the LCS [London Controlling Section] ... began to weave a complex series of stratagems that, for their cunning, had no discernible parallels in English ... history. If there were parallels, they could be found in the precepts of Sun Tzu, the conquerer of Ch'u, Ch'i and Ch'in in 600-500 .... Sun Tzu had provided an exact definition of the tasks of the LCS and its associated agencies in the months ahead: "Undermine the enemy first, then his army will fall to you. Subvert him, attack his morale, strike at his economy, corrupt him ...."
The purpose of all deception from now on was to render Hitler and OKW* "puzzled as well as beaten" about "Overlord," the code word for Allied strategical intentions in northwest Europe in 1944. And the main target was the mind of Hitler himself, for he was the German Supreme Commander. Ranged against this brilliant autodidact was a group of men who represented the aristocratic cream of a caste of blood, land and money, and who now dominated the British secret agencies. They were descendants of that self-perpetuating cabal that had created and ruled a world empire for over two hundred years; and they had at their disposal a wealth of experience in strategem and special means. These men approached their task with zest and dedication -- and with a malevolence perhaps born of the realization that, if they failed, their class would not survive ....
At Storey's Gate, Churchill's bunker beneath the pavements of Westminster, "The Controller of Deception" -- as the chief of the LCS, Colonel John Henry Bevan, was called, as if he were a character in Kafka -- typified these clever, menaced British aristocrats. Quite unknown publicly, for he was a very silent man, Bevan was at the center of financial power in London. A grandson of one of the greatest of the British bankers and the son of a leading London stockbroker, Bevan was himself an important stockbroker in peacetime and would later advise the royal family on its investments. He would become a Privy Councillor, one of the sovereign's advisers, and his appointment as The Controller of Deception was in the tradition of the post -- it was an aristocrat's job ....
Bevan had been at "The Blessed College" of Eton (with [Stewart] Menzies) and had gone on to Christ Church, the richest of the Oxford colleges .... Bevan's stay at Christ Church was cut short by the First World War when he was commissioned into the Yeomanry, the Hertfordshires. He won the Military Cross and, toward the end of the war, was appointed to the staff of Field Marshal Lord Haig, the British C-in-C in France. After the war he returned to the City and married Lady Barbara Bingham ... whose brother-in-law would become Field Marshal Lord Alexander, the future Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean during the Second World War. At the outbreak of the [war], Bevan rejoined the Hertfordshires and became intelligence officer at Western Command headquarters in Chester. When the LCS was established, its first chief, Colonel Stanley, brought him south to become his staff officer and, soon after Stanley resigned, Bevan was appointed Controller.
By this time deception had been successfully tested as a weapon of strategic warfare, but under Bevan the LCS's stature would increase in the military heirarchy to a point where it came to control many of the activities of other British secret agencies .... Bevan had the authority to direct any government department in London and, through the Joint Security Control, in Washington, to perform according to the LCS's score. He had powers without precedent and on occasions even Roosevelt and Churchill made their personal movements and statements conform to the dictates of deception. In consequence, Bevan came to be regarded at Storey's Gate as the British regarded their public executioner: with curiosity, even admiration, but at all times with caution and respect.
Bevan himself enjoyed the complete confidence of Churchill and, through him, of Roosevelt, for the President took no less delight in deception than did the Prime Minister. There was no reason to doubt the statement that Churchill spent as much time with Bevan cooking up plots over good brandy with majestical flights of late-night imagination as he did with any of his other bureaus ....
....Of Bevan's subordinates, only [Lieutenant Colonel Sir Ronald Evelyn Leslie] Wingate knew The Controller's activities in all their dimensions.
....Wingate was a shortish, myopic man with black hair carefully brushed straight back. It was once said of him that he could "think nine ways at once." Certainly of formidable intellect, he was also a classicist, a clubman, a fly fisherman whose favorite ghillie was a bishop, and it seemed as if his entire career had trained him for his brief occupation as the sorcerer's apprentice.
