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Authors: Juan Pujol Garcia

Operation Garbo

BOOK: Operation Garbo
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T
his book could not have been completed without the kind assistance of the following, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude:

Colonel Roger Hesketh, who gave generous access to his authoritative
FORTITUDE, A History of Strategic Deception in North-Western Europe, April 1943 to May 1945
. This important book, published in 1999 as
FORTITUDE: The D-Day Deception Campaign
, is an essential reference work for any student of wartime intelligence operations.

Tony Tobella, who spent many hours with
GARBO
translating
his experiences from Catalan and Castilian Spanish into English.

Bill Risso-Gill, who allowed us to reproduce his father’s photograph and offered invaluable information concerning his father’s wartime activities as
GARBO
’s first British case officer.

Major General P. R. Kay of the Ministry of Defence’s D Notice Committee, who gave us his guidance.

Various former members of the wartime Security Service (MI5) and Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) who were directly concerned with
GARBO
’s case. For obvious reasons none can be publicly thanked for their contribution.

L
ate in May 1984 a group of retired intelligence officers gathered in the drawing room of the Special Forces Club in London to be reunited with a spy reported dead in 1959. None was certain that the man they hoped to meet would really be the double agent they had known by his wartime code name,
GARBO
.

GARBO
’s extraordinary contribution to the Allied victory is well documented. There is hardly a textbook on the subject of strategic deception that fails to mention this remarkable
individual
. But no author has ever succeeded in penetrating the wall of secrecy that MI5, the British Security Service, constructed around their star performer. His true identity remained as closely guarded in 1984 as it was at the end of the war, when elaborate arrangements were made to protect him for the rest of his life.

My own search for
GARBO
began in 1972 when I read Sir John Masterman’s account of MI5’s double agents,
The Double Cross System in the War of 1939–1945
(Yale University Press, 1972), and I was impressed by his observation that
GARBO
had been ‘something of a genius’ and had displayed a ‘masterly skill’. Indeed,
GARBO
was the agent singled out for particular praise: ‘Connoisseurs of double-cross have always regarded the
GARBO
case as the most highly developed example of their art.’ Unfortunately, Masterman gave only minimal clues as to his true identity, so there was little opportunity to pursue the matter further.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the Spaniard known only as
GARBO
. Why that choice of code name? What had become of him after the war?

According to Sefton Delmer, the veteran journalist who recounted
GARBO
’s adventures in
The Counterfeit Spy
(Hutchinson, 1973), ‘he set up a prosperous public relations firm along with an import and export business’ in Angola. But ‘suddenly in 1959…’
GARBO
‘succumbed to another attack of malaria. And this time it killed him’. Or did it? Was it really likely that such an expert in self-preservation would die, ignominiously, running a small business in a corner of Portuguese Africa? I had my doubts, and whenever I tracked down a former wartime MI5 officer I always inquired about
GARBO
’s whereabouts. Unfortunately,
GARBO
’s principal MI5 case officer, Tomás Harris, had been killed in a car accident in Majorca in January 1964. His wife Hilda, who had also known
GARBO
well, had died soon afterwards. Sefton Delmer was also dead, and although his son, Felix, told me that he believed his father had discovered
GARBO
’s real name, he had evidently confided in no one. Nor had he committed it to paper. Even those officers who had spent most of the war supervising double agent operations knew
GARBO
only by his code name. The ‘need-to-know’ rule had worked perfectly. All had been aware of
GARBO
’s extraordinary achievements, but none seemed to know his real identity, or what had become of him. It was not until I interviewed Anthony Blunt, in May 1981, that I was at last put on the right track.

Eighteen months earlier the distinguished art historian had been exposed publicly as a former Soviet spy and had been stripped of his knighthood. Apart from attending a short press conference, Blunt had avoided discussing his treachery with anyone. In April 1981, while putting the finishing touches to my history of the Security Service, I had written to him requesting an interview. Blunt had spent five years serving in MI5 during the war and I was anxious to hear his version of events. I knew that even before Blunt’s exposure he had always refused to talk about his work for the Security Service. His usual excuse had been his fear of the Official Secrets Act. But to my surprise,
Blunt had agreed to meet me and invited me to his London flat. Apparently, some of his former colleagues in MI5 had urged him to see me. He imposed only one condition: that our meetings should remain secret until his death, as should certain items of information which he undertook to confide in me.

I knew that Blunt had been a close friend of Tommy Harris and had known something of his collaboration with
GARBO
. That much was clear from an introduction he had written in 1975 to an exhibition of Harris’s art at the Courtauld Institute Galleries. Blunt, who had then recently retired as director of the Courtauld Institute, had offered a brief biography of Harris, and, in doing so, had mentioned his involvement with
GARBO
:

At the outbreak of war Tomás joined the war office, where his intimate knowledge of Spain was of great value. His greatest achievement, however, was as one of the principal
organisers
of what has been described as the greatest double-cross operation of the war – ‘Operation
GARBO
’ – which seriously misled the Germans about the Allied plans for the invasion of France. … After the invasion of France one of the
highest
commanders said that the
GARBO
operation was worth an armoured division.

I had a series of lengthy conversations with Blunt during which he recalled his war work and, without prompting, he told me of the single occasion he had dined with
GARBO
. The two men had been introduced by Tommy Harris in 1944, at Garibaldi’s Restaurant in Jermyn Street. Blunt still enjoyed a tremendous memory for detail. He even remembered that
GARBO
had been using the name Juan or Jose García. This was no great help as García is a very common name in Spain, but nevertheless I felt some progress had been made.

