Continuing our exploration into the origins and development of false flag operations, this week we look at World War 2 and the British Double Cross System. Run by an Oxford academic, this system was set up to detect Nazi agents as they landed in Britain and turn them into double agents working for the British. To help maintain the cover the Special Operations Executive carried out false flag sabotage attacks, to give the appearance that the agents were still loyal to the Nazis and carrying out their missions. Using MI5 documents from the period this episode examines how senior security service officials discussed how these bombings caused a useful ‘stimulation of security consciousness’ which in turn caused an ‘increase in security’, just like the Gladio operations that came in the following decades.
So, as I mentioned last time, I thought that today it would be fun to look at some slightly less depressing events from World War 2 – events that in themselves are a tiny irrelevance given that they took place during a war in which 10s of millions were killed, but which for our purposes are an important part of the story of how we got to where we are today.
What events am I talking about? I’m talking about false flag sabotage operations carried out in Britain by the British security services. While a lot of people are aware of what the Special Operations Executive and the OSS were up to in France, for example, fighting the German occupation there, very little attention is paid to what was going on inside Britain itself. After all, we were on the winning side, so the British military and intelligence services must have been heroes, right? They must have been on the side of good because they were fighting against the evil Nazis, right? Wrong. Absolutely wrong.
Just as in the US, the British state used WW2 as their excuse for creating new institutions, massive permanent military and intelligence agencies the like of which had never been seen before in either country’s history. Of course one could apply the same to other countries, I’m just saying the US and UK are the two I know a lot about. Here in the UK Churchill gave the famous order to ‘set Europe ablaze’ and the first military special forces and paramilitary intelligence units were created. The SAS, the SBS who Martin McDaid apparently worked for, the Special Operations Executive which became the black ops division of MI6 – all were founded in the early phase of World War 2.
And this is one of the tragedies of history – being in a war means being more ruthless than the other side. That’s how you win a war, usually. Not always. So if you’re in a war against something like the Nazi system, or the Soviet Union, then you end up becoming more like your enemy in order to confront them. You have to, to some extent, try to defeat them on their own terms. Nazi Germany, in a few short years, created a military industrial complex. And in truth plenty of people in Britain, in the rest of Europe and in the US were quite happy with that and were negotiating and doing business with Nazi Germany, right up until the point that they stopped. And I will say at this point – I don’t buy this meta-conspiracy theory that all of this, on all sides was the result of one small group, usually either the Wall Street bankers or the roundtable groups. I think the reality is that people are willing to trade with people whose beliefs they think are stupid or vile, and war is usually a short-term exception to this. The general trend is for trading with your enemy in peacetime. And I don’t think that is a result of an overriding conspiracy, because it’s always been the case.
In any case, Nazi Germany created this awesome, terrifying military industrial complex, and in response the other major world powers did likewise. In the 20th century, this was the true war – a war of technological development of superior weaponry, and a war of producing weaponry on an industrial scale. In order to facilitate all that you need aggressive, centralised, authoritarian institutions. Hence the Ministry of Defence over here, the Department of Defense over in the US, the Special Operations executive which became part of what we now call MI6, the OSS which became permanent in the form of the CIA. Note the important thing – none of this is ideological, as such. Or rather, inasmuch as it is ideological, all the major powers belonged to the same ideology – of centralised authority as a means of using industrial economies to fund military-industrial complexes.
So that, for me at least, is the big picture. And I will say that morally speaking I often feel quite unwell when I see this ludicrous WW2 propaganda that is still regularly pushed on us in this country. The way the British and American soldiers are always portrayed as these brave men fighting on the side of democracy and moral good. The reality is quite different. My dad once told me this story which I think illustrates this quite well. One of his neighbours is a German academic, and on this street where they live all the houses have, a few feet from the front doors just as the edge of the pavement, these stone gateways, a pair of posts about 3 feet high. All the houses have them and they’ve all got this iron hinges buried into the stone so you hook a gate that hangs between the two stone posts. So one day this German neighbour asks my dad why it is that all the houses on the street have these gate posts and hinges, but none of them actually have gates. Well, my father replies, there’s no easy way to say this but during WW2 the government took all those iron gates, melted them down and dropped them on Dresden.
So that’s the reality, and just because I was born on this lump of rock and feel at home here doesn’t mean I have any desire to heroise murdering Germans. Or whoever else, for that matter. All this ‘proud to be British’ stuff is just moronic to me, I don’t feel proud of being British. I feel somewhat fortunate to be British because even if you’re poor you still have a pretty good standard of life in this country, and culturally speaking I do feel British, but I’m not especially proud of that, it’s just a fact of where I was born and grew up. I imagine if I’d been born in China then my tastes for Chinese culture would be just as prominent. Not that I’m trying to be a relativist, more a subjective absolutist. In the words of Popeye, I am what I am.
