Cicero: Juvenile delinquent to spy

By Dr. Dennis Casey
HQ AIA/HO
Kelly Air Force Base, Texas

War breeds strange bedfellows. It also pulls extraordinary efforts from those who must participate in it.

Elyesa Bazna, known primarily in Germany’s Sicherheitsdienst or SD by codename Cicero, began his life as a German spy in 1942.

The former Albanian juvenile delinquent, locksmith, and fireman became the valet in 1942 to the British ambassador to Turkey, Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Huggessen.

He had earlier served as valet to the Yugoslav ambassador to Turkey and later to a German counselor who incidentally fired him for reading his mail.

Bazna, a small and compact man in his forties, discovered Sir Hughe kept important papers in a locked black dispatch box in his bedroom. On one occasion when the ambassador left the room for a few minutes, Bazna managed to take wax impressions of the key to the dispatch box. A friend of the future agent made keys from the impressions.

Bazna soon began photographing secret British documents using a Leica camera together with a 100-watt light bulb for illumination. He kept the camera stationary by using an arrangement of four rods and a round support ring.

The valet became a paid espionage agent in October 1943.

Armed with 56 photographs, Bazna approached the German Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, and indicated that he wanted 20,000 pounds sterling for his initial camera work.

His contact at the German Embassy was Ludwig Moyzisch, a Viennese who had been a member of the Nazi party since 1932.

Moyzisch had worked in a number of positions for the Nazi Party and had been turned down for membership in the SS because he could not learn the identity of his mother’s father and thus prove he was 100 percent Aryan. The German Embassy in Ankara soon handed over the payment requested and did not haggle over the price. Why should they? The English money was counterfeit and manufactured in the Sachesenhausen concentration camp. After this first contact, Bazna acquired the codename Cicero for the eloquence of his information.

He received several more payments and hid the counterfeit notes in the carpet in his living quarters. He generally turned over the photographs to Moyzisch, inside Moyzisch’s car parked on an Ankara street. This routine ran smoothly for several weeks until interrupted once by a car chase of the two conspirators through the streets of the Turkish capital.

Following this narrow escape, the two divised other methods for Bazna to present his work.

Bazna’s work soon captured the attention of senior German officials. Franz Von Papen was the first high-ranking German representative in Turkey to see the documents supplied by Cicero. A former military attaché who had been expelled from Washington in World War I for spying was no stranger to espionage and intrigue. He used the Cicero documents to keep Turkey from yielding to allied demands and ending her neutral status.

At one point, the photographs revealed the British wanted to use Turkish airfields as staging points in their attack of Rumanian oilfields.

Cicero helped the Germans end this effort. Over the months the Cicero documents came to be valued within the Nazi hierarchy by both Joachim Von Ribbentrop and Adolph Hitler.

Ribbentrop brought glossy prints of the photographs to Hitler for review. The two considered the Cicero documents as precise intelligence. The material arrived in Germany by either telegram or as film in the diplomatic pouch. Walter Schellenberg, who would later become head of Nazi foreign espionage, and Nazi officials tried to use the documents as a basis from which the English code could be broken. In this effort they were unsuccessful.

Franz Von Papen concluded that the Cicero documents allowed Germany to win the first battle over Turkey’s entry into the war.

On one occasion, Hitler entered a conference room with a collection of Cicero documents in December 1943 and announced he did not doubt for a minute based upon his review of the materials that the attack in the west would come in the spring. He also on this occasion talked about deception attacks in Norway and in the Balkans. Franz Von Papen later concluded that OVERLORD meant an attack out of England.

Despite the authenticity accorded the Cicero documents, Hitler persisted in his belief that the allies would attack somewhere in the Balkans. Cicero’s documents at no point gave any indication of an attack in the Mediterranean region. The documents made no mention of a military buildup in the eastern Mediterranean nor did German aerial reconnaissance give any such indication.

Hitler feared an allied invasion in the Balkans would place in jeopardy the Russian campaign and would likely result in Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria defecting to the allies as Italy had done. It could also threaten the flow of oil, copper and bauxite into the Third Reich. Hitler felt he could not risk potential disasters to the German military machine on the interpretation of a word or phrase picked up from documents presented by one spy, even a reliable one.

During the first three months of 1944, Cicero continued to supply the Germans with copies of documents taken from his employer’s dispatch box or his safe. The money continued to flow in and dreams of future wealth seemed assured.

When the Cicero documents predicted an allied air raid on Sofia, Bulgaria, the authenticity of the information was confirmed.

Indeed, Mopyzisch told Cicero that at the end of the war Hitler intended to give him a villa.

In the meantime, Bazna found it increasingly difficult to carry out his spying activities. A new alarm system in the British Embassy required him to very carefully remove a fuse whenever he wanted access to the ambassador’s safe. In addition, Mopyzisch hired a new, shapely secretary named Nele Kapp who defected to America in early 1944. Fearing Miss Kapp would pinpoint his operation; Bazna left Sir Hughe’s service.

By April 1944, Nazi forces in the Crimea were in full retreat. Worried they might face advancing Russian forces alone if they did not reach some accommodation with the Allies, the Turks replaced their pro-German army chief with one that was pro-English.

In August 1944 Turkey severed diplomatic relations with Germany and by February 1945 declared war on Germany. Cicero’s usefulness thus ended in 1945.

In all, the SD paid Cicero 300,000 pounds in counterfeit notes. The spy’s retirement plans collapsed when the forgeries were discovered after the war. He sued the German government but without success and never realized his dream of total financial independence.