C.E. Versus Security, And Other Devilry
COUNTER-ESPIONAGE, USUALLY CALLED SIMPLY BY ITS INITIALS C.E., is a widely misunderstood branch of secret operations. Its purpose is not to apprehend enemy agents; that is an aim of the security forces. It is the word "counter" which causes the trouble, since it is generally interpreted to mean "against"; a defensive operation against the enemy's intelligence operations. Quite to the contrary, C.E. is an offensive operation, a means of obtaining intelligence about the opposition by using - or, more usually, attempting to use -the opposition's operations. C.E. is a form of secret intelligence operation, but it is a form so esoteric, so complex and important as to stand by itself.
The flavour of C.E. operations was caught to hilarious perfection by Peter Ustinov in his Romanoff and Juliet. In the play, Ustinov, as the Prime Minister of a small, neutral nation squeezed between the giants of East and West, calls on the American Ambassador, and learns that the Americans know about a secret Soviet manoeuvre in the contest to dominate his country. After a bit of reflection, the Prime Minister - crossing the stage - calls on the Soviet Ambassador. After some preliminaries, he says to the Soviet Ambassador, "They know." The Soviet Ambassador replies calmly, "We know they know." Back to the American Ambassador goes Ustinov. "They know you know," he says conspiratorially. The American Ambassador smiles confidently. "We know they know we know," he answers. Ustinov returns to the Soviet Ambassador. "They know you know they know," he says. To this the Soviet Ambassador replies, triumphantly, "We know they know we know they know." Once again the Prime Minister calls on the American Ambassador. "They know you know they know you know," he says, weary and curious at the same tune. The American Ambassador repeats it after him, counting on his fingers. "What?" he suddenly cries in horror.
The ultimate goal of all C.E. operations is to penetrate the opposition's own secret operations apparatus; to become, obviously without the opposition's knowledge, an integral and functioning part of their calculations and operations. C.E. thus differs from other general secret intelligence in having a single, specialized target.
The superior interest of this target - the opposition's secret operations - over most others in intelligence is marked. A successful penetration of an opponent's secret operations organization puts you at the very heart of his actions and intentions towards you. You share his mind and thinking to an intimate - and reliable - degree impossible in any other secret operation. This means that so far as intelligence is concerned, you know what he knows. You have thereby annulled, in one stroke, the value to him of his secret intelligence about you; you have neutralized the power of his secret knowing. Even more importantly, through your knowledge of his intelligence interests, and of his political operations, as revealed in his policy papers and instructions, you are in possession of the most reliable possible indications of his intentions. Most importantly, you are in a position to control his actions, since you can, by tailoring intelligence for him to your purposes, by influencing his evaluation, mislead him as to his decisions and consequent actions.
The above, of course, describes the ideal. The actual practice of C.E. moves along for the most part at a level of compromise well below such total success-although it is the ideal which forever animates both theory and practice. The kind of total success which is the ideal of C.E. is more or less ruled out by the facts of human conflict and organization. Even if it were true, for example, as has been alleged, that Admiral Canaris, chief of the World War II German Abwehr, was in fact a British agent, this still did not prevent various Abwehr subordinates from achieving a number of genuine and striking successes in their operations against the Allies. And even between friendly or allied secret operations organizations there are distinct and specific limits to the degree and substance of co-operation - in other words, to the easiest kind of penetration and control. Secret services may sit on the same bed together; they may even turn back the covers part-way; but they never actually get into the bed. Even at a partial level of fulfilment, however, C.E. operations (unlike the demi-vierge) can be enormously effective.
Penetration is the technique par excellence of C.E. operations. But much of their complexity arises from the fact that effective and successful penetration is not limited to the single possibility of introducing one's own agent into the enemy's operations. The same effect can be achieved in many substitute ways-and most often is, if for no other reason than the imposing difficulties and length of time which are the usual prospect for planting an agent in another service.
