Monday, August 06, 2012

The D-Day spies and their echoes in Lisbon

A lot of the double agents who play leading roles in Ben Macintyre's Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (2012) are controlled from Lisbon (on the Nazi side), and reading that book you'd be forgiven for thinking that perhaps every single person in 1940s Lisbon was a spy, probably a double or even triple agent. Take the following account of a dinner party thrown by von Karsthoff, the German control of Dusko Popov, a double agent who was secretly working for the British. The names aren't important; just attend to the cat's cradle of secret connections:
[Von Karsthoff] threw a dinner party in Popov's honor and invited Jebsen, Aloys Schreiber (the new head of counterintelligence), and their secretaries. It was a bizarre occasion. Two of the guests were German intelligence officers, and two others were secretly working for British intelligence; Jebsen was sleeping with Schreiber's secretary, who was spying on her boss; the married von Karsthoff was having an affair with his secretary, Elizabeth Sahrbach, while ripping off the Abwehr. Popov was conducting at least six love affairs. Everyone was involved in the lying and cheating game.
I don't know nearly enough about Portuguese history to be sure of this, but the incidental sense I get of neutral Portugal from MacIntyre's book is of an utterly louche, feckless netherworld, a sort of fascist Monte Carlo of the soul, blithely untroubled by the fears, dangers, shortages, and existential threats faced by the rest of Europe at the time:
An Abwehr office who arrived in Libson shortly before Jebsen was shocked by the behavior of his new colleagues, who "were leading a rather loose and immoral life in Lisbon," with little concern for their duties." Some were sleeping with their secretaries. Others were cocaine abusers. "All had enormous amounts of money, most had their own cars, made frequent pleasure trips throughout Portugal and spent their evenings gambling in the casinos."
It's been at least fifteen years since I read Cees Nooteboom's wonderfully compact little meditation on death, The Following Story (1991, English translation 1994), but its vision of a haunted, hushed, exhausted Lisbon has stayed in my mind--the hangover of neutrality and fascism?
Evening in my memory, evening in Lisbon. The lamps in the city had been lit, my eyes were like a bird flying above the streets. It had grown cool, up there; the voices of the children had gone from the gardens; I saw the dark shadows of lovers, statues locked in embrace, lazily moving double-people.
Nooteboom presents the town as labyrinth, of frustrated plans and forgotten intentions, leading to the only exit: death.

The most striking aspect of the Lisbon component of the XX, or Double Cross, group, however, is the network of fake spies set up by Portuguese double agent Juan Pujol, known by the British as "Garbo." Pujol, who "possessed what his case officer, Tomas Harris, called a 'remarkable talent for duplicity'," not only convinced his Nazi handlers that he was supplying them good information even as he was doing the bidding of his English paymasters, but also had them believing in an entire network that he'd made up out of whole cloth. MacIntyre explains:
By the end of 1942, the Garbo network included an airline employee, the courier who supposedly smuggled Garbo's letters to Lisbon, a wealthy Venezuelan student named Carlos living in Glasgow, his brother in Aberdeen, a Gibraltarian waiter in Chislehurst whose anti-British feelings were said to be exacerbated because "he found the climate in Kent very disagreeable," a senior official in the Spanish section of the Ministry of Information, an anti-Soviet South African, and a Welsh ex-seaman living in Swansea described by Pujol as a "thoroughly undesirable character." The personality, activities, and messages of each spy were carefully imagined, refined, and entered in a logbook. Some of these subagents were supposedly conscious collaborators, while others were unwitting sources of secret information; some were given names, while others remained anonymous. . . . Pujols's subagents were able to correspond with the Germans independently after he was authorized to supply them with secret ink; those agents then began recruiting their own sub-agents. The network began to self-replicate and metastasize, until the work of Pujol and Harris came ot resemble a limitless, multicharacter, ever-expanding novel.
Who else could possibly come to mind than Lisbon native Fernando Pessoa, who, in the words of translator Richard Zenith,
wrote under dozens of names, a practice--or compulsion--that began in his childhood. He called his most important personas "heteronyms," endowing them with their own biographies, physiques, personalities, political views, religious attitudes and literary pursuits. . . . The many . . . alter egos included translators, short-story writers, an English literary critic, an astrologer, a philosopher and an unhappy nobleman who committed suicide. There was even a female persona: the hunchbacked and helplessly lovesick Maria Jose. At the turn of the century, sixty-five years after Pessoa's death, his vast written world had still not been completely charted by researchers, and a significant part of his writings was still waiting to be published.
Or, as Pessoa writes in The Book of Disquiet,
And all this, in my walk to the seashore, was a secret told me by the night and the abyss. How many we are! How many of us fool ourselves! What seas crash in us, in the night when we exist, along the beaches that we feel ourselves to be, inundated by emotion! All that was lost, all that should have been sought, all that was obtained and fulfilled by mistake, all that we loved and lost and then, after losing it and loving it for having lost it, realized that we never loved; all that we believed we were thinking when we were feeling; all the memories we took for emotions; and the entire ocean, noisy and cool, rolling in from the depths of the vast night to ripple over the beach, on my nocturnal walk to the seashore . . .
Ah, though the pleasures of multiplicity might tempt, the intrigues of spies are not for Pessoa:
I've always felt an almost physical loathing for secret things--intrigues, diplomacy, secret societies, occult sciences.
No, for Pessoa, multiplicity was too hermetic to be part of an external scheme. "Every gesture, however simple, violates an inner secret." He could be no spy.

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