James Bond has nothing on Dusko Popov. a double agent for the Abwehr, MI5 and MI6, and the FBI during World War II, Popov seduced numerous women, spoke five languages, and was a crack shot, all while maintaining his cover as a Yugoslavian diplomat…
On a cool August evening in 1941, a Serbian playboy created a stir at Casino Estoril in Portugal by throwing down an outrageously large baccarat bet to humiliate his opponent. The Serbian was a British double agent, and the money―which he had just stolen from the Germans―belonged to the British. From the sideline, watching with intent interest was none other than Ian Fleming…
The Serbian was Dusko Popov. As a youngster, he was expelled from his London prep school. Years later he would be arrested and banished from Germany for making derogatory statements about the Third Reich. When World War II ensued, the playboy became a spy, eventually serving three dangerous masters: the Abwehr, MI5 and MI6, and the FBI.
On August 10, 1941, the Germans sent Popov to the United States to construct a spy network and gather information on Pearl Harbor. The FBI ignored his German questionnaire, but J. Edgar Hoover succeeded in blowing his cover. While MI5 desperately needed Popov to deceive the Abwehr about the D-Day invasion, they assured him that a return to the German Secret Service Headquarters in Lisbon would result in torture and execution. He went anyway...
Into the Lion’s Mouth is a globe-trotting account of a man’s entanglement with espionage, murder, assassins, and lovers―including enemy spies and a Hollywood starlet. It is a story of subterfuge and seduction, patriotism, and cold-blooded courage. It is the story of Dusko Popov―the inspiration for James Bond.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Forging the Anvil
The word spy carries with it a certain pejorative connotation. Soldiers serve with patriotism and courage. Admirals lead with brilliance and heavenly wisdom. Field marshals and generals attack gallantly and operate, as Rommel proved, within an ethical code of conduct. Spies, on the other hand, thrive between the shadows of deceit and skullduggery.
Spies lie with impunity and lie with the enemy. They double-cross without conscience and kill without confession. If a spy wasn't a criminal before the secret service, he became one in the process. As one intelligence officer put it, he "must be prepared to be a villain, to be ruthless and dishonest in one role while being honest and tolerant in another. Second, he must be, or try to be, a good showman."
Like none other, Dusko Popov was born for the role. With equal measure he could and did wear all masks: villain and hero, killer and lover, deceiver and patriot.
But above all, he was a showman.
Born July 10, 1912, in Titel, Serbia, Dusan “Dusko” Miladoroff Popov was the second of Milorad Popov’s three sons-Ivan, Dusko, and Vladan-and the grandson of Omer Popov, a wealthy banker and industrialist who had built a sizeable empire of factories, mines, and retail businesses. Dusko’s father continued the family business, adding residential real estate to their investments. Like many of Europe’s aristocrats, the family divided their time between luxury homes-a winter residence in Belgrade and summer retreat in Dubrovnik.
The boys grew up sailing the Adriatic, playing water polo and tennis, and riding horses. Vladan, the youngest of Popov's sons, was not as personally close as his brothers and would spend the war years in college. Dusko's older brother, Ivan ("Ivo")-whom Dusko idolized-was six-foot-two and handsome. An instinctive leader, Ivo would become a surgeon and a courageous operative in the Yugoslav resistance. Like Dusko, Ivo was intelligent, charismatic, and intensely independent-traits which would endanger their lives in the years to come.
Milorad Popov desired a first-rate education for his boys. Vladan would attend the universities at Freiburg and Bologna, and later medical school in Paris. Ivo would receive an undergraduate degree at the Sorbonne, a medical degree at the University of Belgrade, and a surgery degree from the University of Naples. Dusko would travel to three countries before he finished. When he was sixteen, his father enrolled him at Ewell Castle, a well-respected preparatory school outside London. Housed in a castellated mansion on the former grounds of Henry VIII's Nonsuch Palace, the institution was the epitome of Gothic revival and pupil refinement. Dusko's refining, however, was not to be; at least not there. Three months after enrolling he confounded the staid establishment with a belligerent independence not seen before, or since. One day after missing a detention, Dusko was sentenced to a cane whipping. Objecting that the adjudication was inappropriate for the offense, Dusko snatched the cane from the teacher and snapped it in two-in front of the class.
