Portuguese told that they were spies

Mar 2017
Matosinhos Portugal
Historian Irene Flunser Pimentel tells in book how Portugal was the paradise for spies from all parties in World War II

Spying activities in Portugal during World War II have been the subject of several books and even films. What led you to take up the subject?
When I made the book about the Jews in Portugal during the War I had a chapter in which I spoke about espionage. When speaking of World War II in Portugal we have to talk about spies. The topic has always interested me a lot, I read many spy books and cops. But here I speak of real stories.

It should be noted that there has been exhaustive research work. Where did you find information on the organization of the various secret services in Lisbon?
The survey went through several sites. Much of the material comes from English archives, which are absolutely fabulous. But they are the files with the fewest unpublished facts, even because they have already been seen by other Portuguese authors, such as Rui Araújo or José António Barreiros. I also went to the German sources, which are not very abundant for a reason that is related to the history itself: is that the bulk of the files of espionage was taken by the Allies, who won the war. I was in England and Germany, but I realized that there must be many things in the United States about the Germans. I consulted American files, but not in person, they have a very good referral service that can be consulted online and then I asked them to send me copies of documents. I focused mainly on the English and the Germans, and somewhat on the French and the Americans. But in Portugal there were also Romanians, Czechs and even Soviets. This research has yet to be done, there are many stories.

In spite of all the threats and pressures of the allies and the forces of the axis, it is perceived that the Portuguese neutrality gave way to all the parts ... Portugal was a neutral country, but it was varying its position according to the results of the war. There was initially an approach to the Germans, which lasted until 1942. From then on, when it became apparent that the Allies had won the war, there was more closeness to the British. One of the things that remained in history and even in popular mythology is that Salazar saved us from the war. It is true that Salazar played well, was very pragmatic in external relations, in which ideology was not taken into account. But it must be seen that Portuguese neutrality was possible because it interested the two belligerent camps. To the English, so that the Iberian Peninsula remained neutral. To the Germans, this neutrality interested because it was in Portugal that they acquired many of the products that they used in the war effort. Especially because of the wolfram, but also preserves and pieces of wool.

Was Portugal a desirable place to escape the horrors of war? All the spies said this and so did the refugees. It was a country where they felt saved. Although, at the beginning of the 1940s, there was a time when it was not known whether the Germans came here, or whether the Spanish came with German support. For the spies, Portugal was wonderful. It was as if they were on vacation, at a time when Europe was on fire and on fire.

Germans and Englishmen frequented hotels, casino, bars and clubs. Did they know each other's existence?
Absolutely. The lobbies of the hotels were filled with spies on both sides, who listened and teased each other. One of the great issues that marked this war was the double espionage - spies that apparently worked for one side but were in the service of the opposing camp. Portugal did much to introduce false information. From a certain point in time, the Germans said in their reports that they were more false information than the real ones, but they had no idea how much they were being deceived.
Portuguese society was divided between Germanophiles and Anglophiles. In the midst of so much propaganda, were the Portuguese well informed about what really happened in the War?
The bulk of people were not informed, even because there was a lot of illiteracy. But there was a middle class, of the administrative employees who were in Rossio reading the newspapers. There were very warm conversations. Among the population, there were more people hanging on to the allies than to the Germans. In the regime's elites, there were many divisions. This happened in the Portuguese Legion in the Political Police (then the PVDE) and among the members of the Government. The ideological question was debated, but many Portuguese were acting simultaneously or simultaneously on both sides. Many of them changed camp, worked for the Germans, and from 1943 onwards they came to support the British side, not so much for ideological reasons, but for the most basic reasons, of the buck.

It tells the episode of the plan of the German SD to assassinate German oppositionist Otto Strasser, in which Schellenberg explains how the Portuguese deceived the Germans. Was it difficult to trust the Portuguese?
The SD leader complained about the false information he received and regretted the money he had to give for the activities to be carried out. He says he had to finance the shoes of an entire family because one of the PVDE (State Security and Defense Police) predecessors, PIDE's predecessor, said that he had spent his soles while chasing and watching people indicated by Schellemberg

It seems that neither side nor the other had much confidence in the ability of the Portuguese to be spies ...
None. Whenever one speaks of the Portuguese, one says that they are not very trustworthy. The British say that the first thing the Portuguese did when they were recruited, especially people from the people, was to tell everyone they were spies. The Germans also say that, but they complain especially that they are always asking for money. And when they had no more information to give, they made up. But this practice was not only for the Portuguese. There have been cases of famous spies who have done so.

