Double Cross in Cairo

Title:                      Double Cross in Cairo

Author:                Nigel West

West, Nigel (2015). Double Cross in Cairo: The True Story of The Spy Who Turned The Tide of War in The Middle East. London: Biteback Publishing

LCCN:    2014472299

D810.S8 W42 2015


Date Posted:      December 8, 2016

Nigel West is a prolific author, to be sure. Each of his books is, in my view, meticulously researched. Most importantly, he is story teller unicum. West never lacks for a (often quite strong) point of view. He is virtually beyond challenging on facts. This latest book of his tells a remarkable story hitherto not presented.

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1]

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[2]

TRICYCLE, GARBO, and MUTT & JEFF, are among the best known double agent codenames run by the British Double-Cross operation in WWII. CHEESE is perhaps the least known. Sir Michael Howard, the official historian of strategic deception in WWII, wrote that “the importance of CHEESE in Cairo should not be underrated” but gave few details.[3] Military historian Nigel West argues that, as an MI6 agent, CHEESE “is unrivalled, and accomplished more, over a longer period, than any other.” (p. xxv) Double Cross in Cairo tells his story.

Renato Levi was a multilingual Italian Jew approached by the Abwehr in 1939. He reported the contact to MI6, was encouraged to accept, and he did. The French and Italians also requested his services and he accepted them, too. He didn’t hate Germans, but he was upset over their Jewish policies and remained loyal to the Brits. The Germans sent him to Cairo with poor paperwork, and he made it only with British help. Working with the British deception unit known as “A” Force, Levi became CHEESE and—with his handlers, who were mostly gifted amateurs—established a fictitious agent network that deceived German intelligence for the rest of the war. MI6 would confirm from German records that 21 of the 26 notional divisions identified by CHEESE were accepted in their official order of battle.

“A” Force created personnel files on all the fictitious CHEESE network agents and fed the intelligence they putatively collected to the Germans. Levi even had a notional girlfriend—codename d MISANTHROPE—who became so important that when the Germans demanded to meet her, a stand-in had to be found to play her role.

The CHEESE case was exceptional for a number of reasons. At one point a German handler learned he had agreed to work for the French, but he survived only when another handler vouched for him. But the most unusual aspect of the case began when Levi was meeting with the Germans in Rome and was arrested, accused of collaborating with the British, and sentenced to five years in jail. In the meantime, though his British handlers realized something was wrong when communications stopped, they assumed Levi would not admit he was CHEESE, and the Brits continued to send misinformation from CHEESE for several months while Levi was imprisoned. Throughout the war, 432 cables were sent in CHEESE’s name.

Double Cross in Cairo chronicles Levi’s wartime experiences and those actions taken in his name, but it does not document them. West does quote National Archive sources but does not identify them by file number. For further work on the CHEESE case, his National Archive files would have to be consulted.

At war’s end, Levi was paid a lump sum by MI6 and left with his family for Australia on a chartered banana boat with a cargo of Turkish carpets. At some point he returned to Italy, where he died in 1954.

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

[2] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, p. 119). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at

[3] Howard, Michael, Deception, (vol. 5), p. xi, in  Hinsley, F. H. (1979-1990) with E. E. Thomas, C. F. G. Ransom, and R. C. Knight. British intelligence in the Second World War. New York: Cambridge University Press

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