WAR and ESPIONAGE
Best little known fact of history:
Italy, early 1948. The Popular Democratic Front, funded by black bags of lire dispensed by the Soviet Embassy in Rome, is poised to win a massive electoral victory and make Italy the first Communist country west of the Iron Curtain. The fledgling CIA, slow-footed and underfunded, is little help to the anti-Communist Christian Democrats.
The Holy See makes hurried plans to flee. Pope Pius XII first considers neighboring Spain, but is leery of Dictator Franco. The Pontiff looks around for a secure, heavily-Catholic redoubt in which to take refuge. He decides on Ireland.
Allen Dulles, former OSS honcho, gets wind of the coming debacle in Italy and passes the plate amongst his wealthy Wall Street pals. Millions of lire soon pour into the coffers of the Christian Democrats, who launch a vigorous counter campaign and barely win the Italian election in April of ’48.
And every son and daughter of the Old Sod’s fondest dream – an Irish Vatican – is dashed.
Worst little known fact of history:
In May of 1949, James Forrestal, the very first US Secretary of Defense — reeling from the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb explosion, the Communist victory in China and President Truman’s subsequent call for his resignation — was hospitalized in the Bethesda Naval Hospital for ‘depression and exhaustion.’
Days later he jumped from his 16th floor room to his death.
The much-lauded Marshall Plan to help the nations of Western Europe recover from World War II had a seamy underside, according to Evan Thomas in The Very Best Men.
(Frank Wisner was the head of the Office of Policy Coordination, the CIA’s first covert ops department.)
“Wisner had arranged to siphon off funds from the Marshall Plan. Under the plan Western European countries matched every dollar sent by the United States; up to 5 percent of that money – about $200 million a year – was to be set aside in local currency for the use of the United States. The money became a slush fund for OPC.”
OPC operatives passed out hundreds of cash-stuffed envelopes to politicos, newspaper editors and union leaders in the European campaign against Communism. And they lived the good life in ravaged Europe at the expense of hard-pressed taxpayers.
Best/worst ironic fact of history:
The stress of World War II apparently led to a breakdown of civility in Nazi Germany because, in 1942, Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels decreed that May would henceforth be known as The Month of Politeness.
“The initiative featured a contest with prizes given away to 40 of the most polite individuals.” – Mark R. McGee, Berlin, From 1925 to the Present
Best icon of the Nazi mindset:
The Zoo Flak Tower, in a corner of the Tiergarten, Berlin. The first of several flak towers built to combat enemy aerial bombardment.
Mounted on each corner of the roof were 120 mm cannon normally used on battleships. They were supplied by elevators that hauled shells from an underground munitions bunker. The floor below the roof garrisoned dozens of artillery gunners. The floor below that housed a hospital with multiple operating theatres.
Astonishing we ever beat the SOB’s.
Best/worst cynical summation of the futility of the OPC’s attempts at airdropping émigré agents, who were almost always discovered and executed behind the Iron Curtain:
“The only thing they’re proving is the law of gravity.” – Tom Polgar, aide to General Lucian Truscott, CIA
Runner-up: “On the other hand, we learned how not to do it.” – David Murphy, who supervised the airdrops for the CIA
Best indication that you have to sweat the small stuff in espionage:
“Some Nazi spies were caught by the NKVD in the Soviet Union because their phony Soviet passports contained German staples, made out of stainless steel, which did not rust like Russian staples.” – Tom Boyer, The Red Web
Best writing on the hideous complexity involved in counterintelligence:
The paragraph in quotes below is from Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer’s massive novel about the CIA. In this scene Hugh Montague, a CIA honcho, is schooling junior members on counterintelligence.
To understand this excerpt you need to know that Felix Dzerzhinsky founded the Cheka, the precursor to the KGB, in 1917. Later he recruited a monarchist conspirator, Alexander Yakovlev, by convincing him they could work together to undo the Bolshevik Revolution. He then fed Yakovlev, and his handlers in the West, a steady diet of plausible disinformation. This went on for years.
“It is fair to ask: How much of a double game was Dzerzhinsky playing with himself? What if Bolshevism should, indeed, fail? Was Dzerzhinsky looking to his own survival? Such motives may have been larger than Soviet history would lead us to believe. Go back to the primal night. Both men met, and an active, not a disinterested, seduction ensued. When a man seduces a woman, he may gain her not only by strength, but through his weakness as well. That can even be seen as the commencement of love – honest interest in the other’s strength and the other’s need. When seduction is inspired, however, by the demands of power, each person will lie to the other. Sometimes, they lie to themselves. These lies often develop structures as aesthetically rich as the finest filigree of truth. After a time, how could Yakovlev and Dzerzhinsky know when they were dealing with a truth or lie? The relationship had grown too deep. They had had to travel beyond their last clear principles. They could no longer know when they were true to themselves. The self, indeed, was in migration. That is the point to this analysis.”
– Norman Nailer, Harlot’s Ghost
“Here at last was the ‘final cause’ of Soviet penetration, its ultimate logic, the key to KGB strategy. Although the most obvious purpose of any Soviet mole was simply to relay secrets to Moscow Center, the most valuable type of secret was knowledge of how KGB disinformation was being interpreted, so that it could be tailored to Western perspectives. The penetration and disinformation agents were to work in tandem: the ‘outside’ men supplying the disinformation, and the ‘inside’ reporting what was thought of it. If operating successfully, that feedback loop would leave Western intelligence agencies, and their sponsor governments, completely at the mercy of the KGB—unable to distinguish falsehood from fact.”
– Mark Riebling, Wedge, From Pearl Harbor to 9/11
“The Krauts inserted dozens of spies into England during the war,” I said. “The Brits turned every one. But that’s not the point, their…”
“How?” said The Schooler.
“How did the Brits turn them?”
“Uh, most were turned by capture, a few gave themselves up. And some just plain liked to play the game.”
“What game is that?”
“The double cross game,” I said. “But their Kraut spy-masters in Berlin never sniffed it out. They kept believing the horseshit troop movement and industrial production reports their agents sent back. Kept believing them right through Normandy, right up to VE Day.”
The Schooler ran the back of his index finger across his cheek. “You said there was a point.”
“Yeah. Loyalty is for saps.”
– John Knoerle, A Pure Double Cross