The FBI’s Missed Opportunity Sebold, Duquesne, and Nazi Espionage in America Benjamin P. Belden 4/23/2013 HTS 4081 Dr. Kristie Macrakis Georgia Institute of Technology School of History, Technology & Society

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The FBI’s Missed Opportunity

Sebold, Duquesne, and Nazi Espionage in America

Benjamin P. Belden


HTS 4081

Dr. Kristie Macrakis

Georgia Institute of Technology

School of History, Technology & Society

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On December 12, 1941, a Brooklyn jury found fourteen Nazi spies guilty of espionage

and failure to register as agents of a foreign country. The FBI had arrested these agents in June

of 1941, along with nineteen others who eventually pled guilty to the same charges.1 This was

considered by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to be one of the greatest victories for the FBI in

foreign espionage up to this time; accordingly, the arrests, trial, and conviction were widely

publicized in order to increase American awareness of and appreciation for the Bureau.2 Upon

further investigation, however, it is clear that this victory was not nearly as important as Hoover

or anybody else claimed specifically because the most significant transmissions between this

group of spies and their masters in Germany occurred before the FBI investigation began, the

FBI did not work as diligently as they proclaimed they had in investigating the individuals

involved, and the FBI could have used this ring much more effectively in the realm of

counterespionage than it did. This becomes especially clear when examining this case alongside

successful double agent cases in the British Double Cross System. As it happened though, the

FBI chose to forego the potential strategic benefits a double agent could have provided in order

to publicize their successful investigation and prosecution of the case. In comparing the Double

Cross Committee and the FBI during World War II, it is quite obvious that a fundamental

difference in motivation and mindset resulted in the very different strategies the two agencies

employed in their espionage and counterespionage systems.

When investigating this case further, one must first understand both how the case came to

the FBI and the information the Bureau shared with the American public during its prosecution

of the 33 individuals involved. In published accounts3 of the Duquesne Ring,4 one William

Sebold arrived on a ship in New York Harbor from Europe on February 11, 1940 having

previously agreed to work with the FBI for espionage activities. Sebold had been born in

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Mulheim an der Ruhr in western Germany but had been living in America for more than 10 years

and was now a naturalized citizen. He had gone back to Germany to visit his family in 1939 but

was confronted by the Gestapo who coerced him into practicing espionage in America for the

Abwehr via threats against himself and his family. During the course of his training in Germany

for this mission in America, he visited the American consulate in Cologne and informed that

office of his situation and his desire to work with American authorities to foil the Abwehr’s plan.

Accordingly, when Sebold re-entered America in February 1940, he immediately

encountered his case officer who began setting him up with a cover story, an office in New York

City, and a radio station on Long Island for communication with Germany as he was instructed

to do by the Abwehr. Over the next 16 months, he allowed his contacts to introduce him to new

spies, eventually expanding the ring to 33 members. He interacted with these agents in his office

and at other arranged rendezvous points. The FBI set up microphones, cameras, and one-way

glass in his office in order to capture every second of action there; additionally FBI agents were

assigned to follow and document the activities and meetings of each individual identified as

being possibly involved in this ring. When Sebold gathered information5 from one of the spies,

he would hand it over to the FBI agents, who would analyze it, remove important material, and

sometimes insert misleading information.6 The altered message would then be relayed to

Germany. Other than Sebold, the FBI focused heavily on 3 subjects: Frederick “Fritz” Joubert

Duquesne, Herman Lang, and Everett Minster Roeder.7 Obviously, this situation gave the FBI

an excellent opportunity to not only capture all the spies involved, but also to feed the Abwehr

misinformation that might potentially cause Germany to make a crucial military error. The

proceeding paper details how the FBI, while apprehending all the spies involved, missed a

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greater chance at counterespionage, a chance that their counterparts in Britain, given similar

situations, did not squander.

The prosecutions of the individuals involved in this case were extremely public events;

newspapers reported on the proceedings, and the FBI was eager to discuss the case with the

media. In particular, the FBI was able to focus media attention on Fritz Duquesne, emphasizing

that he was the “leader” of this ring. They also made sure that they communicated Duquesne’s

history to media outlets for dissemination to the general public. It is because of this publicity

that Fritz Duquesne – codename JIMMY DUNN – has come to be the most memorable of these

spies, and many scholars refer to this network of spies as the “Duquesne Ring.” Much of this is

the doing of the FBI and the way they chose to publicize this case from the moment it broke.

Duquesne was the only professional spy involved in this ring, and he was already well-known to

the Germans before World War II. Born in South Africa, Duquesne had a deep-seeded hate for

the British which stemmed from the second British Boer War. During this conflict, the British

claimed all of his family’s land, destroyed it, and killed his sister. After this, he made it his life’s

mission to avenge these injustices. He began by working against the British as a spy for the

Boers during this war. He continued his anti-British activity during World War I, during which

he participated in espionage for Germany against Britain. These are his documented activities,

but there is no shortage of rumors regarding Duquesne’s actions outside of these.8 Because of

his reputation, the FBI chose to focus on Duquesne as the leader and most important figure.

Upon further reading, however, it is clear that there is much more to this case than the

simple facts that the FBI presented to the American population at the time. In fact, this case

began far before Sebold or the FBI became involved with it. Abwehr chief Wilhelm Canaris

knew of possible intelligence in America regarding top-secret bombsight technology, and in

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1937, he recruited Nikolaus Ritter “‘to expand [Germany’s] coverage of the United States

stemm[ing] from a request of the Luftwaffe to procure for them the design of the Norden

bombsight.’”9 In fact, this technology was so important and potentially damaging should a

United States enemy gain access to it that “secret services had their eyes on it, even as early as

1921.”10 Lang and Roeder were privy to the ultra-secret Norden Bombsight and Sperry

Gyroscope, respectively because of their jobs within those companies. Both of these innovations

were similar technologies being produced by separate companies and essentially allowed a

bombardier to be much more accurate with the timing of the release of his bombs over a target.

Even before the Norden was used heavily in World War II, scientists knew it would

revolutionize bomber operations.11 It is for this reason that Lang and Roeder became targets for

Canaris and Ritter.

Much to chagrin of Canaris, Ritter ardently desired to make the journey to America to

personally speak with Lang, Roeder, Duquesne, and several other contacts. Canaris believed this

mission was dangerous and potentially compromising to Ritter and the whole operation, but

Ritter was able to convince Canaris that he was the best man for the job, drawing on his

extensive past experience in America.12 Finally, Ritter was able to make his trip to America in

October and November of 1937 (15 months before Sebold’s arrival), was able to meet with

Lang, Roeder, and Duquesne, and receive commitments from each on their willingness to work

with Germany. Most importantly though, Ritter was able to procure two different drawings of

the Norden bombsight from Lang. Although there was originally some doubt in Germany as to

whether or not they were usable sketches of the bombsight, German scientists were eventually

able to make working models of an “improved” version of the Norden bombsight, for which the

Lang drawings were vital. As one German agent told Lang of the models when Lang saw them

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on a trip to Germany, they “‘would not be on that table without your valuable contribution, Herr

Lang.’”13 The date and significance of this security breach is extremely important in discussing

the convictions of 1941 and the FBI’s work in investigating the spy ring in question.

Although Roeder was able to transmit information about the Sperry gyroscope, a

technology comparable in potential value to the Norden bombsight, the Abwehr appeared to

value the Norden more, and thus Lang became a more important figure than Roeder over time in

this case. Even in its own write-up of the Lang case, the FBI admits that it began its

investigation of Lang far after the bombsight was in the hands of the Abwehr: “Germany had the

American bombsight and had had it for about two years,” while Lang “became a subject in this

case as a result of the fact that his name…was given to William Sebold in Hamburg, Germany

about February 26, 1940.”14 Based on this date, it is clear, once again, that Lang transmitted his

information and drawings of the bombsight more than two years before the FBI had even heard

his name.

Lang was unlike all the other spies in this network. He did not accept money, even when

Ritter offered him $1500 for his services – the highest amount offered to any Nazi espionage

agent in America. As Ritter later said “‘it was the first time that I had encountered a spy who

was stealing secrets purely for ideological reasons and not monetary gain.’”15 Unlike Duquesne,

he was not flashy or outspoken. Ritter found that Lang “was a simple man who had no real

aspirations except to provide for his wife and daughter.”16 Additionally, he had an atypical

method of operation, one that did not draw attention to himself or his work at all: because of his

specific job within the Norden plant, Lang had access to the drawings of the bombsight, “and

each night would take some home with him. An expert draftsman, he would lay them out on his

kitchen table and painstakingly copy them, making full-scale duplicates.”17 Most significantly,

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he had undertaken this mission on his own. He was not recruited and ordered to steal the Norden

designs, but was galvanized to obtain this vital information by his love of his homeland even

after having lived in America for 13 years.18

Once again, it is extremely significant that this important trip by Ritter to America

occurred in 1937. He was able to procure the Norden bombsight technology from Lang and

confirm the cooperation of Duquesne, Roeder, and a few other spies in America. Again, Sebold

travelled to Germany in 1939. It was during this trip that he was approached by Abwehr, and he

contacted the consulate in Cologne to begin cooperation with the FBI. He then returned to

America on February 11, 1940, and activity with other spies and with the FBI proceeded as

detailed above. It is important to understand this timeline in order to accurately assign value to

the spies in the ring and the information they gathered.

Given the publicity of the trials of the spies in this network and the proclaimed

significance of the investigations at the time, it is beneficial to look back and investigate how

much each spy actually contributed to German espionage. The most logical place to begin this

investigation is with the network’s “leader,” Fritz Duquesne. During the time period germane to

this study, the Abwehr relied on Duquesne for information on the production of American war

industry and the shipment of these war products to Britain via the Lend-Lease policy established

prior to America’s involvement in World War II.19 Generally, the Abwehr was pleased with

Duquesne’s ability as a spy and “was delighted with the information sent by Fritz, and surprised

that the old spy…was coming through again for the Vaterland.”20 Apparently though, Duquesne

had learned from his years of experience in espionage that a sense of neuroticism was important,

as he was always looking over his shoulder for somebody tailing him.