He was expelled.
Popov transferred to the Lycée in Paris and managed to matriculate without incident. Upon graduation he enrolled at the University of Belgrade, where he received a law degree. Not particularly keen on commencing a demanding legal practice, he decided to pursue a doctorate in law at the University of Freiburg.
Graduate work in Germany seemed illogical; the country was politically unstable and German was his fourth language. But Germany dominated the cultural and economic realms of southeastern Europe, he felt, and anyone seeking business success would do well to learn its customs. Even now, some eighty years after Dusko's decision, Germany's economic hegemony continues. "Germany sits at the heart of this vast economic and demographic domain," wrote one Wall Street expert in 2014. "Through its indirect control of the ECB and the euro, it will dominate commerce, finance, and trade." With limited knowledge of Hitler's power and plans, Popov's decision in 1934 was nothing less than savvy.
Of the numerous options within the country, Freiburg offered charming allure. Beautiful and historic, the cozy town was nestled in the shadow of the Black Forest, was close to ski slopes, and was not too far from Belgrade. The school also offered an internationally renowned academic tradition. Founded in 1457, the University of Freiburg was one of the oldest colleges in Europe and was known for outstanding critical thinking. Philosopher Martin Heidegger taught here, and for two years had been rector. What few outside Germany knew, however, was that Heidegger was a committed Nazi.
Dusko was aware that going to school in Germany would entail certain disadvantages-Nazi propaganda, in particular-but he figured the advantages of Freiburg outweighed the negative political environment. Besides, he'd be in and out in two years. What he couldn't see from Belgrade, however, was the national system of indoctrination and terror being orchestrated and implemented from Berlin.
Hitler became Reich chancellor on January 30, 1933, and within a month passed the "Ordinance for the Protection of the People and the State." A month later, the first concentration camp was established and two months later the Gestapo was formed. Under Ernst Röhm, the Sturmabteilung (Storm Battalion, or SA) began arresting, beating, torturing-in some cases murdering-thousands of Berlin Communists, Social Democrats, and Jews. In 1934 henchman Reinhard Heydrich became Gestapo chief and Heinrich Himmler declared the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) the political intelligence and counterespionage service of the Nazi Party. To that end Himmler tasked the organization with discovering and stifling opponents of National Socialism.
On April 12 of that year the minister of the interior announced the principles for "preventive arrest" and Schutzhaft protective custody. Soon thereafter, the Gestapo consigned to concentration camps all treasonists, Communists, and members of the International Bible Research Association. In short order, those liable for preventive detention included "anti-social malefactors": beggars, homosexuals, prostitutes, drunkards, brawlers, and even grumblers. By the time Dusko entered the University of Freiburg in 1935, the term malefactors had been expanded to cover anyone who opposed Nazi rule.
At universities throughout Germany the SD formed "Working Associations," each having local leaders and an army of collaborators and informants. Those in associations included academics, judges, businessmen, and scientists. Some in academia served as "reporters." When Dusko graduated in 1937, the SD surveillance network had grown to three thousand full-time employees, with another fifty thousand serving as informants. At major universities like Freiburg, SD collaborators would have long since infiltrated faculty and student clubs. Future Secret Service chief Walter Schellenberg started with the SD in this fashion, having been recruited by two professors while a student at the University of Bonn.
The malediction of the system was significant and swift; once denounced by a Nazi collaborator, a victim was immediately arrested. And Dusko was mistaken in his belief that foreigners were exempt from prosecution and punishment. A thirty-one-year-old American physician, Joseph Schachno, was a prime example. One evening shortly after Hitler's rise to power a team of uniformed men visited Dr. Schachno's home in Berlin. They were responding to an anonymous tip that Schachno was a potential enemy of the state. Though the Gestapo found nothing incriminating in his home, the American was taken to headquarters, ordered to undress, and whipped mercilessly. His entire body was flayed, leaving a mass of raw, bleeding flesh.
But the danger was just beginning.
