Agent Garbo: The Greatest Double Agent of WWII


The success of military operations often hinges on the ability to deceive the enemy, and World War II was no exception. Throughout history, military leaders have recognized the power of cunning and strategic manipulation in achieving tactical and strategic goals that shape the outcomes of battles and campaigns.

Deception played a pivotal role in World War II, with both sides employing various strategies to mislead and confuse their adversaries. The Allies, recognizing that deception tactics offered key advantages for military planners and commanders, established dedicated units and employed various deceptive techniques to confound and deceive the Axis powers.

In the midst of this global conflict, AGENT GARBO emerged as one of the most remarkable and successful deception campaigns of the war. Agent Garbo was the most successful double agent of WWII, whose cunning saved thousands of lives and contributed decisively to the victory of World War II.

The Importance of Deception

World War II witnessed the systematic integration of deception into military strategies and operations. Deception techniques allowed military forces to divert enemy attention and resources away from their true objectives. By creating false impressions or manipulating the enemy’s perception, military planners could lure enemy forces into making ill-informed decisions or committing their forces to the wrong locations.

Through the use of decoy operations, false communications, and camouflage, deception can sow confusion and disorient enemy forces, disrupting their decision-making processes and hindering their ability to respond effectively.

Another aspect of deception in WWII included the ability to keep essential information concealed from the enemy by employing cryptographic methods, double agents, and other counterintelligence measures, military forces could safeguard their plans, intentions, and vulnerabilities.

Operation Bodyguard

Operation Bodyguard was a series of deception campaigns employed by the Allied forces during World War II. It had two primary objectives: It was designed to convince the German High Command that the main Allied invasion would occur at a location other than Normandy by giving them misleading information regarding the timing, location, and strength of the D-Day invasion. And also had to maintain the element of surprise.

The elaborate deception succeeded in diverting German forces and attention away from Normandy, leaving the actual landing sites relatively undefended, thus ensuring the success of the Allied forces on June 6, 1944.

Operation Fortitude

Operation Fortitude was part of the overall deception strategy of Operation Bodyguard. It was designed to mislead the Germans regarding the location and timing of the Allied invasion of Normandy, making them believe that the invasion would take the shortest and most obvious sea crossing, from Dover to the Pas-de-Calais.

This elaborate plan utilized a network of double agents, fabricated intelligence, and dummy equipment to convince the enemy that the main invasion would take place at Calais rather than Normandy. The success of Operation Fortitude played a pivotal role in the Allied victory on D-Day.

Double Agents

Double agents such as Juan Pujol Garcia (codenamed Garbo) and Roman Czerniawski (codenamed Brutus) played pivotal roles in Operation Bodyguard. These agents provided false information to the Germans, convincing them of the authenticity of the fictitious armies and misleading them about the true invasion plans.

The Special Operations Executive, a British intelligence agency, contributed to the success of Operation Bodyguard through its espionage activities. They infiltrated agents into occupied Europe, gathering vital intelligence and feeding disinformation to the enemy.

Operation Garbo

Project Garbo, often named Agent Garbo, was an extraordinarily successful MI5 deception campaign employed by the Allies during World War II.

The objectives of Operation GARBO were multifaceted, encompassing elements such as diverting German resources, misdirecting enemy forces, and facilitating the success of critical Allied operations.

At the heart of Operation GARBO was a sophisticated network of fictional spies, a range of fictitious sub-agents, including their backgrounds, roles, and interactions within the network, who played essential roles in reinforcing the credibility of the deception, and thus gaining the trust of German intelligence officials.

By creating false narratives and carefully crafted intelligence reports for the dissemination of misinformation, the Allies aimed to mislead the German intelligence apparatus and shape the German perception of the war by diverting their attention from critical Allied operations.

In the realm of psychological warfare, Operation GARBO employed several key tactics to manipulate the German intelligence officials such as the exploitation of Nazi prejudices, the strategic feeding of confirmation biases, and the careful appeal to preconceived notions about the Allies.

