Baiting the trap with CHEESE: how we fooled the Germans in the second world war

Alan Judd recalls how an inventive MI6 agent continued  to bamboozle the Germans from prison in a review of Double Cross in Cairo by Nigel West

28 March 2015

9:00 AM

28 March 2015

9:00 AM

Double Cross in Cairo: The True Story of the Spy Who Turned the Tide of War in the Middle East Nigel West

Biteback, pp.321, £20, ISBN: 9781849547963

Second world war deception operations are now widely known, particularly those which misled the Germans into thinking that the D-Day Normandy landings were merely a diversion. Great use was made of captured German agents in Britain who sent disinformation about invented army divisions and ships allocated to the supposedly ‘real’ landings still to come.

Much less well known, though of arguably equal consequence, was a similar deception operation in the Middle East, based on an MI6 agent known as CHEESE. He came to be regarded by the Germans as their most valuable source in the region, despite the fact that the disinformation he fed them helped prevent them capturing Cairo and the Suez Canal, lose them Tobruk, starve Rommel’s Afrika Korps of fuel, and kept vital German divisions in the south of France and the Balkans while the Allies established and expanded their Normandy foothold.

Sir Michael Howard, official historian of British strategic deception, described him as ‘the most successful channel at their [British] disposal’. The detail quoted in this book suggests that Nigel West’s judgment that CHEESE ‘accomplished more, over a longer period, than any other single Allied agent’ may not be an exaggeration. Of 26 imaginary Allied divisions supposedly identified by CHEESE, 21 were confirmed by the Germans and entered into their estimate of the Allied order of battle.

He was Renato Levi, an Italian Jew, cosmopolitan and multilingual, who spied for the French, Italians and Germans, or so they thought. In fact, he had been in contact with MI6 since 1939, when he reported an approach by the Germans. Encouraged to accept, he was eventually tasked by his German case officers to get to Cairo and report on Allied military intentions and capabilities. He got there via a British passport and the RAF, both courtesy of MI6, and began to build up what — in the eyes of the Germans — became a most successful and extensive network of sub-agents.

His principal motivation, the British reckoned, was not so much anti-German feeling — he rather liked them — as resentment at what they did to Jews. Among his case officers was Evan J. Simpson, well known then as the writer and Spectator contributor Evan John, who considered Levi

a natural liar, capable of inventing any story on the spur of the moment… very considerable intelligence… love of adventure… enjoys the work for its own sake… very fond of women… the work gives him opportunities of travel, and of handling large sums of money.

Another report, possibly also John’s, described him as ‘a man of personality rather than character’.

The extraordinary thing about the network of CHEESE sub-agents is that they were all notional, invented and orchestrated by Levi and his case officers. Their descriptions and backgrounds, quoted here, should qualify their inventors as spy novelists. My own favourite — and, I suspect, Levi’s — was his notional Greek girlfriend, codenamed MISANTHROPE, who obligingly picked up Allied officers in bars and who could make corporeal appearances when required in the person of Evangeline Palidou, ‘a fierce Cretan known as the Blonde Gun Moll, or BGM’. MISANTHROPE and CHEESE were together, unsuspected, until virtually the end of the war, when they were both taken off air as German control collapsed. By then MISANTHROPE had acquired an equally notional colleague, MARIE, to whom Levi also seems to have been partial, noting that she had ‘a regular lover of local extraction to whom she remained faithful in thought though not in deed’.

Not the least remarkable aspect of this operation is that for a significant period Levi himself was absent, having travelled back to Italy to prove his bona fides and found himself imprisoned. Throughout that time his case officers continued to report as him, adding to the network and cementing its credibility in German eyes.

Most who worked on the CHEESE case did so under the auspices of SIME — Security Intelligence Middle East — and a number are named here as having become prominent in MI6 and MI5 post-war. Virtually all the extensive file extracts quoted by West are from SIME papers. It would be useful to have more precise attribution than he gives here but nevertheless his book should serve as a timely reminder to historians that the SIME archive, though scattered and incomplete, deserves more attention. Meanwhile, as a taster, this book will more than do.

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  • jim

    The German’s have been fooling you ever since.More’s the pity.

