Juan Pugol Garcia a double agent enabling D-day

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On D-Day, June 6, 1944 – 160,000 Allied troops stormed the coastline of Normandy, France, which began the liberation of Western Europe and brought years of careful and covert planning to an end. Preserving the surprise element was crucial to D-Day’s success, and there is one person whose singular contribution as a double agent played an instrumental role in the victory. His name was Juan Pujol Garcia (codename: GARBO), a Spanish national hailed by MI5 as ‘the greatest double agent of the second world war.’ Juan Pugol Garcia agent


Juan Pugol Garcia agentGarbo invented a fake network of 27 made-up operatives with very imaginative personas from a cave-dwelling waiter from Gibraltar to a retired Welsh sailor cum-Fascist-mercenary an obsessive-compulsive Venezuelan codenamed MOONBEAM that lived in Canada. Germans were so grateful that they’re code name for Garbo’s network ‘Arabel,’ which means ‘answered prayers’ in Latin. Juan Pugol Garcia agent

Around this time, Garcia was working as a manager at a shoddy hotel in Madrid when he decided to pursue work as an Allied spy. Blinded by self-confidence and undeterred by his own tragic record of flops, he approached British intelligence officials at the embassy for an espionage job no less than four times, to which they politely declined, citing his obvious inexperience. However, he remained undaunted by rejection and resolved to become a spy on his own initiative.

He then offered his espionage services to the Germans, knowing that if he could establish trust with the Nazis, he could eventually turn into a double agent for the Allies. This plan worked out better than he could have ever imagined.


To become a spy, Garcia first needed to procure a passport and exit visa, two precious items impossible to come by in the war-torn country. He was nothing, if not resourceful, and Garcia saw his opportunity when the Spanish Duke of Torre walked into the hotel one day lamenting his two aunts, pro-Franco princesses that were unable to find scotch during the war. Knowing he could obtain the liquor in Portugal, Garcia struck a deal with the Duke: a Spanish passport in exchange for six illegal booze bottles. Juan Pugol Garcia agent

With a passport, Garcia arranged to meet with Gustav Leisner, head of the German military intelligence organization known as the Abwehr. Born with the gift of gab, Garcia professed his devout (albeit bogus) love for Hitler’s Third Reich and spun circles around Leisner with his web of lies in which he listed names of non-existent diplomats that he was affiliated with. He was hired on the spot, given a crash course in spying and cryptology, and sent on his way with a bottle of invisible ink, a codebook, and £600 (roughly $40,000 in today’s money) for expenses. Juan Pugol Garcia agent

Juan Pugol Garcia agent
The former spy’s Venezuelan passport


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FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...