Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and How the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring

Unabridged Audiobook

Written By: Peter Duffy

Narrated By: George Newbern, Peter Duffy

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Date: July 2014

Duration: 8 hours 27 minutes


From the time Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, German spies were active in New York, stealing military secrets that would be essential in the creation of an armed forces to terrorize the world. The Nazis had agents embedded within the two contractors assigned by the United States military to perfect the science of delivering aerial bombs on target, the Sperry Gyroscope Co. of Brooklyn, and Carl L. Norden, Inc., of lower Manhattan.

In 1937, a spy named Hermann W. Lang, a German national living in Queens, stole the blueprints for the country's most precious secret, the Norden Bombsight, delivering them into the hands of the German military two years before World War II started in Europe and four years before the U.S. joined the fight. The FBI, which was restricted by law to chasing the likes of John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, then stumbled into an investigation that uncovered a ring of lower-level Nazi spies in the city, which caused a national debate about the importance of protecting the nation from foreign espionage and led President Franklin Roosevelt to formally declare J. Edgar Hoover as America's spymaster with responsibility for overseeing all investigations. (The case also inspired the Warner Brothers' film Confessions of a Nazi Spy, the first Hollywood film to utter the words Adolf Hitler, which helped turn the Nazi spy into a prominent caricature of popular culture.)

As the war began in Europe in 1939, the German espionage service recruited a naturalized German-American who was back in Germany to visit his mother to travel to New York to set up a radio transmitter and collect messages from spies active in the city to send back to control in Hamburg. This German-American, William G. Sebold, approached the FBI upon his arrival on the West Side piers and became the first double agent in the Bureau's history, the center of a 16-month investigation that led to the arrest of 33 enemy agents in June 1941, a colorful cast that included Hermann Lang at Norden, Everett M. Roeder of Sperry, a South African adventurer with an exotic accent and a monocle named Colonel Fritz Duquesne, and a Jewish femme fatale, Lilly Stein, who had escaped Nazi Vienna by offering to seduce U.S. military men of prominence into whispering secrets into her ear.

The guilty verdicts were read on December 12, 1941, on the day after Adolf Hitler formally declared against America, which means that the enemy would not be privy to our most hallowed military secrets during the darkest days of the war. It is still the largest and consequential espionage bust in American history.