Two years after Hitler's election, the Reichstag passed the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws. When Freiburg stores were ordered to post signs forbidding the entrance of Jews, the owner of a favorite campus café-Mrs. Birlinger-refused. The Nazis responded by picketing the restaurant and posting soldiers to collect names of patrons. It was a less than subtle intimidation at which Dusko took umbrage. One day he and his two closest friends-Johann Jebsen and Alfred "Freddy" Graf von Kageneck-supported the recalcitrant café by giving their names to the guards and taking a table by the window for all to see.
Dusko Popov, the foreign student, had caught the watchful eye of the Reich.
As a handsome and charismatic doctoral student, he was also catching the eyes of co-eds. Women and trouble invariably commingled for Popov, and throughout his early years he was never far from either. Sunning with a girlfriend one afternoon, Dusko wrote in his memoirs, he was resting peacefully when another suitor-Karl Laub-approached to pester the girl for a date. A disagreement ensued and Laub challenged Dusko to Mensur-a saber duel sometimes called "academic fencing." Practiced in German universities since the sixteenth century, Mensur was thought to instill mettle and courage in young men. Hitler encouraged the practice as a means of building up fearless soldiers. German traditionalists, men like Walter Schellenberg, joined university student groups specifically because they had "a code of honor and duelling."
The tradition was not favored by handsome foreigners, however, since the object of the bout was to disfigure the opponent's face. Mensur contestants wore a protective vest, neck armor, and a small mask to protect the eyes and nose; the cheeks, forehead, and chin were the principal targets, and a quick flip of the wrist would lacerate anything the saber touched. The duel, which was officiated, allowed no ducking, flinching, or dodging of an opponent's blows.
Mark Twain described a bout he witnessed in Heidelberg:
The instant the word was given, the two apparitions sprang forward and began to rain blows down upon each other with such lightning rapidity that I could not quite tell whether I saw the swords or only flashes they made. . . . I saw a handful of hair skip into the air as if it had lain loose on the victim's head and a breath of wind had suddenly puffed it away. . . . The surgeon came and turned back the hair from the wound-and revealed a crimson gash two or three inches long. . . . The duelists took position again; a small stream of blood was flowing down the side of the injured man's head, and over his shoulder and down his body to the floor, but he did not seem to mind this. The word was given, and they plunged at each other as fiercely as before; once more the blows rained and rattled and flashed. . . . The law is that the battle must continue fifteen minutes if the men can hold out. . . . At last it was decided that the men were too much wearied to do battle any longer. They were led away drenched with crimson from head to foot.
Gruesome Mensur scars, Schmissen ("smite") the Germans called them, adorned the faces of many World War II officers, including SA cofounder Ernst Röhm, head of the political police (later, Gestapo) Rudolf Diels, RSHA chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner, and legendary commando Otto Skorzeny. No less an authority than Otto von Bismarck was reported to have said that dueling scars were a sign of bravery, and that a man's courage could be determined by the number on his cheeks.
Dusko had neither the need for distorted courage nor the desire for a deformed face. When the time for the duel arrived, he demanded a different weapon.
Laub and his second objected. Pistols had never been used in student dueling, they complained to the referee. Johnny Jebsen, who was Dusko's second, countered that the one being challenged traditionally had choice of weapons, and that Dusko was duty bound by his Yugoslav cavalry regiment to duel only with pistols. Laub appealed to the student honor court, which found a middle ground: Dusko was allowed a choice of weapons, but pistols had never been used in a university duel.
The bout was canceled and Laub lived on.
On June 9, 1937, Dusko turned in his dissertation-”The Vivovdan and the September Constitution of Yugoslavia”-and began wrapping up his doctoral studies. By late summer he had finished his exams and made preparations for a celebratory excursion to Paris. He had been to the French capital many times and loved all that the city offered: endless cafés, exquisite wines and cuisine, and-most importantly-adventurous popsies. A few days before leaving he gave a pro-democracy speech at the foreign-student club.
He never made it to Paris.
Exiting Feet First
A day or so after the speech Dusko was awakened by pounding at his door. A team of Gestapo guards, looming in the hall like black-and-gray gargoyles, ordered him to get dressed and follow them to an awaiting car.
He knew why.
