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Armies of Spies

by Joseph Gol­lomb
1939, MacMil­lan 213 pages

Writ­ten on the eve of World War II, Joseph Gollomb’s Armies of Spies cor­rect­ly antic­i­pat­ed the enor­mous scope and effec­tive­ly suc­cess­ful activ­i­ties of the Fifth Colum­nists in nations slat­ed for Nazi inva­sion. Com­posed of ide­o­log­i­cal sup­port­ers of the fas­cist phi­los­o­phy and direct­ed by the Ger­man intel­li­gence agen­cies, these Fifth Col­umn move­ments were instru­men­tal in real­iz­ing Nazi blue­prints for mil­i­tary con­quest dur­ing the war, as well as post­war con­tin­u­a­tion and enlarge­ment of those plans. Much of the book con­sists of Gollomb’s analy­sis of the Third Reich’s var­i­ous pro­grams of sub­ver­sion around the world. The foun­da­tion of his work is his analy­sis of the trans­for­ma­tion­al nature of espi­onage under the Nazis. Rather than sim­ple clan­des­tine oper­a­tives con­cerned with pur­loin­ing infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­cat­ing it to their con­trol­ling agen­cies, the “spy” oper­at­ing on behalf of the Third Reich became a mem­ber of a “com­bat­ant secret ser­vice.”

Espi­onage and covert oper­a­tions were the essence and core of the Third Reich from its incep­tion. Indeed, Hitler got his start in polit­i­cal affairs as a spy and under­cov­er oper­a­tive for the Reichswehr—the Ger­man army between the World Wars. On page 30, Gol­lomb describes Hitler’s work as a spook infil­trat­ing Ger­man rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and iden­ti­fy­ing them for sub­se­quent ret­ri­bu­tion.

“ . . . His biog­ra­ph­er, [Kon­rad] Hei­den, describes it more ful­ly. ‘He belonged to the so-called Intel­li­gence Ser­vice, which is a dis­creet expres­sion for espi­onage. At that time, it was pri­mar­i­ly a mat­ter of polit­i­cal intel­li­gence, by which must be under­stood not pol­i­tics in the wide sense of the word, but of fer­ret­ing out for­mer par­ti­sans who were to be shot.’”

The Nazi Par­ty itself began as a Reich­swehr intel­li­gence front. Also on page 30, Gol­lomb writes:

“In the course of his assign­ment, Hitler cov­ered a meet­ing of a small group who called them­selves the Ger­man Work­ers Par­ty. Here he heard Got­tfried Fed­er expound a pro­gram to which Hitler instant­ly, whole­heart­ed­ly sub­scribed. He became Num­ber Sev­en on the mem­ber­ship roll of the par­ty. Small as the group was, it became the nucle­us of the first cell to embody Hitler’s vast project. . . .”

Expand­ing on this oper­a­tional base, Hitler con­ceived of infil­tra­tion, agi­ta­tion and covert oper­a­tions as a touch­stone of his method­ol­o­gy of con­quest. On page 28, Gol­lomb describes Hitler’s inspi­ra­tion:

“ . . . Hitler remem­bered how his hero, Fred­er­ick the Great, boast­ed that for every cook in his armies he had a hun­dred spies. Bis­mar­ck, anoth­er of Hitler’s heroes, pre­pared Prussia’s inva­sion of France by send­ing ahead of his armies not a hun­dred spies but lit­er­al­ly an army of them, thir­ty thou­sand pairs of eyes and ears, men and women play­ing roles as ped­dlers and cham­ber­maids, sales­men and pros­ti­tutes, shop clerks and sec­re­taries, lawyers and cler­gy, frock-coat­ed gen­tle­men and smart­ly gowned women to ply their charms—men to woo women in all walks of life, women to seduce men. Thir­ty thou­sand spies over­ran France in advance of the mil­i­tary and so under­mined it that when the troops of Prus­sia marched into the coun­try it col­lapsed like a ter­mite-rid­den struc­ture. . . .”

Real­iz­ing this project, Hitler trans­formed his intel­li­gence agen­cies into “com­bat­ant secret services”—armies of spies. On page 34, Gol­lomb describes this meta­mor­pho­sis.

