Dyson's brush with Bosch 'spy': Germans make lousy spooks
Right back to World War Two, Britain has always had a knack for catching Germany's intelligence efforts
THE NEWS that the German electronics firm Bosch is alleged to have had a spy stealing sensitive vacuum cleaner technology from Dyson's Malmesbury factory will ring a bell with intelligence aficionados.
The former wartime MI6 agent, Graham Greene, constructed his dark but hilarious spy satire Our Man in Havana around an incompetent vacuum cleaner salesman turned incompetent spy - James Wormold. At one point Wormold, to bolster his reputation with his bosses, despatches diagrams of Hoover parts to London, pretending they are Cuban military installations.
But Greene's real inspiration came not from vacuum cleaners but British wartime successes against blundering German spooks which he had witnessed at first hand.
The codenames of the operations were known to every post-war schoolboy. Double Cross was the MI5 counter-espionage operation that nabbed nearly every German spy despatched to this country. During the three months from September to November 1940, twenty-five Nazi agents landed on these shores by parachute or small boat – and all were picked up within a few hours.
Mincemeat was the naval intelligence operation to persuade the Germans that the allies intended to invade Sardinia rather than Sicily in 1943 – better known from the book and film The Man Who Never Was. The idea for that particular scam, arranging for the dead body of a British officer carrying bogus military plans to be washed ashore, came interestingly from one Commander Ian Fleming who in his turn garnered it from a 1930s thriller.
Most famous of all was Fortitude, the cunning deception plan that persuaded the German High Command that the D-Day Landings would take place near Calais rather than 200 miles away in Normandy. Despite being briefed on a copy of the entire operational plan found on a dead American officer just two days after the landings, Hitler and his top generals believed, even a month after D-Day, that the whole thing was a feint to draw German forces away from the real invasion still to come.
The success of these operations owed much to the signals intelligence effort at Bletchley Park and the skill of the Oxbridge dons and free-thinking mavericks running British intelligence at the time. But even more to the comic opera gullibility of Germany's military leaders.
It is a curious paradox of the Second World War in the West that, man for man, German soldiers, even middle-aged conscripts from non-elite formations, outfought their British, Canadian and American opponents in nearly every engagement and to the bitter end. German staff work was often superb under the most difficult circumstances.
But Germany's intelligence effort was lamentable. Something in the German character makes it difficult for them to spot the con. And it didn't get much better post-war. German intelligence struggled on the ground against the KGB and its East German sidekicks.
To some, therefore, it came as no surprise that the prized German intelligence source codenamed 'Curveball', supposedly a senior Iraqi scientist with a deep insight into Saddam Hussein's biological weapons programme (on which so much of the case for war in Iraq was based), should turn out to be a down-on-his-luck taxi driver and habitual drunk spinning fantasies in the hope of asylum.
If history is anything to go by, events at the Dyson factory in Malmesbury are more likely to be a British intelligence sting - an MI6 operation to plant faulty technology at the heart of the German vacuum cleaner industrial complex - than a German industrial espionage triumph.