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Despite the Abwehr’s general pleasure with Duquesne’s work, his nervousness was

evident in his relationship with both with the agency and fellow German spies. It is for this

reason that Duquesne generally did not associate with many of the other spies in the ring. For

example, when orienting Sebold to the espionage business in New York, he told him “to stay

away from Germans, as every German in America was a squealer, and to be very cautious and to

burn everything.”21 With regards to his attitude toward the Abwehr, it is obvious that Duquesne

had his moments of feeling unappreciated for all of his work. For instance, when another agent

delivered money from the Abwehr for Duquesne on which he had been waiting, Duquesne

sarcastically said “‘so Jimmy is becoming useful to them [Abwehr] again is he?’”22 One of

Duquesne’s main forms of espionage was to monitor ships leaving New York Harbor and to

relay this information to Sebold, who would send it to Germany, but he was becoming frustrated

with the Abwehr’s lack of response when the FBI reported that “he stated that the people in

Germany are pretty dumb or else they do not understand what he is wiring about.”23

Besides his neuroticism and frustration with the Abwehr, there were other peculiarities

about the transmissions between Fritz Duquesne and the Abwehr – executed by Sebold and the

FBI of course – that were unique from the transmissions involving other agents in the “Duquesne

Ring.” Firstly, Duquesne was only agent who used secret writing extensively. For example, he

was using a type of wax on envelopes mailed to the Abwehr until the Abwehr sent a message to

Sebold on June 28, 1940 stating “Dunn should not use the wax system.”24 This indicates that the

wax system was not working or was compromised in some way. Another message to Sebold,

this one on August 26 of the same year reads in part “Don’t let Dunn make you nervous.”25 In

the FBI file, there is no indication as to what might have prompted this warning, but it seems out

of order with the rest of the information transmitted. Duquesne also talked of sabotage more than

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any other agent in the ring.26 Had he been able to follow through on some of his thoughts and

plans, the results might have been disastrous.

Curiously, in November of 1940, Sebold received a radio message from the Abwehr

telling him to “ask Jimmy about coming to Germany for business in Africa.”27 If Duquesne was

really as reliable and important as Ronnie asserts, why would the Abwehr want to pull him from

America and move him to a different assignment? If he was so vital in America, it seems logical

that the Abwehr would have found somebody else to take the African assignment. Finally, and

probably most telling of the FBI’s lack of knowledge of foreign espionage, Duquesne was

actually transmitting information to Germany before Sebold arrived in America.28 Once Sebold

arrived, he took over Duquesne’s transmission duties. All of these circumstances lead to the

conclusion that although Duquesne sometimes transmitted solid information to the Abwehr,

especially in the beginning of his activities, he was really not a very reliable agent, and this lack

of stability, and even recklessness in his espionage planning, may have led to the Abwehr’s

desire to move him to a new assignment. It should have also led to an FBI investigat ion of

Duquesne before Sebold brought him to its attention. How could this notorious career spy be

operating in the United States without anybody noticing? Would the FBI ever have apprehended

him had it not been for Sebold delivering him to the Bureau? These questions are obviously

impossible to answer, but they do reveal some shortcomings of the FBI that it did well to cover

up in the media coverage after the trial.

Similar questions arise in an investigation of Herman Lang (codename PAUL) and

Everett Roeder (codename CARR). As was the case with William Sebold, Lang and Roeder

were Ritter recruits, as Ritter first met these men in America in the autumn of 1937. As

mentioned above, Lang was a very discreet spy. Because of this, it is somewhat understandable

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that he did not register as an espionage agent to the FBI before Sebold revealed his story. His

goal was to keep a low profile, and he certainly succeeded in that. What is less understandable,

however, is how Norden information could have been allowed to escape this country, regardless

of who carried it out or how it left. If, as Farago states, the secret services had been watching the

Norden sight since 1921, it is inexplicable that information that was supposed to be such a

priority was transmitted directly to the Abwehr by one of Norden’s own employees. Certainly,

the FBI may not have been directly involved with this case in 1921, but on September 6, 1939,

President Franklin Roosevelt ordered that the responsibility for all espionage-related

investigation be transferred to the FBI.29 Obviously, the FBI was not monitoring the Norden

information as closely as they claimed to be during this time. If they were, the nightly

disappearance of important drawings would have been noticed and investigated.

In media coverage of the case, the FBI was successful in making the conviction of Lang

appear definitive and an end result that far outweighed the damage Lang had done by

transmitting the bombsight information to Germany. 30 Although many news articles on the case

mention the secret nature of the Norden, none of them discuss the potential danger of this

material in enemy hands.31 Although the FBI could not deny the fact that the Norden had been

compromised, it was able to minimize its significance. Also during the trial, attorneys accused

Lang of selling the secrets of the bombsight himself to Germany in his 1938 trip to the country.

Based on all credible accounts, including the FBI documents themselves, this did not happen at

all. In reality, Lang gave the drawings to Ritter who took them back to Germany himself. It is

clear by studying media reports of this case that the FBI tried to maximize the role of Lang and

minimize that of Ritter because Ritter had not been captured. The same is true for Fritz

Duquesne. Had the FBI allowed for the true role of Nikolaus Ritter to be publicly known, it

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would seem as if the work on the case was not done, and the convictions would not have been as

conclusive as the FBI would have liked.

Although Duquesne was the most unique and experienced agent in America, his

involvement in this network of spies certainly did not warrant the network having his name

attached to it. The true leader of this network was Nikolaus Ritter. As stated above, Wilhelm

Canaris ordered Ritter to organize the ring of spies in America to obtain information on the

Norden bombsight and the American war industry in general. In fact, it was Ritter’s plan to not

have a central leader in America, but “each [spy] would work independently and give his reports

directly to the person Ritter would eventually engage to oversee the whole American operation

[Sebold].”32 He chose to employ this strategy to prevent the whole ring from being

compromised should just one member be discovered, but he did not count on Sebold turning the

entire ring over to the FBI. Although many spies in the ring ended up meeting and interacting

with each other, these connections did not come through Fritz Duquesne. For example, spy

Richard Eichenlaub operated the Little Casino restaurant, which was frequented by many

members of the ring, and Eichenalub used his position to introduce espionage agents to each

other.33 Another agent, Paul Fehse, met many different agents to gather their information, which

he would compile and give to Sebold for transmission to Germany.34 Finally, many of the agents

worked aboard transatlantic ships as cooks or custodians and served the ring as couriers, carrying

physical items from America to Germany. Many spies knew each other through this courier role,

two of the most closely linked being Erwin Siegler and Franz Stigler. In contrast, Fritz

Duquesne did not interact with any of the other agents other than to be paid and to give

information to Sebold for transmission. Again, his neuroticism and distrust of other Germans is

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important here. Because of these traits and his lack of interaction with other agents in the ring,

he could not have possibly been the leader as the FBI portrayed him.

