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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Agent 146

Erich Gimpel, author of Agent 146: The True Story of a Nazi Spy in America, has written a fascinating account of what it must be like to spy in an enemy country during wartime. Gimpel, who spoke almost perfect American English after having lived in the States before the war, was dropped off near Ellsworth, Maine in 1944. Eventually captured, he came close to being hanged, but was paroled in the early fifties and published this memoir in 1957.

He came close to being caught moments after his landing. It was at night and snowing. He was wearing a trench coat and carrying a suitcase with money and a radio and charged with the task of learning just how far the Americans had come to developing an atom bomb. Walking along a road, he was seen by a fifteen-year-old Boy Scout. He noted the suitcase, the lack of hat and inappropriate dress. By this time of the war everyone was blase about spies in the U.S. -- except for children. The observant young man, followed the footprints in the snow to the beach and he realized that the man he saw must have been delivered by a boat or submarine. His report to the police caused amusement so he went to the FBI who complimented him on his reporting, and in inimitable patriarchal FBI style that apparently has not changed since, sent him on his way. Gimbel was picked up by a off-duty taxi driver who swallowed his story about a car accident and drove him to Bangor. A riveting story.
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