A Thread of Deceit

Title:                  A Thread of Deceit

Author:                Nigel West

Nigel West (1985). A Thread of Deceit: Espionage Myths of World War II. New York: Random House

LCCN:    84022346

D810.S7 W44 1985

Date Updated:  February 27, 2013

This book was published in the UK as Unreliable Witness: Espionage Myths of the Second World War, and is so listed often by Nigel West on his bibliography.

Did Churchill have advance warning of the bombing of Coventry, and decide against evacuating the city to preserve ULTRA’s secrecy? Did Admiral Canaris recruit the Dutch spy “Mata Haft” in WW I? Did he meet his British opposite number, Sir Stewart Menzies, during WW II? Was he a traitor? These are only the first of the widely repeated and embellished intelligence “myths” that West, author of recent, uncannily knowing histories of MI5 and MI6, demolishes, modifies, or occasionally verifies in this brisk, tart rundown – fascinating for its book-by-book scrutiny of how the stories arose and took hold as for its debunking disclosures. (Churchill did have advance notice of the Coventry raid, but not from ULTRA – from a source that, he had reason to expect, would deflect the raid. Canaris contacts with Mata Haft and Menzies are highly doubtful – but he apparently did pass some vital intelligence to the British.) On other matters, West concludes – as have other close investigators – that FDR didn’t have prior word of Pearl Harbor. He is stinging – as others have been too – on William Stevenson’s A Man Called Intrepid and its sequel, Intrepid’s Last Case. “Some authors become over-enthusiastic and allow their imaginations excessively free rein.” Sometimes operations go wrong, and those involved look for scapegoats. Either way, official contradictions are rare, allowing legends and speculation to become established as historical fact. For specifics also on the Dieppe and Nuremberg raids, on agents “WERTHER” and “CICERO”: mandatory reading in intelligence circles.

  1. V. Jones is widely known as “The Man Who Saved British Cities.” He was a key analyst in the “beam war,” seeking to mislead the German bombers away from their intended targets. According to Jones, “I did not know [that Coventry would be bombed.] The Enigma had not [been] broken that night in time, although it had by the following morning…but that was too late. So I couldn’t tell him where the target was.” [Dr. R. V. Jones, SIS science advisor, in The Secret War, a BBC television production.]

Nigel West concludes that

“It is easy to see how …various authors, ignorant of the work of Air Intelligence or the full background of COLD WATER, should have concluded…that the Prime Minister [Winston Churchill] had made a deliberate decision to protect ULTRA’s future at the expense of a city in the Midlands. In the event Churchill presumed he had no need to order the evacuation of Coventry as he had good reason to believe that adequate counter-measures were available: so far as he knew, the German bombs would fall, but on empty fields.”


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