ClandesTime 085 – WW2 Spies and Hyperreality
Mutt and Jeff were a pair of Norwegian double agents during WW2, named after the popular cartoon characters. They played a crucial role in deceiving the Nazi intelligence apparatus by taking part in false flag sabotage and deception operations. Several of these operations have very curious codenames including Operation GUY FAWKES and Operation BUNBURY. In this episode I dwell on the relevance of MI5 operations sourcing their codenames from historical and fictional figures. I also analyse how an episode of Spooks in 2002 foreshadowed the declassification of government documents on these WW2 operations, before asking if MI5 are suffering from hyperreality.
This might at first glance look like a bit of a stretch – what do WW2 spies and spying have to do with the concept of hyperreality, the inability to recognise the real from the artificial? Trust me, by the end of this episode the connection will be crystal clear. I have written about and talked about the subject of WW2 spies before, on the subject of Nazi Pigeons, the Double Cross System, false flag sabotage operations and of course Eddie Chapman, my favourite spy. I will be picking up on a lot of this material again today, but with quite a different analysis and conclusion in mind.
So let’s get everyone on the same page – the particular spying operations that I know about are, naturally, what British intelligence was up to. And they were up to all sorts of shenanigans. One interesting example is the activities of Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl and others working for British Security Co-ordination in New York. Among their various aims was to help bring the United States into the war, which was successful. The book The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington does a good job of reconstructing this, though it does try to present the story as though without these British spies tricking the Americans, the US would have never got involved in WW2.
The reality – that the US has been a war nation since its inception – escapes a lot of analyses by American authors seeking to blame others for the sheer belligerence of the US on the world stage. If you look through the list of wars involving the US, their involvement in wars as far away as the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean begins only a few years after the US became an independent nation. This notion of America being an isolationist country until the middle of the 20th century is simply bullshit, and anyone who says otherwise is simply denying basic historical facts. The first involvement of the US in Vietnam, for example, was in 1861, and was not the result of trickery by the British or the international bankers or the Jews or any of the other usual scapegoats. The US has never been a peaceful nation.
The case of British Security Coordination is important in this respect – the US government were 100% aware of what they were doing, and both the leaders of the OSS including Bill Donovan and the leaders of the White House including FDR approved and provided assistance. Hoover, who never trusted British intelligence (and why would he?) was basically on board but refused to let the FBI get involved. This may even have contributed to the reasons why no action was taken when British double agent Dusko Popov aka TRICYCLE warned the FBI that the Nazis were very interested in information on the defences at Pearl Harbor. It’s not as though the British withheld this information from the Americans, it is the Americans who failed to act on it.
The Double Cross System
Popov was part of the Double Cross System, a network of double agents being run by British intelligence. These were people who had been recruited by the German intelligence apparatus and subsequently been turned and were in reality working for the British government. This process, whereby Nazi spies were identified and scooped up and either turned into double agents or imprisoned, was so successful that the Double Cross System controlled every single spy that the Germans sent to the UK.
The spies were sent here for a variety of purposes – their handlers were very interested in weather reports, far more than would be necessary for developing invasion plans. Some agents were trained in sabotage techniques and told to blow up factories making fighter planes, or food storage warehouses and power stations. Yet more were told to report back about troop movements and the numbers and relative strength of the military forces. All of these spies were ultimately being controlled by the 20 Committee, a group within British intelligence.
Initially the primary purpose was counter-intelligence – stopping the Germans getting hold of important information. So the agents who were reporting back, occasionally in person but more often by secret writing and radio transmissions, sent back reports full of true but benign information – chickenfeed – with a few exaggerations and misleading bits thrown in for good measure. To try to dissuade a German invasion, the British made out that their forces were about 10% larger, faster and more lethal than they really were.
This evolved into a full-blown deception campaign, whereby German intelligence were repeatedly deceived particularly when it came to the Allied invasion of Europe. When the Allies decided to try to strike back and eventually re-take Europe from the Axis Powers they invaded from both the North and the South. They managed to fool the Germans into thinking that the Northern invasion would be through Norway. This never happened. In the run-up to the Allied invasion of Sicily they managed to convince the Germans that they would land in Greece and Sardinia, so the Germans reinforced those positions, in turn making the real move into Sicily that much easier.
