the twenty committee

Tomorrow: Experimental filmmaker Luther Price debuts new work, followed by a Q&A with Thomas Beard of Light Industry.  

[Luther Price. Sorry. 2005-2012. Eighty handmade slides transferred to transparency slides. 9 min. Fund for the Twenty-First Century and Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds. © 2014 Luther Price]

The Twenty Committee

It’s been a couple weeks since I talked about how fucking incredible British intelligence was during WW2, so let’s revisit that.

Literally every single Nazi spy sent to Great Britain was captured, turned, or gave themselves up. This was confirmed after the war. Every last goddamned one, with the enhh exception of one fellow who committed suicide (and so was never ‘apprehended,’ per se). By early 1941, MI5 was actively controlling German espionage efforts in the United Kingdom.

It worked like this: Agents from both of the German intelligence services, the Abwehr and Sicherheitsdienst (SD), were apprehended (usually from making mistakes during their operations). Many of the agents who reached British shores turned themselves in to the authorities. Some of them were actually false agents who had tricked the Germans into believing they would spy for them if they helped them reach England. Agents who were sent over later were instructed to contact agents already in place who, unknown to the Abwehr, were already controlled by the British. British Intelligence called this the 'Double-Cross System.’ The more former- or supposedly-Nazi agents they had under their control, the easier it became to ensure that new agents were also brought under their control, and the more sophisticated and coordinated the misinformation sent back to the Nazis could be.

By 1942, Nazi high command was so impressed by the 'quality’ and 'efficacy’ of the intel coming out of the United Kingdom that it stopped sending over new agents altogether. From that point on, German information about the Western Allied war effort was in the hip pocket of MI5.

This network of German double agents was led by a group called the Twenty Committee. Abwehr actually knew something called “the Twenty Committee” existed within British Intelligence, but didn’t make anything of it.

MI5 called the Twenty Committee “the Twenty Committee” because of the way the number twenty is written in Roman numerals: XX, for double-cross.