From the day he stepped onto the Freiburg campus in the fall of 1935, he had either ignored or ridiculed the Nazis. Birlinger café. Articles for the Politika. Speeches at the foreign-student club. Naively, he had assumed the social setting would allow free speech. He also believed that his status as a foreigner would exempt him from Kadavergehorsam-the zombie-like obedience Hitler demanded. Dusko despised Nazism, and since he wasn't German, he believed he owed no allegiance to Hitler or the state.
He was wrong.
By 1937 Hitler had been Reich chancellor for four years and had spread Nazi doctrine and terror across Germany with fanatical resolve. Heinrich Himmler, as de facto head of the Gestapo in 1934 and as Reichsführer-SS in 1936, had begun implementing many reforms: Jewish professors were fired from university posts, church leaders were forced to embrace National Socialism or lose their parishes, and Konzentrationslagers-concentration camps-were ordered to full development.
Dusko Popov, a nonconformist foreigner, was another perfect target. As a Polish jurist later wrote, the Nazi scheme was a coordinated plan to pass laws "that attacked the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings, religion and the economic existence of national groups, and [that tended to] the destruction of personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of individuals belonging to such groups."
Virtually around the clock, Gestapo agents interrogated him. The first agent charged him with an unthinkable crime-dating a girl who worked in a factory. Surely this was proof that Popov was a Communist. Another agent followed. And another. Eight days. The Gestapo questioned everyone he knew-students, professors, merchants-and only von Kageneck and Jebsen defended him.
Like Dusko, Freddy and Johnny had come from aristocratic backgrounds. The von Kagenecks were one of the oldest and most influential Catholic families in Germany; the Jebsens, one of the richest. Freddy's noble heritage could be traced back to the twelfth century, and Johnny's wealth, although invested largely in ships, was almost beyond measure.
Johnny's family was originally from Denmark, and his grandfather, Michael Jebsen, Jr., had established a shipping company there in 1871. To open an Asia trade route, he moved his operations to Hamburg, and the eldest son, Johnny's uncle Jacob, cofounded Jebsen & Co. in 1895 in Hong Kong. It appears that the youngest son, Michael III, was Johnny's father and had continued the Hamburg business after Johnny's grandfather died in 1899. The date of Michael III's death is unknown, but by the time Johnny enrolled at Freiburg in 1935, both of his parents were dead. By then Johnny had inherited not only a sizeable part of the shipping empire, but other assets as well. Part of Jebsen's loyalty to Germany, he would later say, was because he owned so much of it.
Table of Contents
Dramatis Personae xi
1 Forging the Anvil 3
2 Exiting Feet First 9
3 Spying For Hitler, Killing For Churchill 14
4 Magic 21
5 The Bee Hive 28
6 Too Many Devices 39
7 Passion and Addiction 46
8 Death in the Afternoon 54
9 "He's Not Dead" 61
10 Taranto and the Target 68
11 Casino Estoril 77
12 Pearl Harbor Warning 88
13 Cover-Up 99
14 I'll Kill Her 115
15 Butterflies and Carnage 123
16 Blown 133
17 Incomplete Canvas 146
18 The Art of the Silent Kill 154
19 "Turn Around Slowly" 165
20 Ticking 174
21 Five Lives 182
22 Shots Rang Out 189
23 Truth Serum 198
24 Auf 209
25 D-Day 221
26 Naked and Shaved 237
27 Ulla 241
28 Partisan Politics 247
29 Johnny 254
Sources and Acknowledgments 267
Appendix 1 August 19, 1941, Transmittal Letter from E. J. Connelley to J. Edgar Hoover With Pearl Harbor Questionnaire 273
Appendix 2 Popov Operations 277
Appendix 3 Ian Fleming's Bond and Potential Models 279
Appendix 4 Living Casablanca and Dr. No 285
Information was very interesting, but OMG all the names, all the code names... So confusing. One needs a map of sorts to keep them straight. The author also uses different code names of one person when describing one event. Even in the same sentence! Sometimes it is frustrating & overwhelming reading and trying to keep my interest in the story or just keeping the story straight. Took me over a year to make myself finish reading. So sad for such an interesting subject.
Fantastic book. If you are into WW2, this is a must read. The "Art of Manliness" web site had a Pod cast on this. Check it out.