“ . . . Today, the func­tion of the spy is vast­ly enlarged. He works for destruc­tion in time of peace, even though there is no dec­la­ra­tion of war between his coun­try and his vic­tim. So much has his func­tion changed that the term for mod­ern espi­onage has also changed. It is now ‘com­bat­ant secret ser­vice.’ How much has Hitler to do with this change? Con­sid­er some fig­ures. In 1932, the year before he took over Ger­many offi­cial­ly, there were sev­en espi­onage tri­als in France. In 1937, four years after he took pow­er, the num­ber of espi­onage tri­als in France mul­ti­plied more than twen­ty­fold, to one hun­dred and forty-eight. In the forty years between the out­break of the Fran­co-Pruss­ian War and 1920, few­er than nine­teen hun­dred spies were caught in all the major coun­tries of the world put togeth­er, and this includes the World War. In the ensu­ing eigh­teen years the num­ber of spies caught in the same coun­tries was twen­ty-two times as many as in the forty years pre­ceed­ing. . . . . By 1917–1918, the bud­get for Ger­man espi­onage had risen to $6,000,000 a month, but that was in time of war. What Ger­many is spend­ing today [1938] can be gath­ered only from indi­ca­tions, but fig­ures, labo­ri­ous­ly gar­nered by those who can­not afford to be care­less with them, point to an expen­di­ture by Ger­many of $8,640,000 a month for ‘com­bat­ant secret ser­vice’ in sev­en coun­tries only; and this at a time when Ger­many is offi­cial­ly ‘at peace.’. . .”

This thor­ough appli­ca­tion of infil­tra­tion, covert action and sub­ver­sion had dra­mat­ic results. (Falange by Alan Chase is an exten­sive account of the use of Hitler’s method­ol­o­gy in Spain and the Span­ish-speak­ing world. In France, the dev­as­tat­ing effects of the Fifth Col­umn were record­ed by Pierre Cot in Tri­umph of Trea­son. Both Under Cov­er by John Roy Carl­son and Say­ers and Kahn’s Sab­o­tage doc­u­ment the activ­i­ties of the Fifth Col­umn in the Unit­ed States.) On page 36, Gol­lomb sets forth the orga­ni­za­tion­al method­ol­o­gy of Nazi covert oper­a­tions.

“ . . . And its achieve­ments have been cor­re­spond­ing­ly impres­sive. It is his­to­ry, for instance, that the war in Spain did not just hap­pen to break out, nor has it been pri­mar­i­ly a Span­ish affair. For years it had been pre­pared by Ger­man sap­per-spies or, as the French call them, sabo­teurs. Then there were Aus­tria and Czecho­slo­va­kia.”

“Cor­re­spond­ing to the com­pa­ny unit, say in infantry, sabo­teur-spies work in group­ings which the French have named after the word for nest, nid. The aver­age nid consists—again to use oth­er terms the French have developed—of about one hun­dred mou­tons, eighty dupeurs, and twen­ty baladeurs, all work­ing under an agent fixe. Mou­tons spe­cial­ize in indus­tri­al sab­o­tage. Dupeurs con­fine them­selves to mil­i­tary and semi­mil­i­tary infor­ma­tion and work. Baladeurs, or ‘strollers,’ are free lances, who go wher­ev­er their supe­ri­or equip­ment prompts them to go. Unknown to any of the nid are trafi­quants, spies sent from Berlin to watch their own spies, to see that there is effi­cien­cy and no graft or dou­ble agent traf­fick­ing with the ene­my.”

Fur­ther ana­lyz­ing oper­a­tional cat­e­gories of Nazi covert oper­a­tives, Gol­lomb writes on pages 36 and 37:

“Sabo­teur-spies are of two cat­e­gories, ‘ter­mites’ and ‘tor­pe­does,’ with a third cat­e­go­ry exclu­sive­ly Ger­man, known offi­cial­ly as ‘Har­bor Ser­vice.’ ‘Ter­mites’ con­fine them­selves to ‘psy­cho­log­i­cal work.’ They encour­age dis­af­fect­ed indi­vid­u­als and groups, orga­ni­za­tions and inflam­ma­ble minori­ties. They spread rumors that gnaw at a nation’s cred­it struc­ture, whis­per­ing cam­paigns against banks and on stock exchanges. They cir­cu­late sto­ries and on stock exchanges. They cir­cu­late sto­ries and analy­ses that breed wor­ry. They dis­trib­ute print­ed mat­ter of all kinds and pho­tographs that have been either spe­cial­ly staged or bear cap­tions that do the work of dis­sem­i­nat­ing despair. They sub­si­dize news­pa­pers with adver­tise­ments, copy, or out­right cash. They try to do the same with radio and news­reels. . . .”