The commonest substitute for planting one's own agent is the "turning" of an enemy agent. Turning an agent, that is to say, convincing a man working in another cause that he should change sides and continue active in the conflict, with all the added risks involved, is clearly a psychological operation of immense complexity. As if this were not enough, the operation has the inherent weakness that what can be done once may perhaps be done twice. In a recent British case of this sort, on which the British Government has understandably refused all comment, all the pitfalls were demonstrated. A British agent, working in Germany against the Soviets, was approached by the Soviets to serve them. He agreed to do so, which made him a double agent, i.e. an agent who is working on two sides, but to the knowledge of only one, each side believing he is working exclusively in their behalf. Then, however, as a part of his operations on behalf of the Soviets, he informed the British of the Soviet approach to him, and agreed to act as a double agent on behalf of the British. The British were thus led to believe that he was also acting as an agent of the Soviets, but was really serving Britain. In fact, however, the man was a triple agent: from the British point of view he was a British agent who had falsely agreed to work for the Soviets - a standard penetration double agent, unturned from his original loyalty. But from the Soviet point of view he was a British agent who had agreed to do his real work for the Soviets, and then had, in a second, false turning, honoured his first turning. The latter was the truth of the case, as eventually the British discovered. So long as the man was a double agent - turned once, but falsely, as the British thought - he was valuable to the British; but his value to the Soviets rested on the fact that he was really a triple agent - a man turned twice, in this case once genuinely and once falsely. In brief, once turned makes a double agent; twice turned makes a triple agent, and so on. The decisive question is precisely which turns are genuine and which are false. This is but one of the problems which makes C.E. an extraordinarily complex affair; the determination of which turns are genuine and which false is a painstaking exercise in the control of information, of who knows what when, that requires constant alertness and a simultaneous grasp of both large perspective and detail. It is obviously an intellectual exercise of almost mathematical complexity.
The problem is further complicated by the existence of another kind of multiple agent - that is, the triple - or even quadruple - agent working for three, four or more different services. This type of multiple agent is generally a lone operator working for his own profit, and the question of turning is not as important with him. I once knew of a Viennese hotel porter who was working simultaneously for - and being paid by - the American, British, Soviet and French services, and who also, without pay, did his duty as an Austrian citizen. This kind of agent is usually something of a freak, however, and appears as a phenomenon only under very special circumstances, such as existed in Vienna at the end of World War II, with four powers in occupation of the city. It is a dangerous gambit - even though my porter friend still is a leading fixture in Vienna - and is not of the same quality of professional interest, because of its patent unreliability, as the agent genuinely turned as between two conflicting services.
It is not unnatural that men who specialize in affairs of such complexity should regard themselves somewhat as the Cabots of the intelligence world, speaking only to God. C.E. practitioners do in fact believe, with some justification, that C.E. is the queen of all secret operations. This view is based on the undeniable fact that, for the mere conduct of their daily work, C.E. men must of necessity know more than anyone else, not only about enemy operations, but also about the operations of their own service as well. It is this greater and broader knowledge which leads C.E. specialists to the belief - often, but far from always, mistaken - that they can and do control all other secret operations. In the sense of control of knowledge as used in Chapter II - knowing who knows what - the control is real; in the sense of direction of operations, the control is real only in proportion to the lack of alertness of their colleagues, allies or enemies.
C.E.'s spread of knowledge extends also to all relations with any other services. C.E. men do not conduct the relations with other services, generally speaking. But they must be fully informed about the extent and substance of them. If, for example, it is decided, as a policy matter, to consult with the French services, or to act jointly with them in a certain operation, it is of utmost importance that the C.E. men know the substance of the contacts with the French. The fact of French possession of a particular item of information may mean nothing to a political agent working with them; to a C.E. officer, however, it may well constitute decisive proof of enemy penetration of the French services, or of secret French actions of particular interest to us.
This ubiquity of C.E. interest and activity can sometimes be a bit jolting. I once conducted a political, and highly secret, operation in an area in which it was decided, for political reasons, to exclude a neighbouring but friendly service from both participation and knowledge. The first step in the operation involved the passage of a boat, at night, through waters adjacent to this friendly country, and the discharge, in a nearby hostile area, of several infiltration agents. My agents reported success, and I went about my business fairly calmly. Fairly calmly, that is, until one of my C.E. colleagues called on me, and read to me, at great length, the report - alarmingly accurate - of the passage of the boat, its passengers, their destination, their equipment, and, unkindest cut of all, a somewhat detached professional critique of the operation. My operation had been penetrated by the friendly but excluded country; their service, at the same time, was penetrated by our own C.E. man, with the result that I had quite a bird's-eye view of my own operation.
Such information can be highly useful and even reassuring, however. I was once obliged to engage in some very ticklish and difficult negotiations with a political group thoroughly under the domination of the local intelligence service. For weeks on end we met daily and pursued our talks. In the evenings members of the group with whom I was negotiating would report to the local intelligence service. During the night, our own agents in the local service, the result of penetrations and turnings by our C.E. officers, would report what my fellow conferees had commented, and what their reactions and plans were as a result of my day's work. In the early morning this information was passed to me by our C.E. agents. I thus entered each day's talks with a quite accurate and highly useful idea of what faced me across the table.
