In his review of Joseph Persico's book about FDR and spying in World War Two (see pages 19-20 of this issue), R.W. Johnson mentions the Cicero Affair, the leak from the British Embassy in Ankara of the preparations for Operation Overlord. Our man in Turkey at the time was Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen. 'Cicero', codenamed for his eloquence, was Knatchbull-Hugessen's valet, Elyesa Bazna - in Persico's words, a 'swarthy, compact Albanian in his forties, heavily browed and black-moustachioed'. One wonders how an English gentleman could ever have been taken in by such an ostentatiously villainous type from the Balkans. To find the answer, however, one need look no further than between the lines of Knatchbull-Hugessen's obituary in the Times (he died in 1971, at the age of 84).
He was educated at Eton and Balliol, from where 'he passed into the Foreign Office' in 1908. He was sent to Tehran in 1934, and in 1939 was appointed Ambassador to Turkey, being 'regarded in the Foreign Office as a safe man'. So safe that 'for some six months, from October 1943 until April 1944 . . . top secret documents . . . were almost daily photographed by Hugessen's Albanian valet' - he isn't dignified with a name - 'and passed by him to the German Embassy.' Still, 'Hugessen's career was a successful one,' the anonymous obituarist wrote, 'and he was fortunate in never having had to meet a situation demanding more of him than he had to offer' - the Cicero Affair clearly not counting as a 'situation'. Indeed, it was 'proof of the high regard felt in the Foreign Office for Hugessen that this strange affair did not affect his career.' The proof is in the pudding: Knatchbull-Hugessen was recalled from Ankara in 1944 and sent to Brussels, safe from the prying eyes of rogue Albanians.
LRB 4 April 2002 | PDF Download