Double Cross Agents

Double Cross Agents

Background to the Double Cross System

The Double Cross System was one of the greatest intelligence coups of the Second World War. J C Masterman, Chairman of the Double Cross Committee, concluded that 'we [MI5] actively ran and controlled the German espionage system in this country [Britain]'. Because a double cross, read as Roman numerals, is twenty, the Double Cross Committee was known as the Twenty Committee. In the Near and Middle East, Double cross was run by the Special Section of SIME (and its sub-section CICI in Persia and Iraq).

Due to a combination of counter-espionage work prior to the war and signals intelligence during it, MI5 were in a position to monitor and pick up German agents as they were 'dropped' into Britain. These agents were then 'turned' and began working for the British authorities. The preferred communication was via wireless telegraphy (W/T), although secret ink, microphotography and, in some cases, direct contact with the agent were also employed.

Initially the Double Cross System was used for counter-espionage purposes, but its comprehensive success provided an excellent conduit for strategic deception, culminating in the D-Day deception operation, known as FORTITUDE. This plan misled the Germans into believing that the Pas de Calais was the real landing area of the Allied invasion, rather than Normandy. Further successes were achieved in U-boat and V-weapon deception, and during operations HUSKY and TORCH.

A good summary of the most significant Double Cross cases may be found in JC Masterman's book, The Double Cross System.


(KV 2/1275-1280)

The female double agent GELATINE was born in Raithern, Austria in January 1911. Married to a Jew, she left Austria for Palestine in 1934. Arriving in the UK in 1938, she began informing on the activities of German organisations in Britain to the authorities. She was introduced to the German secret service by TRICYCLE in 1941 and for the rest of the war sent messages written in secret ink to her contact in Portugal. Initially these were political in content, but from 1942 her handlers began to introduce military misinformation into GELATINE's letters.

KV 2/1275, covering 1939-1941, shows the Security Service intervening with the Metropolitan Police to have movement restrictions under the Aliens Act lifted so that GELATINE could continue her secret work. Correspondence on the file covers her introduction to the Germans (who already knew of her presence in Britain) by TRICYCLE, and includes detailed discussion of the TRICYCLE and GELATINE cases. The file includes copies of letters written by GELATINE under her alias Friedl Gaertner with examples of secret writing, which for various reasons were not sent, and correspondence discussing the content of the secret messages she was to pass.

There are further examples in KV 2/1276 (1941-1942) and KV 2/1277 (1942-1943). KV 2/1276 also includes a case summary by J C Masterman, written in September 1941, suggesting that the case might have to be abandoned because the Gemans did not seem to be responding to GELATINE's messages. It also includes an original following telegram from the Germans in Portugal to Gaertner which explains in code how her earlier contact in Lisbon had become inoperative. Difficulties in obtaining appropriate secret ink for GELATINE are discussed in KV 2/1277, which also deals with the suppression of GELATINE's true name from reports of the case of Ben Greene against Sir John Anderson. This file also covers her January 1943 trip to Edinburgh where she fell foul of the local police and the Security Service again had to intervene to protect her identity.

KV 2/1278 takes the case from 1943 to the end of the war, where it dies with the German surrender, and includes details of arrangements for settling final payments to GELATINE.

KV 2/1279 (1941-1945) is the finance file, giving details of GELATINE's payments of £5 per week plus 10% of any funds sent via TRICYCLE to the UK for her use. The file includes a termination of employment form signed on 16 June 1945.

KV 2/1280 consists mainly of reports of GELATINE's pre-war work in informing on German organisations such as the Anglo-German Fellowship and The Link, but also includes a copy of her statement in the Ben Greene case.


(KV 2/1281-1285)

KISS was a Persian national who went to Germany in 1936 to study electrical engineering. Recruited by the Abwehr in 1941, he was sent to Turkey, where he made contact with the British agent BLACKGUARD and revealed he had no intention of carrying out the Abwehr mission to report on Allied activity in Persia. BLACKGUARD persuaded him to continue his journey but allow his codes and transmitter to be passed to the allies. KISS complied, eventually arriving in the Soviet-controlled part of Persia where he worked in an armaments factory. Meanwhile, unknown to him, the British played back his transmitter to the Germans, initially with low-grade material. As the Germans asked specific questions about the situation in Persia and, particularly, the Tehran conference, KISS was required to provide more and more detail, which lead the British to reveal his existence (but not BLACKGUARD's) to the Soviets. The deception of the Germans was continued to the end of the war and beyond, as the link was watched for any signs of post-war Germany attempting to re-establish contact with its supposed agent in Persia.

KV 2/1281 is the main file on the KISS case, covering 1942-1945. It contains the initial reports on KISS from BLACKGUARD, SIME reports on the KISS case, and full details of the decision to reveal KISS's existence to the Russians. The Soviets were initially obstructive, but suddenly changed their attitude (in December 1944) and moved to open collaboration. The file contains full reports on meetings between British and Russian agents and includes the text of some of the messages sent to the Germans using KISS's transmitter.

KV 2/1282 (covering 1945) includes summaries of the KISS case (for example at folios 97a and 138a). The file discusses in depth the reason for the sudden change in Soviet attitudes towards KISS, and concludes that the Soviet collaboration was designed to try to penetrate the UK security organisation in Persia and to gain experience of how Britain ran its double agents. The future of KISS is discussed in this light. The file also includes correspondence on the linking up of the KISS and Vaziri cases (see KV 4/224).

The files on KISS maintained by the Baghdad office of CICI are in KV 2/1283, which includes copies of the messages sent and received through the KISS transmitter, and general correspondence on the handling of the KISS case.

Similar correspondence can also be found on the Tehran CICI files in KV 2/1284 and 1285. KV 2/1285 also contains the file from SIME, Cairo on KISS, which includes copies of extracts from Thirty Committee meeting minutes concerning KISS, and a post-war case summary. The file reveals that after the war KISS asked to be allowed to return to Germany to find work, but that the British sought to block this move.

Double Agent policy files

(KV 4/210-215)

This release also sees the opening of a number of files on the policy behind the operation of the Double Cross system, including the following highlights.

The system depended for its effectiveness on the quality and quantity of information passed back to the Germans through the agents. Files KV 4/213-214 set out the policy on this, recording many of the messages sent and detailing who authorised the sending of certain messages.

A further file (KV 4/211) sets out arrangements for securing the Double Agents in the event of a German invasion. The plans, known as "Mr Mills' Circus", included the arrest of some agents, with others being escorted to out-of-the way locations in Wales (hotels in Llandudno, Llanwrst and Betws-y-Coed are mentioned). The file covers the period 1941 to 1944, and ends with a receipt for the return to New Scotland Yard in May 1944 of seven pairs of handcuffs required for the plans.

The security of the agents in TRICYCLE's organisation in Yugoslavia after the defeat of the German occupying forces is the concern of file KV 4/210. The file details the Security Service's efforts to safeguard the agents by liaison with various anti-German Yugoslav agencies, and includes a hand-written memo by the Director General Sir David Petrie.