WAR II’S GRE ATEST SPY*
Who Was the Greatest Spy of World War II? By that I don’t mean
the most colorful, the most James Bondlike, the most romantic, or the
most skilled tradecraftsman. I mean the most eﬀective. I mean the
spy who most aﬀected the course of the war.
Some will say it was Richard Sorge—the motorcycle-riding, wom-
anizing, blue-eyed German secret Communist in Japan who concealed
his spying by freelancing as a newspaper and magazine correspondent.
After Adolf Hitler attacked Russia, Sorge had to learn what Japan
would do. Would the empire move north to strike its traditional enemy
from behind while in a life-and-death struggle, or would Japan move
south, toward oil and the white man’s empire in Asia? And indeed, at
the end of September 1941, Sorge reported, “e Soviet Far East can
be considered safe from Japanese attack.”
But his achievement was not unalloyed. Russian codebreaking had
revealed that Japanese troops were not moving north. Moreover, neces-
sity drove Joseph Stalin to pull troops out of the Far East to ﬁght the
Germans approaching Moscow. Sorge’s inﬂuence is thus at best clouded,
so he therefore cannot stand clearly as the greatest spy of World War II.
How about Juan Pujol, code-named “Garbo”? is thirty-two-year-
old anti-Fascist Spaniard had promised the Germans that he could
provide them information from England, where he would be going for
business reasons. Once there, he convinced the British that he could
serve them as a double agent. And indeed, under their tutelage he
fed the Germans information that was accurate but insigniﬁcant, or
assumed to be already known to them.
en, when their trust had solidiﬁed, he radioed them the big lie:
that the Anglo-American assault on Normandy served merely as a
* From MHQ: e Quarterly Journal of Military History, 20 (Autumn 2007), 28–33.
WO RLD WA R II' S G RE ATES T SP Y
feint for the main invasion, which would come farther north, oppo-
site Dover, in France’s Pas de Calais. e Germans believed him.
His report sped to Berlin and back down to the Western Front—
where four divisions were held in northern France to await what the
Germans thought would be the real assault.
is certainly contributed to the success of the invasion, and may
even be said to have driven the ﬁnal nail into the deception plan.
However, it was indeed only one nail in a huge operation. Valuable as
Garbo was, he cannot be regarded as the greatest spy of the war. At
best, he conﬁrmed a German misconception; he did not create it.
A couple of Germans deﬁed the Gestapo and delivered information to
Allen Dulles, the Oﬃce of Strategic Services spymaster in Switzerland.
Hans Bernd Gisevius, a counterintelligence agent operating under cover
as a vice consul in Zurich, reported, for example, that the Germans were
preparing two types of missiles—later called V-l and V-2—that enabled
the Allies to understand seemingly contradictory intelligence reports.
However, this information was provided after British aerial photo-
graphs had found the installations in Peenemünde. Fritz Kolbe code-
named “George Wood,” a staﬀer under a high Foreign Oﬃce oﬃcial,
passed photographs of diplomatic messages to Dulles. ey described
the V-weapons, the Reich’s transportation problems, the Volkssturm,
and the so-called Alpine redoubt. His biographer has called Kolbe
“the most important spy of World War II.” A more sober assessment
by historian Christoph Mauch says that “When it was realized how
valuable the material presented by Wood really was, a good portion of
its signiﬁcance had already been lost.”
On the Axis side, “Cicero” holds pride of place. He was an Albanian
swindler, Elyesa Bazna, who had wormed himself into a job as butler
for the British ambassador to Turkey. In the fall of 1943, he copied
the diplomat’s key to his safe, took secret documents from it, photo-
graphed them, and sold the ﬁlms to the Germans. Turkey, a World
War I ally of Germany and an old enemy of Russia, could threaten
Allied control of the Mediterranean, but Allied advances precluded
any signiﬁcant action based on this inside information. Cicero’s infor-
mation, though interesting, did not matter.
No, I believe the greatest spy was one who worked before the war
but whose information aﬀected that conﬂict more than any other
secret agent. His name is… but that is getting ahead of my story.