The "Notorious" Case
The Cicero affair has long held a prominent place in the espionage lore and literature of World War II. Since the time the awkward episode first became public knowledge five years after the conflict ended, it has produced embarrassment and fascination because of both its previously unsuspected existence and then its sensationalized coverage. Before long even the serious dimensions of the enemy spying that actually occurred at the British embassy in neutral Turkey were overshadowed by false reports and imaginative tales lacking a sound basis in fact. Most extravagant were the early and often repeated claims that British documents relating to D-Day, the Allied landings in Normandy known as Operation "Overlord," had reached Berlin through the undetected German spy who had worked as valet to the careless ambassador. No such loss took place. Yet such fanciful versions added to the story's notoriety and appeal, leading to official admissions in Parliament and an entertaining Hollywood film (which drew worldwide audiences), until the mixing of truth and exaggeration created confusion and a legend. Neither the affair itself nor the related context need fictional embellishment, however, for even the undistorted tale provides colorful and compelling drama.
Over the years, authors of sober studies and popular narratives alike have found superlatives not merely apt but nearly inescapable in describing the famous occurrence. It has been called "perhaps the most spectacular single incident" in wartime intelligence work and "the greatest spy coup" of the entire war; the man responsible has been regarded as an "agent of stellar rank," "the most successful spy of the war" and possibly "the spy of the century"; the documents he photographed had an "incalculable value," because his copies gave full and "last-minute information on the most secret plans" of one side to its