Friday, October 12, 2012

Garbo the Spy

Garbo the Spy (Edmon Roch, 2010) Back to reality, but still dealing with spies, so "reality" is relative.  And the time-frame is similar—just as James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, drew inspiration from his work with the OSS during the second World War, so, too comes this documentary—a true account of the work of Juan Pujol Garcia, a real-world double agent, who worked for the Nazis first, then after establishing credibility with them as a British-based spy (although he was actually living in Lisbon), offered his services to the Allies "for the good of humanity," and with the help of the OSS, creating for the Germans a funded network of 27 agents—all fictional.  To the Reich, he was known as "Arabel." To the West, he was "Garbo."  

His accomplishments were many.  First, he siphoned off considerable German funds to pay for his "network"—even establishing a pension for one of his phantom agents who had "died."  He was also able to send duplicate messages to both sides, allowing the British cyphers at Bletchley Park to have a "Rosetta stone" with which to check their round-the-clock de-coding efforts—an almost impossible task as the German changed their codes daily—and Garbo's writing style was so formal and distinct, his messages were easily identifiable.

But his coup was in spreading disinformation, the most successful instance being a big one—he managed to convince the Nazi's, particularly the CIC, Field Marshall von Runstedt, that the invasion of Europe would take place at the Pas de Calais under the command of the disgraced General Patton, rather than its actual location of Normandy—a ruse that was so successful, it was still believed in August of 1944, two months after D-Day, delaying an increased resistance to the Allied advancement to Berlin.  That's some trust.

The documentary is a potpourri of information—not unlike the hodge-podge of sources "Arabel" would cook up in his work—talking head interviews, vintage war-time footage, and recreations from such films as The Longest Day, Patton—big theater results of Garbo's deceptions.  The tone is slightly cheeky, with an emphasis on pulled quotes, especially from films like Our Man in Havana, Mata Hari, and an obscure Leslie Howard film called Pimpernel Smith, Howard being an impetus to the counter-intelligence efforts—his death in the war effort was both a cautionary tale and an exposure of Allied spy efforts.  Garbo is entertaining, as long as one can enjoy the breezy tone without darkening it with thoughts of the wholesale slaughter going on at the time.  But it is interesting in its tale of how world events can be shaped by one man with a lie and the razor's edge that is walked in times of conflict.

Juan Pujol Garcia or "Arabel," as he was known to the Germans

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