And with that rather meandering prelude out of the way, today we’re going to look at the Double Cross system, a domestic counter-intelligence system run by British security services. This system was run by the 20 Committee, so called because in Roman numerals the number 20 is XX, or a double cross. This committee was run by an Oxford academic called John Cecil Masterman, who later wrote a book about it all called The Double Cross System. I can thoroughly recommend it, as well as the much more recent and more entertaining series by Ben Macintyre. Of course, both books tell this as a story of heroic British spies cleverly outwitting ze Germans but if you ignore that they are otherwise very informative and readable.
So what did the Double Cross system do? As the Germans expanded and invaded various parts of Europe they began sending agents into Britain, to find out information on troop movements, to carry out acts of sabotage, that sort of thing. The British intelligence response to this was to detect the German agents as they arrived, or shortly afterwards, and turn them, making them double agents. These doubles would then be used to send fake information, disinformation, back to their German handlers.
This system was so effective that every single Nazi agent who landed in this country was turned and became a double agent, or was captured and became a prisoner of war. Section B1A – the counterintelligence division supported by MI5 who were tasked with finding and recruiting Nazi agents in Britain, was extremely successful. Translate that to peacetime and one wonders who else they’ve managed to recruit in the decades since then.
I will admit, my favourite spy story of all time does come from this period and from the work of the 20 Committee. Not because I’m particularly impressed by their counter-intelligence skill, but just because one of these double agents was an absolutely hilarious man, namely Eddie Chapman, codenamed agent Zigzag. Chapman was a safecracker, a criminal, and he was imprisoned on the isle of Jersey when it was invaded by the Germans. They recruited him as an agent, trained him up and parachute-dropped him into Britain.
And to give you a sense of this man I’m going to play for you a clip from a BBC documentary about Eddie Chapman. It was presented by Ben Macintyre, the author I mentioned earlier, and includes clips from an interview with Eddie Chapman in the 1990s, shortly before he died.
You can watch the whole documentary, which I do recommend, on my vimeo channel under the title BBC Timewatch Eddie Chapman. It goes on to explain how Chapman offered to work for MI5 and how he remained a double agent for the rest of the war, and was so successful that the Germans awarded him the Iron Cross, a high honour, even though all this time he was suggesting to MI5 that he could assassinate Hitler in a suicide bombing.
Where Chapman’s story gets interesting for students of false flags and other disguised attacks, is the way in which MI5 hoodwinked German intelligence into thinking he was still on their side. Naturally, when they turned agents they used the radio equipment that the agents brought with them to send messages back to the Germans to keep them fooled.
However, they also carried out sabotage attacks on targets in Britain to give the appearance of the agents carrying out their missions. And when I say sabotage, it is what might now be called terrorism – fire bombs, explosives – no one was killed but it is still a very risky business setting a Ministry of Food warehouse on fire, that sort of thing.
They also outright faked some attacks. As mentioned in that clip I just played, Chapman’s main mission was to blow up the De Haviland aircraft factory. So when he was recruited by MI5 as a double agent they had to either blow up the factory themselves to make it appear like Chapman had done it, or at least fake it well enough that the Germans could be convinced.
The De Haviland factory was considered too valuable an asset to actually blow up for real, unlike power stations and food storage depots and suchlike. So they had to fake it. One night Chapman and a team of security service guys snuck into the aircraft factory and made a bit of a mess and set up props and camouflage to make it look like the power generators at the factory had been bombed. When the Germans photographed the factory from the air using a spy plane, the photos look like a large explosion had gone off. So they believed that Chapman had completed his mission and was still under their control.
Where that gets really curious is that in order to carry out this tomfoolery they enlisted the help of an illusionist, a stage magicians, Jasper Maskelyne, who was working for the Army on these sorts of deception techniques. So that is a stone cold example of the security services just faking an event and controlling the media coverage in order to fool an enemy. However, no one died, no one was said to have died in these operations so we should bear that in mind in drawing parallels with what’s going on, and not going on, in the present day.
A different story from the Double Cross system is that of Mutt and Jeff, two Norwegians who also became double agents. Their real names were John Moe and Tor Glad, and when the Nazis invaded Norway they, like a lot of countries, decided not to fight. In fact, a lot of the countries that did that actually came out of WW2 relatively unscathed and with much smaller military industrial complexes. Something to consider.
