Hi, Meet The Spy That Created All The Tropes
Spy is the kind of job that's easy to forget some real people have. It seems made up. Designed solely to round out some shitty dad fiction's cast of unbelievable characters or fill a quota for a Halloween costume company's pitch meeting. Counts twice when you include Sexy Spy with the tuxedo with a cleavage window. But, like I was saying, very real people DO become spies sometimes.
They're not all Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible. They're more likely to be a regular person like you or me, tasked with kind of snooping around a little bit here and there, than wearing Phillip Seymour Hoffman's face over their face as they climb the Space Needle using only the tip of their dick or whatever that franchise hasn't done yet. Juan Pujol Garcia was a real spy. A genuine human being caught up in one of the world's most significant conflicts and his largely-untold exploits in WWII should be given a lot more attention.
He Tried To Become A Secret Agent With No Qualifications To Do Anything Whatsoever
Juan Pujol Garcia was born in Barcelona in the early 1900s. He wasn't created in a lab like some WWII Agent 47, he was actually a pretty regular guy from the jump. Today, being a normal-ass dude means you eat cold pizza in front of an open fridge in the middle of the night. But, being a normal-ass dude in the early 1900s meant going off to war to shoot at and be shot at by people. Pujol fought in the Spanish Civil war and cultivated a distaste for totalitarianism that would eventually push him to greatness.
But uh, the greatness wasn't to come RIGHT away, of course. In most spy fiction, they're cultivated from the jump. Selected at a young age and bred, raised, and trained to become the perfect machine for the government or organization that needs them. Pujol was just a dude working a shitload of odd jobs while not being particularly good at any of them. This might be what works out for him so well later on, and gives him the tenacity that he'll show when facing constant rejection. James Bond probably wouldn't be such a pompous dickhead had he been a Grubhub driver in Des Moines for five years before becoming the world's most lethal high-functioning alcoholic. But when war broke out in 1939, Pujol ripped the Lyft sign off of his horse or whatever and decided to put his hatred towards totalitarianism and Nazis to good use.
He marched right up to British intelligence and told them that he wanted to be a spy ... and British intelligence told him to piss off.
He Padded His Resume By Becoming A Spy ... For The Nazis
It turns out, you can't just walk up to the government and ask them if they're looking for spies. Becoming Jason Bourne isn't the same process as becoming a line cook at the Waffle House, and it takes a bit more to get involved. However, Pujol had found a new calling, and he wasn't going to give in that easily. So he went to work on the espionage version of padding your LinkedIn profile after a job rejection. After asking the British at least three times if they'd let him be a damn spy already, Pujol had to get creative. He became a freelancer.
Pujol switched to the double-agent career track. He figured that by getting in with the Nazis, he'd be able to establish himself enough to prove a natural resource to the British and finally have to let him in. This tenacious son of a bitch was about to be driving Uber AND Lyft.
Pujol somehow convinced some Nazi dipshit that he was a member of the Spanish government that was really picking up what Hitler and his guys were putting down. Though he hated fascists with a passion, he had to approach this meeting like in a job interview when you have to nod enthusiastically when your potential boss says shit like, "We burn the midnight oil here. Play hard. But work harder." Your brain tries escaping this conversation by crawling out of your ear but ends up just blurting something stupid like, "Psh. I don't even play. I only work hard. I Work ROCK HARD." You then try to lean back in your chair to sell your casual commitment to that line, fall backward, land in a coma and wake up a decade later jobless.
The Nazis, however, gave that same bumbling idiot a gig, and Pujol was finally about to become a spy for real. Kind of.
He Became A Top Spy In Britain (Minus Actually Being In Britain)
As an entry-level spy, Pujol was given a spy starter kit. Like the shitty collection of company-branded trinkets, you might get on the first day of work, but his was actually kind of cool. It included some invisible ink, a codebook, and cash. The German that Pujol was reporting to decided that he'd be doing his spying from Britain, and sent Pujol packing. Except, Pujol said, "Screw that noise," and went to Lisbon, figuring he could pretend to be in Britain from there.
Even though he'd never stepped foot in England, he read up on travel guides and magazines to get enough information to get by. It was beautifully insane. Imagine getting a job to work on building the first colonization rocket to Mars after lying your ass off about your credentials. Panicking, you need to go into that first day looking like you know a thing or two about space and science, so you spend the whole weekend taking coke with Tom DeLonge and playing through every Halo game. For Pujol, his bizarre methods somehow all came together.
He tricked his German bosses into thinking that he was goofing all over England, cruising around the country for intel. Pujol would send them little snippets of totally garbage information based on absolutely no real knowledge of England itself. I'd imagine his communications back to the Nazis read something like:
"Alright, so I'm up in Big Ben. Right at the top of it. Eating all the fish and chips, and drinking spots of tea and these soldiers walk up there. And they're like Bob's your uncle, but they're also saying that they're thinking about heading over to Germany 'bloody' soon. Crossing right over the London Bridge and heading over to Germany with GUNS. They might have guns here. Pujol out."
On top of convincing the Germans that he was actually in England, he also began to convince them that he had built an entire network of sub-agents working beneath him. At this point, he's just going nuts in the "skills" section of his cover letter. He's not even trying to keep it honest. His skills list had basically grown to: spying, walking around England, good listener, can 360-dunk from half-court, really good at sex, can use invisible ink, state of Iowa buffalo wing competitive eating record holder, can fly.
