June 1, 2018

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Love Letter to a Spy

 

In Ian Fleming's "From Russia With Love," a Russian agent (Tatiana Romanova) is assigned to feign love to and seduce MI6's top agent, James Bond.  Romanova, of course, is swept away by Bond and actually falls in love with him.  It is likely that Fleming remembered Dusko Popov as he wrote this novel.  After all, Popov's way with women was common knowledge in British Intelligence circles.  Fleming's boss, Director of Naval Intelligence Admiral John Godfrey, sat on both committees which supervised Popov and had surely seen the files and heard the stories of agent TRICYCLE's numerous girlfriends.  

 

In late 1940, almost immediately after Popov's vetting and clearance to become a British double agent, MI5 realized that they had a Casanova on their hands.  Since romance and espionage were dangerous bedfellows, they knew that Popov either had to be tamed, or his passion for women somehow managed.  Initially, Major Tar Robertson (MI5's B1A chief, supervisor of double agents) secretly asked the army if they could provide a suitable (read, "attractive") female companion to entertain Popov and keep an eye on him.  The army agreed, but when Robertson realized that Popov's social calendar was so full that Dusko couldn't add another woman, the idea was dropped. 

 

Popov, Robertson soon learned, would choose his own girlfriends and it mattered not whether they were single or married, civilian or military, British or German, friend or foe. Within days of acquiring an MI5 female sub-agent (Friedl Gaertner), Popov seduced her (counter-intelligence head Guy Liddell recording in his diary that Gaernter was Popov's new "girlfriend"). 

 

Throughout the war, British Intelligence would intercept countless love letters written to Popov while he was in London--from "Gwennie," an English woman who appeared to be married, from "Nani," and even one from a woman Popov couldn't remember but who was thought to be a German spy.  While Popov was stationed in New York, the FBI would do the same. 

 

 

Only while on assignment in Portugal, Spain, and Brazil would Popov be unencumbered by watchful mail censors, yet intelligence eyes were never far away.  

 

Photos (apparently snapped by other MI6 agents) and details of lovely foreign women --described in MI5 files as "girlfriends"--reveal that Dusko was an equal opportunity lover. 

 

 

Larry Loftis is the author of INTO THE LION'S MOUTH: The True Story of Dusko Popov--World War II Spy, Patriot, and the Real-Life Inspiration for James Bond (Berkley, June 14, 2016). 

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