Code Name: Cicero, Elyesa Bazna was a ruthless WWII spy – His opportunity to make it rich evaporated, and he went back to working at odd jobs

German soldiers in WWII.
German soldiers in WWII.

Turkish secret agent, Elyesa Bazna, whose code name was Cicero, worked for Nazi Germany during WWII.

How it All Began

Born on July 28, 1904, in what is now Kosovo, Bazna, and his family were displaced during WWI and then settled in Istanbul. Bazna was sent to a military academy before joining the French Army at age 16. He was caught, however, stealing weapons and cars and was sentenced to hard labor for three years by the French. When he was released, he obtained odd jobs. He worked as a laborer, drove a taxi, and was a member of the fire brigade. Due to the fact he spoke Turkish, Serbo-Croat and French, Bazna secured work with senior figures such as diplomats and consulates, in both Turkey and France. They employed him as a guard, driver or doorman. He was also a trained opera singer.

While working, Bazna kept his eyes and ears open and snooped around in his employers’ belongings. He was fired by Albert Jenke, a German embassy staff member, for going through his mail.

Bazna became a handyman for the first secretary of the British Embassy. He began an affair with the household nursemaid, who helped him gain access to information, which he secretly photographed. The secretary trusted him, and in 1943 recommended him for a valet position with the British Ambassador in Ankara, Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen.

Bazna was an opportunist. While working as a valet for Knatchbull-Hugessen, he quickly gained his trust. He was promoted to a position of power both within the ambassador’s home and the embassy. Dressed in a stylish uniform, he guarded the door to Knatchbull-Hugessen’s study and was able to deny visitors access. Bazna was well paid, and the ambassador ignored the fact he was having an affair with his wife’s maid. He was invited to perform with the ambassador in his home, singing while his boss played the piano.

Elyesa Bazna;
Elyesa Bazna;

Bazna began to photograph secret papers Knatchbull-Hugeseen had in his possession and then sold them to the Germans. Bazna had trained as a locksmith. He took an impression of his boss’s safe key and had it copied for easy access. He took pictures of documents relating to war strategy, troop movements, and negotiations with Turkey to enter the war. When he first approached the Germans, he asked for more than $20,000 for two rolls of film.

Life as a Spy

Bazna began working as a spy for Germany, under Ludwig Carl Moyzisch. He was given the code name Cicero and was paid well for his work, but he later discovered most of the money was counterfeit.

Bazna provided valuable information, including items from Allied conferences held in Moscow, Tehran, and Cairo and the Invasion of Normandy. He produced so much information the German Foreign Office somewhat doubted his credibility. He provided documents predicting the Allies would bomb the Balkans, which proved to be true. Bazna was praised and told Hitler intended to give him a villa after the war was over.

A Double Agent?

There has been much speculation on whether or not Bazna was a double agent. Some of the information he passed on to the Germans was incorrect. At the time three British double agents were working within Abwehr, the German Secret Service. However, it is known Bazna had a great dislike for the British and while not a Nazi sympathizer, preferred Germans.

Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, right;
Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, right;

Caught in the Act?

In late 1943, the British became aware someone working inside the Turkish Embassy was spying, and Bazna was under suspicion. Some people believed he was too stupid to be the spy known as Cicero. A sting was set up to catch him, but it was unsuccessful. The British raised their guard. A new alarm system was fitted to the ambassador’s safe and Bazna found it increasingly difficult to provide any intelligence. In early 1944 he quit his job for the ambassador and stopped working for the Germans.

Later Life

Bazna was identified as the spy Cicero after the war. The Office of Strategic Services questioned him, but nothing came of it. He tried to get into the hotel business, but that was when he discovered his money was counterfeit. He was charged with passing forged bank notes and briefly went to jail again. His opportunity to make it rich evaporated, and he went back to working at odd jobs.

Knatchbull-Hugessen’s reputation was destroyed and he received a formal, severe reprimand.

Bazna co-wrote a memoir about his life in 1962. He died of kidney disease in 1970.

Lincoln Riddle

Lincoln Riddle is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE