Elyesa Bazna

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Elyesa Bazna
Elyesa Bazna.jpg
Elyesa Bazna (Cicero)
Born Elyesa Bazna
(1904-07-28)28 July 1904
Pristina, Kosovo Vilayet (now Kosovo)
Died 21 December 1970(1970-12-21) (aged 66)
Munich, Germany
Resting place Friedhof am Perlacher Forst, Munich, Germany[1]
Nationality Turkish (Albanian descent)
Other names Cicero
Known for Espionage for Nazi Germany

Elyesa Bazna (Turkish: [ˈeljesɑ ˈbɑznɑ]), born Iliaz Bazda (Albanian: [iliaz bazda]; 28 July 1904 – 21 December 1970), was a World War II secret agent. He was an Albanian from Kosovo who spied for the Nazi Germans during the Second World War, and was widely known by his code name Cicero. Over the first 40 years of his life, Bazna acquired a unique set of skills that aided him as a secret agent against Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, the British Ambassador at Ankara, Turkey during World War II. Banza spoke French, the prominent diplomatic language at the time, and other languages fluently. He sang opera and was an able photographer. Bazna had spent a short period of time at a military academy, had been a thief, and attained locksmith skills. However, because his English language skills were weak, he was considered "too stupid" to be an adept spy.

Bazna sold information to the Germans through their attaché Ludwig Carl Moyzisch in Ankara, Turkey in what became known as the Cicero affair. The information that he leaked is believed to have been potentially among the more damaging disclosures made by a Second World War spy but conflicts inside the highest echelons of the German government meant that little if any of it was acted upon.[2]


Pristina around the turn of the century

Elyesa Bazna was born in 1904 in Pristina, Kosovo. His parents were of Albanian heritage.[3] Bazna's father gave Muslim lessons and was a landowner. Politically, he identified with Turkey.[4] Bazna asserted that Hafiz Yazan Bazna, his father, was a Moslem mullah; his uncle was Major General Kemal of the "Young Turks"; and his grandfather was Tahir Pasha the Brave, also of the "Young Turks" and under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.[5][6]

At the time of Bazna's birth, Kosovo was part of the Ottoman Empire, but when he was 14 Serbs occupied his birthplace and his family relocated to Istanbul, Turkey, which was occupied by World War I allied forces, the British, Italians and Americans.[3] Bazna said that before 1919 he attended a military academy in Fatih, Turkey.[5] At the age of 16, Bazna joined a French military unit in Istanbul.[3] He claimed to have stolen British weapons and cars for the Turkish National Movement (nationalists), led by Atatürk.[3][5] (The nationalists opposed the occupying forces,[3] which writer Yakub Kadri Karaosmanoğlu said "considered all the cruelty and oppression committed by them against the people [of Istanbul] as lawful."[3]) When Bazna was caught stealing, he was sent to a penal labor camp in Marseille, France for three years.[3][5][7]

Bazna said that he worked at the Berliet motor company after he left the labor camp. He attained locksmith skills there. Bazna moved to Istanbul in 1925 where he worked for the Istanbul Corporation in the transportation department. He then worked as a fire brigade chief in Yozgat before returning to Istanbul to drive taxis.[5] Bazna worked for foreign diplomats and consulates as a doorman, driver, and guard upon his return to Turkey.[2][3] Partly due to his ability to speak French,[7] he served as a kavass[5] or valet first to the Yugoslav ambassador to Turkey[7] and in 1942 to Albert Jenke, a German businessman and later embassy staff member, who fired him for reading his mail.[7]

Hired without a background check,[2][a] Bazna became the kavass[5] or valet of the British ambassador Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen in Ankara beginning in mid-July,[9] September,[5] or October 1943.[10] Knatchbull-Hugessen had been the British ambassador in Riga, Latvia until 1935.[11] While working for Knatchbull-Hugessen, Bazna became a spy[7] through the intervention of Albert Jenke, the brother-in-law of Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister.[5]