Ritter’s role as the leader of this ring is unquestionable, or at least less questionable than

calling Duquesne the leader. In fact, even referring to this network as the “Duquesne Ring” is

erroneous; the “Ritter Ring” appears more appropriate.35 He was the common connection

between all the agents in America, as they all used his codename Dr. Rantzau as a code word to

indicate that they were working for the same man and had the same purpose. For example, this

method was used in Sebold’s introduction to Lang.36 Also it was Ritter who had travelled to the

United States in 1937 to recruit the most important agents for his ring, including Lang, Roeder,

Duquesne, Evelyn Lewis, and Else Weustenfeld.37 As stated above, there were times during

Duquesne’s involvement in the ring that the Abwehr did not find the information Duquesne

gathered to be valuable, and his work appeared to be inconsistent. In fact, given the magnitude

of the information that Lang was able to procure, it would have been more fitting if he were the

most featured spy captured in this case. Given Duquesne’s past record though, it was excellent

publicity for the FBI to highlight Duquesne as the most important agent in this ring. The Bureau

wanted to send the message that they had finally put an end to Duquesne’s work, a task that

nobody, not even the British, had been able to execute. The FBI was able to use his espionage

history to portray him as an almost legendary agent that had evaded capture for so long, a legend

that the Bureau was finally able to end. This allowed the FBI to leave out the fact that the most

important information obtained by this ring, the Norden bombsight drawings, had been obtained

before the investigation began, right under the FBI’s nose without it even noticing.

Besides the fact that the Norden information escaped the United States before the FBI

investigation of the Ritter Ring began, the FBI missed an even larger opportunity once they were

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made aware of the ring by Sebold. It had been presented with an almost perfect situation to

execute counterespionage against the Abwehr, but it neglected to take advantage of this

opportunity. In a review of messages sent by “Sebold” (really sent by FBI agents operating his

radio), it is clear that no meaningful additions were made by the FBI to the largely insignificant

information supplied by the agents in the ring. Much of the information sent to Germany

concerned ship movements and war production. The information as a whole was so

insignificant, in fact, that the FBI hardly altered most of it. The most “deception” that ever really

occurred in the transmissions was delaying the actual transmission by a couple days.38 Had the

FBI supplied the Abwehr with some more relevant – but not dangerous – information, the Sebold

case could have been fruitful for the FBI even outside of the convictions that came from it.

This lack of counterespionage effort was a result of the mindset of the FBI at this time.

World War II was a critical time period for Hoover and his Bureau as their roles continued to

expand. Therefore, they were more worried about capturing as many foreign agents as possible

in order to show their power and to give reason to continue to expand the Bureau’s roles. This is

directly opposite of the attitude adopted by the British Double Cross (XX) Committee. This

group was concerned primarily with taking advantage of the connection with Germany it had in

the agent it had turned to the British side to practice counterespionage. In fact, the XX

Committee was perfectly content with allowing these agents to go unprosecuted for long periods

of time because it valued this counterespionage more than convicting them. A few examples

(Juan Pujol and Dusko Popov) of the XX Committee using double agents successfully will

provide a striking contrast with the FBI and its strategies regarding counterespionage during this


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Before analyzing Juan Pujol or Dusko Popov and their important roles as double agents

for Britain during World War II, it is necessary to briefly discuss Britain’s double cross system

that made these cases possible. Britain’s counterespionage system began in earnest in September

of 1939 with agent Arthur Owens, codenamed SNOW. SNOW had been in contact with M.I. 6

since 1936 but had been operating as a German agent. Upon the outbreak of war and his

subsequent arrest in England, SNOW accepted a British deal to set up a radio set from prison to

make contact with Germany under British direction. Incidentally, SNOW’s Abwehr contact was

none other than Nikolaus Ritter, and he even went to visit Ritter in Rotterdam. SNOW’s case

showed M.I. 6 the importance of operating double agents. Not only did this practice enable them

to secure confidential enemy information, but it also allowed M.I. 6 to uncover foreign agents.

Unlike the FBI in the Sebold case, when the XX Committee understood that SNOW could lead

them to new agents, they chose to develop these new agents into useful counterespionage agents

as opposed to developing cases against them until it was appropriate to arrest them. Beginning

with the SNOW case, the British double cross system was up and running and was soon to

produce many double agents who not only delivered vital information to Britain, but also were

able to deceive the Nazi military machine in the most critical of situations.39

Juan Pujol was one of these agents that the Double Cross Committee was able to utilize

in such a significant way. Pujol was a Spaniard, who, like Sebold had with the FBI, had

volunteered his efforts to the British secret services. Also similarly to Sebold, secret service

officials were skeptical of Pujol’s sincerity, fearing that he might be an Abwehr plant since he

came to the attention of Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) because of no effort of its own.