Likewise in the run-up to D-Day, the full Allied invasion of Europe, the British duped the Nazis into thinking that there would be two attacks – an initial strike at Normandy and then a full assault and invasion at Calais. This included the creation of a fake army unit – the First US Army Group – and numerous false reports through the double agent network saying that this unit would try to take Calais. Once more the Germans were deceived and so they reinforced at Calais, pulling troops away from Normandy even after the attack at Normandy had begun.
Ian Fleming’s 30 Assault Unit benefited from this as it was their job to work behind enemy lines as a snatch squad. As the Allies advanced, this unit would infiltrate ahead of the line of battle into German-occupied territory and grab documents, equipment, enemy personnel and anything else of great intelligence value before it was destroyed or removed. Because the German presence in a lot of their target zones – including Sicily and Normandy – was lessened because they’d been fooled into thinking the real fight would be somewhere else, this made the work of the 30 Assault Unit considerably more straightforward. So you see how these operations conveniently dovetailed, sometimes by design but sometimes just due to the necessities and demands of war.
False Flags and Media Fakery
A few operations that were part of all this have cultural significance so I would like to examine these more closely. One involves prominent stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, the others involve two Norwegian agents who were codenamed after cartoon characters. In order to maintain the cover of these double agents, the Germans had to be convinced that they were still loyal and carrying out their missions, or at least trying to. In many cases this did not prove difficult – it seems the agent handlers were very keen to report up the chain that everything was going smoothly and their operations were a success. To an extent, the Nazis saw what they wanted to and thus were willing fools. However, the British went to great lengths to try to maintain this cover and perhaps the most interesting examples were the false flag sabotage operations.
When double agent Eddie Chapman aka ZIGZAG landed in the UK he was under orders to blow up the De Haviland aircraft factory, which was churning out large numbers of British military planes. Obviously one man cannot blow up an entire airbase and factory, but he could disable the power generators and thus disable production. One night Chapman and a group of British intelligence officers broke into the grounds and faked an attack on the power station, so aerial reconnaissance would show the appearance of a real attack. The photos from the MI5 files betray the theatrical element to all this, with holes painted on brick walls and the like, all of which was designed with the assistance of the magician Jasper Maskelyne. He spent the whole war working for various military and intelligence camouflage units.
Two other double agents from Norway were John Moe and Tor Glad, aka MUTT and JEFF. Mutt and Jeff was the name of a popular cartoon pairing. It began in 1907 and spawned both live action and animated films as well as stage shows and comic books. Honestly, I had never heard of this cartoon until I read about the spies but it is interesting that MI5 would choose to name agents like this. The influence of popular culture on the deep state is something even less examined than the influence of the deep state on popular culture.
The names of some of these operations also bear scrutiny, for they surely were not picked at random. One of these acts of false flag sabotage called for blowing up a food dump to try to make it look like MUTT and JEFF were still loyal and were carrying out their tasks. This went a bit wrong because shortly after the British agents had snuck in and set off some incendiary bombs, an ‘over zealous local policeman’ arrived and nearly arrested the officers. The fire was quickly put out, leaving enough evidence of the bombs that the police identified them as those used by the Special Operations Executive. In one MI5 report on MUTT and JEFF they note ‘This led to a very delicate situation in connection with the inquiry being made by Scotland Yard. Ultimately, however, the inquiry died out’. The codename given to this false flag bombing was Operation GUY FAWKES, possibly the first false flag patsy terrorist in British history.
A similar plan targeted a power plant, again to support the idea that MUTT and JEFF were carrying out sabotage attacks and that their German handlers could trust them. They requested money and equipment via their radio, so that British intelligence could test the quality of the equipment being provided by the Germans to their spies. According to the book The Double Cross System by JC Masterman – an Oxford academic who helped run the 20 Committee and run these agents – most of the equipment that the Germans dropped for Mutt and Jeff ‘was captured British material manufactured by SOE’.
