A Tale of Two Spies

Spring 2015 – The hundred year old Betty P McIntosh was giving a fine speech. The rapt CIA Langley audience, many decades her junior, craned forward to listen to the queen of black information. The lady who did not even have an email account, explained to the youngsters how they could manipulate news and target world leaders and organizations such as the ISIS and how one could weaponize social media. She then went on to retell stories from her ‘undercover girl’ time in Delhi and how they targeted the Japanese in 1944, perhaps one last time.. Betty as she was fondly known, passed away that same year but if she had lived for two more years, she would have observed how enemies used very similar ideas to target this country. Perhaps Langley should have listened more seriously to her talk, perhaps they did, maybe they did not.

Singapore - Black Friday - February 13th 1942, all of 76 years ago – The British guards knew the Japanese were close and the haughty New Zealander they guarded was taunting them over and again. Well, they were most definitely not going to tolerate a reversal of fortunes, and so rules be dammed, they drew cards to decide who would deliver the coup de grace to one of ‘their own’. MP Sergeant Wright was the lucky one and he dragged the traitor to the edge at the inner harbor. He was the white prisoner with the brown skin, the man who probably collaborated with the Japanese Indian 5th column, the man they held responsible for guiding the Japanese to the Malayan shores. The MP calmly drew his service pistol and after asking the man to see the setting sun a last time, shot him dead. The deed was done, Captain Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan, the officer spy was dead, and his lifeless body was heaved over into the tepid waters to float and rot. The lifeless body bobbed in the waters while the eyes, still seeing, saw things they could never again deal with, till everything went dark. It was yet another causality of war, and his service file vanished from records, forever.

We go back again to the CBI Theater of the WW2, the period when the British and the supporting allies after capitulating at Singapore, struggled to contain the marauding Japanese at the Indian frontiers and Burma. We had previously marveled at the story of the black Americans building the Ledo road to China and the story of the Malayali transport soldier Warrier, we cried at the plight of Kumaran Nair of the IIL, we struggled to understand the difficulties of a mixed race Anglo Indian Cyril Stacey, we saw the involvement of Rash Behari and Subhash Bose in creating a nationalistic army and we read about the hair raising exploits of the Malayali Ronin - Nairsaan at Manchuria. There are so many more of such tales and today I will tell you the story of two spies who worked for opposing sides, one for the allies and one for the Japanese in a fight for supremacy at the very same CBI Theater. While the NZ traitor was already dead in 1942 after heralding the Japanese entrance into Malaya, the American lie-master would appear on the scene only just before the Burma campaign in 1944.

It was an incredible period, for it was the time when an OSS detachment took shape in New Delhi, the OSS being a parent of today’s CIA. It was during the last phase of the British Raj, with Churchill desperately fighting to cling on to the jewel of her majesty’s crown, while at the same time having to deal with the clarion like ‘Dilli Chalo’ call by Bose’s INA stationed at Burma. In that melee when millions died, some fighting, some starving and some without knowing what hit them, two people were propelled into courses which neither had foreseen. This is their story.

War is not just about fighting at the front lines, and subversion was a technique to be mastered. George Orwell a.k.a Eric Blair was invited by the BBC’s Eastern Service to work with broadcasting anti-Japanese propaganda. It was perhaps quite complicated and Orwell, did not want to be seen as a propagandist for British imperialism, which he had opposed ever since his Burmese experiences arguing that British rule in India was just as bad as German fascism. But the war had to be won and the immediate priority was resistance to fascist penetration in India and he did his part. Nevertheless Orwell resigned in 1943, realizing it was simply a hopeless task.

But how about the inventive Betty at Delhi who took over with a Japanese focus in 1944? Did she succeed in demoralizing the enemy through prevarication and deceit as part of her Psych-ops plans? What do we know of her 18 ‘life changing months’ at Delhi, Calcutta and later China? Was she a help with the 1944 Burma Campaign or did she become part of the Indian revolution which the British were convinced the American OSS were trying to kick start?

