LONDON – A Russian seaman has been uncovered as the only British-based double agent run against the Japanese during World War II, according to previously unreleased Secret Intelligence Service material opened to the public Monday.
The reconstituted files, available at the National Archives in London, follow the case of Josef — given the alias “Rhubarb” — between 1941 and 1944, and his operations in Plan Kimono carrying information to and from British security services and the Japanese Embassy in Lisbon.
Josef’s main responsibilities for the Japanese were documented as accumulating information on Britain’s growing naval capabilities, particularly at a large dockyard in Glasgow, Scotland, as well as possible sabotage activities.
“It is suggested that parts of Queen’s Dock which could most easily be sabotaged are the railway points and the track running around Queen’s Dock, which would cause a considerable delay in the discharging of vessels,” the double agent’s report reads in March 1943.
Josef also suggests to his contact at the Japanese Embassy that bribing poorly paid Scottish dock laborers would be an option as, “on the whole they are not interested in the war as they have little sympathy for the English.”
Despite the Japanese also wanting “all information about Gibraltar” and select intelligence on the latest radio location equipment used for the detection of submarines, Josef focuses instead on providing embassy officials with simple sketch maps of dockyards and the location of naval vessels under construction.
National Archives spokesman Howard Davies said that while the Japanese perhaps had no intention to act on the intelligence, “Japan was fundamentally a naval power in World War II, therefore capabilities of a naval rival were of interest.”
For the British, too, Davies describes the usefulness of Josef as “more of a potential benefit than an actual one,” suggesting he was simply being used to build confidence with the enemy in case the need arose to feed fake information to them quickly.
Indeed, the intelligence officials collaborating with and documenting Josef’s exploits appear largely untroubled by Japan’s “designs on the country,” but are documented as seeing the spy as a useful tool to ascertaining information on Japan’s “plans against India and the Far East.”
Josef also provided the British government with information on someone named Sato, “who is a correspondent of Domei in Lisbon and believed to be connected with espionage.” Domei was the predecessor of Kyodo News.
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