Bazna married twice. With his first wife, who he later divorced, he had four children.[7][12] Bazna had four more children with his second wife, Duriet.[12][13] He also had live-in mistresses.[3][14]

Turkey during World War II[edit]

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Turkish President İsmet İnönü in conversation during a two-day conference in a train at Adana, near the Turkish-Syrian border, circa February 28, 1943

Turkey was neutral in World War II (1939–45) but signed a treaty with Britain in October 1939 that said Britain would defend Turkey if Germany attacked it. An invasion was threatened in 1941 but did not happen and Ankara refused German requests to allow troops to cross its borders into Syria or the USSR. Germany had been its largest trading partner before the war, and Turkey continued to do business with both sides. It purchased arms from both sides. The Allies tried to stop German purchases of chrome (used in making better steel). Starting in 1942 the Allies provided military aid. The Turkish leaders conferred with Roosevelt and Churchill at the Cairo Conference in November 1943, and promised to enter the war.[15][16]

By April 1944, Nazi forces in the Crimea were in full retreat.[17] The Turkish Government worried that the advancing Red Army might drive through Bulgaria and seize the Turkish Straits, which the Russians coveted.[17] Turkish policy had been to wait and see which side would win, before making any move. Now that they saw the need to reach some accommodation with the Allies, the Turks replaced their pro-German army chief Fevzi Çakmak with Kâzım Orbay who was pro-British.[18][19]

By August 1944, with Germany nearing defeat, Turkey broke off relations. In February 1945, it declared war on Germany and Japan, a symbolic move that allowed Turkey to join the nascent United Nations.[15][16]


One of the best known spy stories of our time is that of Operation Cicero, a textbook exercise in tradecraft set in neutral Ankara during World War II. It is, perhaps, of little importance that the exercise remained rather academic – that the information pilfered in the best traditions of the cloak-and-dagger business was never fully used by the Nazis; that the British, warned of the Ciceronian activity, took no effective action to stop it; and that Cicero himself was never brought to book. As a matter of fact, the academic nature of the exercise makes Operation Cicero a nice, neat package to handle, uncomplicated by consequences and relatively free of loose ends.

Dorothy J. Heatts, Footnote to Cicero, CIA Historical Review Program[20]

Becoming a spy[edit]

Bazna began spying when he worked for British Ambassador, Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, who had developed a habit at the British embassy in Riga of taking secret papers to his home and continued that practice in Ankara. Bazna began photographing these secret British documents of war strategy, troop movements, and negotiations with Turkey to enter the war. Bazna approached the German Embassy in Ankara on 26 October 1943, indicating that he wanted £20,000 for two rolls of film of documents he had photographed while the ambassador slept,[2][21][22] took a bath, or played the piano.[23] He became a paid German agent under case officer Ludwig Moyzisch, an Austrian attaché, and was given the SD codename "Cicero".[2][24] Bazna was cheated by his Nazi paymasters who made about one half of his payments in counterfeit bank notes under Operation Bernhard.[2]

According to Mummer Kaylan, author of The Kemalists: Islamic Revival and the Fate of Secular Turkey, Bazna said that he began spying for the Germans, because he needed the money and, although he was not a Nazi, he liked Germans and disliked the British. He also alluded to involvement with the Milli Emniyet Hizmeti, which became the Turkish National Security Service in 1965.[25][b]

Bazna spoke Turkish, Serbo-Croat and French,[28] which was the standard language of diplomacy at that time.[29] He also knew a little German from singing Lieder and said that he could read basic English but had difficulty speaking it.[30]

Bazna, who had training as an opera singer, often sang German Lieders after lunch while Knatchbull-Hugessen played the piano,[31] much to the ambassador's enjoyment.[23][31][c] He gained access to documents in the ambassador's document box and safe using his locksmith skills,[23] including making impressions and then copies of the key for document box.[5]


Allied leaders at the Cairo Conference held in Cairo, Egypt in November 1943. Seated are Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill

Bazna, as 'Cicero', passed on important information about many of the allied leaders conferences,[10] including the Moscow, Tehran and Cairo Conferences.[23][32] Fortunately, Knatchbull-Hugessen only had possession of one document of notes from the conferences.[32] He passed on the details for the Tehran Conference plans, though, which supported the "Operation Long Jump" plot[33] to kill Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill.[34]

'Cicero's' intelligence included an instruction with the highest security restriction (BIGOT list) to the British ambassador to request the use of Turkish airbases "to maintain a threat to the Germans from the eastern Mediterranean until Overlord is launched."[35] 'Cicero' conveyed limited information about "Operation Overlord" (the codename for the Invasion of Normandy in June 1944,[10] which was not correlated by the Germans until after the war when films about Cicero were released.)[36] According to the British Foreign Office post-war review of Cicero's potential impacts: "It [Bazna's intelligence] provided the Germans with streams of information from the desk of the ambassador about British and Allied intentions in the Near and Middle East and for the conduct of the war generally, and might easily have compromised Operation Overlord (the preparations for D-Day)."[37]

During the first three months of 1944, 'Cicero' supplied the Germans with copies of documents taken from his employer's dispatch box or his safe. Photographs of top secret documents were generally handed over in Moyzisch's car, which was parked inconspicuously on an Ankara street. On one occasion, this led to a high-speed chase around Ankara as some other organisation had taken an interest in the hand-over. Bazna, who had perhaps been tailed, escaped.[22]

When the 'Cicero' documents predicted Allied bombing missions in the Balkans, which took place on the predicted date, the authenticity of the information was supported and his reputation enhanced. Moyzisch told 'Cicero' that at the end of the war Hitler intended to give him a villa.[38]

Enigma cipher machine

'Ultra', the British code-breaking system based at Bletchley Park routinely read German messages, coded by the "Enigma" machine.[39] From that information, the code-breakers knew that there was an intelligence breach, but did not know that the source was the British Embassy in Turkey.[40][d]

Appraisal by the Germans[edit]

According to Moyzisch, the German Foreign Office did not make much use of the documents, because officers there were divided about their reliability[20] for several reasons. There was a steady stream of documents, which was highly unusual. 'Cicero' seemed to have used sophisticated photography techniques to create unusually clear images, which raised the question of whether he acted alone.[42][43][e] Antipathy between the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop and von Papen added to the ineffective analysis of the intelligence.[44] Aware of the allied forces attempts to bring Turkey into the war, however, Von Papen was able to thwart their efforts for a time[23] by threatening to destroy İzmir and Istanbul if Turkey declared war against Germany. Being able to postpone Turkey's alliance with the allied forces and the use of their airfields, Papen told Ribbentrop that the way was now clear to take the Balkans.[45]

Regardless of the questions about the authenticity of 'Cicero's' intelligence, copies of the developed film or summaries by Moyzisch were promptly passed on to senior German leaders. Von Ribbentrop showed the initial set of photographs to Hitler immediately upon receipt. Hitler entered a conference with some 'Cicero' materials in December 1943 and declared that the invasion in the west would come in spring 1944. He concluded, though, that there would also be attacks in other locations, like Norway or the Balkans.[46]

Double agent hypothesis[edit]

The Abwehr was rightly sceptical of 'Cicero'. They were at that time already running 'Garbo' (Juan Pujol), 'Zig-Zag' (Eddie Chapman) and 'Tricycle' (Dušan Popov), supposedly German agents, to whom they were paying large sums but who were working for the British by supplying true and elaborately detailed false information.[47]

The head of British Secret Intelligence Service, Stewart Menzies, stated that 'Cicero' was indeed a double agent and that among the documents submitted to the Germans were documents of misinformation. Malcolm Gladwell, author of Pandora's Briefcase, questioned whether he was telling the truth before he died or practicing his long-held habit of deception.[44]

