Ian Fleming’s James Bond is allegedly based on Serbian Second World War double agent Dusko Popov.
Popov was born in 1912 in Titel, Austria-Hungary (now Serbia). He was signed up as a spy by anti-Hitler Abwehr agents [crassly the Nazi’s secret service branch] early in the war and on their suggestion he offered his services to the British. Living in London as a double agent, Popov placated his German employers by feeding them scraps of MI6-approved information, while the assignments that were given to him by his earnest Berlin counterparts proved to be of great value to the British in assessing their enemy’s strategy. The Germans were so impressed by Popov’s trail of breadcrumbs that they considered him ‘their best man in Britain.’
Whilst in London, Popov set up a ‘spy ring’, made up of members who were all MI5 operatives. Unbeknownst to the Nazis, the lavish maintenance money they paid to Popov would be spent on operations against themselves.
In 1941, Popov was dispatched to the U.S. by the Abwehr to establish a new German network, after the kind that he had apparently so successfully constructed in London. He was given a list of questions about various intelligence targets, most famously including the American defences at Pearl Harbor.
Popov explained to the F.B.I. what he had been asked to do, but his warning concerning an imminent attack on Pearl Habor was treated with suspicion by the head of the F.B.I. J. Edgar Hoover, who did not approve of Popov’s reckless ways (of which more later). During his time in America, Popov was threatened with arrest and deportation on several occasions.
Having left America, Popov became a key part of the Operation Fortitude deception campaign. After the Second World War, he was awarded with an OBE for his service to Britain, and granted citizenship. He died in 1981.
When he wasn’t selling the Nazi’s down the river, Popov enjoyed what can only be described as an extravagant lifestyle of epic proportions. Charismatic, good looking and the son of a mega-rich industrialist, Popov was paid huge sums by the Nazis, who believed that his play boy shenanigans were a necessary part of his cover. Bankrolled by the German state, he romanced his way around the world. One of his many conquests was Simone Simon a then-famous (and already married) American actress. His code name ‘Tricycle’ referred to his enthusiasm for three-in-a-bed scenarios.
In 1941, Ian Fleming locked horns with this remorseless womaniser in a casino and was humiliated by him at the baccarat table. The legend goes that Fleming, who was at the time working for the British Navy Intelligence division, had been arrogantly showing off his money when Popov promptly slapped down $50,000 on the table, shaming the lesser man and forcing him to leave the casino in disgrace.
What a hero.