Eventually though, in the beginning of 1942, the British intelligence services (SIS, M.I. 5 and

M.I. 6) determined that he was trustworthy and gave him the codename GARBO.40 From this

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point forward, GARBO was able to obtain valuable German information, transmit false British

information, and develop a system comparable in size to the Ritter Ring. The biggest difference

was that GARBO’s agents were completely imaginary, yet the Abwehr still believed everything

he told it. At the same time, however, his British case officer was able to work with him to

provide true but mainly insignificant information to the Germans in order to maintain his good

reputation with the Abwehr. The essential operation of the case officers in the double cross

system was determining which information was insignificant enough to allow the agents to

provide the Abwehr while at the same time giving them enough true information of value to

allow the double agents to maintain their worth to the Abwehr. GARBO’s case is one in which

this essential operation was performed perfectly, as he was able to maintain high status within

the Abwehr while not having to betray crucial British information.41 His development was a

very long process, but one that was clearly worth every bit of effort.

The case of Juan Pujol, while sharing many similarities with William Sebold’s case,

provides an excellent contrast to Sebold in the way intelligence agencies handled their cases. As

stated above, Pujol undertook his espionage work on his own without being recruited. He sent

his first message to the Abwehr on July 19, 1941, and he quickly became a very important agent

to the Abwehr.42 He consistently impressed the agency with the entirely fictitious spy ring he

had established in Britain, and thus the Abwehr believed him to be a particularly good source of

information.43 He eventually came under control of the XX Committee in February 1942, but by

this point, he had already had a good relationship with the Abwehr for almost 8 months.44 The

Double Cross Committee strategically continued to let this relationship strengthen until an

opportunity arose for his services to be necessary. This opportunity presented itself with

Operation Torch in November of 1942, which as Talty says “would be GARBO’s coming out

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party.”45 Torch was to be the Allied invasion of North Africa, and it was GARBO’s job to

ensure that the Germans did not anticipate this attack. Essentially, he was able to convince the

Germans that an attack was coming in Norway, playing on Hitler’s already existing fear of an

attack in that country, which caused German firepower to be concentrated there. Without this bit

of counterintelligence, Allied forces would have almost certainly met more resistance upon their

landing in North Africa. The real genius of the plan though reached the Abwehr after the attack

occurred. GARBO sent a message through the mail to the Abwehr giving exact details of the

attack, and the Double Cross Committee assured that it was postmarked before the attack but did

not reach the Abwehr until after the invasion had occurred.46 The Abwehr, therefore, still valued

his information, but felt that the delay was just caused by a snag in the postal system. His most

important work in the future would have a major impact on one of the most iconic attacks in

military history.

In preparation for the Operation Overlord landings in Normandy in June 1944, more

commonly known as D-Day, the Allied forces knew they would have to deceive Germany in

some way so that the attack on Normandy would come as a surprise and thus be met by less

German opposition than usual. This was Britain’s chance to use their, by now, extensive double

cross system to feed misinformation to Germany so as to divert its forces to locations other than

Normandy. To this end, Operation Fortitude was devised. This plan was divided into three

parts, North, South, and South II. Most pertinent to GARBO though were Fortitude South and

Fortitude South II. Essentially, GARBO was able to communicate to Germany the following:

“We [Allies] are now planning a very large scale assault in two

phases. The first, and lesser, of these, mounted in Southwest

England, will be directed West of the Seine [Normandy]. When this

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assault has established itself, and drawn enemy reserves from the Pas

de Calais area [French region which was the shortest distance from

England], the main assault will be launched from Southeast England

against the Pas de Calais. First assault will be launched in July, the

second as soon thereafter as practical.”47

This statement was complemented by troops and equipment stationed in Southeast England as

well as “dummy landing craft” stationed in the harbors of this area.48 The Double Cross

Committee was even able to convince the Germans that Patton was the general of this group in

Southeast England. The Germans took the report as total truth, and were both surprised by the

D-Day attack on Normandy and convinced that an attack on the Pas de Calais was imminent and

thus refused to move their 58 divisions from that area to support Normandy. 49

Following D-Day, the deception continued with Fortitude South II. On June 9, 1944,

GARBO sent a message asserting the attack 3 days before was diversionary and that the real

attack would still come at the Pas de Calais. Germany continued to believe their trusted agent, as

is evident in an internal message which said that all reports from GARBO had been confirmed

and were very valuable. GARBO’s deception continued to hold water for months as the German

forces in the area were not broken up until late October, at which point Allied forces had made

significant headway into the continent.50 Although the United States was not an active

combatant in the war during the operation of the Ritter Ring in America, Sebold and Pujol are

comparable characters in the following ways:

1) They each fell into the lap of the intelligence services of the United States and Britain

respectively through no effort of the intelligence services.

2) Each had excellent connections with the Abwehr.

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3) Each wanted to work to confuse the Abwehr and hinder Germany’s war effort.