The British in India as you can very well imagine, had a different idea of the world and from their lofty perches believed too much in their racial superiority and their inability to lose a war. Peter Fleming the British spymaster thought the Japs were fanatic, indoctrinated, dim witted fools and could not even understand black propaganda if fed to them. But the British had been on the losing end of many battles in the Eastern front and stuck in a morass, the Japanese holding fort at Rangoon. The INA was beefing up their ranks and the Dilli Chalo clamor getting strident. It was time to humor the black op’s ladies and Wild Bill Donovan of the OSS.

Pat Heenan of the British Indian army, was an enigma. Born a New Zealander in 1910 to an unwed Ann Stanley, bred in Burma (his father Vaughan died in 1912 and Anne married Bernard Carrol, returning to Britain in 1922) and educated in British Sevenoaks and Cheltenham schools, he was a quirky character, to say the least and his slightly brown skin and doubtful parentage made him a target for many a snide remark and alienation all through his life. His academic career was tardy, a pointer to the impact of racism on young adults in British schools. Nevertheless he excelled in swimming and boxing and being of big physique turned out to be quite a ladies man. But the large chip on his shoulder made him a brooding character otherwise, prone to quick temper. As a dullard, he could not find entrance to any military school and ended up working for an export-import steel company, but had some luck in obtaining recommendations to join the supplementary reserve corps in 1932. In 1935, already an oldie by then, Heenan was commissioned into the Indian army as a non-attached officer. Soon he found himself on a troopship Neuralia, bound for India.

But as was wont to happen, prejudice played its part and after training, Heenan found that no regiment would accept him. Eventually he was taken in by the 16th Punjab. He did well at a NWF conflict but it appears his bad behavior found him no friends and ended up getting shunted to the Service corps and soon back to another battalion in 16th Punjab. Around this time, he seemingly won the title of a boxing champion. Some observed that he was preferentially friendlier with Indians during his tenure, standing up for against their segregation at times. At this point the story started to get stranger with Heenan taking a long 6 month leave to go to Japan (1938-1939).

Some say he got involved with a Japanese girl and was thus initiated into Japanese intelligence. He picked up not only good Japanese, but also an avid interest in photography and radio equipment operation. Upon his return to his unit, he found himself moved to Malaya. This unit too found him a tricky character and sent him off to Singapore to train in Air liaison. Returning to the airfields of Kedah, he apparently used his time to travel to Thailand often and provide information on the British defenses.

The British were certain that the Japanese would attack, and believed that the attack would come from the sea at Singapore, which could be countered with their impregnable fortress armed with the massive guns. They had little regard or belief in the attacking prowess of Japanese air attack fighters and even less for the fighting forces and were not quite convinced that an attack would come from the Northern Malayan front. The dense jungles, the Indian army and their infrastructure, they believed could be a deterrent. And that as we all know today, was the big error of judgement.

Fast forward two years - it would become evident to the allies after the reverses at Singapore, Thailand, Malaya and Burma that Japanese intelligence had penetrated deep into SE Asia, and it was now clear that the entire region had a ton of sympathizers and agents even before the war started in Dec 1940.

After the conquest of SE Asia, Fujiwara who started liaison with Japan from Thailand, returned to japan and others had took his place. The IIL had given way to the INA and the borders of India were now under threat. Even though the Japanese had closed the existing road from Burma to China, the Americans were hard at work building the Ledo road from the Indian border at Assam to China to support Chiang Kai-Shek.

Back in Hawaii, Betty who was fluent in Japanese got recruited by the OSS organization, who decided to depute her to the Far Eastern section - Morale Operations. This unit dealt with something quite new at that time, which was disseminating disinformation as a type of psychological warfare. The intent was to change the minds of the enemy with written pamphlets, altered newspapers and books, devious broadcasting over the radio about diverse subjects which made a negative impact in the mind of the listener on subjects such as the effects of attacks, bombing and invasions such as human attacks, starvation, bombing tragedies etc. So while the MO did “black” propaganda, the Office of War Information did “white” propaganda, which were in context, morale-boosting stories for the allies. They also had training on so many other matters such as arms, ciphers, setting up clandestine meetings, interrogation techniques and so on and soon found themselves in a bungalow at Delhi’s 32 Feroze Shah Road. The team also had some Nisei (2nd generation Japanese Americans) persons to assist with nuances of Japanese culture and a stack of captured material such as post cards, memorabilia etc.

