- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 23, 2005


By Thaddeus Holt

Scribner’s, $49.95, 1,148 pages, illus.


With V-E and V-J Days now nearly six decades behind us, why a door-stopper of a new book on deception operations? What possibly new could be said that has escaped the trolling nets of two generations of military historians? Such skepticism came to mind when I picked up Thaddeus Holt’s “The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War.”

Well, there are two reasons the book is valuable. First, and foremost, Mr. Holt has put his hands on documents describing the massive deception plan carried out by the British and American militaries that heretofore were secret. (Let me save Reason Two for a bit, OK?)

“The Deceivers” has an interesting provenance. While serving as deputy undersecretary of the army 1965-1967 with responsibilities including intelligence, Mr. Holt heard of massive files on deception that remained classified and hidden away in the Pentagon. He obtained access to them in 1994 and struggled until 1998 to get them declassified. What he produced is in essence a tutorial on the subject that our military and intelligence schools will be using for generations to come, a casebook that describes actual operations to underscore the principles of a very intricate phase of warfare. A 37 page appendix is required to list every deception operation of the war, which suggests the scope of what was done.

The cast of characters numbers in the dozens, but central to success were (1) British Brigadier Dudley Wrangle Clarke, who would be happy that I call him “one of the more devious figures in military history;” and (2) his American counterpart, Colonel Bill Baumer. Mr. Holt obtained access to the private papers of both men.

In the first days of the war, Clarke carried out small scale operations in the Middle East that became the basis for grander schemes in following years. Our military was brought into the work at a later date as a more or less equal partner (although one suspects the truth of the old spook axiom, “The Brits taught us everything that we know, but not everything that they know.” Thus the object of military deception, by definition of the Allied Joint Security Control, “is to cause the enemy to make false estimates and mistakes in his military decisions and consequent actions, thereby contributing to the accomplishment of tasks in our over-all military mission.”

Clarke, Baumer and associates developed some guiding principles: The “first and great fundamental commandment of military deception: Your goal is not to make the enemy think something; it to make him do something. Breach of this commandment underlies many deception failures.” Mr. Holt further writes that “it is not necessary to make the enemy actually believe in the false state of affairs that you want to project. It is enough if you can make him so concerned over its likelihood that he feels that he must provide for it.” A deceived enemy will shift divisions around on a battlefield to counter an implied but non-existent threat.

For instance, when the British fought in the western deserts of Africa 1941-1942, they behaved as if their inferior forces were actually a match for the Germans. Doing so bought the Brits invaluable time. Much of this effort was accomplished by an operation codenamed CHEESE. The Brits convinced German intelligence that a chap named “Paul Nicossof” — a non-existent notional — had both corrupt sources in British General Headquarters in Cairo and ran operators who had assembled a makeshift transmitter.

From 1941 through early 1945 CHEESE sent the Germans and Italians 432 messages — some of them containing valid but worthless information to build Nicossof’s credibility (“chicken feed,” in spookspeak) but a good deal of deception material. For instance, CHEESE convinced the Germans that four British divisions were being diverted from Africa to help the Soviets defend the Caucasus.

Not every enemy force was susceptible to such operations. As Mr. Holt writes, “Part of the problem was that the Japanese intelligence services were too dull-witted to be hustled.” Too, strategy shaped slowly in the Pacific Theater, and as British deceptor Peter Fleming commented, “It is impossible, or at least highly dangerous, to attempt to lie until you know what the truth is.”

German intelligence, although fairly adept at collecting information — including the disinformation spread by London Controlling Section — were stubborn in admitting error. Once a bogus order of battle was compiled, the Germans clung to it through hell and high water — perhaps fearful of admitting to Hitler that they had been deceived.

Sadly, many of the wartime lessons learned about deception went for naught in later years. In the main, attempted deception operations in Vietnam died aborning. (One exception was ELDEST SON in 1968, in which Special Operations Group doctored captured enemy ammunition to blow up when fired. This paralleled COPPERS SCHEME, which the British employed in the Middle East in 1941. But as Mr. Holt comments, “this hardly qualified as deception.”)

Thankfully, the Pentagon began a rethinking of deception in the 1970s by bringing in some of the veterans of World War II to lecture on what had been learned (and then forgotten). Mr. Holt writes that the main force was William J. Casey, who dealt with deception while an OSS officer, and who was President Reagan’s first director of central intelligence. Casey played a “key role” in prompting “a new awareness at the top of the American government of the possibilities of strategic deception.” But that is another story for another Sunday.

Oh, yes, now Reason Two why this book is valuable. A fellow across town who reviewed “The Deceivers” devoted many excited paragraphs to the story of how British intelligence planted the body of a bogus courier on the Germans via submarine off Spain. The chap carried a case of ostensible top-secret documents giving a spurious date for the Allied invasion of North Africa. Wire intercepts showed that the Germans bought the story “hook, line and sinker,” as Mr. Holt writes.

News? Hardly. The operation was the subject of “The Man Who Never Was,” best-selling book in 1954 — half a century ago — that became a popular movie. I fear that young’uns among us are ignorant of military history. “The Deceivers” deserves a five-cloak rating. An invaluable read for the layman and specialist alike.

Joseph C. Goulden is doing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is [email protected]aol.com.

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