Being the guy who almost single-handedly ensured that the Germans were completely unprepared the Allied invasion of Normandy is pretty damn impressive. Doing it without so much as lifting a rifle is so badass that I think I just crapped.
Juan Pujol Garcia, the man who may possibly be the most successful double-agent in history, is the complete opposite of everything you think about when you think of badass secret agents. He was ordinary-looking, married, balding, and wore kind of nerdy glasses, and never owned a wristwatch that shot lasers. He never snuck into a top-secret high-security enemy facility disguised as a frogman, flying side-kicked a dude into a nuclear reactor, and stole biological weapons schematics from a rogue terrorist nation. He didn't lead foreign authorities on high-speed car chases through crowded streets, plow commandeered armored vehicles through blown glass museums, or stop the Doomsday Laser from fragnosticating the human population into radioactive ash by flicking a coin into the machine seconds before it activated. He didn't have illicit affairs, sleep with piles of beautiful women stacked up on top of each other, or gamble away millions in complicated casino table games that don't make any goddamned sense to anybody watching. No, this unconventional spy-tastic badass had one thing going for him – he was probably the best bullshit artist ever. That's all he needed to weave a web of intrigue so hardcore it would make Tom Clancy start barfing blood.
Garcia was born in Barcelona, this Catalan had been raised in a politically-liberal household and developed a perfectly healthy, red-blooded disdain for totalitarianism, oppression, tyranny, and all other assorted forms of political jackassery. So, of course when the Spanish Civil War started busting in the doors of Spaniards from the Pyrenees to Portugal and everyone quickly had to decide whether they'd rather be persecuted by a Soviet Union-inspired Communist dictatorship or a Nazi Germany-inspired Fascist dictatorship, Pujol was placed in a position that was kind of like deciding which brand of soccer ball he'd prefer to have kicked into his balls by a burro loco. Harassed by both sides and pressed into military service against his will on a half-dozen occasions, Pujol played the sides against each other, bided his time, went AWOL when things got too intense, and did whatever he could to stay out of the war while also not getting shot in the head as a traitor for not playing along with this autocratic revolutionary bullshit. After the Civil War ended, Pujol would proudly claim that he had served in the armies of both sides but never fired a single bullet for either.
"Haha, take that, fuckers!"
Sure, I guess it's cool to squirm your way through a brutal deathmatch between two ideologies you don't give a shit about and emerge intact with a bullet-free torso and with a clear conscience, but it's only after Hitler invaded France that we really got to see the sort of skillset Juan Pujol Garcia brought to the table. Pujol was working as a humble hotel manager in Madrid in July 1941, but, eager to do what he could to destroy Fascism where he could find it, he got in touch with the British Secret Service in Spain and asked them if there was any way they'd bring him on as a spy. The British, thinking Pujol was just some wannabe punk, didn't even respond to his request – he sat in a waiting room for a while before heading home without even so much as having a guy pop his head out of a door and haphazardly yell, "hey, fuck off, mate."
So Pujol thought to himself, "OK, fine, I see how it's going to be," and he took his services to the German Abwehr spy network. After a couple of meetings, the Abwehr hired Garcia on to spy against Allied interests in England. This is sort of an impressive posting to attain – Pujol was able to somehow convince his contact at the Nazi spy office that he was a diplomat working in England, thereby guaranteeing that he'd be an ideal candidate for spyhood, but he inconcievably managed to do this despite the notable shortcoming that he didn't speak English, had never been to England, and forged his own passports and visas without actually knowing what the real documents even looked like. Nevertheless, the German Abwehr hooked him up with three grand, a vial of totally bitchin' invisible ink, a cipher for encrypting secret messages, and a code name: ARABEL.
PRZH JV YXIIP KXWF YFQZEBP
Well instead of moving to London and becoming a Nazi spy, Pujol moved to Portugal and flexed his mad B.S.ing skillz to the max. From his home office in Lisbon, armed only with a Spanish-language version of Frommer's Guide to England, a British railway schedule, and a couple road maps, he somehow convinced the Nazis that he had established himself as a secret agent working deep undercover in the British Isles. As if magically teleporting himself across the Channel to a country he'd never seen before wasn't enough of a feat, he then fabricated an entire organized network of badass fictional spies to come work for him and do awesome things in his name. Before long, this crazy imaginary spymaster built a network of twenty-seven (!!) fake men and women ranging from a Swiss banker who was horrified by Liverpool orgies to a Venezuelan dock worker trading wine bottles for information in Glasgow, and they were all feeding him intel about places he'd never actually been before, which he then relayed to the Germans. I probably don't need to mention that the Nazis weren't exactly known for taking it easy on guys who royally cocked them over, but Pujol apparently didn't even give a shit that he was playing with radioactive fire here – he was so balls-out that he mailed the letters from his local post office, passing it off as though he had a KLM pilot under his power that was flying the letters across the Channel and dropping them in a Portuguese mailbox. Incredibly, they bought it.
