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Arthur Graham Owens, later known as Arthur Graham White (14 April 1899 – 24 December 1957) was a Welsh double agent for the Allies during the Second World War. He was working for MI5 while appearing to the Abwehr (the German intelligence agency) to be one of their agents. Owens was known to MI5 by the codename SNOW, which was chosen as it is a partial anagram of his last name.
Recruitment by the Germans
Owens ran a company that made batteries for ships. As such, he was a civilian contractor for the Royal Navy and also had regular contact with the Kriegsmarine in Kiel. His first contact with espionage occurred in 1936 when he had been briefly employed by the Secret Intelligence Service to provide information on what he had seen in the German shipyards. In 1938, Nikolaus Ritter, an Abwehr agent in Britain under the name "Dr. Rantzau", made contact with him. As a Welsh nationalist, Owens had little loyalty to the United Kingdom. His work also provided a cover for any foreign trips he might have to make. He visited Germany that year and was recruited by the Abwehr. While Owens appreciated the payments for his espionage, his real interest was sexual, as the Abwehr provided attractive women for him. His codename used by the Abwehr was Johnny.
On his return to Britain, Owens had second thoughts and, in September 1938, told the British authorities of his contact and that he was to receive a radio transceiver. The radio arrived at the left luggage office of Victoria Station in London early in 1939; Owens turned this over. On 11 August 1939, Owens visited his Abwehr controller in Hamburg; during this visit, his wife and son went to the police to tell them he was a German agent. Despite this information, the police failed to pick him up on his return on 23 August.
On 4 September, Owens made contact with the Special Branch to volunteer his services. However, he was instead interned in Wandsworth Prison under Defence Regulation 18B, as someone with hostile associations. MI5 decided that Owens, to whom they gave the codename SNOW, could act as a double agent. On 12 September, MI5 returned the transmitter to Owens in Wandsworth, where it was used by a warder to contact the Germans. Owens received a reply inviting him to go to the Low Countries, which were neutral and he was let out of prison to do so.
In the early months of the war, the Germans asked for regular weather reports from him for the use of the Luftwaffe and also to test his credibility. At a meeting with the Abwehr in Brussels, Owens was given some cash and some detonators for use in sabotage. He had taken along another double agent, also a Welsh nationalist, who was instructed to start a postage stamp business so that the Germans could communicate through microdots on stamps.
From the spring of 1940, the Abwehr sent most of its British-based agents and contacts to see Owens. MI5 tried to make sure that Owens only passed on to the Germans the information that they had given him. One of the most important was supplying of false names and ration book numbers for the Abwehr agents who were parachuted into Britain. MI5 continued to be suspicious of Owens, who was known to exaggerate his importance and sent a second double agent, Sam McCarthy (codenamed BISCUIT) to test him. McCarthy reported back that Owens admitted he was also double-crossing MI5, which led MI5 to believe that Owens was primarily interested in making money from both sides and that probably neither trusted him entirely.
Owens helped deliver scores of German spies to MI5, who were then given the choice of becoming double agents or facing the firing squad. Most chose to work for Britain and delivered vital information to the Allies, including details about troop movements and the keys to cracking German codes.
In March 1941, Owens and another double agent, Walter Dicketts (known to MI5 as CELERY), were summoned to Lisbon to meet their Abwehr controllers. Unexpectedly Dicketts was then taken to Hamburg for three weeks of interrogation, having aroused the Germans' suspicion but survived; that this had not happened to Owens, and that Owens had not warned Dicketts that it might happen, made MI5 suspect him further and they assumed from then on that SNOW was helping the Germans.
MI5 used Owens' radio to inform the Germans that he was seriously ill, while interning Owens in Dartmoor Prison until the end of the war. In Dartmoor, Owens stayed in the hospital wing, which was termed as Camp 001 for internees. While in prison, Owens continued to work for the British by befriending German inmates and feeding what he learned to MI5.
On his release, Owens emigrated to Canada, where he was known as Mr. Brown; there, he went to the British High Commission in Ottawa to demand compensation for what he regarded as his wrongful arrest in 1941. When he threatened to publish his memoirs, a secret fund was set up to buy him off. Owens later moved to Ireland and settled in Harristown, County Dublin, where he died in 1957.
- Evans, Martin (December 28, 2011). "Exploits of Britain's first ever double agent revealed in new book". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
- 'The Guy Liddell Diaries: Vol. I: 1939-1942', ed. by Nigel West (Routledge, London, 2005)
- 'British Intelligence in the Second World War, Volume 4' by F.H. Hinsley and C.A.G. Simkins (HMSO, London, 1990)
- 'MI5: British Security Service Operations 1909-1945' by Nigel West (Bodley Head, London, 1981)
- 'Traitors' by Chapman Pincher (Sidgwick and Jackson, 1987)
- 'Snow: the double life of a world war two spy' by Nigel West and Madoc Roberts (Biteback, London 2011)
- 'Agent TATE: The Wartime Story of Harry Williamson' by Tommy Jonason & Simon Olsson (Amberley Publishing, 2011)
- 'Double Agent Snow: The True Story of Arthur Owens, Hitler's Chief Spy in England' by James Hayward (Simon & Schuster, 2013)