Piercing the Reich : the Penetration of Nazi Germany by OSS Agents During World War II / Joseph E. Persico. Hardcover – 1997
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This book goes well beyond "this happened, and then that happened." The author explains the relevant history and structure of Nazi Germany, and examines the political and psychological pressures on the various countries, spy organizations, and on the agents themselves. Worker activists and communists were helpful to the Allies as spies during the war, but dumped soon afterward.
One tale is of "Cicero," the Albanian valet to the British ambassador to Ankara, who stole volumes of critical information from the ambassador's safe and sold it to the Germans, including the "Overlord" code name of the Normandy invasion. Even after being warned, the British allowed Cicero to stay in his position for months. Yet another twist happens as conflicts and jealousies within German intelligence led the Germans to discount the actual intelligence Cicero provided. And as the final twist, the £300,000 paid by the Germans to Cicero was all counterfeit money.
One of the most fascinating stories is how the Germans came to build their "last stand" National Redoubt in Austria. It started as a wholly mistaken OSS intelligence rumor -- the Germans had no such plan. But when the Germans intercepted the American radio report of such "German plans," the National Redoubt idea was sent to Hitler and implemented. A lot of our scarce espionage capabilities were misdirected to examining enemy plans in the "National Redoubt" area during the war. American troops at the end of the European war left Berlin to the Russians, and turned to Austria to vanquish the very same almost-empty "National Redoubt" chimera we'd created.
One helpful insight of the book was on the issue of whether the majority of ordinary Germans knew the purpose of the concentration camps. One capable spy, doing his best to make observations, with an anti-Nazi bias (both characteristics unlike most Germans), reported that the only information most Germans had of the purpose of the concentration camps came from what they may have heard from American propaganda, which they dismissed, because Allied anti-German propaganda in World War I had been so exaggerated. The majority of Germans, if they knew of the camps, assumed they were places of confinement and not extermination. This did not apply, of course, to the minority of Germans involved with the camps, and perhaps those living near the camps.
The author goes into the psychology of what makes a good spy, in a very paranoid "papers, please" regime, who is always pushing the envelope, always at the the risk of capture and torture and perhaps execution, but yet must survive in order to pass his/her information back to the Allies. What was the right type of man or woman to send into Nazi Germany with an important and delicate mission? (One description: "The ideal candidate was honest and devious, inconspicuous and audacious, quick and prudent, zealous and cool.") Should the OSS recruit ordinary captured German soldiers? Was it ethical to make promises to potential spies which couldn't be kept? How could the OSS tell who was telling the truth, and who had contrary motives -- or determine who had the character to perform well in extreme circumstances?
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in politics, history, or espionage.