    • JEng

      Yeah I used to think oh well can’t touch the Germans because they are okay with Americans and Jews so who am I to disagree – when it comes to Japanese, I am uncompromising but all these German Americans are presented as Friendlies and Warm Bodies.

      Until Outlander’s first episode was offered for FREE on Amazon, Google Play and Itunes and I learned a new word “sassenach” and that Scots always have their heads on a swivel (which makes me feel so much better about smiley forgiving Irish).

      There may be warm bodies – I’m sure the Stanis have Warm Bodies – even the Mongolians but if you are a sassenach and you aren’t in on it, I’d retreat, self correct, lay low, whatever. You’ve been danced into the rain and it’s been going on for longer than Sean Penn and John Mayer or Aussie Little Brothers and their Yes-ko girlfriend in Beijing.

      “portering for prostitutes,” Hitler’s Groupies – Joseph Kahn’s music videos for Taylor Swift – the hate has not abated at all.

  • Tom M

    I love this stuff about how we conned the Germans during the war. In this instance North Africa. Just to level the spying success stories in that region at that time it might be as well to know that Rommel was reading, in real time, all the orders of battle and proposed strategies of the British forces by the simple but very effective method of the Italians having stolen the American code books from their embassy and passed them on to the Germans. The American military attaché at the time was sending daily updates to Washington of what was afoot in the desert. Rommel hardly needed Levi.

    • “it might be as well to know that Rommel was reading, in real time, all the orders of battle and proposed strategies of the British forces”

      Everyone was reading the others’ ciphers, since World War II was a Marxist operation; pitting false opposites against each other, resulting in the further weakening of the West. Martin Bormann (Hitler’s private secretary, and Soviet agent who, according to FHO head Colonel Reinhard Gehlen, escaped to the Soviets at the end of the war) & Company were transmitting to Moscow the latest German strategic plans for the Soviet campaign, as independently discovered by both Colonel Reinhard Gehlen, who headed the small German Military Intelligence Foreign Armies East (FHO), and Admiral Canaris, who headed the Abwehr, the largest bureaucracy within German Military Intelligence.

      It was Marxists that created the National Socialist Party in Germany, not to mention the National Fascist Party in Italy. Hitler and Mussolini were well known Marxists before the Comintern ordered that they take up new identities, heading their respective nationalist parties.* This tactic of ‘false dueling opposites’ is what Marxists call the “scissors strategy”, in which the blades represent the two falsely opposed sides that converge on the confused victims [neutralizing true opposition].

      Both world wars not only severely weakened the West, they also demoralized the West’s citizens’ faith in their nations, which made Western populations hesitant with taking on any new massive casualties that would be required to liberate Communist nations. Of course, it’s up to politicians to convince their populations that even more sacrifice is necessary if Western Civilization is to continue, but notice that since 1917 not one Communist nation was liberated by the West! That’s why not one political party in the West requested verification of the collapse of the USSR, and the media failed to alert your attention to this fact, including the “alternative” media. When determining whether the “former” USSR is complying with arms control treaties, what does the United States do to confirm compliance? Right, the United States sends into the “former” USSR investigative teams to VERIFY compliance, yet when it’s the fate of the West that’s at stake should the collapse of the USSR be a ruse, what does the United States do to confirm the collapse? Nothing!

      It gets worse–the “freed” Soviets and West also never (1) de-Communized the Soviet Armed Forces of its Communist Party officer corps, which was 90% officered by Communist Party members; and (2) arrested/de-mobilized the 6-million vigilantes that assisted the Soviet Union’s Ministry of the Interior and police control the populations of the larger cities during the period of “Perestroika” (1986-1991)!

      There can be no collapse of the USSR (or East Bloc nations) without…

      Verification, De-Communization and De-mobilization.

      The West never verified the collapse of the USSR because no collapse occurred, since if a real collapse had occurred the West would have verified it, since the survival of the West depends on verification. Conversely, this proves that the political parties of the West were co-opted by Marxists long before the fraudulent collapse of the USSR, since the survival of the West depends on verification.

