Joan Pujol Garcia (14 February 1912 – 10 October 1988), was a double agent during the Second World War who was known by the British codename Garbo and the German codename Arabel. He had a key role in the success of Operation Fortitude, the deception operation intended to mislead the Germans about the timing and location of the invasion of Normandy towards the end of war. The false information Pujol supplied helped persuade German intelligence that the main attack would be in the Pas de Calais, resulting in a decision by the German government to deploy the main body of troops there instead of in Normandy.
Born in the Catalan city of Barcelona, Pujol developed a detestation of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union after his experience of fascism and communism during the Spanish Civil War. He decided around 1940 that he must make a contribution to the war by helping Britain which, with its Empire, was Germany's only adversary at the time. He initially approached the British but they showed no interest in employing him as a spy. So he resolved to establish himself as a German agent before approaching the British again to offer his services as a double-agent.
Operating initially in Lisbon, he pretended to the Germans that he was in Britain. He fabricated reports about shipping movements based on information gleaned from the library in Lisbon and from newsreel reports he saw in cinemas, and successfully convinced the Germans that he was reporting real information. He claimed to be travelling around Britain and submitted his travel expenses based on fares listed in a British railway guide. During this time he created an extensive network of fictitious sub-agents living in different parts of Britain.
Eventually, he offered his services to British intelligence again. The British had become aware that someone had been feeding the Germans misinformation, and realised the value of misinformation after the German navy wasted resources hunting down a non-existent convoy reported to them by Pujol. This time he was accepted. He was relocated to Britain in the spring of 1942, and operated as a double agent under the aegis of the XX Committee. His spymaster was Cyril Bertram Mills, whom he knew only as 'Mr. Grey'.
On occasion he had to fabricate reasons why his agents had failed to report easily available information that the Germans would eventually know about. For example, he reported that his (fabricated) Liverpool agent had fallen ill just before a major fleet movement from that port on the north-west coast of England. The illness meant that the agent was unable to warn the Germans of the event. To support the story of the illness, the "agent" eventually "died" and a notice was placed in the local newspaper as further evidence to convince the Germans, who were also persuaded to pay a pension to the agent's "widow".
In order to maintain his credibility it was decided that Garbo, or one of his agents, should forewarn the Germans of the timing and some details of the actual invasion of Normandy, although leaving it too late for them to take effective action. Special arrangements were made with the German radio operators to be listening to Garbo through the night of 5/6 June 1944, using the story that a sub-agent was about to arrive with important information. However when the call was made at 3am, no reply was received from the German operators until 8am. Turning this piece of bad luck on its head, Garbo was able to add more details of the operation to the message when finally sent and increase his standing with the Germans.
On June 9 (3 days after D-day), Garbo sent a message to German High Command saying that he had conferred with his agents and developed an order of battle showing 75 divisions in England (when in reality there were only about 50). His message pointed out that units of the First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) (a fictitious unit which was part of the British deception) had not participated in the invasion and therefore the first landing should be considered a diversion. A German message to Madrid sent two days later said "all reports received in the last week from Arabel [Garbo's German code-name] undertaking have been confirmed without exception and are to be described as exceptionally valuable."
In late June Garbo was instructed by the Germans to report on the falling of V1 flying bombs. Finding no way of giving false information without arousing suspicion, and being unwilling to give correct information, Mills arranged for him to be 'arrested'. He returned to duty a few days later, and forwarded an 'official' letter of apology from the Home Secretary for his unlawful detention.
The Germans paid Garbo (or Arabel, as they called him) US$340,000 to support his network of agents, which at one point totaled 27 fabricated characters.
For his efforts in aid of the Allies Garbo received an MBE from the British; in an ironic twist of fate, following the war he ended up encountering one of his German handlers, who gave him the Iron Cross for his contribution to the German war effort; the Nazis never realized that Garbo had fooled them, and thus he earned the distinction of being one of the few people during World War II to receive decorations from both sides.
After World War II ended, Pujol faked his death and moved to Venezuela, where he lived in anonymity. Mills believed Pujol to be dead, and Pujol had been told that Cyril Mills, or 'Mr. Grey' as he knew him, had been killed as well. However, in 1982 they were emotionally re-united at Mills' home in London. Pujol lived in Lagunillas, Zulia, Venezuela, where he ran a bookstore called 'La Casa del Regalo'. He subsequently moved to Caracas, where he died in 1988. Juan Pujol is buried in Choroní, a town inside Henri Pittier National Park by the Caribbean sea.