The Germans codenamed him Alaric and referred to his non-existent spy network as “Arabal”, sometimes Arabel, after his wife “Araceli Bella” (Beautiful/Pretty Araceli).

Garbo was a key spy agent of Operation Fortitude and his contribution was instrumental in feeding the Nazis false information regarding the D-Day landings of Normandy that allowed the Allies to push back against the Nazis in Europe.

Operation GARBO reached its zenith during the Normandy landings, where it successfully diverted German resources away from actual Allied operations, misdirected German forces through false information, and ultimately facilitated the success of the Normandy landings on D-Day.

At the heart of Agent Garbo was Juan Pujol García (4 February 1912 – 10 October 1988), a Spanish citizen who managed to trick Hitler that the Allied invasion of Occupied Europe was going to happen at a completely different location, far from where it actually did.

Juan Pujol García was perhaps the greatest double agent that existed during the Second World War, acting as a double agent loyal to Great Britain against Nazi Germany.  His cover was never broken, and he remains the only person ever to have been awarded both the British MBE and the German Iron Cross.

Juan Pujol García

Born in Barcelona in February 1912, Juan Pujol García was one of the most unusual spies of World War II. His humble beginnings did not foreshadow at all the decisive role he would have in the war, given that after finishing his studies in Aviculture farming and compulsory military service, he failed to manage a chicken farm.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), various family members of Juan Pujol García were arrested and imprisoned on false charges by the Republican Side. Pujol hid for a while, was captured, and then freed thanks to a resistance group that managed to give him fake identity papers.

Using his fake identity he re-joined once more the Republican side of the Civil War with the intention of deserting them, which he did during the Battle of Ebro of 1938.

During the Battle of Ebro, he met three other deserters somewhere in no man’s land. The fugitives had to avoid the Republican patrols that were looking for them by hiding in some reeds, and after dodging barbed wire and bullets they turned themselves into the nationals.

They were first sent to a prison in Bilbao, but since they were deserters they ended up recruiting them and sent Pujol to the Aragonese front, where he managed to avoid combat with the excuse of false pneumonia.

Pujol managed to participate on both sides of the two wars (The Spanish Civil War and WWII) without firing a single shot.

The bad experiences felt by Pujol during the Spanish Civil War completely changed his outlook on life, positioning himself against totalitarian thoughts and, especially, the emerging Nazism in Europe. Over time, the Nazi atrocities and the persecution of the Jews finally stirred something inside this survival-spirited Barcelonan, and when World War II broke out he decided to become a British spy and help MI5 to defeat Hitler “for the good of humanity.”

Agent Arabel

Juan Pujol García first moved to Lisbon (Portugal) on January 1941, with the intention of obtaining information to convince the Germans that he was a fascist, ready to die for the Führer’s “New World Order.”

His first foray into the world of espionage took place in Madrid only a few months later, where he appeared at the German embassy and offered his services. He made an appointment with a certain “Federico” at the Café Lyon in Madrid, an agent of the German Abwehr Intelligence Service, who, although open to attracting him, asked him for some proof of his abilities before hiring him.

Luckily, Pujol had made friends in Lisbon. Especially the acquaintance of one businessman named Jaime Souza who had a diplomatic visa to travel to Mexico.

By inviting him to casinos, nightclubs and cabarets, Juan managed to gain the trust of Souza, who in exchange for all the kindness let him photograph his visa paperwork. Pujol carefully cut out the stamps from the photograph and ordered a copy from an engraver in the city, thus acquiring the tools to create an infinity of false visas, which he proudly showed the German Agent Federico at their next meeting.

The German Intelligence Officer was convinced by the ruse, and believing that Pujol had a diplomatic visa to England, he immediately gave him three thousand dollars and secret radio codes to establish a network of spies in England.