Anthony Cave Brown suggests in his book Bodyguard of Lies that MI6's continental secret service chief, Lieutenant Colonel Montague Reaney Chidson, responsible for security of the embassy, would not have overlooked Bazna as a potential threat and may have fed the documents that Bazna in the ambassador's keeping or directly led 'Cicero' as a double agent. After all the warnings about a spy operating in the embassy, Brown states that there was a conclusion that "Bazna was indeed under British control within a short time after he started to photograph the documents".[48]

Mummer Kaylan states that through his personal knowledge of Bazna, he thought that Bazna sought Turkish interests and was not guided by British Intelligence. Further, he says that Bazna having passed on the codeword for Operation Overlord to the Germans supports his theory. If he was a double agent, Kaylan believes he was an agent for the Turkish Security Service, Milli Emniyet Hizmeti.[41] Walter Schellenberg, too, wondered if Bazna passed on intelligence to the Turkish Secret Service.[49]

The end[edit]

Fritz Kolbe, a German diplomat who became America's most important spy against the Nazis in World War II Allen Dulles said of him, "George Wood (our code name for Kolbe) was not only our best source on Germany but undoubtedly one of the best secret agents any intelligence service has ever had."[50]

Fritz Kolbe, assistant to German diplomat Karl Ritter, screened German cable messages for information to summarize and supply to Allen Dulles. In late December Kolbe reported that there was a spy operating out of a British Embassy with the code name 'Cicero'. Dulles forwarded this information to MI6 agent Frederick Vanden Heuvel on 1 January 1944.[51]

Moyzisch hired a new secretary named Cornelia Kapp, also known as Nele Kapp, who had spied for the British and Americans in exchange for immigration to the United States.[2][20] She began working at the Germany embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria in July 1943 and within a month had become a spy. In January 1944 she moved to Ankara to work at the German embassy under Moyzisch. She was asked by the OSS to find out information about the spy that Moyzisch met with. Kapp was adept at gathering intelligence within the office. She and 'Cicero' flirted over the telephone when he called to arrange for a time to see Moyzisch. When she could, Kapp also followed the two men to try to see what the spy looked like, but was unsuccessful at getting a good view of him.[52]

Once the embassy had been tipped off that there was a spy operating in the facility in early 1944, Bazna found it increasingly difficult to gather intelligence.[20][22] He forwarded to the Germans a warning of a security leak sent to the embassy from the British Foreign Office. The warning came to Churchill from Roosevelt, who obtained the information given by a defector to the United States.[23] A new alarm system in the British Embassy now required Bazna to remove a fuse whenever he wanted to look in the ambassador's safe.[2]

In March 1944, Kapp opened a courier bag, not identified for Moyzisch's eyes only, with information about 'Cicero' at the British Embassy. She asked Moyzisch about the spy, which was unsettling to him. Unknown to her boss, Kapp had gathered and shared a lot of information over the months that she worked at the embassy, including all that she felt that she could learn about Cicero. She became fearful that she would be killed and "had a nervous breakdown".[53] Fearing for her own safety, Kapp fled Turkey and was placed in a Cairo internment camp before defecting to the United States. Moyzisch, who called his secretary Elisabet in his book, Operation Cicero, said that he believed that she was responsible for the downfall of the Cicero Affair.[20][f]

British intelligence gave the impression that it believed that Bazna could not speak English and furthermore was "too stupid" to be a spy.[54] British Foreign Office workers, though, were concerned about Operation Overlord leaks and thought that Bazna might be Cicero. They implemented a sting in January 1944 in which a false Cabinet Office document was drafted by the chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, given the forged signature of Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and planted in the embassy.[55][56]