There is the famous case of the spy 'Garbo', who spent almost all the war to invent ...
The 'Garbo' is a very special case because it was at the top. He was an almost schizophrenic spy, a double spy, but he had a great deal of support from the British Committee XX. The great spies had an officer who supported them, they did not invent alone. It is interesting because the double spies had to divulge some correct news, which the Germans could corroborate, and then they could make the big lies.

The role of banker Ricardo Espirito Santo is discussed in this spy game ...
He was a Germanophile, and the English called him a Germanophile. He welcomed the dukes of Windsor in his house, who also sympathized with Germany. But it happened with him what happened with so many, from a certain moment things have changed. At one point, one of the spies of the Portuguese Legion in the service of the Germans began to watch over the banker. After the war, many people said that the Holy Spirit supported the Jews because they married Jews, and it is true that two of the Holy Spirit married Jews. This was used to say that they had not been Germanophiles, but, if only, if Germany had won the war they could admit that they were Germanophiles, as I think they were, at least until 1943.

By 1942 the British managed to control all the German agents in Portugal. Were they more competent?
Yes. There is a book about the history of espionage, which says that the English have a special way for that, for their phlegm, for their reserve. They were very good. Compared with the American OSS, the organization that preceded the CIA, one notes that the English had a tradition, another way of being. They were the best spies.

What was wrong with German espionage?
They had two espionage networks that lived a great rivalry, the Abwehr and the SD. Spy agencies are almost always rivals, but the British were able to complement MI5's work with MI6. The Germanic problems have to do with the regime itself and with the question of the SS state [the military force created by Hitler]. Contrary to popular belief, a number of sources of power existed in Germany at one time. The regime was not a monolithic force controlled by Hitler, there are even those who use the term polycrat to refer to various state powers. At some point, SS forces begin to dominate all the SD police and intelligence services. The Abwehr already existed and belonged to the High Command of the German Army. There is a rivalry in which they hid and betrayed each other.

Canaris, commander of the Abwehr is appointed as a traitor ...
He always traded, on Hitler's back, with the British MI6 or with the Vatican. It is part of those people who, from a certain moment, when it is perceived that Germany is losing the war, begins not to find much joke to Hitler. Realize that he is dragging the country to a defeat. Canaris does not participate directly, but many Abwehr men make the attack on Hitler in 1944. There is a tragic story, the famous double spy Jebsen kidnapped in Portugal and taken to Germany by the Abwehr whom he belonged to and trusted. The Abwehr, when he knows that Jensen was going to pass to the English, wants to neutralize him because he could compromise the networks that were going to make the attempt against Hitler. When, in 1944, Canaris is detained and then executed, Abwehr's networks are integrated into the SS and Jebsen is delivered to the Gestapo SD and killed in a concentration camp.
Mar 2017
Matosinhos Portugal
Portuguese told that they were spies


On the other hand, a great friend of Jebsen, the also double spy Dusko Popov has the best of lives in Lisbon ...
Completely. He loved riding good cars, limousines, and lovers. Both here and in the United States, where he is sent to. That was why Hoover, the FBI man, did not like him at all. There is a report that Popov gives to the Inland secret services in which he counts his day-to-day life in Lisbon: dinners, lunches, casino, hotels, was a very interesting life. He and Garbo are the great spies. To a great extent the victory in Normandy is due to the double spies, that moved the Germans from the true place of the landing.

Has Lisbon changed much at this time of the war?
Completely. Suddenly, Lisbon was a cosmopolitan city. And it came to figure in the mythology of cinema, often also in the cinema of series B, and in literature as a country of spies. The great problem with this cosmopolitanism is that the war is over but everything has returned to the same.