After some initial scepticism, Pujol was recruited and code-named “Arabel.” His training consisted largely of a crash course in secret writing, whereby invisible ink messages were hidden in an innocuous letter. Pujol insisted on absolute control over the timing of his contacts with the German controllers because “any leakage…would ruin his cover in England.”

The then 29-year-old Spaniard Juan Pujol convinced German intelligence officers in Madrid to send him to London to build a network of agents capable of providing critical intelligence.

In late April 1941, Pujol travelled to Lisbon, from where he concocted a stream of bogus reports – based on library maps, tourists’ guides, radio and TV broadcasts, and any other information he gathered from British sailors and diplomats to give himself credibility. This convinced his German handlers that he was actually in London, heading a network of spies across Britain.

In 1941 when the Germans were all-powerful in Spain, the British Embassy in Madrid was being stoned, France had collapsed and the German invasion was imminent, little were the Germans to know that the small meek young Spaniard who then approached them volunteering to go to London to engage in espionage on their behalf would turn out to be a British agent. Still less were they to discover that the network which they instructed him to build up in the UK was to be composed of 27 characters who were nothing more than a figment of the imagination.

– Tomas Harris, GARBO’s MI5 case officer, 1946 – Source: MI5.Gov.UK

Unfortunately for the Nazis, while Pujol’s information was solid and “credible”, it always appear to arrive too late for the Nazis to do anything about it.

It was during this time that Juan Pujol García also made contact with MI5. However, despite all his enthusiasm, he was rebuffed by the British Secret Services, who were rather sceptical of a Spaniard with no experience in intelligence.

Gaining German Trust

On July 19, 1941, Pujol, a spy working for the British MI5 during World War II, safely arrived in England. His reports, sent by Arabel, were originally intended to reach Madrid through the diplomatic mailbag of Spain’s London embassy. However, Pujol decided against this method and instead enlisted a civilian airline employee to carry the mail to Lisbon and then send it through regular post. Pujol believed that this would prevent the reports from being intercepted by British censors. The intelligence provided by Pujol was subsequently passed from Madrid to Berlin and was deemed to be both “substantial and plausible.”

In November 1942, Pujol received a warning from his sub-agent working at the Clyde docks in Glasgow. He quickly sent an airmail message stating that an amphibious invasion force, disguised with Mediterranean camouflage, had just departed from the harbour.

Unfortunately, the message was delayed, and as a result, the Allied operation known as Operation Torch, which involved landings in North Africa, was able to succeed. While the Germans expressed regret that the intelligence arrived too late to prevent the operation, they still acknowledged that Pujol’s “last reports were magnificent.”

Recruitment by British Intelligence

It was one of these messages concerning a convoy leaving Liverpool for Malta that finally caught the attention of MI5, who were surprised to learn that the supposed German source at home was actually a Spanish spy who had tried to work for them.

MI5 finally accepted Pujol as a double agent, arranging for him, Araceli and their young son to be smuggled to Britain in the spring of 1942. The recruitment of Juan Pujol García by British intelligence agencies was a crucial turning point in the development of Operation GARBO.

Finally incorporated into MI5, Pujol, Araceli and their son were secretly transferred to Gibraltar by sea, from where they boarded a plane that took them to London and the much-desired position in British intelligence. In the British capital, the new agent, codenamed Garbo, continued his disinformation task, inventing a whole network of agents whom he could blame for his lies when the Germans discovered them.

The transformation of Juan Pujol García into Agent GARBO involved a meticulous process of identification, recruitment and training by British intelligence, as well as creating a new identity, establishing a fictitious network of sub-agents and meticulously crafting a persona that would deceive the Nazis.

Pujol took up residence at 35 Crespigny Road in Hendon where he was set up as a double agent and codenamed “Garbo” due to his acting abilities.

Shortly after he and his wife relocated around the corner to 55 Elliot Road in 1942, but Pujol still carried out his operations from 35 Crespigny Road. It served as the location for the wireless transmitter and its operator, Charles Haines, who worked closely with Pujol.