Bazna gave notice about the third week of January 1944 that he would be leaving the ambassador's employment.[9] He stopped selling information to the Germans by the end of February 1944[2] and left the embassy at the end of the month[9] or about April 20[57] without any trouble.[58] Bazna was identified as 'Cicero' after the war ended.[59]

Potential consequences[edit]

In March 2005, British Foreign and Commonwealth Office historians issued The Cicero Papers, an analysis of the potential consequences of the 'Cicero Affair'. In it, they identified four key ways in which 'Cicero's' intelligence could have harmed the allied forces during World War II.[32]

One of the key potential consequences was the possibility of alerting the German regime to the scope of Project Overlord. Fortunately, the location and the date of the planned invasion were not conveyed.[32] The allied forces wanted Turkey to declare war and join them in their efforts against Germany, particularly after they had taken the Dodecanese Islands and the allies had secured Italy as a partner against Germany. Turkish airfields were important to maintain their strategic advantage in the area, particularly to support Operation Accolade. With Cicero's intelligence, Papen was able to delay the date in which Turkey declared war.[32]

There was concern that 'Cicero' had leaked information that might help crack the British cipher, but that was averted.[32] Lastly, the intelligence might have made the Germans believe that there was no danger of attack in the Balkans, which may have been the greatest set of information gleaned by 'Cicero' for the Germans.[32]

After the war[edit]

An investigation into 'Cicero' began after the war ended, during which key German players like Moyzisch were interviewed. It was postulated that of the intelligence conveyed by 'Cicero' to the Germans, the most notable information came from Knatchbull-Hugessen's notes, particularly regarding diplomatic efforts with the Turkish government. Many of the other documents were considered by Ostuf Schuddekoft, Head of the British section of Amt VI [one of the 11 departments of Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle], to be too old to be of much value to the Germans.[59] Knatchbull-Hugessen's reputation was severely hampered by the 'Cicero Affair',[59] particularly as he had been previously warned about leaving his keys and document boxes unattended. On 28 August 1945, Knatchbull-Hugessen received a formal, severe reprimand, but he was not court-martialed.[60]

Bazna was paid £300,000, or US$1.2 million, by the Abwehr which he kept hidden.[2] After the war he tried to build a hotel with a partner but when his sterling notes were checked by the Bank of England they were found to be mostly counterfeit (see Operation Bernhard).[57][61] The spy remarked that the notes were "not worth even the price of the Turkish linen out of which they had been manufactured."[57] Bazna served some time in prison for using counterfeit money.[10]

Bazna lived in an apartment in the European Aksaray neighborhood of Istanbul with his family in the 1950s.[12][62] He lived in Istanbul, giving singing lessons and working as a used car salesman[12] and night watchman.[2] Much of the money he earned went to creditors who had been paid with forged money.[12] Bazna contacted the West German government to be reimbursed for the counterfeit money that he received.[20][61] Although Bazna tried many times and many ways to get a payment, he never received additional monies.[63]

In 1960, Bazna moved to Germany and worked in Munich as a night watchman.[64] Bazna and Hans Nogly wrote I was Cicero, which was published in 1962. It told the story of the Cicero Affair from Bazna's perspective following Moyzisch's book Operation Cicero published in 1950.[2] Bazna died in Munich of kidney disease in December 1970.[64]

In popular culture[edit]

According to the British Foreign Office: "The tale has become a popular (and frequently mis-told) war story."[37]

Cicero's handler, Ludwig Moyzisch, published his memoirs in 1950 with a book named Operation Cicero.[10][g] Franz von Papen and Allen Dulles, wartime head of the OSS, suggested that there was more to the story than what had emerged in the book. Neither elaborated.[20] Twelve years later, in 1962, I was Cicero was published by 'Cicero' himself.[10][65][g]

A film based on the book Operation Cicero by L.C. Moyzisch was released by 20th Century Fox in 1952. It was titled 5 Fingers and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Bazna, renamed Ulysses Diello, was played by James Mason.[66] The 1971 Eastern Bloc co-production Osvobozhdenie, the English title Liberation, also portrayed the Cicero affair, with East German actor Fred Alexander as Bazna.