It is perhaps understandable that the ideal of all C.E. operations is a form of penetration in which the intervening factor of an agent is removed. This occurs when an enemy network is captured intact and in its entirety. Such cases are rare, and are most often the result of a lucky accident, but this doesn't stop C.E. men from forever trying to achieve it. The most notable example in recent history of such an operation was the German Operation North Pole in World War II. Early in the war the Abwehr arrested two Dutch underground agents infiltrated from England at the moment of their arrival in the Netherlands, but after they had already given the signal of safe arrival. The Germans were lucky in that these two agents were the first of a projected series; they had as yet no connections in the Netherlands who could relay the word to England of a mishap. The agents were secretly imprisoned and no mention made even in German Army reports of their capture. Then by a combination of information found on the captured agents, of deductions from radio signals intelligence, of threats to the prisoners, and - unusual for the Abwehr - the ability to think as the enemy would think, the Abwehr succeeded in entering into contact by radio with the agents' British headquarters, and passing themselves off as being the agents.
For two years the Germans were able to maintain this tour de force, organizing in conjunction with Dutch-British headquarters in England ever new secret forays into the Netherlands of additional agents - all of whom were met on the beach or on the landing grounds by the Abwehr and imprisoned. The falsification was so perfect that on various occasions the Abwehr itself - acting as the Dutch underground - sent out "escaped" Allied prisoners to Spain through the channels indicated by London; the Abwehr even once blew up - over the understandably irate protests of the local German commander - several German barges in Rotterdam in order to prove to the British how well the "underground" in the Netherlands was working. The entire operation was a rare achievement, but to C.E. men it excites that admiration which only the professional ideal can arouse.
Men dedicated to a profession are susceptible to seeing themselves in terms of fulfilling exactly the image of the profession. Intelligence officers are no exception. Malcolm Muggeridge, writing in the New Statesman, said on this subject, "The identity of 'C' (head of the British services) was also disclosed, along with other unpublished information about M.I.6, in an article in the New York Herald Tribune by Stewart Alsop. I asked Alsop subsequently whether his disclosures had any repercussions. He said there had been some rumblings in Anglo-American intelligence circles, but that Menzies himself had been appeased by the epithet 'legendary' which Alsop had, with sagacious forethought, applied to him. 'Legendary' was precisely what, in my experience, all Intelligence Brass wanted to be."
I have only one clue as to what this image might be in the case of C.E. officers. It came during a visit to France. I called on a high French C.E. officer, bearing, among other things, friendly greetings to him from an American C.E. colleague. On seeing the Frenchman I was instantly struck by his extraordinary physical resemblance to the American officer. The same long, thin face, elegantly pointed chin, aquiline nose, sensuous but disciplined mouth, sunken cheeks, deep-set eyes illuminated by a kind of controlled fire, thick black hair surmounting an aristocratic forehead. I immediately conveyed the greetings of Mr. X. The Frenchman acknowledged them with just a trace of a smile, but with an air of respect. "Ah, oui," he said. "Monsieur X." A moment's reflection, then - gracefully, even appreciatively - "Un homme macabre."
It can be seen that C.E. operations are offensive operations which depend for their existence as well as success on constant, if controlled, contact with the enemy. Security, on the other hand, is a defensive operation which seeks to destroy the enemy's operations and to cut off all contact with him as dangerous. Here lies another of the classic conflicts of secret operations. With the discovery of an opposition network, security will pause only long enough to seek to uncover all members of the network and will then call for its obliteration. C.E. will insist on exploring the possibility of exploiting the network, of-as the phrase has it - "playing it back" to the enemy. I remember discussing an American operation which had been penetrated by several foreign services, including the Soviets, with a security officer and then with a C.E. official. Referring to the operation's headquarters, the security man said, "Good Lord, stay away from that place. It's a catastrophe. There are more foreign agents in there than our own people that we can count on." As he spoke, his genuine worry was evident. The C.E. man, on the other hand, spoke calmly, almost wistfully. "Quite a sponge that place. We've picked up a lot of interesting threads there," he said.
As with the conflict between political and intelligence objectives - and technique - there is no master solution for that between C.E. and security. Each case must be handled on its merits. Since there is no impartial authority which can decide these cases in the event of disagreement, however, and as there is often no time for such bureaucratic procedures, it is often found that C.E. and security are in practice working at cross-purposes, even though in the same field and on the initial basis of much the same information.
Counter-intelligence is generally used as a synonym for counterespionage. Despite the sanction given it by the U.S. Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps, the term is a misnomer. It suggests, in its strictest sense, an impossible kind of exchange of volleys, in which the lethal bullets are bits of evaluated information. There is, nevertheless, a secret operation which could conceivably be described as counter-intelligence - although it is not. This is the deliberate planting of information with the enemy, or the undertaking of an act or series of acts which will create a desired impression upon him.
When the purpose of such an operation is to test the opposition's reaction to a given piece of information, whether true or false, it is a simple intelligence operation. It is the intelligence equivalent of a military probe, or of a political trial balloon.
