Enemy agents

Extract from a Government radio broadcast about how to make the work of secret agents more difficult, 1940-1943, Catalogue ref: HO 45/25595

When war broke out, many people became very concerned that the country would be full of German spies. This belief was strengthened when the government decided to intern large numbers of Germans and Austrians (See Part 1 collection). It appeared that secret agents could be anywhere. The government was also worried by the possible presence of a Fifth Column (people working or spying for the enemy) in the country. As a result, the department responsible for propaganda, the Ministry of Information, began a campaign called ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’. We have included some of its posters in this collection.


However successful our intelligence services and police may be in detecting enemy agents, we must never rely on the dangerous assumption that this menace has been completely eradicated from our midst. Modern methods of transport – the aeroplane, the submarine and the speed boat – and modern methods of communication, such as wireless, all facilitate the work of the spy. While we have been glad to welcome to our country many thousands of genuine refugees from Nazi oppression, the presence of so many foreign subjects in our midst can only make the detection of the spy more difficult. Whereas an English accent, heard in the streets of Berlin might immediately betray the presence of a British agent, a foreign tongue spoken in Britain today does not even call for comment. It is therefore a most important duty for all of us to make the work of the enemy spy, who may be present in this country, as difficult as possible. We can do this quite easily if we make it an absolute rule never to discuss any subject, likely to be of interest to the enemy, in a public place.

Do you discuss such subjects in the bus, in your club, or on your way home in the train. You may look round quickly, and say to yourself – Oh, its alright, we’re all friends here. Or you may say – Well, there’s no harm in talking about that here, because everybody here knows about it.
But are you quite sure there is no stranger present? Are you sure that of all the people round you, there is not one man who might be an enemy agent and ignorant of the things you are discussing. In a few hours, he may be sending this information back to the enemy, causing inestimable damage, and maybe the loss of valuable lives and property. Do not think for a moment that the enemy is only interested in what appears to you to be highly secret and important information. The main work of all intelligence services is piecing together scraps of information – perhaps from hundreds of sources – the net result of which may be the disclosure of vital operational information.

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