The GARBO case was not an isolated instance within the double cross system by any

means. Another spy, Dusan “Dusko” Popov came to the attention of the Abwehr and the Double

Cross Committee in the beginning of 1941 and actually had experience with both the double

cross business in Britain and the FBI in America. Popov came to America in August of 1941 on

a mission from the Abwehr to perform a few tasks, the most famous of which was to answer

detailed questions given to him by the Abwehr concerning Pearl Harbor.51 Popov turned this

questionnaire over to J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI; there has been plenty of controversy as to

whether the FBI should have interpreted this questionnaire as a warning of the Pearl Harbor

attack that would occur at the end of that year or if it was just another routine document that the

FBI could not have possibly associated with a warning to the December 7, 1941 attack by the

Japanese. It is not the object of the current paper to answer this question, but rather to describe

Popov’s relationship with Hoover and the FBI. Whether or not Hoover and Popov ever met –

which has also been disputed – the relationship between the FBI and Popov was a consistently

bad one, as Hoover was completely opposed to Popov’s flamboyant lifestyle. Popov fancied

himself as a playboy and asserted that maintaining this type of lifestyle was critical to his ability

to obtain valuable information from Germany. Most importantly, Popov was unable to procure

any solid information from Germany, and because he was not given any relevant information to

transmit to Germany, his status within the Abwehr was damaged by his time in America.52 He

eventually returned to Great Britain, where he was used much more effectively by the Double

Cross Committee. Popov actually worked on Operation Fortitude, just as Pujol had, the success

of which has already been detailed.53

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These cases of British counterespionage success considered with the FBI’s handling of

the Sebold case illustrate a stark contrast in strategy and motivation. The Double Cross

Committee was able to successfully utilize GARBO for many counterintelligence tasks against

the Abwehr, with the most important being the Fortitude operations. The United States, on the

other hand, used Sebold to simply find and apprehend other spies in his network as opposed to

conducting any kind of counterespionage which he was clearly willing and able to do. The FBI

was focused solely on trapping and convicting German spies in hopes that these

accomplishments would help to continue to establish the FBI as an intelligence power in

America. The Double Cross Committee however, was concerned not with convicting these spies

but using them to Britain’s advantage to obtain vital information from enemies while

transmitting misinformation at the same time. The importance of the recent delegation of all

espionage investigation to the FBI by President Roosevelt cannot be overstated. With this new

responsibility, J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI felt the need to prove to the president and the

American public that they were up to the task. This resulted in a very shortsighted focus in their

strategy: “The Bureau’s task was to identify enemy agents, keep them under 24-hour surveillance

and, by allowing them to lead the Agents to other spies, to incriminate as many as possible.”54

Once all the spies were incriminated, this motivation led to the public nature of the trials of all

the spies involved.

In contrast the Double Cross Committee’s strategy appears more pure in that it was not

driven by a need for public recognition; it simply wanted to make its best effort to aid Britain’s

war effort. Again the difference in success between the two countries, even with the same agent

(Popov), can only be explained by motivation. Hinsley and Simkins give this explanation:

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“The FBI had proved uncooperative [with Britain], not least because

it had little faith in the value of double agents, as a source of

information about the enemy’s interests, organization and methods,

let alone for the purposes of deception. In its view their sole function

was to provide leads to other spies, who could be arrested and

prosecuted with full publicity.”55

Meanwhile, the Double Cross Committee was able to see the potential benefits of a double agent

where the FBI had not. Therefore, their strategy was not concerned with short-term publicity,

but long-term success. As Committee Chairman Masterman said:

“Agents have been run on a long-term basis, that is to say, the

advantages which may be expected from them have been postponed in

order that they may be substantial, and the reputation of agents with

the enemy has been carefully built up over a long period in order that

when the time comes they can be used with confidence and


Because of this forward-looking strategy, the Double Cross Committee was willing to invest

more time and effort into the development of the agents. They were able to keep their goals in

mind and not be frustrated with the slow process.

Opposing viewpoints now manifest themselves on the issue of the benefit or harm of

having enemy spies in country, whether Britain or the United States. Predictably, Britain

basically welcomed spies into their country because of their confidence in the Double Cross

Committee and its skills in turning the spies into doubles. In the United States, however, spies

were far from welcome. As one attorney said when espionage investigative power was

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consolidated within the FBI, “‘foreign agents and those engaged in espionage will no longer find

this country a happy hunting ground for their activities.’”57 Public statements of warning like

this consistently appeared in newspapers, while the British kept their operations very secret so as

to utilize their spies to the greatest possible extent. This publicity in America frightened British

intelligence agents, as they felt this type of strategy in the media would cause the Abwehr to feel

that their system had been compromised and thus would have less confidence in its agents and

would begin to decrease the importance and volume of information transmitted to them. It is for

this reason that the reporting of espionage happenings in newspapers frustrated the Double Cross

Committee; in Britain, these types of events were not made available to news services.

These two different strategies of investigation and publication of information on

espionage investigation in Britain and America naturally gave way to some tension between the

XX Committee and the FBI. British espionage operatives were particularly displeased with J.

Edgar Hoover and his attitude toward espionage investigation. The most obvious clash occurred

around Popov and his Pearl Harbor questionnaire. XX Committee Coordinator John Masterman

claimed that “the questionnaire indicated very clearly that in the event of the United States being

at war, Pearl Harbour would be the first point to be attacked.”58 Meanwhile, Hoover and his

supporters at the FBI felt that “he [Hoover] had no reason to take special note of Popov’s

information…it deserved no more attention than myriad other snippets of intelligence.”59 This is

just one particular situation, but the feeling of frustration with Hoover by British intelligence was

constant. The British also observed that Hoover was insistent that successful investigations

conclude with public attention, which contrasted with British secrecy. As British investigator

Herbert Rowland said “‘He lived by publicity…Stephenson [senior British Intelligence officer]

avoided publicity at all costs. Inevitably the FBI got the credit. We never minded this.’”60

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Before America entered the war – at the same time as the Sebold case – British intelligence

officers felt that Hoover was disrupting what could have been very valuable cooperation between

British and American intelligence. One British intelligence officer A.M. Ross-Smith even said

“‘Hoover was a megalomaniac, an egomaniac, and a prude of the first order. He was a thorn in

our side.’”61 Certainly this dissent was a factor in the establishment of the two different

strategies by the intelligence agencies of America and Britain.