  1. ^ Bazna was hired by the embassy without having been subject to a background check. Before working at the embassy, Bazna was hired to do some household and vehicle repairs for Douglas Busk, the first secretary of the British Embassy. Due to Bazna's poor English, he answered all interview questions in French. Although he supplied some written biographical information, excluding having worked and been fired by Albert Jenke, none of the biographical information was checked. Turkish secret service apparently warned the embassy at some point about Bazna. Over the few months that Bazna worked for Busk, he secretly photographed a few documents but sought access to more valuable and numerous intelligence. Busk agreed to recommend Bazna for the open position of valet to Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, who hired him assuming that a background check had been performed.[8]
  2. ^ Bazna told Moyzisch a misleading and melodramatic story about his hatred of the British was because his father had been killed by a Briton, which initially moved and ultimately left Moyzisch skeptical. This story was untrue. His father died peacefully in his bed.[26][27]
  3. ^ Anthony Cave Brown, author of Bodyguard of Lies, wrote "Soon, Bazna had ingratiated himself to the extent that Sir Hughe elevated him from purely household duties to a position of some power within the residency and embassy. He dressed him in an imposing blue uniform, gave him a peaked cap, and used him as a guard to the door of his study, where Bazna excluded visitors when Sir Hughe was thinking or napping. For ceremonial occasions, Sir Hughe dressed him in richly embroidered brocade, shoes with turned up toes, a fez with a tassel, gave him an immense scimitar, and placed him on the main door. Sir Hughe also paid him more than the 100 Turkish lira that was standard for a valet, and quietly turned a blind eye to the fact that Bazna was having an affair with Lady Knatchbull-Hugessen's handmaiden in the servants' quarters."[31]
  4. ^ There was a leak noted before Bazna began work as spy for the Germans.[2][21][24] Guy Liddell, who worked for MI5, recorded that there was a breach in security at the embassy on 17 October 1943, as reported by ISOS, Intelligent Service Oliver Strachey. The leak involved an embassy diplomat bag and two agents. On 3 November Lilddell talked to Stewart Menzies,[24] head of British Secret Intelligence Service.[41] Through the discussion, Liddell learned that the leak of the diplomatic bag occurred during or after the air attaché brought it back from Cairo, which put not-yet-deployed re-ciphering tables at risk and required the abandonment of the tables. There were also missing blueprints for a gun at the office of a military attaché. Menzies stated that there was an investigation underway at the embassy, but nothing more was said about the leak for a few months. Even earlier, in October 1941, a de-crypt from ISOS stated that there was a leak at the embassy.[24]
  5. ^ Moyzisch was convinced that the spy had someone helping him to locate and photograph the documents. German photography experts reviewed 112 photographs provided by 'Cicero' and determined that one person could have held the documents and taken the photographs. Based on the subsequent photograph that showed a hurried image with fingers and Bazna's signet ring, a German investigator was brought to Turkey. He determined that the photographer was quite skilled, but appeared to have assistance taking at least one photograph. Doubts persisted, but a second man was never identified.[42][43]
  6. ^ Kapp was the daughter of a German consul and anti-Nazi who had spent most of her early life in Calcutta and Cleveland. Moyzisch did not know that Nele hated the Nazis and had been supplying information to the British and the American OSS. She eventually defected and was helped by an OSS agent to board the Taurus Express from Ankara to Istanbul but alighting before the city, was taken to an air base that the RAF was building in Turkey. From there she was driven to İzmir and then ultimately made her way to Cairo, where she was furious to learn that she was to be interned as a German. She eventually reached America, settled in California, and married an American and had at least one child.[20]
  7. ^ a b Both books by Bazna and Moyzisch had "factual errors", according to Jefferson Adams.[2]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]