The Creation of Fictitious Intelligence Reports

Juan Pujol García was set up as a double agent with the half-Spanish Tomás (Tommy) Harris as his handler. What followed next was, as described by The Official History of British Intelligence in World War II, was “one of those rare partnerships between two exceptionally gifted men whose inventive genius inspired and complemented each other”. – Source MI5.

Harris and Pujol created a network of 27 sub-agents, each with a personal life story of their own. The pair wrote some 315 letters averaging 2,000 words each, in the verbose style of a fanatical Nazi that Pujol had invented while in Portugal.

The idea was to provide as much confusing information as possible to the enemies. In Spain, at least, the Germans were so overflooded with information that they stopped trying to recruit new agents.

Pujol maintained contact with Madrid using seemingly innocent handwritten letters that contained hidden secret writing. To establish a secure link, he used a post-box address in Lisbon provided by the Germans. However, recognizing the need for more efficient and reliable communication, Pujol invented a fictional radio mechanic who gladly offered his discreet services.

From August 1943, the majority of GARBO reports were transmitted through this radio communication method using a secret code. By 1944, the Security Service had established a group of “agents” who had been thoroughly tested and trusted by the Germans. This became a valuable asset in the deception operation leading up to the D-Day landings.

Normandy Landings

In 1944, Garbo launched his most audacious deception to date: threatening a false landing at Calais to divert German attention from Normandy before D-Day.

In January of the same year, the Germans told Pujol that they believed that the Allies were preparing for a large-scale invasion of Europe. Their assessment was correct. Under the codename OVERLORD, British and American plans for an invasion of Occupied Europe were indeed underway.

What the Germans did not know, however, was that part of the plan involved a massive piece of deception – in the form of Operation FORTITUDE, in which GARBO was to play a leading role.

It was imperative to mislead the German High Command about the precise location and timings of the Normandy Landings. More than 500 radio messages were sent between Garbo and Madrid, and in turn, re-transmitted direct to Berlin between January 1944 and D-Day.

A ruse was concocted to deceive the Germans about the true location of the Normandy landings. On June 5th, Garbo sent a message to Germany asking them to stand guard for a message at 03:00 on June 6. However, the German operator failed to keep the appointment. The missed message ultimately revealed the significance of its contents to German Intelligence the day after the invasion, further enhancing GARBO’s reputation.

As part of Operation Fortitude, which included creating a phantom army of 150,000 soldiers and inflatable tanks under the command of General Patton, Pujol confirmed to his contacts in the Abwehr the imminence of an attack on Calais, a city that was being bombed day and night by the Allies.

Three days after D-Day, Garbo sent an extensive report to the German High command confidently asserting that the Normandy landings were a diversionary tactic aimed at supporting an imminent assault on the Pas de Calais. The Germans wholeheartedly accepted GARBO’s claim as accurate information. His credibility was such that even after the Normandy landings the Germans continued to believe the lie, massing two armoured divisions and 19 infantry at Calais awaiting an invasion that never materialized.

Ironically, the spy Garbo would be decorated by Hitler a few days after landing with the Iron Cross for his services, and upon receiving the British Order of Merit at Christmas 1944, he became the only soldier of the war to receive medals of both sides.

Araceli González Carballo

Joan met his future wife and partner, Araceli González Carballo in Burgos during the Spanish Civil War. After the war, they married and had their first son, whom they named Juan after his father.

Araceli had been an integral part of setting up the espionage network. She took it upon herself to personally deliver Garbo’s earliest messages and skilfully employed her acting abilities to convince Garbo’s German handlers in Germany that he was actively spying in England when in reality he was leading a quiet life in Portugal.

Concealing her actions from her husband, she initiated contact with Edward Rousseau, the American Assistant Naval Attaché stationed in Lisbon and helped to establish crucial connections that would transform Garbo from being a mere dream into one of the most accomplished spies of the war

Once the British Intelligence had moved her family to London, Araceli found herself desperately homesick and lonely. The gloomy and rainy city was not to her liking. She had to stay home most of the day to avoid leaks and barely spoke a word of English. On top of that, she was forbidden to have any communication with the Spanish population of London, or even write to her family back in Spain.

