Journal Volume 4 2004

Major Hermann Goertz and German World War 2 Intelligence Gathering in Ireland

By James Scannell

Espionage can be defined as the process of obtaining and collecting military, political, commercial and other secret information by a variety of means including the use of spies, secret agents or illegal monitoring and collecting devices. Espionage relies on aggressive and illegal methods to collect information. On the other hard, intelligence gathering involves the collecting and collating of information, much of which is available legally with only that information that is classed “secret” or “confidential” being the type of information that espionage must be resorted to in order to obtain it. About 80% of information that countries collect about each other comes from open sources such as the news media, published reports government documents, scientific and economic journals and the legitimate collection of political and strategic information by ambassadors and military attaches. But the most vital information is often contained in the remaining 20%, which must be obtained by other means, usually espionage, using spies or secret agents.

International law recognises by implication the rights of all states to employ in time of war, espionage agents, popularly known as spies, a term which most operatives take grave exception to, preferring to be known as intelligence gatherers or collectors. Under Article 29 of the Hague Convention, a person can be considered a spy when he/she is collecting information clandestinely or under false pretences. A soldier in uniform operating behind enemy lines is not a spy but if he/she is wearing civilian clothes, or some other form of disguise, then he/she is considered a spy and forfeits entitlement to treatment as a prisoner of war if captured.

In wartime, a secret agent operating behind enemy lines leads a very dangerous, solitary and tension filled life, cannot afford to get sick or be injured in case he/she is hospitalised, and must always keep clear of incidents which may lead to his/her assumed identity being subjected to closer scrutiny by the authorities. A secret agent always runs the risk of betrayal by a friend or colleague, random capture or arrest as the result of an operation by the counter intelligence forces of the country he/she is operating in or discovery through some flaw in his/her documentation. More importantly, a secret agent having collected the information he/she was assigned to obtain, has then to forward this information back to his/her superiors by whatever means – are at his/her disposal in a timely and prompt manner and may have to rely on a chain of couriers to convey this information, with the risk of betrayal/discovery if any of the individuals involved in this activity is captured by the counter intelligence services and forced to talk.

All German secret agents sent to Britain, with one or two exceptions, were captured by the British counter intelligence services and those who could not be used in what was known as the “Double XX” system operated by British counter intelligence to provide the Germans with false information, were tried in court, and when found guilty, sentenced to death and executed in accordance with British law.

Many British secrets agents and European nationals sent into Occupied Europe by the British S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) were captured by the Gestapo, and after torture were summarily executed or sent to concentration camps for incarceration with very few agents surviving the terrible conditions in these camps. Also executed on many occasions were uniformed individuals who had been captured in intelligence gathering or on Commando type missions. The Germans did not afford these prisoner of war statuses after 1942 in accordance with the special Hitler “Commando” Order, which removed prisoner of war status from uniformed individuals captured while engaged in special operations and intelligence gathering missions in Occupied Europe. The Japanese applied similar sanctions against some of those they captured in intelligence gathering missions. At the end of World War 2, those involved in the murder of Allied secret agents were tried as war criminals before International War Crimes Tribunals in Germany and Japan.


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