It turned up in a World War II visitor’s book, from an aristocratic home, on a hill in Switzerland, with sweeping views to Mont Blanc. There a glamorous American heiress, and a Swiss Baron, banker, and notable art collector, lived out the war in grand style, and with a considerable taste for adventure. Among their more permanent guests was the painter Balthus. They were also intimately connected with a celebrated spy – Allen Dulles – first Civilian Director of the CIA. The hostess of the house would help Dulles retrieve the Ciano diaries from Mussolini’s favourite daughter, Edda. As part of an American East Coast elite, she was at least an informal agent for the OSS, forerunner to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services. As for Dulles, still said to be a romantic hero at the Agency, and a committed lady’s man, the be-spectacled, swashbuckling, but famously discrete lawyer had crossed into Switzerland, via Lisbon and Spain, as the borders slammed shut on the eve of Operation Torch, the allied invasion of North Africa. He was armed with a banker’s draft for a million dollars, and a virtually free hand, as Berne OSS station chief. That he cherished, and fully exploited, culminating in his work over Operation Sunrise, for German surrender in Northern Italy. His all important Swiss escapade is touched on, fictionalised, but largely avoided, in the film The Good Shepherd, starring Matt Damon. Dulles certainly believed in something that seems to have gone into decline, operatives fully enagaged on the ground, and culturally educated and well informed, rather than doing much second hand, perhaps nowadays down the net. He once famously said that all you really need in life is ‘a little bit of courage’.

Dulles had worked for the State Department, became a lawyer with Cromwell and Sullivan, and was a member of Yale’s infamous Skull and Bones Society, initiate to Presidents and security gurus, alike. In Switzerland he set about building a spy network that saw his intelligence gathering reach Roosevelt’s own desk. Since he had turned Lenin from the American Legation door in Switzerland, in 1918, he would never make the same mistake again, and worked with many. He also contacted every American living there, to ask for help, in what he described to Washington as a ‘somewhat distorted world’. It was the kind of world where agents still wore red carnations, or proffered a pack of Camel cigarettes, rather than Gauloise, to establish their allegiance to Free France, or Vichy. One that saw the British and Americans in touch with Admiral Canaris, employer and lover of Mata Hari, as head of the Abwehr, German Military Intelligence. Until Canaris fell, after the attempt to assassinate Hitler, and the Abwehr were abolished. Canaris was effectively replaced by Walter Schellenberg, who mounted two machine guns on his desk in Berlin, and later settled in Switzerland to write The Labyrinth. One of Allen Dulles’s greatest coups though was securing the help of the heroic Fritz Kolbe, who the British had turned away from ‘the shop’, and whose reports were validated in London by none other than Kim Philby, already working for the Soviets. Actually Dulles was too acute to sign his name in a visitor’s book, although his daughter Joan, and troubled wife Clover Todd, both appear in 1944. As does a patient of the psychologist Carl Jung, who, though he never came to the house, Dulles also consulted in Germany, and had his own OSS code number. There too came Dulles’s station replacement in Berne, Robert P. Joyce, and General Barnwell Legge, American Legation secretary. Legge was heavily criticized in a recent military controversy on the internet, for his involvement in preventing downed American airmen escape, under threat of Court Martial, probably because Dulles did not want their Swiss operation compromised. Also for failing to correct conditions at the scandalous camp at Wilmeroose, although one subordinate called him a caring man.

In a very ‘Special Relationship’, British Intelligence were at the house too, many times. In the person of George Younghusband, military number two at the British Legation, and the Colditz escapee Pat Reid, famous for his escape-themed board game, and for so successfully telling The Colditz Story, after the war. Reid never wrote about his time in Switzerland though. More specifically, on the British front, there is Henry Cartright, head of MI9 in Switzerland. MI9 dealt with escape routes out of Switzerland, although the role of MI6 has been little written about, in terms of the use and significance of information that debriefed escapees must have provided to intelligence networks, for attacks on Germany. Cartwright was a world War I escapee himself, whose best seller on the subject was avid Nazi reading in WWII, for obvious reasons. That house was watched closely by the Swiss Police too, reported for high antics, and for harbouring ‘a nest of spies’. Its owners were friends with the head of the Berne police though, and so probably protected, in the semi neutral atmosphere of smoke and mirrors diplomacy. One affected in Switzerland by the changing winds of war.

Soon after the war though, they received a grateful card from the British Legation, commending the couple not only for hospitality, but for their invaluable help to British and American escapees. It makes a family visitor’s book a very important historical document, as are unseen papers on Hitler and Edda Mussolini. Perhaps significantly, they received no such commendations from US Services, since spying rarely stops. The question still remains though as to how much their Brit guests were aware of the depth of their American connections, because the house’s true significance is testified to by a meeting in 1945, still a mystery, that involved a visit by colonels at the heart of SHAEF, The Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and ETOUSA, American Theatre of Operations, during Operation Overlord. They had helped covertly in a war that would see Nazi scientists smuggled to America too, in the battle for the A-Bomb, under Dulles’s Operation Paperclip, and herald the triumph of American world hegemony, in more ways than simple military victory. If information is power, cash rich America certainly won the covert war, because America soon had vast reserves of European files transferred to Washington. Incidentally, some 6000 secret papers relating to Switzerland, and designated Safehaven, remain closed.