      The failed socialist inspired and controlled pan-European revolutions that swept the continent in 1848 thought Marxists and socialists a powerful lesson, that lesson being they couldn’t win overtly, so they adopted the tactic of infiltration of the West’s political parties/institutions. The fraudulent “collapse” of the USSR (and East Bloc) couldn’t have been pulled off until both political parties in the United States (and political parties elsewhere in the West) were co-opted by Marxists, which explains why verification of the “collapse” was never undertaken by the West, such verification being (1) a natural administrative procedure (since the USSR wasn’t occupied by Western military forces); and (2) necessary for the survival of the West. Recall President Reagan’s favorite phrase, “Trust, but verify”.

      The above means that the so-called “War on Terror” is an operation being carried out by the Marxist co-opted governments of the West in alliance with the USSR and other Communist nations, the purpose being to (1) destroy the prominence of the West in the eyes of the world, where the West is seen (i) invading nations without cause; (ii) causing chaos around the globe; and (iii) killing over one-million civilians and boasting of torture; (2) close off non-Russian supplies of oil for export, thereby increasing the price of oil, the higher price allowing oil exporting Russia to maintain economic stability while she modernizes and increases her military forces; (3) destroy the United States Armed Forces via the never-ending “War on Terror”; the ultimate purpose of the aforementioned to (4) bring about the demise of the United States in the world, opening up a political void to be filled by a new pan-national entity composed of Europe and Russia (replacing the European Union), a union “From the Atlantic to Vladivostok”; which will (5) see the end of NATO.

      Now you know how Bolshevik Russia survived in 1917; how the West “lost” China to the Communists in 1949; why the Eisenhower administration turned a deaf ear to the anti-Communist Hungarian uprising in 1956; why the Eisenhower administration in 1959 was indifferent to the Castro brothers’ Communist fidelity, actually used the CIA to overthrow the Batista government; why the Nixon administration abandoned Taiwan for Communist China, and signed treaties/provided economic aid to the USSR; why the Nixon administration refused to tell the American People that over 50% of North Vietnamese NVA regiments were actually Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers (attired in NVA uniforms, and proving that the Sino/Soviet Split was a ruse, as KGB defector Major Anatoliy Golitsyn told the West back in 1962), thereby (1) ensuring the Vietnam War would be lost; (2) destroying the prominence of the United States abroad and at home; (3) breeding distrust between the American people and their government; and (4) securing Communist victories in Southeast Asia. Working in the background within the political parties of the United States and Great Britain were Marxist agents doing their best to (1) ensure the survival of Communist nations when they popped up; and (2) sabotage any policies that would bring down a Communist nation. That’s why after the fake collapses of the East Bloc nations and USSR there was no mandatory Western verification process to ensure the Communists weren’t still in control.

      (1) The Emblem of the Soviet Union atop the Russian State Duma building…

      Notice that the State Emblem of the Soviet Union is illuminated at night for clear viewing by Muscovites…

      …however the coat of arms of the Russian Federation, situated above the door between the fourth and fifth floors, isn’t illuminated, though either side of the heraldic design is illuminated for no apparent purpose other than to highlight the heraldic design’s obsolescence.

      (2) High atop the facade of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, the State Emblem of the Soviet Union

      is Illuminated with pinpoint precision at night…

      (3) The State Emblem of the Soviet Union atop the Russian Ministry of Defense building, including other Soviet era iconography…

      (4) Soviet Red Stars atop Kremlin towers remain where Stalin placed them in 1935…

      (5) Moscow’s Central Post Office employees are still in the dark as to the “collapse” of the USSR in late 1991..

      Why, you ask? Click the following link for the answer…

      (6)Headquarters of the Russian Federal Security Service, and the Soviet Union’s security service, the KGB…

      Note the State Emblem of the Soviet Union still over the main door (click picture to enlarge), and hammer and sickle logo still above the clock. And here’s the Lubyanka at nightime…

      Note illumination of hammer & sickle, and enhanced illumination of area above the main door, where the office of the KGB chief was located (third floor).

      (7) Satellite image of the Volga River cities of Engels, (right), and Saratov (left)…

      Engels Air Force Base is east of Engels city, where the two long parallel lines are located, …

      Notice that Engels city and adjacent air base were named after Marxist “hero” Friedrich Engels, but the names were never changed after Russians were “liberated” from Soviet tyranny in December 1991 with the “collapse” of the USSR.

      (8) Red Star, the Official newspaper of the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Defense…

      Note the Soviet era title (Red Star) and the four Soviet emblems (representing awards) to the left of the masthead, the outer emblem displaying Vladimir Lenin. Now, click the following link to view the official newspaper of the Russian Ministry of Defense…

      The newspaper is still called Red Star(!) and still has the four Soviet emblems with Vladimir Lenin still present!

      (9) Soviet roundel still on Russian military aircraft…

      (10) Soviet era Communist emblem (red star) still attached to the port bow of the Russian missile cruiser Varyag…


      *One-third of Hitler’s SA were Marxists; one-third of Gestapo personnel were Marxists.

      • JabbaTheCat

        Blue or red pills today?

        • “Blue or red pills today?”

          I took the red pill Morpheus offered me, which allows me to see a picture of Lenin’s head and four Soviet nationality emblems next to the masthead of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s official newspaper, which is STILL called “Red Star”…

          I’m also now capable of seeing the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s emblem–the distinctive Soviet Red Star emblem–still on Russian military aircraft and naval vessels…


          I also see the thousands of hated statues to Lenin still standing in Russian cities, towns and villages…

          The red pill also allows one to comprehend the meaning of the following…

          ‘The West never verified the collapse of the USSR because no collapse occurred, since if a real collapse had occurred the West would have verified it, since the survival of the West depends on verification. Conversely, this proves that the political parties of the West were co-opted by Marxists long before the fraudulent collapse of the USSR, since the survival of the West depends on verification.’

          Would you like me to ask Morpheus to contact you, so that you too may take the red pill and disconnect yourself from the Matrix?

      • Tom M

        Well there’s a lot to go at there Dean but can I say that as far as I am aware Martin Borman’s body was dug up sometime after the war and it was confirmed he had taken a cyanide capsule. A more likely suspect close to Hitler seems to be his messenger Sasha Kvap.
        As far as spies go I agree with you that the USSR was without question the best in WW2 and after. As far as codebreakers go that award has to go to the USA. They read everybody’s everything. For the Germans Pers Z and B Deinst were exceptionaly successful as well. Unfortunately I do not place the Bletchley Park team in the same category. Certainly not in the category as has been attempted in the media recently.

        • “Well there’s a lot to go at there Dean but can I say that as far as I am aware Martin Borman’s body was dug up sometime after the war and it was confirmed he had taken a cyanide capsule.”

          Yeah, and the USSR collapsed in 1991 and 9/11 was an attack by 19 Muslim hijackers who knew that NORAD would be incompetent on that day! Everything you think you know you can be 75% sure it’s a lie.

          Another big lie: The United States fought North Vietnamese manned regiments during the Vietnam War. In fact, over 50% of those regiments were 100% composed of Chinese PLA soldiers attired in NVA uniforms. What does that tell you about the so-called Sino-Soviet Split? Yeah, it was a strategic deception.

  • James

    They certainly fooled us with the EU.

    • JEng

      they fooled themselves – now Germany can’t pay the refugees in special Deutschemarks nonnegotiable outside its borders.

      They were probably MK-Ultra’d but Germany got played and it was made to look like it played itself.

      My mother thinks Angela Merkel misspoke on purpose to bring all the refugees to flood Europe but she doesn’t understand racism and Germans and I don’t think Germany did this intentionally but in their right mind, there is no way that Angela Merkel would have said just get here and we will take care of you. They can make lemonade out of this and allow the Syrians to flourish in Germany but it looks like things are going to go another way.

  • OldLegSpinner

    Posting this in October, after reading about 50 pages. The story may be tremendous, but the telling is dreadful. Not much explanation is given about how the thing was operated and this reaches a point of great difficulty when Levi is arrested and imprisoned in Italy towards the end of ’41. It is simply unexplained how his “case officers continued to report as him” (see article) or how the Germans did not realise he was imprisoned. Either I’ve missed something, or the writing is opaque. There are various errors that better proof reading would have sorted out and a disjointed narrative style that leaves this reader mystified about the mystery. I’ll have to read on, in hope.