This time the bombing itself went off without any problems and produced the desired effect in the form of German propaganda branding the bombing a huge success with one outlet even claiming that over 150 workers were killed at the plant. As Masterman explains, the operation was considered a huge success within MI5 as well:
It maintained and confirmed the reputation of two agents who were important on the information as well as the sabotage side; it obtained for us samples of German sabotage equipment available to the Germans; it gave us knowledge of their sabotage technique; and, by the publicity resulting from the operation, it provided a security stimulus in factories and public utilities in this country.
This idea of a ‘security stimulus’ gets to the heart of what MI5 learned, that a ‘stimulation of security consciousness’ was possible through these phony and false flag operations. In the MUTT and JEFF files this was presented only as something that came up in a meeting unexpectedly, but in Masterman’s book he lists it as an explicit objective of these types of plans. Hence, this directly connects these non-lethal sabotage bombings to lethal false flag terrorist bombings. In one report they conclude that ‘in cases like these, friends as well as enemies must be completely deceived’. So whether we count as a friend or an enemy doesn’t necessarily matter to them.
The name of this bombing at the power station was Operation BUNBURY. Here’s where things get a bit strange. The only reference I know to ‘Bunbury’ is in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, where one of the characters invents an unwell friend in the country as an excuse to escape from the city. So Bunbury isn’t a fictional character, even in the fictional realm of the play he doesn’t actually exist. From this we get the verb to ‘Bunbury’ or ‘Bunburying’ which means either to get out of something you don’t want to do by pretending you have to visit a sick friend, or (according to Urban Dictionary), ‘To galavant around under a false identity, usually performing various licentious and immoral acts‘. Obviously this latter meaning didn’t exist when MI5 named their operation, but why did they use this name? It was at the time slang for an invented person or something that you lie about, which is presumably why those chose it. But there again, it would only be a handful of people who were in on the joke, at least until decades later when they declassified the files.
Perhaps it was simply a reflection of how both sides were engaging in an intelligence battle where neither of them quite knew what was happening. The Germans could not be sure whether their agents were still loyal. MI5 could not be certain that their double agents were being taken seriously. A huge amount was riding on this, but both were taking a journey into the unknown, into a place where deception and reality start to merge and the one who navigates the confusion best will eventually win out. Thus, using the name of a non-existent fictional character for a deception operation is entirely appropriate.
Which brings us neatly onto the subject of hyperreality. Remember, these operations did not kill anyone, but some of them were real bombings that did real damage to real buildings. The deception was primarily in who was responsible, but sometimes it was in what had actually happened. The files on these cases and operations began to be released in late 2002, the Mutt and Jeff case was covered in a November 2002 BBC article titled Britain ‘bombed itself to fool Nazis’.
Six months earlier this declassification was foreshadowed in an episode of Spooks, a TV series I have discussed many times for its curious ability to predict almost everything that happens in this country with regards to the security services. This show predicted the Mark Stone case, where a Special Branch spy infiltrated an anarchist group and fell in love with one of them, the murder of Lee Rigby and Michael Adebolajo possibly being recruited by MI5, as well as the official and alternative versions of the 7/7 London bombings. The show was produced with the assistance of ‘ex spook advisors’ including Mike Baker formerly of the CIA, but the writer of several of these episodes had also hinted that they discussed storylines with MI5 themselves. Certainly some of the later seasons were granted permission to film the MI5 headquarters at Thames House, as was the spin off film Spooks: The Greater Good.
One interview with Mike Baker and the series’ executive producer Stephen Garrett reads:
Given the sensitive and ominous nature of current events, how do producers draw the line at injecting reality into the show?
“We don’t really,” Garrett said, citing an example of how much fact and fiction merge.
“We had a story about an extreme racist group stirring up trouble in high-immigrant areas to provoke the government into tighter legislation on immigration,” he said. “Our show was followed by the main BBC news show which lead with a story of an almost identical nature.”
Other articles have drawn attention to this phenomenon of Spooks predicting the future, it is clearly something the producers were trying to do and having consultants from the intelligence services had to be part of that. Homeland is the best recent example, but Spooks was essentially doing the same thing 10 years earlier.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they incorporated details from these little-known WW2 intelligence operations into a storyline only months before the files were declassified. In the last episode of series one an IRA terrorist named Patrick McCann walks into an MI5 safe house and tells them he wants to talk to the people in charge. He offers to tell them about a major terrorist attack on a nuclear power station if they allow his group to carry out a bombing in London unimpeded. The head of section B, Harry Pierce, refuses to go along with it but his second in command goes against orders. They decide to let the IRA gang plant the bomb and then sneak in and defuse it before causing the roof to collapse to make it look like the bombing was successful. They do this, successfully deceiving the IRA gang and getting the intelligence they need to prevent the attack on the nuclear power station.
So, I’ll play a little clip for you and then we’ll come back and look at the numerous parallels between this storyline and the real life spying operations in WW2.
So, let’s play spot the meme comparing that little clip to these WW2 operations we’ve been looking at today.
1) Attack on a Power Station, just like in Operation Bunbury.
2) Fake bombing, giving the appearance of a real attack and ‘the craters not the corpses’, just like in the faked attack on the De Havilland factory.
3) The aim of the fake attack is to convince an enemy that their attack has been successful so that they continue to provide information.
4) The McCann character is effectively a double agent whose superiors in the IRA don’t know he’s giving information to MI5, just like Mutt and Jeff and Eddie Chapman and Dusko Popov and the rest.
5) These are heavily comparmentalised operations where ‘friends as well as enemies must be completely deceived’.
6) There are two operations, the real one and the decoy, just like with the invasion of France at Normandy with the fake operation aimed at Calais.
7) Even the name ‘Section B’ is a real part of MI5, and the Double Cross System was run by a subsection B1A.
There can be little doubt that this episode is based on these WW2 operations, the details are just too consistent. One could also see this as in some way foreshadowing the 7/7 bombings, with an attack on a train station and a suicidal plot by Islamist fanatics. The train station they mentioned – Broad Street – is actually closed down because its functions have been taken over by Liverpool Street, one of the targets on 7/7. So we have an episode of a TV series portraying a fictional story based on a real MI5 operation using a fake bombing as a means of deception.
It’s no wonder people are confused.
As such, by accident or by design, this episode encourages the increasingly popular idea that terrorist attacks and mass shootings and indeed most news events in their entirety are somehow faked by the security services. From this perspective, no one really dies in these events and it’s all just crisis actors presumably paid by the state. A similar idea, of an exercise that goes live with fake media broadcasts and fake victims to give the appearance of a real attack, appears only a few episodes into season 2 of Spooks, and was also written by Howard Brenton.
So I have to ask, is this not only a fictional story based on a real MI5 operation using a fake bombing as a means of deception, but in fact a deception operation using a fictional story based on a real MI5 operation using a fake bombing as a means of deception? Much as I hate the nihilistic confusion of people who watch too much TV or youtube and have lost their grip on reality, I do understand why this happens. That a show like this would revel in it so much either says something pretty nasty about the writers or says something about their relationship with the intelligence services. Or Both.
Are MI5 suffering from hyperreality?
I have raised the question before of whether Phil Strub, the Pentagon’s Hollywood liaison, is suffering from hyperreality. He makes jokes about walking down the corridors of the Pentagon thinking ‘well, how would we deal with a 300 foot radioactive lizard?’, things like that. So I wonder whether MI5, or the people within MI5 who are responsible for entertainment propaganda, are also getting a bit confused. After all, they live in an state of constant uncertainty, where the lines of what is presumed real are shifting as operations develop, loyalties are rewritten and so on. Likewise they actively try to create reality, try to alter events through covert influence, take on false identities, lie as a matter of course.
So it would be no surprise to see them struggling to remember who they are and what the hell is going on. This is a recurring theme in Spooks, one that is played very sympathetically to the spies and thus something we can assume MI5 were very happy with. The character of Zoe, the beautiful female MI5 officer, has a whole storyline about this, thus engaging both the male and female audience members. So there are two potentially quite different ways of interpreting all this:
1) This is weaponised hyperreality – MI5 using this postmodern confusion to their own advantage, for their own ends.
2) This is MI5 inflicting their own ontological and political confusion onto us through a popular TV show.
Honestly, I don’t know which of these is the more plausible. Is this state-sponsored weaponised hyperreality or the deep state’s madness writ large on the population? Not an easy to question to answer, but a very important question to consider.
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