Hmm, well, yes….

Avery ordinary-looking metal canister will appear on BBC primetime series The Repair Shop next month. The size of a holdall, it looks like something found in a suburban garage. But it holds an incredible past. The simple container once held guns, ammunition and hand grenades dropped to the man who was perhaps Britain’s most important agent in occupied France: Major Francis Suttill, codenamed Prosper.

“He created this enormous network in just a few months – more than anyone expected him to,” says his son, also named Francis, who brought the canister to the show. “It was amazing in the circumstances. But then it fell apart due to bad luck and bad security by one of his lieutenants.”

There’s an optimal growth rate for a secret network. Fast enough to be able to do stuff, but not so fast that it accepts people who are security risks. The only perfectly secure one being the one person who never communicates and that’s of no use at all.

13 thoughts on “Hmm, well, yes….”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    Which is why people who had been practising and preparing for years, like the Soviet Union, got off to a much better start and were generally much better at this sort of thing.

    But perhaps that is a reason not to do it. Did Stalin’s success at getting agents into Western governments make him suspect that the West was equally good at getting agents into Soviet institutions?

  2. “But then it fell apart due to bad luck and bad security by one of his lieutenants.”

    No doubt the utter incompetence of HQ in the matter ( and this case is not isolated..) falls under the “bad luck” category and will be glossed over?

  3. Stalin suffered from the opposite problem. He usually had good information but, being paranoid, didn’t trust it.

    The West didn’t need to get agents into the USSR. The assets voluntarily fled from the Soviets — and brought whatever they could to buy their way into the West.

    It’s a lesson China will soon find out about. Being internally secure is no defence if people want out.

  4. “The winners write the history books.”

    Suttill was complicit in terrorism. ‘guns, ammunition and hand grenades’

  5. I had a conversation about this subject with someone last week. She’s got the impression a guy she knows is a big wheel drug trafficker with lots of money. My view is big wheel traffickers operate in an environment not much different from SOE agents. The need to know they’re big wheel drug traffickers are kept to the smallest circle possible. Those they buy from. Those they sell to. And the people they employ. And they may use cut-outs to distance themselves in all 3 cases. Big time drug traffickers who don’t take these precautions don’t remain big time drug traffickers very long. It’s not only the authorities trying to interdict drug traffic are a risk but other players in the industry. The later risk having terminal consequences.
    Ergo, anyone telling you or being told about they’re a big time drug trafficker is either someone you want to stay as far away from as possible, for your own safety, or giving you a load of bullshit for purposes unknown.
    Like Grikath says, it doesn’t matter how secure you are on the ground. Security back in the UK was far from watertight. There were people privvy to what should have been secure information with their own agendas & Establishment incompetence is proverbial.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    Chester Draws May 31, 2020 at 10:04 am – “Stalin suffered from the opposite problem. He usually had good information but, being paranoid, didn’t trust it.”

    Once! I am not comfortable defending Stalin but his intelligence was excellent and the only time he is known to have screwed up is when he did not believe Hitler was going to attack.

    “The West didn’t need to get agents into the USSR. The assets voluntarily fled from the Soviets — and brought whatever they could to buy their way into the West.”

    Sure. But it meant we largely had no idea what was going on in the USSR because while all our institutions were penetrated, their defectors were few and far between. Even when we worked it out, we rarely did anything about it. The elite looked after themselves so people who spied for Moscow were often left alone.

    None of which matters much – Stalin started doing it much earlier and he was much better at it. The Bomb programme in WW2 was probably run by a Soviet agent in Oppenheimer. There is nothing remotely similar by the West.

  7. “The winners write the history books.”

    Suttill was complicit in terrorism. ‘guns, ammunition and hand grenades’

    True, Gamecock. You lot were a cheapskate bunch of treasonous, murdering terrorists. Until you won and became a band of brave, patriot freedom fighters.

    It turned out alright in the end, though.

  8. The only perfectly secure one being the one person who never communicates and that’s of no use at all.

    Suggested reading: ‘Wasp’ by Eric Frank Russell

    While fiction, it does make a pretty good case that one person with a bit of resources supplied to them can cause an awful lot of trouble if they put their mind to it.

  9. That white supremacist Norwegian scumbag demonstrated what one person can do, and he wasn’t even that clever of an arsehole.

  10. The Soviets had many captured Lorenz (and Enigma) machines in 1945. They may have known that Enigma could be broken, but not Lorenz, which they continued to use internally for many years. GCHQ kept a couple of operational Colossus computers to read Soviet encrypted communications, and this is also why the work of Bletchley Park remained such a closely guarded secret for decades after the war had ended.

  11. So Much For Subtlety

    Chris Miller May 31, 2020 at 7:22 pm

    “The Soviets had many captured Lorenz (and Enigma) machines in 1945. They may have known that Enigma could be broken, but not Lorenz, which they continued to use internally for many years.”

    I am inclined to doubt that. Encryption was never really a British thing. Enigma benefited from having so many Polish refugees. Now I can see it is a Central European thing. The Soviet Union also had many of the same cultural issues and populations.

    So we know during WW2 they were routinely using One-Time pads. We know this because the American programme Venona. During WW2 the Soviets were under a lot of pressure and some of their chaps used their one time pads twice. That made it, theoretically, possible to break if you had enormous computer power. Which the Americans did by the 1970s.

    No one would use anything like Enigma if they could use a one-time pad.

  12. Not a British thing? British encryption efforts were considerable during WW1, e.g. the Zimmermann Telegram and German naval codes. Some of the people working in this area, such as Dilly Knox, went on to hold senior positions at Bletchley. The Poles did a lot more work than the UK on Engima (then a commercial system) during the inter-war years, but Dilly (working in his daytime role of analysing British Museum papyri to complete the definitive commentary on Herodas) bought an Enigma from his own pocket and started trying to break it for his own amusement.

    Although the Polish work helped speed the development of the Bombe, most of the seminal work at Bletchley was done by Brits, as was the overall organisation of the work there.

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