Now based on all of the information in this article to this point, it is logical to argue that

the FBI missed an opportunity with Sebold to turn him into a double agent, just as the Double

Cross Committee had done so successfully so many times throughout the war. Although the FBI

scored a victory by catching and convicting 33 German agents, a larger victory could have been

had if it had approached and handled the Sebold situation differently. First though, an

opportunity for counterespionage needed to present itself in order for the FBI to use Sebold in

such a manner. The problem, however, again comes back to the FBI’s motives. Because the

FBI was so focused on identifying and arresting as many spies as quickly as possible, it did not

allow for sufficient time for Sebold’s case to develop. In order for an agent to transmit false

information to an enemy, have the enemy believe it, and not blow his cover, he must establish

himself as a reliable source of intelligence. Depending on the agent and the intelligence

agency’s relationship with him, this can take a long period of time. In Sebold’s case specifically,

although he arrived in the United States in February of 1940, the FBI took about 8 weeks to fully

trust him, set up his radio station, and assist him in transmitting his first message to Germany,

which came on May 22, 1940, but until May 31, 1940 the transmissions only concerned money

and attempting to establish the best possible connection. On May 31, Sebold finally transmitted

his first piece of actual espionage, a report from Duquesne on merchant ship activities and

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movements.62 From this point, it would be about 13 months until Duquesne, Lang, and the rest

of the spies had been arrested, at which point the ring was obviously dead. Based on study of

other cases, 13 months is not nearly enough time for a spy to establish himself as reliable and

transmit worthwhile counterespionage information to the enemy.

The GARBO case is a perfect example of the Double Cross Committee’s commitment to

fostering the growth of its agents’ relationships with the Abwehr. Because the British

intelligence agencies were involved with information gathering and gave its double agents viable

information to transmit, these agents’ value to the Abwehr grew at a faster rate than agents in the

United States. The time between GARBO’s first message to the Abwehr and his participation in

the Torch cover was comparable in length to the time between Sebold’s first message to the

Abwehr and the arrest of the agents involved with him. These agents produced such different

results, however, because of the difference between the Double Cross Committee’s and the FBI’s

abilities to be patient with their agents. GARBO’s involvement with Fortitude obviously

required much more trust between him and the Abwehr than was necessary for the Torch cover

to be successful. This was not a problem though because the Double Cross Committee stayed

committed to his case when they very easily could have chosen to use him to reveal more spies,

as the FBI chose to do with its agents.

With the GARBO case in mind, the FBI’s lack of involvement in the Sebold case

becomes quite glaring. Of course, it would have been easier for the FBI to give and receive

meaningful information had the United States been an active participant in the war during the

time the Ritter Ring was operating. Again, the FBI’s lack of foresight becomes important. The

United States was becoming more and more involved in the war as 1941 went on, and to many,

especially those so closely involved with the inner workings of the government as J. Edgar

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Hoover, knew that American entrance into the war was inevitable. Certainly the means by which

America became involved in the war could not have been predicted, but it was obvious that

America’s neutrality would not stand. Knowing this, it would seem to be advantageous to have

an agent with direct radio contact to the enemy. In reality, neither Sebold nor the rest of the

agents in the ring were costing the United States anything. Again, the information they were

able to convey to Germany was not significant, and they were even being paid by the Abwehr.

Obviously maintaining this connection would not allow the FBI to arrest and convict the spies,

but during a time of war, it would have been more advantageous to have a web of direct

connections to the enemy than to have this web in jail.

Given the benefit of examining this case and all of its components more than 70 years

after its conclusion, it is easy to see the FBI’s shortcomings in its investigation of Sebold and the

Ritter Ring. The FBI was able to use the media to make a spectacle out of the convictions of the

spies, when in reality, the information the spies had procured was not strategically significant. In

fact, the only important information that escaped America via a member of this ring did so

before the FBI was even involved (the Norden bombsight via Lang). When presented with the

Sebold walk-in, the FBI chose to gather incriminating evidence against the agents in order to

build a sufficient case to convict them. The FBI consistently followed this strategy in order to

solidify its position within American law enforcement and to validate President Roosevelt’s

decision in 1939 to grant them sole responsibility for investigating espionage. This strategy was

fundamentally different from that of the British Double Cross System, which routinely chose to

attempt to turn the agents it encountered into double agents against the Abwehr. Naturally, these

two different strategies produced very different results for the two departments. Finally, and

most intriguingly, this dichotomy leads to the lingering question in the Ritter Ring: had the FBI

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been more forward-thinking in their investigation of the case and employed a strategy similar to

that of the XX Committee, what informational coups could the FBI have executed with Sebold

and his network in America?


1 The New York Times, 13 December, 1941, p. 1. 2 Ibid, p. 1; The New York Times, 30 June 1941, p. 1. 3 These “published accounts” refer to articles in newspapers at the time and books published just after this

investigation. 4 Calling this network the “Duquesne Ring” is a point of controversy that will be discussed in t his article. 5 Most of the information gathered by the agents in this ring concerned shipping schedules and war production

information. 6 The truth of these claims will be disputed later in this article. 7 A. Ronnie, Counterfeit Hero: Fritz Duquesne, Adventurer and Spy (1995), p. 288. Each of these characters will be

discussed in more detail in this article. 8 FBI File I.C. 65-1819, “Frederick Duquesne.” Freedom of Information Office, FBI Headquarters, Washington,

D.C. [Cited here as ‘Duquesne file’.] Section 1, Duquesne, witness classification.