Ian Fleming and Graham Green went through a Lisbon that inspired many novels ...
Yes, I also remember Isaiah Berlin. They were secret agents at the time. Ian Fleming was one of the secret naval services and Graham Green of the Iberian Cabinet of MI6. He gave fairly complete reports on how secret agents should behave in Lisbon. He warned who the Portuguese were for or against. Another curious case was the sending by the OSS [the American agency] of a lady to Lisbon, who was posing as a journalist. She warned Washington that a woman should never be sent to a Latin country again. She was constantly being seduced and abandoned, could not act.

The British complained repeatedly of the lack of action of the Portuguese authorities before the German activities. Did they have a reason to complain?
They had, but it has everything to do with chronology. Until 1942 one could say that the great relationship was with the Germans. Espionage and German propaganda were completely free. In 1942, the famous dismantling of the Shell network takes place, which was very complicated for the British. There were discussions in England about what to do about the old ally, which was a neutral country but increasingly adjacent to the enemy. Salazar's regime arrested the Portuguese who worked in this network and expelled the British, who were employees of the embassy. The idea of the network was that, if Germany invaded Portugal, - which feared in 1941 - there would be a succession of sabotages of the road network, of energy sources, warehouses, etc. At the official level, these sabotage actions were being negotiated, but the Shell network went far beyond what had been agreed upon. The British would like to see more demolitions than the Portuguese, to leave nothing to the Nazis.

What motivated the Portuguese who belonged to the Shell network?
There were many Portuguese in the network and what motivated them was not so much money, but more ideological reasons. There were reviralhistas, aliadófilos and even communists, in the absence of the PCP itself. There was in England who supported the support of forces opposed to the Salazar regime. The Portuguese regime had no legislation against foreign espionage on Portuguese soil. Only in 1943, partly also because of the Shell network, but also when the German networks are being dismantled in Portugal. They had been denounced by the English.

The question of the base of the Lages in the Azores was another tense question in the relations between England and Portugal ...
It is very curious because the British begin to be very radical in the matter of the occupation of the Azores and the Americans tried to moderate the problem. But then it is the English who are temporizing with the Portuguese Government. Salazar's attitude is very interesting. Fernando Rosas uses the expression 'saber dura'. One of his tactics was to delay, delay, delay. It did not respond to the requests and made the Azores question until it was obliged to accept the transfer of the base. But he managed to ensure that the wolfram embargo, which was vital for the Germans, only happened in 1944.

Is there a defraud of expectations when the war ends and nothing changes in Portugal?
Opposition thought that the defeat of the Nazis-fascists would lead to the defeat of the Iberian dictatorships. Already in 1949, Portugal was already in NATO, and all those hopes vanished. The Western Allies, with the beginning of the Cold War, bet on Salazar. They preferred that power should not fall on the street or be left in the hands of communists.

Is Lisbon once again a provincial city?
Yes, it becomes less cosmopolitan. Even by the departure of the refugees, which Salazar did not want in Portugal. Interest in Lisbon almost disappears.

After the War, America affirms itself as the great power of espionage ...
Yes, by the end of the war the OSS had a great strategic plan for what was going to happen next. America becomes the great power.

How do you see the current crisis with the discovery of the espionage of the Americans to friendly countries?
I think it shakes, even though we knew it was happening. What happened was that Snowden [the former NSA agent who denounced US espionage] did what we already knew. But that they were spying on Allied governments this way is too much. One sees in the official reactions a measured indignation, because before the public opinions has to protest. But there is the idea that the Americans are there to protect us. The US secret services suffered a major blow, but they were already fragile. How come September 11 was not planned?

Do you share the idea that today too much reliance is placed on technology for espionage operations?
Yes, if we look at World War II, the human part of espionage was fundamental. The technology was very important - the discovery of the enigma machine that deciphered the German messages was central, even because it allowed to know if the double agents were believed by the Germans. But the part of the investigation, of the construction of personages was fun.

Irene Flunser Pimentel is 63 years old and is a Historian
Belongs to the Institute of Contemporary History of the New University of Lisbon

Irene Pimentel: “Portugueses contavam que eram espiões” «««««« Link in Portuguese only