What could be one’s most excellent motivator in doing huge acts that could even result in risking his own life than his idealism? That was precisely the case with Juan Pujol García. During World War II, he was a Spanish Civil War veteran who hated with all his guts the idea of totalitarianism. So when Britain went to war with Germany, he decided he would join in the war effort and work as a spy against the Nazis.
Except, there was one problem: He was a total amateur at espionage with no connections or credentials that he could use to persuade the British to allow him to do the job. When he was rejected, there was not much to do but take it to himself and play the role of a spy he wanted to get, with or without the British’s approval. And that’s what he did.
Juan was born in Barcelona, Spain, to a strict Roman Catholic mother and a secular father with liberal political views. When his father died a few months after the Second Republic’s establishment in 1931, his family was left with more than enough to provide for themselves. That was until the Spanish Civil War began, and the workers took over his father’s factory.
Not only that, but Pujol was sent to compulsory military service in a cavalry unit, something he knew he was not meant to do. He hated horse-riding and the Republican government for taking his sister’s fiance and later on arresting his sister and mother and charging them with being counter-revolutionaries.
He managed to fake his papers with the help of his girlfriend and then joined the Nationalist side, which equally ill-treated him by sending him to prison for expressing sympathy for the monarchy. These experiences made him loathe both fascism and communism that extended to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
When the British rejected him, he decided to fly to London and posed as a Spanish official interested in spying on Britain for the Third Reich. There, he had no difficulty contacting Nazi Intelligence, who was hesitant at first but accepted him anyway. After teaching him espionage and secret writing, he began feeding them fabricated information they thought was from London. In reality, these were provided from Lisbon and Madrid. Pujol was essentially working as a double agent for Britain… without Britain’s knowledge.
In Stephan Talty’s book, “Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day,” he said:
He was really gathering these sort of factoids from different encyclopedias, and even from advertisements he saw and placards he saw in the street. So he was a complete amateur, but he was able to sort of built up enough of a portfolio to finally approach the British.
In 1942, he went back to the British officials and again asked that he be allowed to be their double agent, showing his credentials that he was already one. The British had already heard about this secret spy sending information to Germany, although they didn’t know who it was. Finally, Pujol revealed it was him, so they brought him to London to get started with MI5.
In London, he was given to a Spanish-speaking officer named Tommy Harris. They worked together in “one of those rare partnerships between two exceptionally gifted men whose inventive genius inspired and complemented each other.”
The two made up 27 sub-agents with full life stories each that he would tell the Nazis were his recruits— there was a Venezuelan in Glasgow, an indiscreet US army sergeant, a Welsh leader of Fascists called the “Brothers of the Aryan World Order” in Swansea.
These “recruits” flooded the Germans with so much information and intelligence reports that they didn’t make an effort to infiltrate the UK. As Stephen Talty further said,
I think the Germans felt that no one could really fake this much information and this many different characters. [The Germans] also felt that if they cut him off or if they doubted him even, they were not going to just lose one agent, they were going lose a network.
And so they continued to believe him and never really caught his lies.
Final Act of Deception
His biggest deception was when he told the Nazis that the plans for the Normandy invasion were inaccurate. This, as we know, resulted in the Germans’ unpreparedness when the Allies flooded the shores of Normandy during the D-Day attack.
However, his final act of deception was when the war ended, and they confirmed there was no Fourth Reich. Pujol fled to Venezuela, leaving behind the memories of war and his wife and kids in Spain. He asked Harris to spread the rumor that he died of malaria while in Angola.
In Venezuela, he disguised himself by growing a beard and wearing this hideous pair of glasses. He hid there for 36 years until, in the 1980s, a British writer named Nigel West looked into his life story and made a theory that Pujol was not dead. He successfully tracked the ex-spy, who decided to escape his hiding cave. Then, he went to Europe to reconnect with his ex-wife and children, who were upset that their dad played them.
His real death was in 1988.