The material consists of 8 ‘Sections.’ Generally, each section provides the details of the investigations of a

number of spies ending with transcripts of each message sent and received from Sebold’s radio station on Long

Island. All individual investigation details begin with a “witness classification” followed by a chronological detail

of the investigation. For citations, the section number will be given followed by the name of the individual whose

investigation is being detailed, followed by the specific date (or witness classification) which contains the activities

referenced. See above.

Editors of Look , The Story of the FBI (New York, 1947), p. 205.

Duquesne was a colorful and self-promoting figure and claimed to have been responsible for the sabotage

and intelligence that led to the sinking of the H.M.S. Hampshire in the Atlantic Ocean in 1916 causing the death of

British Field Marshal Kitchener. Since the second Boer War, Duquesne had held Kitchener p ersonally responsible

for the death of his sister and the destruction of his family’s property. 9 L. Farago, The Game of the Foxes: the Untold Story of German Espionage in the United States and Great Britain

During World War II (New York, 1972), p. 41. 10 Ibid. p. 38. 11 Ibid. p. 38. 12 Ritter had lived in America for at least 10 years before moving back to Germany to work with the Abwehr. 13 Ibid. p. 49. 14 Duquesne file, Section 2, Lang, witness classification. 15 Ronnie, op. cit., p. 208. 16 Ibid, p. 208. 17 Ibid, p. 208. 18 Ronnie, op. cit., pp. 208-209. 19 Duquesne file Section 1, Duquesne, witness classification & February 16, 1940 – June 5, 1941. 20 Ronnie, op. cit., p. 272. 21 Duquesne file Section 1, Duquesne, February 26, 1940. 22 Ronnie, op. cit., p. 260. 23 Duquesne file Section 1, Duquesne, March 19, 1940. 24 Duquesne file Section 1, Duquesne, June 28, 1940. 25 Duquesne file Section 1, Duquesne, August 26, 1940. 26 Duquesne file Section 1, Duquesne, January 11, 1941 & June 9, 1941. 27 Duquesne file Section 1, Duquesne, November 2, 1940.

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28 Duquesne file, Section 1, Duquesne, witness classification. 29 Look , op. cit., 198; The New York Times, 7 September 1939, p. 8. 30 As it happened, the Luftwaffe never successfully integrated the Norden bombsight with its aircraft. At the time

germane to this case, however, this technology had the potential to be extremely dangerous in the hands of the

Luftwaffe. It is because of this potential (not the actual result, which is only evident after the conclusion of this

case) that this security breach is the more significant than any other related to the spies in this network. 31 The New York Times, 13 December 1941, p. 1; The New York Times, 1 November 1941, p. 17; The New York

Times, 30 June 1941, p. 1 32 Ronnie, op. cit., p. 204. 33 Duquesne file Section 1, Eichenlub, all. 34 Duquesne file Section 1, Fehse, all. 35 Ronnie, op. cit., p. 227. 36 Duquesne file Section 3, Ritter, January 26, 1940. 37 Ronnie, op. cit., pp. 205-214, Farago 38-49. 38 Duquesne file, Section 8, “Radio messages received and sent from Bureau station at Centerport, Long Island,” all. 39 J.C. Masterman The Double-Cross System (New Haven, 1972), pp. 36-45. 40 F.H. Hinsley & C.A.G. Simkins, British Intelligence in the Second World War (New York, 1990), pp. 113-114. 41 Masterman, op. cit., p. 148. 42 S. Talty, Agent GARBO: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day (Boston,

2012), p. 45. 43 Hinsley & Simkins, op. cit., p. 113; Talty, op. cit., p. 83. 44 Ibid, p. 113 45 Talty, op. cit., p. 90. 46 Ibid, pp. 91-94. 47 J. Mendelsohn, Covert Warfare: Intelligence, Counterintelligence, and Military Deception During the World War

II Era (New York, 1989). Document 1: “Cover and Deception Report in the European Theater of Operations (ETO),

Cover and Deception Synopsis of History,” p. 6. 48 Ibid 7. 49 Masterman, op. cit., p. 156; Mendelsohn, op. cit., p. 8; Mendelsohn, Document 14: “Operations in Support of

Neptune: (F) Results, Exhibit ‘6’ of C&D Report,” p. 3. 50 Masterman, op. cit., 157-158. 51 The exact questionnaire is reproduced in its entirety translated to English in Appendix 2 (pages 196-198) of the

Masterman source. 52 Hinsley & Simkins, op. cit., pp. 124-126. 53 Ibid, p. 238; Masterman, op. cit., p. 148-149. 54 Look , op. cit., p. 198. 55 Hinsley & Simkins, op. cit., p. 124. 56 Masterman, op. cit., p. 2. 57 The New York Times, 7 September 1939, p. 8. 58 Masterman, op. cit., p. 80. 59 A. Summers, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (New York, 1993), p. 125. 60 Ibid, p. 120. 61 Ibid, p. 117. 62 Duquesne file, Section 8, “Radio messages received and sent from Bureau station at Centerport Long Island,”

May 22, 1940 – May 31, 1940.