There is one rather surprising name in the visitor’s book too though, on an evening in 1943 – Drue Mackenzie Robertson. She is actually Drue Heinz, future wife of the Baked Bean and Ketchup Multi-Millionaire, Henry J Heinz. She was a doyenne of New York Society for many years – writing letters to the New Yorker in 1944, so she may have been back in the States by then – but also became a celebrated patron of the literary arts. One the flapping Phoenix Ark could certainly do with a little help from – for our love of stories, real and fictional! She is publisher of The Paris Review, established the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, and her foundation endows the Drue Heinz lecture series in Pittsburg. At the Carnegie Museum of Art, her foundation also funds exhibitions at the Heinz Architectural Centre, and supports The Lincoln Centre Review. Having endowed a chair of American Literature at St John’s College, Oxford, and involved with Hertford College too, Drue Heinz has long been at the very epicentre of American Arts and Culture, but also influential in the UK. In 2002 she was made an Honorary Fellow of The Royal Society of Literature.

Born Doreen Mary English, Mrs Heinz clearly had a taste for theatrics earlier on, and as an actress, earned a small part in the movie Uneasy Terms, in 1948. It is all a long time ago, and many lives have passed in-between, so distance affords both mystery, and admiration, for a now grand old literary lady. But what of such tantalising ‘skull and bones’ in her cupboard, and was Drue Heinz really part of the OSS too, America’s Office of Strategic Services, or only linked by association? The term spy became a very moveable feast during the war, but it is an open secret that some of the most fertile areas of unwritten intelligence history are neutral territories, and Switzerland is no exception. Drue Heinz was there that night in Switzerland, 67 years ago, in 1943, and her signature is on the visitor’s page too, below her second husband, Dale Wilford Maher. As a graduate of the US Cavalry School and military attaché, Maher is a dead ringer for a spy, and signs himself ‘Master of the Five by Five”. That entry rather bemused this excited researcher, until, last year, one of the obvious links sprang fully armed from the pages of history, to validate a remarkable story, worthy of a movie, or a very stylish spy novel. ‘Five by Five’ was official Nato parlance for the best quality wireless transmissions, namely ‘reading you loud and clear’.

These people based at the American Legation then, and guests at a private home, were sending back radio reports, as Dulles himself began nightly transmissions from Switzerland, which in a coming technological age changed the cloak and dagger style of British dominated spying. It was the dawn of a new era, and they specialised in American style code words, like ‘Fatboy’ for Herman Goering. Stationed in Berne, in his beautiful flat in the Herengasse, Dulles’s own rather charming code name was Mr Burns, so you might take another glance at the satirical cartoon The Simpsons. To underline the personal touch, that Dulles would stamp all over the CIA, he called the technique for an operative communicating with a plane overhead by radio, ‘J-E Operations’. It came from the initials of Dulles’s daughter Joan, and his sister Eleanor. Despite British fears, Dulles’s work never compromised the greatest British coup though, in his supposedly ‘gung ho’ and open door approach. A coup embodied in the Enigma project, and Ultra transmissions, concealing the fact Britain had cracked and could read all German messages at the start of the war. British archives, although still closed, reveal a wireless transmitor was installed in their own Swiss legation in 1943.

Dulles, whose obsession would soon become the Soviet threat, and who encouraged later assassination programmes, out of the no-holes-barred tactics learnt in defeating the Nazis, notably had shares in the American Fruit Company, and has a rather more suspect role after his heroic war effort. Allied propaganda was one of his specialities in Switzerland, and as a master of dis-information, he was to be involved in a Mind Control programme, and Operation Mockingbird – perhaps he liked Harper Lee – the CIA’s attempt to directly influence the American media. Another visitor to that house would be Captain Tracy Barnes, a so-called ‘Jedburgh Agent’, and code named ‘Trick’, who would later turn up in the Cuban ‘Bay of Pigs’ debacle. It was of course Cuban bedeviled Kennedy who said of the CIA that he would like to scatter the organisation ‘to the four winds’. But what of Drue Heinz, whose Wikepedia profile is rather thin? Tantalizingly, that evening Drue Heinz signed herself in appealingly Mata Hari vein, for such a sparkling Manhattan hostess-to-be – “Queenie – the Striptease Queen!” The intense passions and fortunes of war, and such heady Swiss excitement, may have been too much for some. Dale Maher died in 1948, and his forwarding address on the internet is simply listed as ‘The State Department’. Drue Mackenzie Robertson married Henry J. Heinz II in 1953, becoming his third wife, and so perhaps beginning her powerful and passionate role in fiction and the arts. A passion fully shared by Phoenix Ark Press, although admittedly with a sometimes sceptical eye on other literary powers that be.

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1 Comment

Filed under America and the UK, Publishing, The Arts


  1. I read your blog on Operation Sunrise and Dulles with great interest, not least because I am the author of the novel Verdi’s Dream, an espionage love story set in Milan in April, 1945 and based on the story of Operation Sunrise. Real characters like Dulles and SS Gen. Karl Wolff appear in the story along with fictional characters (an American OSS agent, a band of Italian partisans). Your description of Dulles is spot-on. The episode of the Secret Surrender, as it is also known, is one of the most fascinating of the European theater.
    I also read your comments on publishing and for the most part I am in full agreement. I worked as a Trade Book editor in New York for some years and am a published translator (screenplay of Life is Beautiful and other books), writer and editor.
    Verdi’s Dream has been available as an ebook since May of this year at the following sites:on Kindle at http://shrvl.com/KoVR0 or at Smashwords on http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/14252. The Prologue, first three chapters and Bibliography, in addition to some interesting information on how the novel came into being, are available at no cost on my blog at http://www.verdis-dream.com.
    I would love to hear from you.

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