My hunt for
GARBO
stalled temporarily, but only until March 1984 when I received a fascinating note from a retired British Secret Intelligence Service officer living abroad. He wrote to
elaborate on an incident I had mentioned briefly in my history of MI5. I acknowledged his letter and, since I knew he had once served in a wartime counter-intelligence section dealing with Spanish matters, I included my customary query
concerning
GARBO
.

To my delight, the officer replied that he had actually met
GARBO
and knew his true name. He added that he had no idea whether
GARBO
was alive or dead, or where he might be located. Dropping everything, I flew to meet my contact and explained what Anthony Blunt had disclosed to me. My new informant told me that
GARBO
’s full name was Juan Pujol García and confirmed that he had only used his mother’s maiden name, García, while in England during the war. Unfortunately, he could shed little light on his possible whereabouts, but suggested Barcelona as a starting point, because the Pujol García family had originated from the Catalan capital.

The Barcelona telephone directory contains the names of literally hundreds of Pujol Garcías so, undaunted, I employed a local researcher, Jose Escoriza, to do some detective work for me. He and his family had given me invaluable assistance with my research in the past, and on this occasion he
undertook
to ring every number listed in the telephone book and ask two short elimination questions, concerning the age and the wartime occupation of every Juan Pujol García listed. Was he in his late sixties or early seventies, and had he spent some time in London during the war? A negative to either of these two queries would rule out the candidate. In case of a
positive
result, I had a longer list of supplementary questions. Had he known someone named Tommy Harris? Had he received a decoration from the British government? Did he recognise the code name
GARBO
? Answers to these questions would surely identify the right Juan Pujol García. After a week of repetitive calling no result had been achieved, and we had exhausted all the Pujol Garcías with the initial J. But, before going further, my resourceful helper made a significant comment: ‘Every
time I call I ask the same question, and I usually get the same response,’ he explained. ‘But there was one exception. I spoke to one person, who I could tell was too young to be our target, who kept on asking me questions. After so many abortive conversations, this one stands out in my mind as being quite different, but I can’t explain how.’

I asked Jose to trace his notes on this particular Pujol García and to talk to him again. On the second call the recipient behaved in a very suspicious manner. He demanded to know who was delving into the past, and why. Escoriza explained that he was trying to trace a wartime hero for a friend from England. This news went down well, and on the third approach the young Catalan confirmed that his uncle, Juan Pujol García, now in his early seventies, had indeed spent much of the war in London. Unfortunately, he had not seen his uncle for twenty years. And at that time he had been living somewhere in South America.

To me, this was excellent news. It meant that if the uncle was truly
GARBO
, he had been seen alive some years after his officially reported demise. Further persuasion elicited the
information
from the nephew that Juan Pujol García had last been heard of in Venezuela, but there was no address or telephone number. I immediately engaged a television researcher based in Caracas to find
GARBO
and, ten days later, after a laborious search, he supplied me with a telephone number belonging to Pujol’s son. If I rang at a prearranged time I could speak to the elusive Juan Pujol García. This I did, and I asked the voice at the other end my series of prepared questions, the answers of which I believed would only have been known to
GARBO
. Juan Pujol García answered them all correctly and even volunteered some additional information. Certainly, he had spent much of the war in London … in Hendon. Yes, he had been a good friend of Tommy Harris and had known his three sisters, Violetta, Conchita and Enriqueta. Yes, he still possessed the medal awarded to him by the British government in 1944. So this was indeed
GARBO
, albeit several thousand miles away.
Somewhat hesitantly, he agreed to meet me the following week. Our rendezvous was to be New Orleans. There, on Sunday 20 May 1984, I first met my quarry, the spy I had spent over a decade tracing. It was only a matter of days away from the fortieth anniversary of the D-Day landings, the invasion that
GARBO
had done so much to help.

The rest of what transpired is now well known and was reported in dozens of newspapers around the world. Later in the month he flew to London to attend a private audience with HRH The Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace, and then went on to see some old comrades at the Special Forces Club. Among those present were Colonel T. A. Robertson, the MI5 officer who had been responsible for the Security Service’s wartime double agent operations; Colonel Roger Hesketh, the mastermind behind
GARBO
’s campaign of strategic deception; Cyril Mills,
GARBO
’s first MI5 case officer (whom he only knew as Mr Grey); and Desmond Bristow, a retired SIS man who had attended
GARBO
’s initial interrogation upon his arrival in England. On 6 June 1984,
GARBO
travelled to Normandy to tour the invasion beaches and pay his respects to those who gave their lives to free Europe from the Nazis. Both the reunion in London and the visit to France were profoundly emotional experiences. Wherever
GARBO
went he was thanked for his unique
contribution
and asked the same questions: Why did you do it? How did you manage it? What follows is the full story.

GARBO
has written chapters one to four, then I have explained the London end in chapter five;
GARBO
has then continued in chapters six and eleven and I have filled in the details in chapters seven, eight, nine, ten and the epilogue. Finally, in an appendix, Roger Hesketh has detailed the full significance of
GARBO
’s outstanding achievement.

Nigel West

BOOK: Operation Garbo
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