She rarely got to see her husband due to the pressures of her work. The increased isolation produced a drastic change in her character and she began to display a lot of erratic behaviour, to the point where she became a concern for MI5.

Araceli even threatened to rat her husband out to the Spanish embassy if they did not let her return to Spain with little Juan. This led to MI5 “imprisoning” her husband. In fact, it had been a ruse that Garbo himself concocted together with MI5 to make her believe that he had been placed in prison because of his wife’s actions and the security threat it posed.

Distraught, she pleaded for Pujol’s release, promising not to make any more threats. The ruse worked and Pujol returned home, but lasting damage had been done to their marriage.

After the war, Spain was no longer a safe place for them. So they considered the possibility of moving to several Latin American destinations to settle down and rebuild their life together. In the end, they decided on Venezuela, to which they traveled at the end of 1945.

In 1948, three months after the birth of her daughter María Eugenia, Araceli left Venezuela forever and returned by ship to Spain with her three children. In 1949, she was told that Pujol had died of malaria in Africa.

In 1957 she married Edward Kreisler, an American businessman, with whom she founded the Kreisler Art Gallery, in 1966 in Madrid.

For more than three decades, she maintained, in the face of everyone, even her children, a resounding and loyal silence about the identity of Juan Pujol and their history in common. Through that imposed amnesia, she imbued her children with the belief, without flat-out stating it, that Juan Pujol was not alive; his name was only mentioned in the family home on very rare occasions.

Post-War Recognition and Legacy

Despite his instrumental role in the Allied victory, Juan Pujol Garcia’s contributions remained classified for many years. In December 1944, Pujol was awarded an MBE presented by the Security Service’s Director General, Sir David Petrie, in recognition of his services.

Garbo faked his own death and was given a new identity. He fled to Venezuela and later remarried and had three more children. He later opened a bookstore and also wrote a book about his life. His family in Spain only found out he was still alive when this book was published. Garbo failed to realise it would also be translated into Spanish.

Araceli was told that Pujol had died of malaria in Africa. A few years later Araceli and their three children returned to Spain.

MBE Medal
MBE Medal

His identity as Garbo was uncovered in 1984 and he was officially recognised for his achievements at Buckingham Palace. On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, Pujol travelled to Omaha Beach in Normandy where he visited the graves of those who had been killed in the landings. He wept and said: ‘I didn’t do enough.’ He died of a stroke in Caracas at the age of 76.

In 2016, a request was made to English Heritage to place the so-called “blue plaque” that would honour and remember the exploits of Juan Pujol García. Today, the plaque can be seen at 35 Crespigny Road, Hendon, London.


Operation GARBO stands as a testament to the power of deception and psychological warfare in shaping the outcome of World War II. Through the ingenious efforts of Juan Pujol García and the meticulous planning and execution of the deception campaign by MI5, GARBO significantly contributed to the Allied victory.

The importance of deception tactics during World War II left a lasting impact on military thinking and strategies. Today, the lessons learned from the use of deception continue to shape modern warfare. The evolution of technology and the advent of the digital age have presented new opportunities and challenges in the realm of deception.

Deception tactics have also found their place in psychological operations (PSYOPS). By leveraging media, propaganda, and information warfare, military forces can shape the perception and behaviour of both enemy combatants and civilian populations. The use of misinformation, disinformation, and psychological manipulation can undermine enemy morale, sow dissent, and influence public opinion, ultimately swaying the course of conflicts.

With the rise of cyberspace as a new battleground, deception tactics have extended into the realm of cyber warfare. Cyber deception involves the creation of false digital footprints, misleading information, and decoy networks to mislead and confuse adversaries. It serves as a critical component in defending against cyber-attacks, deterring hackers, and protecting sensitive information.

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