Welcome back! I hope that the title caught your attention. When I was looking for my subject this week, I had been watching documentaries and looking at my notes of future blog post and I remembered one called A Spy Named Garbo. Of course, being the nerd that I am, my first thought was “Great Garbo was a spy????!!!!” Well, keep reading to find out the truth and the story that needs its own Hollywood film!
A Spy is Born
As you have probably guessed, Greta Garbo was not a spy. However, on February 14, 1912 in Barcelona, Spain Juan Pujol Garcia was born. He was to become “Garbo”. There is not a lot of information about his early life and childhood, other than he came from a middle-class family that had liberal political beliefs. He fought in the Spanish Civil War, where he never fired a bullet. During this time, he developed a deep hatred for totalitarianism and especially Nazism. By 1939 Juan had decided that he needed to make his own contribution to the war “too the good of humanity”.
By 1934, at the age of 32 Juan had already been a failed student, a failed soldier, a failed business man and a failed cinema magnate. His life was crumbling around him and on top of that, his marriage was failing as well.
From his experience in the Spanish Civil War, Juan knew that he could play the double agent spy game and play it very well, he had already done that in that war. He was a savant at it. He decided to try and make contact with the British and offer his services to them, as a spy.
“The Game is Afoot” – to quote Sherlock Holmes
Over the next seven years, Juan tried to make contact with the British, but they didn’t think he could do all that he said he could. In 1941 he tried three times to make contact with the British in Madrid and Lisbon, every time he failed. So, Juan went to the Germans. If you despise someone that much, why not work from inside their network to destroy them?
He was so convincing in telling them that he lived in Britain, that when he started to give the Germans “chicken feed” (just enough information to make the hungry for more), they actually believed him. The information he started to feed the Germans, was true, in the beginning. Then he slowly began to mix truth and lies together. By end of the war, it was 100% lies.
At one point, Juan told the Germans that he was creating a million-man army called the FUSAG to attack Europe. This was in fact and big lie that he used to cover the Normandy invasion. Juan’s lies were so convincing that the British thought that they had a spy inside MI5. When Juan was finally able to make contact with the British in 1942, he told them it was him that was making up the lies and feeding them to the Germans, he was taken directly to London and MI5.
He was assigned to a Spanish speaking handler named Tomas (Tommy) Harris, who worked for MI6. The two men complimented each other and they worked so well together that by the end of the war, they had created twenty-seven false spies that supposedly fed information to Juan, who then fed it to the Germans. Some of their “sub-agents” were a Venezuelan in Glasgow, an indiscreet U.S. Army sergeant and a group of Welsh nationalists leading a group of fascists in Swansea. They were so good at creating false ids that the Germans thought that if they exposed Juan as a double agent, they wouldn’t just lose him, but they would also lose his 27 sub-agents.
Juan and Tommy communicated using Juan’s German P.O. Box in Lisbon. The letters were written using a secret writing style that was contained with the text of each letter. Between the two men, they wrote over 315 letters to each other. Juan created the writing style, fashioned after him being a “fanatical Nazi”, thus the Germans never suspect he was communicating with MI6 in London.
All of this earns him the nickname “Garbo” from the Brits, because he could easily take on different identities, as easily as changing his clothes. From the Germans he earned the nickname “Alaric”, meaning “everyone’s ruler”.
In November of 1942 Juan does provide the Germans with actually facts about Operation Torch, however, he timed it so that they would receive the information to late to do anything about the invasion.
D-Day Invasion, June 6, 1944
Juan’s million-man army, was a lie to cover the Normandy invasion. The invasion that took place on June 6, 1944 saw Hitler sending thousands of troops to the French coastline to repel the invasion. However, three days later on June 9, Juan sent a telegram to Hitler and his high command. The telegram was so convincing with dates and times of “later invasions”, that he was able to convince them that the invasion was a lie, thus Hitler had the troops turn around!
When the war ended, Juan kept working for MI5 to keep an eye on Germany and to see if they would try to build a “Fourth Reich”.
In 1948 Juan believed that it would be best for everyone who knew him and worked with him, if they thought he was dead. Including his wife and children. He fled to Venezuela and created and entirely new identity. He called Tommy Harris and asked him to relay to everyone that he was dead. It took a year for the British ambassador to Spain to officially tell them that Juan was dead.
Even though he could have dropped the charade of being dead in the 1960’s and gone home to his family, Juan kept up the rue. He didn’t come out of the shadows until the 1980’s when a British journalist tracked him down. By then his wife was furious with him, as she never believed that he was dead and his children were just as angry at their father.
Juan became something very rare, the “idealistic double-agent”, someone who wanted to and chose to do the right thing, over and over again.
Juan died in 1988 after co-writing a book on his life with Nigel West, the journalist that found him.
Doing the right thing has become a thing of the past in so many ways. People have become blasé when it comes to helping those in need. It is very sad that this has occurred and that is why we need examples, like Juan, who risked everything and gave up everything to do the right thing. To fight evil in his own way.
I hope that you have enjoyed this story of a unique and rare human being. I hope he inspires you to greatness and to fight evil in all of its many forms. Please share this post with your friends and family via email, social media, text, etc. or become a subscriber. Thank you so much and