When the same operation is undertaken with the purpose of tracing the course and ultimate destination of the planted information, it is a C.E. operation. It provides the vital information about who is in touch with whom, and who knows what, If, for example, American agents plant with the Soviet Military Attaché in London a secret and ostensibly reliable report that in ten days the Americans will deliver an ultimatum to Pakistan to open its ports to transshipment of Afghan goods, and two weeks later the French Military Attaché in Kabul questions his American colleague as to why the reported action did not take place, it does not mean necessarily that the French Military Attaché in Afghanistan is a Soviet agent. It does mean, however, that there is a connection, however tenuous, between the Soviet Attaché in London and the Frenchman in Kabul. It could mean any of a number of possibilities, from mere idle leakage, to a Communist cell in the French Defence Ministry, or a Soviet network in Afghanistan with some connection with the French Embassy. It is one of the functions of C.E. to trace these possibilities whenever they seem promising enough.
When the purpose of planting of information, or the taking of actions to create a desired impression, is to influence the enemy's decisions and actions, they become one of secret operations' most vital and complex activities - deception. Although good cover deceives, this is not what is meant by the technical term "deception." One of my colleagues once spent nearly a year trying to devise a good definition of deception, and finally concluded that it meant merely luring your opponent into doing voluntarily and by choice what you want him to do. The history of human conflict is filled with the use of deception, such as the crude but effective Trojan horse, or the famous gesture of the Dame de Carcas, who, when her citadel was under siege in the Dark Ages, threw her last remaining food supplies over the walls to the hungry besieging army, which thereupon, in the discouraged - but false - realization that she could not be starved out, withdrew. (The ensuing victory celebration, with unceasing ringing of bells, changed the citadel's name to Carcassonne, of modern tourist fame.)
The Second World War provided recent history's most classic known example of deception in the Allied invasion of Normandy. In his superb The Struggle for Europe, Chester Wilmot wrote of the prelude to Operation Overlord:
"All the guile and ingenuity of . . . Intelligence were being turned to the devising of a scheme of strategic deception, far more subtle in technique, far more sinister in design. The object of this plan, which carried the code name FORTITUDE, was to convince the German High Command before D-Day that the assault would come in the Pas de Calais, and after D-Day that the Normandy landing was a preliminary and diversionary operation, intended to draw German reserves away from the area north of the Seine so that the main Allied attack might be delivered there at a later date. By this bluff it was hoped that an army of a quarter of a million men might be kept, idle but expectant, between Le Havre and Antwerp until the Battle of Normandy had been won.
The seed of deception was sown in fertile ground. . . . To the Germans the Pas de Calais was of vital importance and they made the common German mistake of assuming that it must therefore bulk equally large in the eyes of their adversaries. In working to strengthen these preconceptions, the British played upon the notorious tendency of German Intelligence Officers to approach problems with a card-index mind, indefatigable in collecting information, but incompetent in assessing it. . . . The aerial plan was shaped accordingly. For every reconnaissance mission over Normandy, two were flown over the Pas de Calais. For every ton of bombs dropped on coastal batteries west of Le Havre, two tons were put down on batteries north of it. In the bombing of railways 95 per cent. of the effort was directed against targets north and east of the Seine. . . . The impression created by these operations was confirmed by information which came from the English side of the Channel - from [German] air reconnaissance, wireless interception, and the reports of spies who were surreptitiously provided with appropriate data. . . . Preparations in the south-east [of England] were discreetly revealed, but those being made in the south-west were hidden as carefully as possible.... The presumption that the main invasion forces were assembled in the south-east was reinforced by deceptive wireless traffic. By another radio subterfuge the idea was conveyed that the two follow-up armies (First Canadian and Third American) were in fact an assault force destined to land in the Pas de Calais. The Germans were allowed to learn that this Army Group was under the command of Lieut-General George S. Patton, who was an ideal bogy [and] this set-up carried conviction to the logical German mind."
Wilmot, writing in 1952, still did not have access to the operation made public later which was a notable feature of the same Allied deception. This was the famous and delicate British operation of putting ashore on the north coast of Spain a corpse clothed as a British officer carrying secret papers-containing false information, naturally-concerning the forthcoming invasion1 which the Spanish, as foreseen, quickly turned over to the Germans. Here was proof, if ever needed, that there are an infinity of ways of reaching and influencing the enemy's mind.
Deception, like C.E., is concerned with intimate, controlled and purposeful contact with the enemy. While its objective is more specific than C.E. it is a broader type of operation, being aimed at the total range of elements which make up the opposition's thinking and decisions, rather than only his intelligence organization. It therefore frequently happens that the ultimate stage of a C.E. operation, the ability to mislead the enemy, is subordinated to the requirements of a deception operation. In this case, the C.E. operation becomes known as a deception channel.
Deception, because of its immediate relevance to action, is probably the ultimate secret operation. But even if this evaluation is not universally accepted by professionals of the secret war, there is no doubt that strategic deception, whether in peace or in war, is the most secret of secret operations. Accordingly, the less said about it here the better.