Hell, this rogue freelance secret agent was so effective and omnipresent in his reporting to the Abwehr that eventually the British started intercepting messages from this powerful spymaster operating right under their noses, and started trying to figure out how to counteract him. The Brits, however, had a little more insight into the fact that Pujol was more full of crap than a manure truck, and could tell that this guy had obviously never set foot in their country before. For starters, he was reporting on troop movements and convoy deliveries that didn't exist, and the fact that he couldn't figure out the difference between pounds, shillings, and pence was also somewhat puzzling for a guy who was supposed to be seamlessly blending in with British society. MI5 still went out and put together a counter-espionage group aimed at locating ARABEL, bringing him in for questioning, and taking down his web of saboteurs.
Luckily for Juan Pujol Garcia, in February 1942 he once again approached the British Secret Service in Spain. This time, instead of a meek plea for work, this fearless badass walked right into their offices, threw down the ULTRA machine, told them he was already "in there" as a secret agent with the Nazis, and demanded that they bring him over to work for them. At least, that's the way I picture that going down.
MI5 considered Garcia's application a little more seriously this time around, and they relocated him and his family to England to work as a clandestine double agent feeding misinformation to the Germans. Armed with the British code name GARBO (I don't know why they kept giving him girls' names for some reason) and $340,000 worth of funding to keep his spy network running, Pujol was even more of a baller once he had some actual real-life British spies feeding him info to send along to his contacts in Nazi Germany.
For two more years Juan Pujol Garcia fed info to the Germans regarding his super-awesome network of imaginary operatives, moving them around the country, passing off information, and then having them murdered, fired, or imprisoned when the messaged he sent along proved to be incorrect. As spies died off from counter-espionage intrigues, plane crashes, and extended battles with cancer, he replaced them with more fake guys and more bullshit information. Like, for instance there was a fascist-sympathizing soldier named Dagobert who belonged to a non-existent unit in the British 9th Armored Division that enjoyed hunting down and assassinating "political undesireables" (the British government backed up these claims by posting fake obituaries in the newspapers, which kicks ass.). Despite spewing forth an endless fire-hose stream of bullcrap, ventually Pujol got in so tight with the Nazis that they completely stopped dispatching spies to the United Kingdom. What was the point, since Pujol had a veritable army of James Bonds running around feeding them all the info they needed?
Now Juan Pujol Garcia was like the Dungeon Master of World War II – he passed along the stories he wanted the Germans to hear, and they reacted to his information without questioning the reality of it. While this surely had its bonuses, never was Pujol's more important to the Allied war cause than during the days leading up to the Allied invasion of Normandy. During Operation Fortitude – the counter-intelligence project designed to mislead the Germans regarding the location of the Allied landing sites – Pujol's primary responsibility was to convince the Germans that the amphibious landings were going to come at the beach of Pas de Calais rather than Normandy. He accomplished this by convincing the Nazis that the Allies had 25 more divisions stationed near the departure zone than they actually did – basically conjuring half a million soldiers out of thin air in some crazy crap that makes David Blain look like a punk street performer. Then he convinced them of the Pas de Calais landings in a series of messages culminating in an incredibly epic climax – four days before D-Day, Hitler cancelled a large-scale transfer of German soldiers to the Normandy coast. This info was based largely on intel provided by Pujol and his insane balls-out spy network. Omaha Beach was already a pretty hellacious clusterbone, and another couple hundred thousand German machine guns might have made the entire operation a failure, but as it stood the Allies got a foothold in mainland France and started the long process of pushing the Nazis all the way back to Berlin.
So yeah, that's kind of a big deal. You'd think that lying your ass off and feeding misinformation that would lead to the defeat that would mark the beginning of the end of the war in the West would get a super-spymaster fired, but Pujol, as we've seen, was really fucking clever. Two days before D-Day he mailed a letter saying that he'd discovered the truth and that the invasion was coming at Normandy. Of course, back before e-mail transmitted information directly into your brain on a series of YouTubes, mail actually took time to be delivered, and Pujol was certain to make sure that the Germans didn't get the note until it was already too late. The German Abwehr was like, "ok dude wish we'd heard this sooner," but they STILL kept him on as a spy. Not only that, but they were so convinced that he was a loyal hero to the cause that even in December 1944 – five months after the deception at Normandy – the Germans awarded him the Iron Cross.
It was the second medal he'd earn for bravery as a spy. He'd already received the Member of the British Empire award in June.
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Holt, Thaddeus. The Deceivers. Skyhorse, 2007.
Pujol, Juan, and Nigel West. Garbo. Grafton, 1986.
Rankin, Nicholas. A Genius for Deception. Oxford Univ. Press, 2009.
Seaman, Mark. Garbo: The Spy Who Saved D-Day. Dundurn Press, 2004.
Shugaar, Anthony and Steven Guarnaccia. I Lie for a Living. National Geographic, 2006.