Monday, October 6, 2014

Will the Real James Bond Please Stand Up

It is night. A secret agent stealthily emerges from the sea. He peels off his rubber suit to reveal a dinner jacket. He enters the casino and mingles with the guests. No one suspects that he’s a spy.

His name is James Bond, right? And, of course, it’s the swinging 1960s?

Actually, no. You’re thinking of fiction. I’m talking about something that happened in real life. In the 1940s. During World War II. His name wasn’t James Bond. It was Peter Tazelaar. Though a native of Holland, he was working for the British. He had just infiltrated the Netherlands by way of a gambling resort at Scheveningen. The casino was crawling with German counter-intelligence agents, but they never suspected the man in eveningwear who even smelled as if he had been drinking brandy all evening. (A nice touch, eh?)

(The Koerhuis Hotel in Scheveningen near where the spy Peter Tazelaar emerged from the sea. All pictures courtesy of the wikimedia picture gallery.) 

Someone who was well aware of this operation was a young naval intelligence officer named Ian Fleming (Who do you think provided Tazelaar with his transportation to the beach?) who later incorporated the incident into his novel “Goldfinger.” Tazelaar, by the way, was one of only four agents who survived missions into the Netherlandsat that time. The rest were all compromised. Like Bond, Tazelaar was a man who could handle danger. He served all over Europe and the rest of the world during the war* and afterward worked for the Dutch government and the CIA.
It has often been said that Ian Fleming based his famous fictional spy on this or that real life spy, but the truth is that James Bond was a composite of several spies that Fleming was aware of and admired.

Aside from Tazelaar, let’s look at some other candidates:
Capt. Sidney Reilly, M.C., also known as Agent ST1.

Reilly's dates say a lot about his mystique: 1874? to 1925? No one knows where or when he was born or where or when he died. Much of his "official" biography was probably false. (The best guess is that he was from Eastern Europe, possibly the Ukraine.) He was certainly not a native of Britain, though he worked for the British Secret Service and spoke English with an English accent. But, then, he spoke German, French, Italian and Russian like a native, too. He had the Bond charm, all right. A connoisseur, a ladies' man, a master of disguise, and an expert marksman. One of his legendary exploits occurred during World War I. Supposedly, Reilly killed a German officer and put on his uniform, entered a German Army staff meeting, listened to all of their battle plans, then disguised himself as a German civilian and slipped back to the British lines. After World War I, Reilly became embroiled in Russian politics, seeking to overthrow the Bolsheviks, sometimes on behalf of the British, but apparently also on his own. Had one of his schemes worked, Reilly himself might have become a top official of a new government. Reilly is presumed to have been secretly executed by the Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB.

Dushan "Dushko" Popov, OBE, also known by two code names: Tricycle (British) and Ivan (Germans).

A double agent of Serbian background, he worked for British Intelligence during World War II feeding disinformation to the Germans who thought Popov worked for them. The story goes that Fleming, who knew that he worked for the British, saw Popov place a daring bet at the baccarat table just to rattle a rival. The scene went into Fleming's first Bond novel, "Casino Royale." Popov lived in London, Lisbon, and New York. He warned the FBI that the Germans wanted information about U.S. defenses at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, but his warning went unheeded. He was, like Reilly and the fictional Bond, a linguist, ladies' man, and connoisseur of the finer things in life. Like Bond, he pretended to be a representative of an export-import company. He lived from 1912 to 1981, but may have claimed, presumably out of vanity, to have been born in 1919.

Peter Fleming, OBE

During World War II, Ian Fleming's older brother fought behind German lines with resistance fighters in occupied Norway and Greece. He also ran deception (psychological warfare and disinformation) operations in Southeast Asia.

William Stephenson, code name: Intrepid; nickname: Little Bill.

Stephenson was a Canadian who became a spy for Britain during World War I and later ran a counter-intelligence network for MI6 during World War II. He was based in New York but his network covered the entire western hemisphere.

Cmdr. Lionel Crabb, Royal Navy

(Coote, R G G (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Crabb was not as sophisticated as Bond, but, like both Bond and his friend Fleming, he was a naval commander and a chain-smoker. In his prime Crabb was the best frogman in the navy, engaged in covert ops against the Germans and Italians during World War II. Cobb mysteriously disappeared during an op against the Soviet navy in the mid-1950s. Years later, a Soviet frogman claimed that he had killed Crabb in an underwater knife fight. Though few knew the details of Crabb's final mission at the time, Fleming knew enough to use it as the basis for his novel "Thunderball."

Cmdr. Ian Fleming, Royal Navy

As an intelligence officer himself, one of Fleming's jobs was thinking up wild operations, some of which were deemed too farfetched by his superiors. Historian Vejas Liulevicius notes that, as a novelist, Fleming was much better paid for much the same ideas. He also got in touch with his inner Walter Mitty when he created the fictional Bond: In Lisbon, Portugal, during World War II, Fleming played high-stakes card games with enemy agents, but, unlike his fictional hero, he lost. Bond smoked the same cigarettes, drank the same liquor and enjoyed the same sports as Fleming. Fleming's masochistic fascination with Bond's endurance of torture might trace back to Fleming's education at Durnford School, a private British elementary school where some allege that extreme child abuse was the norm.**

This topic is further covered by a Wikipedia article entitled "Inspirations for James Bond" and in Ben Macintyre, "For your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond," London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008.

*Born in the Dutch East Indies, Tazelaar helped rescue his own mother from a Japanese POW camp.
** Ben Macintyre, "A Spy Among Friends." New York: Crown Publishers, 2014, p. 5.

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