Gol­lomb describes the “tor­pe­does,” and how they fol­low the “ter­mites.” On page 37, we read:

“ . . . From two to eigh­teen months after ‘ter­mites’ begin their work, the ‘tor­pe­does’ move in. As their name would indi­cate, the char­ac­ter of their work is not ‘psy­cho­log­i­cal’ but phys­i­cal. They con­cen­trate on key indus­tries, lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­port, hydro­elec­tric sys­tems, pow­er-dis­tri­b­u­tion lines, rail­road ter­mi­nals and cen­ters, bridges, canals, avi­a­tion fields, air­plane fac­to­ries, ammu­ni­tion works and arse­nals, mines, and stored sup­plies of raw mate­r­i­al and man­u­fac­tured goods. . . .”

No strangers to bio­log­i­cal war­fare, Hitler’s “tor­pe­does” employed microor­gan­isms as weapons of war. Gol­lomb dis­cuss­es this on pages 37 and 38:

“Numer­i­cal­ly small but a dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly effec­tive sec­tion of the tor­pe­do army is the bac­te­ri­o­log­i­cal corps. This devotes its atten­tion to grain-grow­ing belts, stock-rais­ing cen­ters, water-sup­ply sys­tems, and con­cen­tra­tions of infantry. An unim­pres­sive-look­ing group of men, less than a dozen in num­ber, car­ry­ing valis­es and pre­tend­ing to be this or that, may be car­ry­ing enough test tubes filled with cul­tures to spread plan blights, ani­mal plagues, and mate­r­i­al to pol­lute drink­ing water to an extent that would affect great areas. They also dis­trib­ute dis­ease-bear­ing ver­min in bar­racks. . . .”

Assas­si­na­tion is anoth­er of the func­tions of the “tor­pe­does,” as described by Gol­lomb on page 38:

“ . . . Anoth­er numer­i­cal­ly small but high­ly impor­tant divi­sion of the tor­pe­do army has charge of engi­neer­ing those ‘inci­dents’ that launch wars, declared or unde­clared. The same dynam­ic sec­tion also attends to assas­si­na­tions of key fig­ures as impor­tant as for­mer Chan­cel­lor Aus­tria Dr. Engel­bert Doll­fuss, and Pre­mier Jon Duca of Ruma­nia. . . .”

The “Har­bor Ser­vice” com­pris­es the third major cat­e­go­ry of Nazi sabo­teur-spies. On pages 38 and 39, we read:

“ ‘Har­bor Ser­vice,’ to which I referred as the third cat­e­go­ry of spies used by Ger­many in addi­tion to ‘ter­mites’ and ‘tor­pe­does,’ was at first con­fined real­ly to har­bors like New York, Lon­don, Pet­ro­grad, Mar­seilles, and Rio de Janeiro. Then with thor­ough Ger­man con­sis­ten­cy the name was retained for the same kind of work in such land-locked cities as Madrid, Paris, Vien­na, Prague, and oth­er cap­i­tals of the world. ‘Har­bor Ser­vice’ con­fined itself to work on indi­vid­u­als who came and went on Ger­man ships, then lat­er by air and oth­er modes of trans­port. . . . .”

A pri­ma­ry func­tion of the “Har­bor Ser­vice” was the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and neu­tral­iza­tion of dis­si­dent Ger­man nation­als in for­eign coun­tries.

Gollomb’s text holds impor­tant lessons for the con­tem­po­rary observ­er. Long before fas­cism becomes evi­dent to the casu­al observ­er, its clan­des­tine destruc­tion of demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions is already hard at work through covert action. This insid­i­ous process must be rec­og­nized to be effec­tive­ly resist­ed. Dis­miss­ing fas­cist sub­ver­sion as “con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry” only fur­thers the process of dis­in­te­gra­tion.


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