Decades ago, the Gadhar party members had fled, many of them sequestered in Thailand and its Pritam Singh was to later form the IIL with branches all over SE Asia. N Raghavan and Keshava Menon led the IIL in Penang and Singapore. The Japanese were already well equipped with intelligence on Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand well before the onset of hostilities. They had large numbers of field agents or supporters who provided them a steady stream of information on terrain, economy and so on. Some months before the attack, Major Fujiwara Iwaichi, chief of intelligence of the Japanese 15th Army, was deputed to Bangkok and it was he who formally built up a network of Indian, Thai, Malay and Indonesian supporters for the invasion to come. The organization was known as the Fujiwara Kikan.

Perhaps you will recall my article on Cyril Stracey, the Anglo Indian in the British army stationed in Malaya, somewhat in close proximity to the regiment of Patrick Heenan. You may recall his uncomfortable career in the army and how his sympathies were changing. But his case was different from Heenan, for he was half Indian and the Indian cause, i.e. her independence, meant something to him. Why would Heenan support an Indian cause or become a traitor otherwise? Did Heenan’s biological father and his brownness have any Indian link? Anyway it is quite apparent that Hennan got connected to the IIL and F Kikan and that is clear due to his frequent trips to Thailand, for that was where Fujiwara was building up his team.

While Betty’s work related to twisting Japanese minds as the Japanese planned a surge into India, the British as you saw, had little knowledge of Japanese plans for the Far East in 1940. The British SOE was focused on subversive activities to help contain the German onslaught and Force 136 was hurriedly formed much later in 1944. In the interim there was just an oriental SOE operation for Malaya, based in Singapore, with no real plans. Peter Fleming’s strategic deception program against Japan in India and Burma was set up only in 1943 (the ‘D’ Division initially based at Delhi and later in Ceylon).  His task like Betty’s which followed was to feed by various means false information (along with truth) to affect Japanese plans.

The Japanese U-Go offensive to take India had commenced in March 1944, but the monsoons and the terrible roads, limited stocks of food (Japanese plans were to capture food from defeated British platoons) were to get them stuck, with dispirited soldiers, cranky commanders and sickness. The Japanese started losing their will, just the right time for an MO attack by Betty and team.

Betty’s first real operation around June 1944 involved working with the stack of Japanese post cards which the allies had obtained after a skirmish. They comprised 500 or so postcards with standard greetings from homesick soldiers, stamped and censored. Betty came up with the plan to erase the messages and substitute their own. Her boss agreed and opined that these could easily be then slipped back into the Japanese postal system. That was later known as the ‘Project Black Mail’. The altered cards sent a different message home, that the Japanese were losing in Burma, that there was misery and starvation in the jungle, and that the Japanese back home did not really care or support them. It seemingly worked.

Fujiwara had arrived in Bangkok in Oct 1941, unprepared. He did have some exposure to the Far
Fujiwara Iwachi
East, having been involved with a secret operation in Hong Kong to help the escape of three Indians and his task was to set up a relationship with the IIL which was being formed to spearhead anti British resistance and Indian independence. All he had was the support of a Hindi speaking interpreter, and of course the person he met first was Pritam Singh Dhillon. This Sardar who started it all, a member of the Ghadar movement and the failed 1915 mutiny, has been forgotten by most and the INA memories hover around Mohan Singh and NSC Bose, but well, Pritam Singh was the idealist spearhead who started it all, leaving India in 1939 and settle in Bangkok (there were Rash Behari Bose and Nairsan, but they were in Japan). The plan was to connect up with Indian soldiers in the British army as soon as war started. Fujiwara would offer them protection and Pritam Singh would lead the formation of a revolutionary army. That was the origin of the F Kikan in Thailand and it is with them that Heenan perhaps established contact before the war. But let’s go to Malaya to see how Heenan reached there, for the last we saw was him going to Japan for a 6 week furlough.

