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Post Juan Pujol Garcia, Double Agent
Created by John Eipper on 07/10/19 6:26 AM

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Juan Pujol Garcia, Double Agent (Boris Volodarsky, Austria, 07/10/19 6:26 am)

I want to suggest a very brief addition to the post of José Ignacio Soler (9 July) concerning the Agent "Garbo." The documentary film is all right, but to learn the real story one should of course read something more reliable than the accounts produced by Nigel West.

The Catalan businessman Juan Pujol García was indeed the most successful of all the double agents, who was initially recruited by SIS. After fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the Rebels' side, he was left with a loathing of both Fascism and Communism, and decided to spy for the British. He first offered his services to MI1c, as SIS was known at the time, in Madrid in January 1941 but was turned down. He then approached the Abwehr, German military intelligence service, told then he was travelling to England and was taken on as Agent ARABEL. He got no further than Lisbon, from where claiming to be in England he dispatched to his German masters plentiful disinformation on non-existent British troop and naval movements.

His messages were intercepted by GC&CS and passed over to SIS Section V and specifically to the Iberian subsection headed by Kim Philby and located in St Albans, Hertfordshire, England. A small Section V team with Philby and his deputy Desmond Bristow spent quite some time and effort to identify Pujol as the author of these reports, which were decrypted by Bletchley Park, and by February 1942 they got their man and a month later Ralph Jarvis of Section V in Lisbon recruited him as a double agent.

In April 1942 SIS brought Pujol to England and was transferred for further handling to the joint SIS-MI5 team with Tommy Harris of MI5, a close friend of Philby, appointed his case officer. The role of a double agent, as performed by Garbo, was not dangerous but demanded considerable ingenuity from the backing team and naturally the agent's personal qualities. During 1944, for example, some 113 double agents were operating under Section V's control. To make a long story short, Pujol is the only secret agent awarded Iron Cross (Second Class) by Berlin and MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by London. Bristow last met Pujol at a D-Day reunion at Gold Beach memorial in Normandy in 1984.

Especially for JE: a particularly good example of a double-cross operation run by SIS was that on an agent only known as "Ecclesiastic," a glamorous twenty-two-year-old Polish woman living in Lisbon. After working for Polish intelligence targeting Italian diplomats, she was recruited by SIS and by June 1944 started feeding "foodstuff"--deception information--to the Abwehr. She continued to operate very successfully until the end of the war.

JE comments:  So Garbo was feeding disinformation to the Germans even before he officially became a double agent?  This is fascinating "foodstuff" for thought.  How could the Germans have been so naïve as to believe the fake intelligence was coming from Lisbon and not London?

Boris, has a history been written on Lisbon as a center of WWII espionage?

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  • "Garbo," Double Agent Extraordinaire (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 07/12/19 3:34 AM)

    A short comment and correction to Boris Volodarsky's post on Garbo (July 10th).

    According to the sources I found, he was not a really a "businessman" before the Spanish Civil War or WWII. In fact he came from a modest family with liberal beliefs and a strong dislike for totalitarianism in general. He only became a businessman after the war in his "retirement" in Venezuela with the money earned as a double agent, both from the British and especially the Germans.

    Second, he did fight on the Rebel side during the SCW as well as on the Republican side, apparently for accidental reasons. This happened to many other Spaniards during the war, but Pujol did not fire a single bullet for either side and successfully survived both.

    The above facts reveal a more interesting and baffling aspect of the personality and determination of Pujol's character.

    In fact, when he was alive nothing in his appearance or attitude ever revealed his relevance as an outstanding personality. On the contrary he seemed timid and kept to himself. Even to his Venezuelan family he kept his former life as a double agent secret, before he was discovered by the British journalist.

    JE comments:  Blessed are the meek, as they shall make the best spies?  We can no doubt attribute Pujol's survival to his ability to keep his mouth shut.

    I'm still curious how Pujol/Garbo could trick the Germans into thinking a transmission from Lisbon was coming from London.  Wouldn't they have had other agents keeping an eye on him?

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    • How Did "Garbo" Hoodwink the Germans? (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 07/13/19 5:45 AM)

      JE wrote on July 12th: "I'm still curious how Pujol/Garbo could trick the Germans into thinking a transmission from Lisbon was coming from London. Wouldn't they have had other agents keeping an eye on him?"

      Well, no. As I said, Philby contacted SIS head of station in Lisbon, Ralph Jarvis, and Ralph arranged a meeting between his best local agent, Gene Risso Gill, and Pujol in a café in Estoril, north of Lisbon. Risso Gill later remembered, "Never before or since have I been so nervous as I was at that first interview with Juan Pujol... I though every German agent was watching me and everybody around the area and in the café was a German agent." This, however, was not the case in spite of a great activity of the Abwehr in Lisbon. Answering another query of JE, Lisbon was not the centre of espionage in Iberia.  Gibraltar was, and besides no one expected to see Pujol in Portugal as he was supposed to be in London.

      How could he deceive the Germans? Pujol explained to several SIS and MI5 officers who interviewed him that he collated his fictitious reports from British guidebooks, maps and newspapers.

      As soon as he arrived in London, Pujol was introduced to his future MI5 case officer Tomás (Tommy) Harris. After a day of intensive interviews conducted together with Desmond Bristow of SIS Section V, Harris told Bristow: "Desmond, he is obviously Arabel, but I do find it hard to believe such an outwardly simple man still has the Germans fooled and had us worried for so long. He is such a dreamer and so willing, he is going to be a marvelous double agent to operate with as long as the Germans continue to swallow his communications."

      In 2000 the National Archives in Kew published Pujol's case file written by his MI5 case officer. "In 1941," Harris recorded in the file, "little were the Germans to know that the small meek young Spaniard who then approached them and volunteered to go to London and engage in espionage on their behalf would turn out to be an important British agent. Still less were they to discover that the network which they instructed him to build up in the United Kingdom was to be composed of 27 characters who were nothing more than a figment of the imagination."

      The deception worked, as we know, and that led many authors, including Nigel West who "discovered" Pujol in 1984 and Stephan Talty, whose book our friend José Ignacio Soler probably read, to call Garbo "The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day."

      JE comments:  As José Ignacio Soler wrote from the outset, if the Garbo story were a work of fiction, we simply wouldn't suspend our disbelief.  Imagine the mental discipline and nerves of steel you'd need to construct a spy network of 27 imaginary friends.

      Boris Volodarsky sent this photo of a 1984 reunion at Normandy between Pujol (left) and Bristow.

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