Wingate was born on September 30, 1889, the eldest son of Wingate Pasha of Egypt and the Sudan -- General Sir F. Reginald Wingate, a fierce Victorian who was among the Empress's most decorated soldiers .... His mother came from a long line of captains and admirals. Lawrence of Arabia was related from the wrong side of the blanket; Wingate of Burma was a cousin. It was an Imperialist family in an Imperialistic age, a family whose ties led to the remotest corners of the Empire.
....In the First World War he had served as a political officer in Mesopotamia, where he helped destroy the eastern marches of the Ottoman Empire to ensure that Britain obtained the oilfields of the Karun. He learned the lessons of intrigue from such tutors as Sir Percy Cox, the great Arabist; G.E. Leachman, the explorer and ruler of the Anaizeh tribe; E.B. Sloane, the British agent who spoke five dialects of Kurdish and Persian, and conspired against the Turks in Kurdistan dressed as cheese-seller; [and] Gertrude Bell, the extraordinary Englishwoman who spent her life in the Arabian deserts and was the only woman officer in the British army ....
Between the wars Wingate became, in turn, Political Agent at Muscat and Oman, where he brought the tribes firmly under British control ... and Joint Secretary and Acting Political Secretary in the Government of All India .... Like his father, his entire career was spent in the service of the Crown and, again like his father, he developed a belief that nine-tenths of humanity were not worth saving -- unless they were citizens of the Empire. Beneath his great charm and diplomacy, he was shrewd and hard .... [W]hen he came to the LCS -- having taken part in "Menace," General de Gaulle's 1940 expedition to Dakar, and in various operations to secure from the Germans the gold deposits of Belgium and Poland -- Wingate had already dealt, successfully, with some of the most politically deft and devious people in the world. By the standards of ordinary men, his experience in intrigue had been endless and severe. Now, with Bevan, whose mind had been polished by his career in the upper reaches of finance in the City of London, he applied that experience to conceiving the strategems of the LCS. Both men, through their connections with many prominent members of government, officials of the Empire, soldiers, politicians and leading journalists, were able to reach out and place their ideas into a much wider framework than that of an ordinary bureaucrat.
Around Bevan and Wingate was a small bureau of ingenious men. There was the first member of the LCS, Wing Commander Dennis Wheatley, a leading British novelist and a student of crime and black magic .... Then there was Professor Edward Neville da Costa Andrade, one of Britain's most illustrious scientists, and a man whose passion was, he said, "collecting old scientific books and useless knowledge." He had dreamed up the little crickets** that Allied paratroopers would use to identify friend from foe in the dark, and his special sphere of interest was in using the tricks of science to deceive the enemy.
....At Cairo, the LCS's interests were managed by Brigadier Dudley Clarke, the wealthy London solicitor whose work on Bertram *** had contributed to Rommel's defeat at Alamein .... and in India and Southeast Asia there was Colonel Peter Fleming, the author, journalist, ornithologist, and brother of Ian Fleming, the espionage novelist.
From this nucleus of men radiated connections to all the main military, intelligence and policy centers in the joint Anglo-American high commands. At COSSAC, the newly established planning headquarters for the invasion [of Fortress Europe], deception was the responsibility of the Committee of Special Means [CSM], or Ops. B, a subsection of the operations department. The chief British agencies which executed LCS strategems were MI-6, MI-5 and the XX Committee, PWE [Political Warfare Executive] and the intelligence departments of the three main services. In the United States and in the American sphere of influence, the main agency used by the LCS and the CSM was the Joint Security Control, which in turn controlled the OSS, the FBI, the various American information agencies and the State Department. Thus, the structure of the LCS was such that a stone cast at Storey's Gate rippled in ever-widening circles -- political, financial, civilian, diplomatic, scientific, military -- until it became, according to Helmuth Greiner, OKW's historian, "waves of confusing deceptions." The LCS also had the means, when necessary, to place a deceptive message directly on Hitler's desk within one half hour of its origination at Churchill's headquarters ....
....The members of the LCS were not concerned with the tactics of the war, nor with the execution of their deception schemes. Their task was wholly strategical, and their textbooks were the classics of history rather than of military science .... They had about them a certain Edwardian arrogance; they were men of intellect, charm, determination, ruthlessness and ambition. Their power was very great, as those who crossed them discovered, and above all, they were secretive. They did not intend that their existence or function should ever become known. In this, of course, they failed, just as they would fail to survive as a class. But for the time being they, like Churchill, exerted an extraordinary and powerful influence on the direction of the war. Indeed, if Churchill had not been Prime Minister, he would have been a member of the LCS.
....Hitler was not a strategical innocent. He was extraordinarily quick to spot a trick, but the LCS was aware that he was being badly served by his intelligence services. After his initial successes of 1940 and 1941, no potentate in history had more fallible "eyes and ears" than the Fuehrer. By 1943, the combined Anglo-American secret agencies had largely muzzled the Abwehr and the SD outside the borders of the German Empire. Hitler's cryptographic wireless intelligence services still worked well -- in some cases, extremely well, particularly in the naval sphere. But superior Allied wireless security systems ... successfully denied him an accurate and coordinated picture of Allied strengths and intentions. Further, his aerial reconnaissance services were, more often than not, restricted through Allied air superiority. As for his intelligence evaluation services, they were skilled and perceptive, but they suffered from two major defects; their sources of intelligence were unreliable and inaccurate, and even when they did manage to promulgate correct evaluations, Hitler tended to disregard them in favor of "trustworthy" -- party -- assessments. Nor did the German diplomatic services serve the Fuehrer well. Whatever sources of information he had in Britain and America were invariably under firm MI-5 or FBI control. And finally, there was always Ultra, which could be used to detect Hitler's reaction to any leak from the Allied camp.
The LCS had another major factor in its favor: the excellence of Britain's system of commercial, military and diplomatic communications. These global nets would enable the LCS to transmit its instructions on a fast, secure, reliable and synchronized basis. This meant, for example, that a story planted in diplomatic circles in Lisbon could be substantiated by a political move in Washington, a newspaper story from Stockholm, a military action along the Syrian-Turkish border, a calculated leak at Madrid, a rumor at Cairo, and the statement of a high commander at Delhi. Through these communications -- communications constructed to control the Empire -- Bevan had the means to ring his carillon at will.
But Bevan and the men of the LCS knew that their strategems would work only if there was watertight security on the Allies' own secrets. It was fundamental to successful deception that there be discretion and consistency in everything that was said and done. An impetuous statement, a wrong move, a penetrated cipher -- any one of a number of errors might serve to unmask a deception. If that occurred, the Germans could determine the truth from the substance of the falsehood, make a correct disposal of their forces and surprise the Allies. To ensure security, the truth of Allied intentions could only be made known to an extremely small group of Allied commanders. In short, it would sometimes be necessary to mislead a friend in order to deceive the enemy.
The success of a deception also demanded the most meticulous obedience to the LCS directives by all the personalities and agencies involved; and this, the LCS would find, was not so easily achieved, particularly with the Americans. On several important occasions, Americans, who could sometimes be told nothing of the reasons for their orders, questioned and even ignored them. It was a problem that would most often occur with American field operatives on the lower rungs. Although at the top the executives of the Allied secret agencies were united in the single objective of defeating the German secret agencies, at the lower levels they were sometimes at dangerous odds. There were, in some cases, intense rivalries between the secret agents of different governments, and even between operatives of the secret agencies of the same government.
Agents were sent into the field to serve not only the general interests of the Allies, but also the special interests of their governments. More often than not -- particularly where British and Russian agents were embroiled -- these interests did not coincide. Nowhere was this conflict more pronounced than in the Balkans and the Middle East, particularly in Turkey, where the British and Russian governments had been at odds for centuries .... British agents were struggling to preserve British hegemony in the area, and Russian agents were intriguing to destroy that influence and supplant it. At the same time, British agents of left-wing convictions worked with the Russians against the Americans while American agents worked with the Russians against the British. And in one singular instance a British agent was discovered to be working with the Germans against the Russians and the Americans -- a lonely man fighting the lost cause of old Europe. In all, the LCS acknowledged that it was dealing with a snake's-nest world where the safest policy was secrecy and silence.