The Japanese MO were also at work, a Japanese unit based in Formosa was beaming subversive transmissions exhorting the Indians working in these states to rise up against the British. They also helped (together with the IIL) foment a strike at Klang and Swettenham by the Tamil’s over low wages and poor living conditions. The members in the British Indian army (23 battalions of them) were also getting affected, by what the British believed were IIL and Japanese propaganda (they still do not believe one would want independence from colonialism I suppose!).

The 29 year old Hennan returned to India after his furlough in Japan and served in the 15th Motor transport at Bareilly, but after an altercation with the MP was shunted back to the 16th Punjab. It became evident to the others that Heenan nursed a deep drudge on the British and the army which had ill-treated him. By Oct 1940, he was sailing to Malaya and in early 1941 the regiment had settled down at the Thai border post at Aaru in Perlis.

Heenan got along well with his Indian colleagues, perhaps sympathizing with their plight and one of his contacts was AD Jahangir of the 1st Bahawalpur, a bigtime supporter of Indian Independence. The Indians in 1st Bahawalpur were close to mutiny with their commanding officer Roger Fletcher and his high handed behavior, what with his calling Indians ‘coolies’. Problems were erupting on the 1st Hyderabad as well, and in general it was believed that the IIL had infiltrated most of the forward units in the area. The 14th Punjab if you recall was the home organization of Mohan Singh and Cyril Stracey, persons we had mentioned previously.

Pat Heenan had by June 1941, been placed in a secret liaison unit between the army and the RAF, in the 300 AIL at Alor Star. He reported to Maj JC France, quickly settling down with a mistress in a local kampong (village). He also had a girlfriend in the Cameron highlands, named Pinka Robertson. Maj France developed deep suspicions about Heenan, mainly because he had taken a number of photos of the area during field marches and asked to see top secret documents (lying that the request was approved by Maj France). France decided to investigate and discovered a trove of incriminating evidence such as a bible with underlined sentences used to create code and a report on the airfield and troop movements. He did not arrest Heenan immediately, but decided to catch him in the act.

It was later concluded that Heenan made 3 or 4 trips to meet a Dutchman to deliver military information (troop locations, size, operational plans etc.) who then passed on the information to the Japanese Singora Consulate just fifty miles north. The collected information from various field units was possibly transmitted by a powerful transmitter to Tokyo. It was also noticed (How, I am not sure) that Heenan had a huge bank balance of some £40,000 (Millions in today’s currency) which Heenan stated offhand, was a repaid gambling debt. An army contracting scam was also being (wrongly) linked to him.

On 8th December 1941, The Japanese bombed the airfields of Kota Bharu. The 1st Hyderabad troops guarding the airfield fled. The RAF planes of the squadrons at Alor Star took to the air as the Japanese ships were streaming in with the landing forces. It was soon obvious that the Japanese knew exactly when British planes would land and they would quickly swoop to bomb them to smithereens, and they also knew the aircraft call signs. The telephones stooped working (perhaps Heenan cut the wires, they said) when the British bombers returned, and they were all soon destroyed. Pretty soon the entire British air force had been wiped out. Heenan, they say, kept disappearing as aerodromes nearby were getting hit by Japanese bombers.

The next day as the regiment was about to retreat in a convoy, Maj France noticed a priest’s communion set in a field truck and upon opening it found it to be a Japanese radio set. In another case, he found batteries. Somebody opined that he had a second radio set for had been seen typing on a typewriter, without paper (perhaps a type to Morse converter). Maj France hid and watched to see what would happen and soon Heenan came trudging by and picked them up (other rumors of a warm radio set etc were heard). Again France did not arrest Heenan.

Heenan they say, perhaps coming to know of bad tidings, bolted, only to be picked up near a swamp, fully drunk. He was finally arrested and taken to Penang as the person responsible for the British walloping by the Japanese air force. Seven Malays considered to be part of Heenan’s ring were arrested in the aftermath but too late. AD Jahangir was also pulled up. Soon the Japanese landed and their invasions teams fanned south, in what was later known as the Bicycle Blitzkrieg. By 31st January, the allied defenders had retreated to Singapore, and Yamashita's 25th Army was at Johore Bahru poised for an attack on the "Fortress".

Maj France in his unpublished memoirs written decades later, implied that an enquiry was held in Penang and a courts martial was held in Singapore later during which Heenan was convicted, though Jahangir was let go due to paucity of evidence. Mysteriously Pinka (so it is believed) from the Cameron highlands turned up to pick up and spirit away Heenan’s personal effects which were being shipped to the investigators at Penang. Heenan was not executed right away and was moved to a Singapore jail, only to be shot in the head and dumped into a watery grave when the Japanese knocked on the doors of the now pregnable fortress.

Jahangir survived but made no mention about Heenan, nor did any other IIL members such as Cyril Stracey or Mohan Singh. Fujiwara also made no mention of Heenan in his accounts, so Heenan was perhaps just providing whatever information he picked up to the IIL for further transfer to Japan. Was his information critical? Probably it was at that instant, but not so in the larger scheme of things, simply because the Japanese were better planned and equipped, trained and had air superiority. What happened to Hennan’s bank balance and his military files? Points to ponder!

Very soon, the fleeing British left control of the Indian battalions and many thousands were recruited into the IIL and later the INA led by Mohan Singh. This development was the biggest coup for the Japanese government, and became a direct threat to the British position in India. Fujiwara was later recalled to Japan and Iwakuro took his place.

Betty’s insulated life in Delhi hardly exposed her to the local folk, but was punctuated with a few parties, and mostly hard work, creating ruses. Her stay was a difficult period dodging, placating and persuading high strung British bureaucrats of Delhi and the Nisei translators. Her next task was to encourage Japanese soldiers to believe that surrender was not a sin, with artful propaganda. New fake orders allowing troops to surrender if needed were prepared carefully and the field manual rewritten. In one instance, these were inserted into the pouch of a Japanese courier in Burma, after his murder by a Burmese agent. It is said that this ‘Golden dust’ campaign brought in a large number of surrenders by the Japanese.

Betty moved on to Calcutta for a while, then on to Ceylon and eventually to Kunming in China working on various projects, eventually to return to America after the war to continue with the CIA. Her story is varied and humorous, one we have to spend many an hour to retell, so I will digress.

Two spies, one working to contain Japanese advances, another working for the Japanese in a way. Neither brought about a substantial change of course in the war, but were somewhat ordinary people who found themselves doing extraordinary things.

But Betty noticed something while in British India. Something the British perhaps never noticed, the cost of freedom. Betty was profound - China was a bright, hard impact after India. The peasants at the airport, with polished apple red faces and the threadbare homespun clothes were just as bound to the soil as the Indian peasants but to me they were free people, holding their heads high, un-subservient. And the Chinese children played boisterously, I could not remember seeing an Indian child romp.

Now you can perhaps understand how much freedom is worth.

Undercover Girl – Elizabeth P Macdonald
OSS Operation Blackmail – Ann Todd
Sisterhood of spies – Elizabeth P Macintosh
Odd man out – Peter Elphick & Michael Smith
The pregnable fortress - Peter Elphick
Traitor: the story of Patrick Heenan - RNZ podcasts, William Ray

-          -My first choice for the lady spy was actually Joan Bondurant, who served in the OSS at Delhi. She later went on to become a friend of India and a great admirer of Gandhiji. I believe she deserves her own space, for another day.
-        -  Much of the Heenan story as known is based on hearsay and has little corroboration. His files are missing. The radio and its connection to Heenan look awry. It is correct that the Japanese field radio 94-6 is very similar in looks to the communion box, but it can only be operated with a very tall whip antenna and has a short range. How it was used to signal Japanese planes beats me. This cannot be done stealthily indoors, so the radio story looks fishy. Some other sources say he used ‘signaling equipment’ to help Japanese pilots. Nevertheless, I am sure there is much more in the Heenan files, and I feel he was a victim in the larger conspiracy and a cover up.

Betty – Courtesy CIA coverage on Betty’s life, Heenan from Alchetron.com 



harimohan said...

I was just skipping through your sizeable collection of well researched historical posts related to india and kerala .
You do have the matireal for an ominibus collection

Maddy said...

thanks hari..
you know i am a lazy fellow, need to find somebody who will help publish them!