Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 2, 2012

Duquesne Spy Ring

January 2, 1942: The Duquesne Spy Ring is sentenced. The 33 members (30 men and three women) received a total of more than 300 years behind bars. The group’s leader was Frederick (Fritz) Joubert Duquesne. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted a long investigation. They needed the names of the participants and enough evidence to obtain convictions. After the arrests, 19 members pled guilty with the remaining 14 brought to trial. On September 14, 1941 their trial began at the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York. They were all found guilty on December 13, 1941.

Fritz Duquesne was born in Cape Colony, South Africa. He was a Captain in the Boer Army during the Second Boer War. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1913. He was a German spy and received the Iron Cross for sabotaging and sinking a British ship in 1916. By 1940 he was operating a company out of New York City while running his spy ring. Duquesne gave Nazi Germany information about American defenses, British shipping, and technological advances. He received payment from Germany for his help. He also obtained plans for bombs and coordinated within his group for sabotage of American industrial plants.

The FBI was helped by double-agent William Sebold. He was born in Germany and served with the German army during World War I. He left his homeland in 1921 and became a naturalized US citizen in 1936. He returned to Germany to visit family in 1939. Sebold was approached by a Gestapo member and recruited as a spy for the Nazis. He was forced to spy on the US in return for the safety of his family in Germany. He lost his passport and went to the American Consulate to get a replacement. There, he secretly told personnel of his problem and became a double-agent working for the US. Sebold finished his spy training, received his bona fides, and traveled back to the US.

Sebold met with Duquesne and was accepted as another German spy. Sebold worked closely with the FBI. They filmed meetings held in Sebold’s office using a two-way mirror. They set up a shortwave radio transmitter on Long Island and began a correspondence with Germany. They sent 300 transmissions and received 200 more during a 16-month period. Sebold’s acting ability and bravery helped to bring about a successful conclusion to the largest espionage case in US history – even before we entered into the war.

I’ve always wanted to be a spy, and frankly I’m a little surprised that British intelligence has never approached me. – Elizabeth Hurley

Espionage, for the most part, involves finding a person who knows something or has something that you can induce them secretly to give to you. That almost always involves a betrayal of trust. – Aldrich Ames

This is the wonderful thing about espionage, nothing exists any more. – William Stephenson

It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used. – Sun Tzu

Also on this day:

Liquor Through the Ages – In 1934, Pennsylvania opened the first state-run liquor store.
Big Bottom – In 1791, the Big Bottom massacre took place.
The Planet Vulcan – In 1860, a new planet’s discovery was announced in Paris

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