Before Bond, there was a Brit named Dennis Wheatley. Wheatley, however, had a few things going for him that Bond didn’t. Paramount amongst these factors was the fact that he was, well, real. In her new book, D For Deception, Tina Rosenberg discribes the fascinating true story of novelist Dennis Wheatley, who during World War II was called upon by the British government to undertake a mission – should he choose to accept it – that was probably not unlike missions undertaken by his characters, and fulfilled what to my mind seems like the absolute coolest opportunity – for the most unlikely person – in history (this is roughly akin to a stoner friend of mine who was offered a surprisingly well-paying job trimming pot plants at a legal dispensary in California – we had to scrape him off the ceiling).
Wheatley’s task was to perpetrate a disinformation campaign against the Germans, and through this deceive them about the date and location of the Allied invasion on D-Day. The primary intended target of the campaign was just one man – the Furer himself. Hitler. This has been referred to by some as the coolest homework assignment ever. Rosenberg spoke to Scott Horton of Harper’s about the book:
Deception worked like this: First, Wheatley and his colleagues drew up a cover story (“story” is actually the term of art) for each operation — what they wanted Hitler to believe. Then they began to scatter crumbs for the Nazis to find. Wheatley created enormous charts detailing what lies to tell on what date, and through what channel. Diplomatic gossip? False reports by double agents? Physical means such as “losing” a rucksack or a dead body? Nothing too direct or it wouldn’t be believable — the Germans had to gradually construct the story themselves.
That is how to write a deception plan. It’s also how to write a novel. The biggest difference was that instead of writing for millions of readers, Wheatley was writing for just one.
Andrew Sullivan of The Dish blog at The Daily Beast makes this story that much more delicious by adding:
And, as Rosenberg notes, “the deception plans he wrote to trick Hitler were in many ways echoes of his Gregory Sallust stories, which were all set against the backdrop of real events.” While on staff, Wheatley worked with a young intelligence officer named Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond series, which premiered in 1953.