What Winston Churchill Read Today, 1944
TODAY 1944, Winston Churchill held in his hands and read the very pages you see here. It was MI5's April intelligence report [recall that MI6 handles intelligence abroad, MI5 domestic]. It was a critical time as D-Day, the secret Britain had to protect at all costs, was only a month away. Section A of the report ("Spies") dealt with captured German spies, and Section B ("Special Agents") dealt with operations of Britain's double agents. Only one agent was special, however--the only agent mentioned--TRICYCLE (Dusko Popov).
Popov was the only British agent involved with Operation Fortitude (the invasion deception plan) who was actually meeting with German intelligence, and undergoing marathon interrogations by the Abwehr, Gestapo, and SD. If reality were Hollywood, Dusko would have won an Oscar. Churchill, who loved counter-espionage and had asked for these MI5 monthly reports, likely beamed when he read:
"The agent TRICYCLE has now returned from visiting his masters in LIsbon. He has once more succeeded in convincing them of his complete reliability and has extracted from them a large sum in dollars as an advance against his future services."
That sum was $150,000--about $2.1 million today--half of which was paid up front and half to be paid upon receipt of Popov's May report (which would assure them that Calais was the landing zone of the Allied invasion of France, and that it would come in July). But Popov wasn't done. He had also orchestrated a mind-boggling double-cross TROJAN HORSE--Nazi spies Popov was sneaking into England from the German-controlled Balkans were all actually becoming British double agents.
And more ... Popov had infiltrated "Himmler's organization" [the SD], the report said. Both German military (Abwehr) and political (SD) intelligence regarded Popov's reports "as good as sure," one German agent had reported. He was so valuable that the SD pulled the ultimate Himmlerian move: "They appear to have the highest opinion of him," Churchill read, "and are taking steps to ensure that his work for them remains unknown to his other German masters."
At that the British Bulldog surely called for a fresh cigar.
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).