These two guys were recruited by German intelligence, and went along with it a bit like Chapman, because it was a way of getting out of a bad situation. So they were trained, flown out of Stavanger by seaplane, dumped in the water in a rubber dinghy somewhere in the North Sea and from there they rowed ashore, landing in Aberdeenshire, in Scotland.
They were carrying a wireless radio for sending back reports, £200 in British currency, $220 in American currency, chocolate, clothes, toiletries, a belt and razor containing fuses for bombs, ammunitions, knives, notebooks on making bombs, hand tools, a camera and toiletries including a ‘box containing two rubber preventatives’. Sounds like a recipe for a pretty good night.
They, like Chapman, immediately turned themselves over to the police, and were recruited by MI5 as double agents. They codenamed the pair Mutt and Jeff after the comic strip and cartoon, because like in the cartoon one of the pair was short and fat and the other was tall and slender. Over the following three years they sent back hundreds of messages purporting to be from this pair of agents. This helped, for example, in the overall deception project called Operation FORTITUDE, which made the Germans believe that the D-Day landings were going to be in Calais instead of Normandy.
The security services carried out multiple attacks on targets in Britain to make it seem like Mutt and Jess were active and loyal agents.
Operation GUY FAWKES saw British intelligence agents and police plant incendiary bombs in a food depot in Wealdstone, but there was a problem. Almost as soon as the devices were set off they were noticed by a local police sergeant who notified the fire service immediately who arrived and put the fires out. The devices never completely burned out and so when investigators arrived they found the remnants of the bombs, which they identified as being those used by the Special Operations Executive, the covert operations branch of MI6. According the MI5 file on Mutt, ‘This led to a very delicate situation in connection with the inquiry being made by Scotland Yard. Ultimately, however, the inquiry died out.’
I brought this up in my 7/7 film but I’m not sure anyone understood the parallel I was implicitly drawing so I guess I should make it explicit here. In the early days after the 7/7 bombings the media reports unanimously said that high grade, military grade explosives had been used in the bombings. Quarries were asked to check their stocks to see if any had been stolen, all that sort of thing. Then the story changed, it became one of homemade explosives mixed up in a bathtub up in this so called ‘bomb factory’ in Leeds, which conveniently fits in with the preferred official version of events.
Going back to Operation Guy Fawkes during WW2, in the aftermath of the bombing the original plan was to have the Government issue a D-notice forbidding the press from reporting on the attack. However, this proved impossible due to the military advisor with responsibility for censorship saying there wasn’t a good reason for the D-notice and that it would only attract press attention to the fire. The team running Mutt and Jeff decided not to pursue the D-notice and ‘merely allow the normal references in the press to be inserted.’
Another sabotage deception operation codenamed BUNBURY (named after a non-existent fictional character in The Importance of Being Earnest) targeted a small power station in Bury St Edmonds. The bombing took place at an ‘unimportant’ station so as to avoid attracting enemy attention to more significant targets. The aim of the bombing was primarily to maintain Mutt and Jeff’s credibility as German agents but one report from the MI5 file is very interesting.
It is an internal memo marked ‘Most Secret’ sent from B1A to B1C, that’s the counter-intelligence section of MI5 sending it to the section who dealt with sabotage equipment and technical inventions, which was at that time headed by none other than Lord Rothschild. One section of the memo relates a meeting at which John Marriott, the MI5 head of counter subversion was discussing the impact of these false flag operations.
The MI5 file concluded that in cases such as that of Mutt and Jeff that, ‘friends as well as enemies must be completely deceived.’
Thus, they were talking about the politics of fear, the politics of carrying out fake attacks, disguised attacks, false flag attacks, in order to inspire fear and a ‘stimulation of security consciousness’ and thus an ‘increase in security’. So, while none of these operations were lethal, none of them targeted civilians, I still believe that this Double Cross System and these false flag sabotage events were a step in the development of Gladio and Gladio type operations. Not that they didn’t exist in some form before WW2, they did, but I do think it is very important to recognise that this is what they were doing during the war, and then after the war finished they pretended for the best part of 50 years that MI6 didn’t even exist, let alone what it was up to during the Cold War.
If you want to read these documents for yourself I did put together a brief dossier on the Mutt and Jeff case some years ago now, it’s about 35 pages which was my attempt to boil down the over 400 pages of stuff in their MI5 files.
Subscribe to Spy Culture
If you enjoyed this content then keep up with new posts here at Spy Culture by subscribing via email, RSS, facebook, tumblr or google+: