Agent Garbo

Juan Pujol Garcia was fed up with the Communist and Fascist regimes vying for control over Spain (and the rest of the world) during the Spanish Civil War. Determined to try to do something about it, Garcia and his wife reached out to U.S. and British intelligence agencies, offering to be a spy for the Allies. Sadly, despite Garcia reaching out a total of three times over a few years, all offers were declined.

Undeterred, Garcia decided that there were other ways he could help the Allies. Namely — be the best double agent of all time.

The Con

Garcia meticulously crafted an identity as a Nazi fanatic, and worked his way up the Spanish government. He made every effort to ensure that his persona would be exactly what the Germans wanted — he pretended he would regularly travel to London for business, he conned his way into a Spanish diplomatic passport by convincing someone in Lisbon that he was the Spanish ambassador to Lisbon, and he praised fascism whenever he could.

Once his new persona was appropriately established, Garcia found a German intelligence agent in Madrid, and convinced the agent that he wanted to become a spy for the Germans. Convinced, this chump gave Garcia extensive espionage training, as well as various other spy goods, and ordered Garcia to move to London and recruit a network of agents.

Instead of moving to London, though, Garcia decided to move to Portugal, where he convincingly faked reports to the Germans that looked like they came from England:

Armed with a copy of the Blue Guide to England, reference books (including one on the Royal Navy) and a few magazines he had found in his local library, he concocted impressive-looking reports written in such a way that they appeared to have been sent from London.

That’s right — he used some magazines and a guide book to fool the Nazi empire into thinking that he was training a network of German spies in England.

Of course, no one is perfect, and Garcia, having never lived in England, Scotland, or any nearby countries, made a few mistakes. One notable mistake was telling his German controller that he had found some Scottish men who would “would do anything for a litre of wine” — unaware that the Scottish preferred a different beverage. Luckily, the German controller didn’t know that either, and so Garcia was safe.

In other cases, Garcia would blame mistakes he made on his fake agents. And in some cases, Garcia would truly just YOLO. Because he did not understand England’s pre-decimal system of the time, he could not compute totals for any of his expenses. As a result, he would always only sent itemized expense reports, and would always say that he could send the total later.

The Allies Get Interested

Now that Garcia had achieved legendary status as giving the Nazis the ultimate okey-doke, he decided it was time to reach out to the Allies again.

Garcia was just getting started

The Allies had been aware that someone was wasting immense numbers of German resources with fake information, and so once they realized who Garcia was, they were all in.

It was at this point Garcia was given his codename, “Agent Garbo”, and it was at this point that the Nazi’s ankles really started to get broken.

Garbo and his British handler, a man named Tomas Harris, invented 27 different German agents who supposedly worked for Garbo. They developed a complete back story and personality for every one of these agents, and would send the “intelligence” gathered by each of these agents to the Germans.

Over this time, Garbo and Harris sent a total of 315 letters to the Germans, averaging 2,000 words, and each containing plenty of proclamations of the glory of fascism in addition to plenty of bullshit intelligence. The official assessment of the British Intelligence service after WW2 was that Garbo inundated the Germans with so much “intelligence” that the Germans were absolutely overwhelmed by it, and made no further attempt to infiltrate England as a result (since they had more info than they could already handle).

Deception isn’t easy

Of course, Garbo wouldn’t have been kept around by the Germans if everything he was feeding them was incorrect. So, Garbo and his MI-6 counterparts had to be very crafty about how they shared intelligence.

One famous instance of this was when the Allies were about to stage a massive operation in North Africa called “OPERATION TORCH”. Garbo knew the Germans would be suspicious if he did not report it. So, he wrote a report that one of his agents reported a massive troop and ship movement towards Africa (which was 100% factually correct), but timed it so that it arrived just too late to be useful. The Germans were impressed:

“We are sorry they arrived too late but your last reports were magnificent” — the German response

In another famous instance, he had to cover for not informing the Germans of a major troop movement. So, he pretended that one of his agents watching that area of England had fallen very sick. To further “prove” his innocence, he worked with MI-6 to place an obituary in the paper for the agent. The Germans were so convinced that they agreed to pay a pension to the deceased agent’s widow.

Operation Fortitude

The above is honestly all chump change compared to Garbo’s ultimate move. In late 1944, the Germans were convinced that the Allies were planning to invade occupied Europe (they were). However, the Allies’ big goal, as some of you may know, was to fool the Germans into thinking the attack would not be at Normandy.

To help with this deception, Garbo and his team sent over 500 messages between January 1944 and D-Day, at first mostly containing intelligence that the Allies did intend to attack, and then containing intelligence that the Allies would attack at Pas de Calais, the location Hitler had thought they would attack all along.

Many of Garbo’s fake messages over this time frame coincided with the massive sets of fake military equipment that the Allies set up around Europe to fool the Germans.

One of the inflatable “tanks” used by the Allies

What is most incredible though is that, even after D-Day happened, Garbo managed to convince the Germans that D-Day was just a distraction, and that the main attack was still to happen at Pas de Calais. Huge battalions of inflatable tanks and other fake military equipment, plus intentionally intercepted radio communications from the Allies, supported this as well, and led the Germans to leave 2 armored divisions and 19 infantry divisions stationed at Pas De Calais for months after D-Day.

For his efforts over this time frame, Garbo was actually awarded a German Iron Cross, which was one of the absolute highest military honors awarded to German soldiers, and had to be directly authorized by Hitler to be granted. He was also given $340,000 to continue to support his 27 agents.

Garbo you mastermind

In addition to the above, Garbo also managed to convince the Germans to give him their strongest hand encryption system, so he could communicate securely with them. This intel was handed over to Bletchley Park, and played a critical role in helping Alan Turing and his team break the Enigma machine (as was captured in The Imitation Game).

Because of this, and Garbo’s efforts related to D-Day, Garbo was one of the single most influential people in all of World War 2, and he was awarded one of England’s highest honors: The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

This makes Garbo one of the only, if not the only, person to receive honors from both sides of World War 2. And best of all? After the war, the Germans never realized they had been fooled by Garbo, and so Garbo’s German handler actually gave him his Iron Cross after the war ended, since during the war they were never physically together.

Garbo’s Final Years

After his time as the best double agent of all time, Garbo decided he should retire. He moved to Venezuela, where he had MI-6 help fake his death, so that he could live the rest of his life out peacefully.

Here’s a graph of the elaborate network he created during WW2: