The Game of the Foxes

Title:                      The Game of the Foxes

Author:                   Ladislas Farago

Farago, Ladislas (1971). The Game of the Foxes: The Untold Story of German Espionage in the U.S. & Great Britain During World War II. New York: David McKay Co.

LCCN:    72179352

D810.S7 F33


Date Updated:  November 9, 2016

A former counterintelligence officer says about this book:

“I bought and read this book many years ago while I was an active US counterintelligence agent. Soon after obtaining and reading Game of the Foxes, I came across J.C. Masterman’s Double-Cross System[1] in Munich, Germany. Masterman’s book is an excellent companion read with Game of the Foxes.

Farago wrote this account using captured Abwehr (German Human Intelligence) records in government archives that had been long overlooked. It tells an interesting story of the intelligence operations conducted by Nazi Germany against the Allies from their perspective.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[2]

Here is another example of a considerable effort resulting in a tome of uneven quality, controversial claims, and questionable conclusions. Farago’ s qualities were more those of a publicist than those of a scholar. The RUSI reviewer contested his claim that he was the first to study the microfilmed Abwehr records he used. Some reviewers thought this book well documented, yet there are only a handful of notes at the end of each chapter and hardly any citations of actual German documents. As for the documentation of matters from the non-German side, the New York Times reviewer observed that Farago did not sufficiently distinguish among sources, so good and bad evidence has been mixed. There are other discrepancies and errors, some hard to understand. Although Farago had access to Masterman’s then unpublished report, The Double-Cross System [note 1], he still claimed that Lily Sergueiv was the most important single cog in the Normandy deception plan. Too, he did not associate what he called the Abwehr’s most successful mission with the double agent Tate, who was run by the XX Committee.

The author had a penchant for the dramatic and for exaggeration: he made the United States appear to have been “swarming with German spies” in the middle of 1941. The FBI operation using William Sebold was described as the biggest deception of the war, and the FBI was pictured as the world’s most formidable counterespionage force at one point in the war. The procurement of a German Enigma machine he attributed to a Polish-Swedish ring. He acknowledged that the British for most of the war controlled German espionage in Britain but said at the same time that the Abwehr sustained a “respectable coverage” of the British isles (and the United States) under difficult conditions. Then there are the minor errors.

On the other hand, there are better features, besides Farago’s writing style and ability to distill facts. He presented the results of research into the so-called agent of Scapa Flow, Oertel. He also gave some good material on the intelligence defeats of the British in Holland before the Venlo incident (the kidnapping of two British intelligence officers). The additional background he exposed on the British ambassador to Ankara in the Cicero case may provide further clues to this case’s security lapses. References to Bletchley Park and Enigma preceded official revelation of the secret (though his accounts of certain details and twists, such as the role of Trevor-Roper, must be read with caution or disbelief). Access to Masterman’s report allowed him to make early use of its material on the British use of double agents for deception, although his use was sometimes incorrect. The book’s principal fault is that it distorts the reality of German intelligence’s effectiveness in its enthusiasm to tell an exciting string of anecdotes and gets some of the details wrong as well. A. J. P. Taylor thought its presentation sensational and said some of the British episodes contained “large quantities of undiluted nonsense.”

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[3]

Based on captured records of the German Abwehr, Farago relates some of the story of German espionage in the United States and Great Britain, before and during WWII. The successes, failures, and problems of German intelligence operations are described in a readable and interesting manner. Yet, despite the author’s efforts to supplement, correct, or confirm the Abwehr’s records, the book should be read with caution. The aura of early successes is drastically modified toward the end of the book when it is revealed that the British intelligence services had completely negated German espionage in England and, in fact, had been manipulating the entire German espionage organization in England (see the authoritative book by Masterman, The Double-Cross System, note 1). Despite certain deficiencies, the book has some interest for the student of the times or of intelligence operations in general. (See also the more recent scholarly work by Kahn, Hitler’s Spies[4]).

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[5]

Farago, student and writer of intelligence, concentrates on describing in detail the operations and activities of German intelligence against the United States and Great Britain before and during World War II. The book covers the period between 1920, when German military intelligence was revived, and 1945. Farago found a metal footlocker filled with microfilms of the records of the Abwehr in the National Archives in 1967, and used this material, supplemented with interviews, to prepare this book. Detailed and adequately documented.

[1] Masterson, J. C. (2012). The Double-Cross System: The Incredible True Story of How Nazi Spies Were Turned into Double Agents. Guilford, DE: The Lyons Press

[2] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 181-182

[3] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, D.C. : Defense Intelligence School, p. 24

[4] Kahn, David (1978, 1985). Hitler’s Spies: German Military Intelligence in World War II. New York: Collier Books

[5] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 168


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9 Responses to The Game of the Foxes

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