Cover image for The Cicero spy affair : German access to British secrets in World War II
The Cicero spy affair : German access to British secrets in World War II
Wires, Richard.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 265 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Reading Level:
1370 Lexile.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D810.S8 B399 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The episode of the opportunistic valet of Britain's ambassador to neutral Turkey during World War II--dubbed Cicero for the eloquence of the top-secret material he appropriated from his employer Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen and sold to the Nazis--is a staple of intelligence lore. Yet this remarkable and sometimes comical story has often been recounted with little regard for the facts, most prominently in the popular film Five Fingers . Now, historian and former intelligence officer Richard Wires presents the first full and objective account of the Cicero spy episode, offering closure to past discrepancies and credible solutions to remaining mysteries. Copiously documented, The Cicero Spy Affair provides readers with the true chronology of events and places them in an international context. It is a story set in the hotbed of intrigue that was wartime Turkey, replete with a dramatic car chase, a series of colorful mistresses ever loyal to their lover the spy, and an old-school British ambassador whose documents are photographed at night as he plays the piano in the drawing room and/or slips into a sleeping pill-induced slumber.

Despite the affair's amusing aspects, it is also a sobering tale in which there are no winners and from which there are serious lessons to be learned. Germany never made use of the highly sensitive British documents it obtained during this crucial four-month period of the war because the handling of the information was caught up in a bitter and wasteful personal rivalry between Ribbentrop and Schellenberg. It was sheer luck for the British that their war effort did not sustain any significant damage. For, while the book states definitively that security regarding the Allied invasion of Normandy was not breached in the Cicero affair, Germany did gain a potential advantage concerning campaigns in the Aegean and the Balkans. This embarrassed the British greatly, especially since Cicero walked away a free man. However, the greedy valet--the most highly paid spy in history at that time--did not achieve his goals, either; he discovered some years later that the British banknotes he insisted on as payment were counterfeited by the Germans as part of a larger counterfeiting project. Cicero died a desperate man, deeply in debt--a fitting anticlimax for an espionage episode resulting in neither bodily injury nor strategic impact, but in humiliation on all sides.

Author Notes

RICHARD WIRES is Professor Emeritus of History at Ball State University, where he chaired the department and later became Executive Director of the University's London Centre./e He holds degrees in European History and law, and he served with the Counter-Intelligence Corps in southern Germany. His recent research interests include early espionage fiction as well as actual intelligence operations.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Wartime spying is one of the most intriguing areas in the historiography of World War II, and Wires (emeritus, history, Ball State Univ.) has given us the best account yet of the remarkable espionage career of Elyesa Bazna, a valet who in 1943-44 microfilmed dozens of top-secret papers belonging to the unsuspecting British Ambassador to Turkey, Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen. Bazna, whose code name was Cicero, sold the film to the Germans for an estimated $1.2 million. Unfortunately for Bazna, however, the Germans paid him in counterfeit British notes, and he ended up with very little for his efforts. Wires explains in careful detail how Bazna developed his contacts within the German government and how interdepartmental competition fostered German skepticism of the informationÄwhich, for the most part, they eventually ignored. This is a great tale, all the more so because it is true. Recommended for general collections and those strong in World War II studies.ÄEdward Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

The "Notorious" Case
Turkey and the Powers
The Volunteer Spy Selling the Secrets
Germany's Intelligence Labyrinth
Questions and Doubts in Berlin
Operation Bernhard Cicero's Outstanding Period
The Contest for Turkey Searching for an Agent
Cicero's Last Achievements
An American Spy Denouement and Aftermath
The Affair in Retrospect Filmography
Selected Bibliography