However, he did have his slip-ups. One of Pujol's most infamous gaffes was when, in a communication with the Nazis, he wrote that the men in Glasgow "would do anything for a litre of wine." Of course, Scottish dudes don't drink wine, and the UK didn't even use the metric system. Luckily, the Nazis didn't pick up on this ... the British, however, were catching wind. In their own interceptions of the Nazi communications, they were learning about this spy operating right beneath their noses with a vast network beneath him, and they needed to know more.
His Campaign Of Trolling The Axis
British intelligence couldn't help but notice consistent loads of bullshit about them being dumped to the Nazis. Knowing it wasn't coming from any of their guys, they had to figure out what the hell was going on. Especially considering this fake ass intel was actually helping them and genuinely throwing off the Nazis in some ways.
Finally, Pujol had done enough to actually warrant a look as a real spy, so MI6 brought him to the big leagues. Impressed with his determination and the way he created this elaborate hoax all on his own, totally pro bono, they gave him a real job in the unit and paired him with a legitimate career spy. I'm sure by now you're thinking the same thing: Pujol's life is essentially following the trajectory of whatever latest action-comedy pairs a comedic actor up with Jason Statham. Pujol, is, of course, not the Statham here.
But instead of getting into car chases and having moments with each other where they both have to take their shirts off only to reveal the Statham one is way more ripped and sexy, these two just hung out in an office and confused the hell out of the Nazis. Their main thing was writing. They'd pump out letter after letter to send to the Germans full of bogus information, totaling over 300 letters during their time with each letter averaging over 2,000 words. Basically, these dudes were a WWII spam bot endlessly pasting the eggplant emoji into Hitler's Twitch channel.
Through the sheer volume of information thrown their way, the Germans were convinced that Pujol's network was real, vast, and large enough that they wouldn't need to recruit any more spies in the UK. They were totally content with their network Nigerian princes asking for just a little cash and the promise of a ton more once you send it their way.
During this time, Pujol was finally finding his calling. After years of somewhat aimless wandering from job to job, he found a real home in the world of double-crossing and was believed to be something of a "savant" at bullshitting. He was so good that his codename within the unit became Agent Garbo, a reference to Greta Garbo and her standing at the time as the "greatest actor in the world." Most nicknames are born out of embarrassment. You're forever called "Slack" because you accidentally pasted the last thing in your clipboard, results to a Google search about anal warts, into the all-company Slack. Pujol received the rare honor of a nickname dubbed out of skill and respect.
Though he had numerous successful moments double-crossing the pants off the Nazis, his masterpiece was his work in creating espionage surrounding the Normandy invasion. In the buildup to a critical moment in the war, Pujol and MI6 got to work in planting absolute bullshit with the Nazis. They knew an invasion was coming, they just didn't know where it would land.
Through his fake network, Pujol peppered them with information suggesting the Allies would land in the northern part of France. Furthermore, though they may attack a more southern position (their actual primary destination), the Germans should see this as merely a diversion to the totes real landing up north, dudes. It was beautiful.
After a long buildup of elaborate fictitious communication from his "network," not only were the Germans entirely undermanned at the actual landing point of the Allies, they remained utterly convinced in Pujol's intelligence about the big push in the north. They kept the bulk of their forces there for days after the invasion. The wildly-successful ruse is hailed as one of the greatest strategic victories for the Allies during the war. And it was all perpetrated by a dude that didn't even get his graduate degree in spying.
He's Honored As A Hero ... By Both Sides
To add insult to injury, the Nazis still believed in Agent Garbo after their failures during Normandy, going so far as to have the Fuhrer himself award Pujol with the Iron Cross in 1944. An honor for which Pujol thanked them and told them he was "unworthy." This dude pulled off the spying equivalent of dog sitting for someone, letting their dog die on his watch, finding an exact copy of that same dog at the pound and replacing it, only to get a text back when the owners returned that read, "Thanks for taking care of the place and Bruno!" Then replying, "Oh, seriously ... was nothing. Would love to do it again."
Pujol kept feeding bullshit to the Germans for a bit after his massive victory, but MI6 figured that it was probably best to quit while ahead. They would dismantle the operation and Pujol would finally be able to get a break from being one of the most kickass, and genuinely beneficial, liars in human history. Because he was a spy, he got the honor of having to fake his own death after the war to maintain his anonymity and safety.
He moved to Venezuela and opened up a bookstore with absolutely nobody knowing who he was, or the monumental impact he had on the course of the world. It wasn't until the 70s that an author did some digging and came across his story. Eventually, he tracked Pujol down and convinced him to return to England to be celebrated like the hero he was. Now well into his later years, Pujol received the recognition and notoriety that he deserved and connected with some of his old peers before he died in 1988.
Juan Pujol Garcia is the perfect example of self-motivation and hustle done the right way. He wasn't some Gary Vee type shouting at people on Instagram to "GO MAKE IT HAPPEN, BABY!" He was just a dude who failed a bunch but never gave up until he stuck it in a big way. You don't have to be a sexy Englishman in a bowtie to be a spy, you just need some invisible ink, a lot of resolve, and some very stupid Nazis.
Top Image: N_Defender/Shutterstock, MI5