A Spanish fisherman made a startling discovery on April 30, 1943: while rowing out into the Atlantic from the east coast of southwest Spain, looking for sardines, he came upon the floating body in an English uniform, a document laden briefcase attached. The contents of the briefcase were apparently secret military communications of the Allies, indicating the invasion plans for Southern Italy. That, at least, was what the Abwehr man in Spain thought, the first but not the last of men in a chain of intelligence officials who came across the incredible find. Perhaps it was all just a little too incredible. But could anybody inside the Reich intelligence apparatus tell? And did the most important analyst in the Reich really want to know the truth?
At the heart of the human experience is the problem of knowledge: how can we be sure that what is before us is actually the truth of something? Specifically, how can we uncover a deception? Indeed, how can we know anything? Philosophers have tackled this problem for ages and the area of philosophy is known as epistemology, but it offers no unequivocal solution to the ancient problem. While most of us never have to deal with the problem of knowledge in life or death terms – our lives, for the most part, revolve around habits of thought that work just well enough in our environments to get us what we want or need — intelligence experts face the problem of knowledge every day. The stakes, of course, are life and death. The dead English courier and his briefcase posed a problem of such proportions for the German intelligence analysts: should they trust in the find or was it an Allied hoax?
In January 1943 the Allies faced a problem. So did the Axis powers. After the success in North Africa, the Allies were contemplating their next move. Hitler was trying to figure out what that next move would be. At stake was the so-called soft underbelly of the Reich. Knowing where would the Allies invade was a central question, for it would allow Hitler to fortify the landing sites. To the Allied leadership, the target of invasion was obvious. So much so that Churchill, in his customary pithiness said, “Everyone but a bloody fool would know it was Sicily.” The Allied problem, then, assuming that the German leadership felt the same way as Churchill and believed that it would indeed be Sicily, was how to persuade the Axis into believing that the target of the coming invasion would lie elsewhere. Without an element of surprise, the Allied invasion would be met by an entrenched enemy and almost certainly fail or succeed only at too great a cost.