....The object of the game for the LCS, and particularly for men like Bevan and Wingate, was not only the defeat of Hitler; it was also the preservation of the Empire and of Britain as a world leader. Who could foresee that in winning a great victory over the most proficient military machine in the world, the LCS and the secret bureaus of England would be unable to preserve the very entity they were sworn to maintain -- the power of London? That was the vast irony of the secret war.

*    Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, the High Command of the German Armed Forces - ed.
**    clickers -- ed.
*** "Bertram" was the codename of a deception operation conducted by the British to deceive Rommel prior to
       El Alamein -- ed.
Bodyguard of Lies is available from AMAZON
 XX Committee
...[E]stablished by the British director of military intelligence in September 1940 to coordinate the dissemination of false information. It was set up ... to operate what was known as the double-cross system. The aims of the XX, or Twenty, committee were: to control, as far as possible, the German espionage system in the UK; to catch new spies immediately they arrived; to acquire knowledge of the personalities, methods, codes, and ciphers of the Abwehr which operated the spies, and to obtain information about German plans and intentions from the questions asked by it; to influence German plans by the answers sent to these questions; and, finally, to deceive the Germans about British plans and intentions. Though the first of such committees it was by no means the only one. In total 21 were formed in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. For example ... there was a Forty Committee in Algiers which ran double agents furnished by the French Deuxieme Bureau.
The XX Committee was headed by an MI5 officer, J.C. Masterman and one of its members was Lt. Cdr Ewen Contagu of the Admiralty's Naval Intelligence Division. It assessed on a weekly basis what information could be passed to the Germans via their agents working under British control, and weighed the likely gains of doing so against the losses which could be caused by releasing it, a process likened by the chairman to handling dynamite.
....From 1940 onward the Abwehr attempted to establish a number of agents in Britain but ... they were all, with oen exception, rounded up. The exception was Jan Ter Braak whose body was found in a Cambridge air-raid shelter in April 1941 after he had committed suicide, probably because he had run out of money.
MI5 had files on about 120 double agents, some of whom operated outside the UK. Those who did not come up to scratch for one reason or another -- and they were the majority -- were imprisoned and some were hanged. Altogether sixteen spies were executed in the UK during the war, two of whom were British.
Among the early recruits two of the most successful were a Dane called Wulf Schmidt (TATE) and a well-connected Yugoslav named Dusko Popov (TRICYCLE). TATE, who was captured after landing by parachute in September 1940, became one of the XX-committee's most faithful wireless agents despite being a committed Nazi Party member .... The Germans also thought sufficiently highly of him to naturalize him by wireless so that he could receive the Iron Cross, First and Second Class, and he was also sent large sums of money (the whole double-cross system was almost entirely funded by the Abwehr.) TRICYCLE had been recruited by the Abwehr in Belgrade and then sent to London to collect intelligence. He, and the network of national agents he created, eventually became an important part of the XX-committee's deception plans, as did two other important double agents: a Spaniard called Juan Pujol (GARVO), who entered Britain in April1942, and a Polish air force officer called Roman Garby-Czerniawski (BRUTUS), who had been recruited by the Abwehr while heading the Interallie network in France ....
....In the middle of 1942 the double-cross system began to be employed as part of larger scale deception plans associated with deceiving the Germans about the timing and place of the Normandy landings .... GARBO, supported by BRUTUS and TATE, succeeded brilliantly in planting the necessary information. It was thought that the system was bound to be "blown" by this grand deception, but in two instances at least the Germans chose, after the Normandy landings, to act on information received from the XX-committee: the final phase of the German U-boat campaign ... and the targeting of V-weapons, where the Germans were persuaded to shorten the range so that many fell outside London.
The XX-committee has been criticized for being less professional than its counterpart in the Middle East, A-Force, and it was certainly helped in its task, wittingly or otherwise, by Abwehr officers who were either venal in the extreme or hostile to the Nazi regime. But its contribution to the success of the Normandy landings was undeniably an intelligence coup of the greatest strategic value.
Oxford Companion to World War II, Dear and Foot, eds. (1995)