The Tricycle Affair

Bratzel, John F., and Leslie B. Rout, Jr.

1. "Pearl Harbor, Microdots, and J. Edgar Hoover." American Historical Review 87 (Dec. 1982): 1342-1351.

2. "Once More: Pearl Harbor, Microdots, and J. Edgar Hoover." American Historical Review 88 (Oct. 1983): 953-960.

These articles focus on the Tricycle case and on the Abwehr questionnaire brought by Dusko Popov.

Bruce-Briggs, B. "Another Ride on Tricycle." Intelligence and National Security 7, no. 2 (Apr. 1992): 77-100.

The author concludes that the "Hawaiian questions [on Tricycle's questionnaire] did not reflect intended invasion or air attack.... [I]t is clear that Popov did not deliver a credible Pearl Harbor warning." He also takes issue with Tom Troy's contention that the work of British writers on the subject constitutes an "attack on Hoover." See Troy, "The British Assault on J. Edgar Hoover: The Tricycle Case." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 3.2 (Summer 1989): 169-209.

Chapman, John W.M. "Tricycle Recycled: Collaboration Among the Secret Intelligence Services of the Axis States, 1940-41." Intelligence and National Security 7, no. 3 (Jul. 1992): 268-299.

This article is somehow passing strange. It includes some interesting Axis-states source materials that "throw light at least on the broader context of the intelligence collaboration, in which Popov [Tricycle] played a very minor role." This is true, but the focus here is on the "context," not on the Tricycle case per se.

Masterman, John Cecil. The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939-1945. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1972. New York: Avon Books, 1972. [pb] New York: Ballantine, 1982. [pb]

Clark comment: Masterman was head of BI(a), the counterespionage arm of MI5, during World War II, and chaired the Twenty (XX) Committee that managed the German agents captured and turned beginning in 1940. Pforzheimer notes that the author "wrote this text as an official classified history"; as released, there has been sanitization. The book remains a "veritable classic treatise" on counterintelligence and deception. The lack of direct references to the Ultra material, which was used to check on the success of these operations, is a major void in the Masterman's presentation.

According to Constantinides, The Double-Cross System is "one of the great works of intelligence literature, an outstanding one in the area of deception, and perhaps the greatest work yet written on double agents." Sexton notes that this "slender volume ought to be essential reading for those seriously interested in intelligence and deception."

In a excellent article that is more than a book review, A.V. Knobelspiesse, "Masterman Revisited," Studies in Intelligence 18, no. 1 (Spring 1974): 25-40, proclaims that "Masterman's book ... merits the appellation 'seminal.'" The work presents "lean, impersonal, underplayed facts," and "combines brevity and conciseness with donnish elegance and challenge.... The codification of [counterintelligence] operational principles which accompanies Masterman's double agent case facts makes this the only book of its kind in public print.... The underlying thrust of the methodological theory and wisdom set out in this book ... apply to any time and to any adversary."

For the debates surrounding Masterman's release of his work and some of the follow-on controversies, see John C. Campbell, "A Retrospective on John Masterman's The Double-Cross System," International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 18, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 320-353. See also, E.D.R. Harrison, "J.C. Masterman and the Security Service, 1940-72," Intelligence and National Security 24, no. 6 (Dec. 2009): 769-804.

Miller, Russell. Codename TRICYCLE: The True Story of the Second World War's Most Extraordinary Double Agent. London: Secker & Warburg, 2004.

Peake, Studies 49.1 (2005), finds that the author "adds new details to the TRICYCLE story.... He provides many interesting new facts about the Double Cross System and TRICYCLE's handing by MI5, although analysis of their significance in some cases is open to challenge.... [A]lthough Popov was unquestionably a valuable double agent for four years, nothing in the book or his file supports the author's contention that TRICYCLE was the 'most extraordinary double agent' in the Second World War.... [T]he careless errors and many undocumented comments place the book in the easy-to-read-but-of-limited-scholarly-value category."

Montagu, Ewen E.S. Beyond Top Secret Ultra. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1978. London: P. Davies, 1977.

Pforzheimer notes that Montagu was the Naval Intelligence member of the XX Committee. In particular, he handled the Ultra and Abwehr traffic pertaining to naval deception and intelligence activities within the Committee. He was also the case officer for Operation Mincemeat (see his The Man Who Never Was). "These memoirs are highly authoritative, as well as a charming and well-written contribution to the literature of intelligence." Constantinides calls the book an "outstanding memoir of intelligence" in which there are "many items and anecdotes to delight or to enlighten." However, he finds the chapter on Mincemeat "disappointing in that it contributes nothing new."

Popov, Dusko. Spy/Counterspy: The Autobiography of Dusko Popov. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1974. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1975. [pb]

Clark comment: Popov was agent "Tricycle" in the XX System. What his role was during a mission in the United States in 1941 remains controversial, especially in relation to the Pearl Harbor controversy. Pforzheimer says that Popov's "autobiography makes pleasant and informative reading about the life of an unusual double agent." His comments about his relations with the FBI "should be read with some caution." To Constantinides, Popov offers "a rare first-hand account of double agent operations and deception of the XX Committee from the agent's vantage point."

The following comment is taken from a posting in the newsgroup, signed by Ernest Volkman:

"Popov's memoir, a mix of truth, half-truth, and outright falsehood (like many intelligence memoirs), should be approached with caution. Newly-declassified papers reveal the real story of Popov's 1941 mission.

"Briefly, Popov was dispatched by the Abwehr to the United States with a 'shopping list' of intelligence the Germans wanted, concealed in a microdot. J. Edgar Hoover took an instant dislike to Popov, a moral degenerate, and thus did not spend too much time analyzing the material contained in Popov's microdot. His animus also balked a plan by MI6 and MI5 to use Popov as a deception agent against the Abwehr in the United States.

"In any event, among the items the Abwehr mentioned in the microdot was a request that Popov collect intelligence about Pearl Harbor. Hoover did not wonder why the Germans would want information about Pearl Harbor. He did pass on the Popov material to both Army and Navy intelligence, but, regrettably, both those agencies also failed to demonstrate any curiosity about the German interest in Pearl Harbor -- a military base far removed from any possible German military interest. Obviously, the Germans were doing a favor for their Japanese allies; tragically, nobody in American intelligence asked the next obvious question: why were the Japanese interested in detailed intelligence about Pearl Harbor?

"It should be noted that throughout 1941, the FBI (which in those days had foreign intelligence responsibilities) and the military intelligence agencies were aware of extensive Japanese intelligence operations directed against Pearl Harbor. (Indeed, the FBI was running a covert wiretap on the Japanese consulate in Honolulu, recording much information on the activities of Japanese agents working under diplomatic cover). The Americans concluded that all the Japanese spying was routine; i.e., Tokyo long had demonstrated an acute interest in Pearl Harbor, headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, so there was nothing to be alarmed about. Unfortunately, American intelligence failed to properly interpret the clues that in late 1941 unmistakably indicated that the Japanese were collecting intelligence preparatory to an actual attack on the installation. This conclusion was just one of a series of blunders that permitted a Japanese striking force to sail near Pearl Harbor undetected and launch a surprise attack that caught the Americans totally unaware."

Troy, Thomas F. "The British Assault on J. Edgar Hoover: The Tricycle Case." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 3, no. 2 (1989): 169-209.

This is the story of Dusko Popov. It was first told by Masterman, then by Popov himself, and was confirmed by Ewen Montagu; since then, it has been taken up by many others. Troy dismantles the evidence and concludes, at a minimum, that much of the story is wrong.

Return to Pearl Harbor Table of Contents