Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending a talk at the International Spy Museum where my dear friend Peter Duffy spoke about his new book, Double Agent.
Duffy, a talented writer who lives in New York City, recounts the story of an American citizen named William Gottlieb Sebold, a German who came to America in early 1930s and was forcibly recruited into espionage by the Nazis while visiting his family in Germany in 1939.
The Germans gave him the codename, “Tramp.”
Upon his return to the United States in February 1940 he promptly contacted the FBI who began using him as its first double agent.
Over the next sixteen months FBI agents posing as Sebold exchanged more than four hundred secret radio messages with Hamburg based intelligence officials who believed that they were successfully communicating their best spy in America.
By the end of June 1941 the FBI had rounded up (thanks entirely to Sebold) thirty three German spies in the US.
For the Germans it was a crushing defeat which broke the back of their espionage capabilities for the remainder of the Second World War.
Duffy’s book is not a rehash of an old story as one critic has suggested.
It is much more complex. For the first time Duffy takes the reader through Sebold’s life by drilling down into the complex long-term emotional difficulties faced by someone who assists the FBI against his former homeland.
This is more than a mere biography; it is an instructional primer which should be essential reading for all investigators dealing with human sources.
Yesterday was even more delightful with the presence of Duffy’s special guests.
One was Diana Schumann, granddaughter of Everett Roeder, an engineer at the Sperry Gyroscope Company who was arrested in the raid and later sent to prison.
Another equally fascinating guest with a unique story of her own was Hans Ritter’s daughter, Katharine Wallace.
Ritter was the Abwehr officer who traveled from Germany to America in the late 1930s to set up the original spy ring.
He later stole the Norden Bombsight blueprints, at the time America’s most important military secret.
Both women were very forthcoming and generous with Duffy offering priceless recollections and valuable documents which had been hidden away for decades.
C-Span recorded the talk. It should be available for broadcast in the next few weeks. Stay alert. You’re in for an interesting hour.
Here’s the book followed by photos I took at the event: