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The Somerton Man Case. The body of a man found on an Australian beach close to a major Atomic Testing ground, he was probably poisoned, a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and an unbroken Code page found and associated to him. Set against a Cold War background in 1948, was this man a spy? We think so and this blog focuses on the evidence that was left behind and in some cases missed, the Code page, Dry Cleaning numbers, A Poem and a small, torn piece of paper bearing the words TAMAM SHUD.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

SOMERTON MAN: A 2 CAR TRICK


NOVEMBER 1948, A  DARKENED GLENELG STREET,
2 CARS PARKED CLOSE TO EACH OTHER...






THE QUESTION, YOU HAVE 2 SECONDS, WHICH IS THE HOLDEN?

Legend has it that a local 'businessman' had parked his car in a street not far from Somerton Beach that fateful night and at some time during that night, someone had tossed a copy of the Rubaiyat into the back of that car. Not just any copy but a copy from which the two words TAMAM SHUD had been torn from it's last page.

Put yourself in the position of the person who has been given instructions to the effect that if things go wrong at your scheduled meeting, you are to quickly make your way to this street where you will see a Holden car parked outside  number 28, throw the book in the back of that car, the window will be open. Oh, and be careful, you might be pursued and that book is ultra important, it contains highly secret information.

The street's just ahead, two similar cars and yes, you are being hotly pursued, you turn into the street and head for number 28, there's a car parked outside but unbeknown to you, someone had parked a Hillman Minx outside number 28 and the Holden had to be parked outside number 26, never mind, they're two different models so you're bound to know the difference, aren't you?

You would have been doing what you had been trained to do as part of your Tradecraft course, they called it 'The Car Toss'. This technique was very much a part of tradecraft and it is documented in a number of manuals and you'll even find a wiki article that includes it.

What's been described here is not a flight of fancy, it's the most likely scenario and it's based on an actual technique used by agents of all persuasions and for different purposes including passing on vital information.

It is the only real reason why the book would have been thrown into the back of that car that night, they just got the wrong car, they got the one that belonged to a policeman.

Does anyone seriously think that a high level meet up, with some hugely valuable information at stake, would have been organised without there being an escape route and a way of safeguarding the prize?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

that same wiki article (in the paragraph below the car drop) talks about protecting message content. In particular:
"A message left in a dead drop, or dropped during an improperly executed brush pass, is quite incriminating if counterintelligence personnel can immediately see suspicious information written on it. The ideal material for transfer looks quite innocuous."

and later still (under encryption):
"but a counterintelligence agent seeing nonsense characters will immediately become suspicious of the message"

Irrespective of the fact that the "code" here isn't the actual message, its presence attracts attention, and seems very odd for this sort of scenario. It's hard to imagine that on the one hand we seem to be talking about spies who were very good at their craft, but on the other hand made significant mistakes (wrong car, suspicious scribbles etc). The idea the car was a police car sits even less comfortably with me (other than it explains some of the reluctance to properly identify the person). Wouldn't a policeman be suspicious of it from day 1? Wouldn't a policeman have suspected a connection from the day they found the TS slip (rather than from the day they realised it connected to the Rubaiat)? After all, if you're a policeman and you find a book that doesn't belong in your car with a big hole gouged in the back, and are subsequently aware that a scrap of paper (most likely ripped from a book) has turned up in connection to a suspicious death, wouldn't you be suspecting your book might be involved?

That said, assuming it were a drop gone wrong, have you considered:
1) The wrong car was deliberate by the person doing the drop
2) The wrong car was PLANTED there in the hope of an intercept?

Also, just a thoguth, if it did end up in a policeman's car, are we saying they didn't themselves understand the significance? Or do we think that whatever higher authority might subsequently been involved they had little knowledge (or influence) at that stage? Or are we saying that the powers that be WANTED that detail in the public eye? Put another way, was the publishing of detail around both the fragment and the book a mistake, or else what was the motivation behind it?

Gordon332 said...

The wiki link has some excellent information, I am glad that you read it through. Spies were generally very good at their job but in this case I think we are talking about a 'cut out' a go between/courier who was not the main man but the person who dropped the book into the back of the car. SM was the main player and the target I suspect. It was very often the cut out who gave away the game when more senior spies were caught. Think about Harry Gold, he gave Fedosimov away to the FBI.

I didn't actually say it was a Police car, I indicated it belonged to a Policeman. This man would not necessarily have noticed the book for some time and with regards to the hole, well the book I would think would have been closed and may very well have been beneath the seat. In other words, much of the story of Mr. Francis probably wasn't far from the truth.

if I may add a little to an important point that you referred to. The 'suspicious scribbles', these were not visible to the naked eye. In a discussion I had with Gerry Feltus some years ago now, he was very clear about the fact that what was found were indentations on the back of the book, the marks left by the action of someone using the book as a rest when they wrote the real code on a separate piece of paper. I believe that piece to be the one referred to as being missing in one Police report.

With regards to your two options, I certainly had considered the notion that the person doing the drop put it in the wrong car deliberately but had not given any thought to the idea that the car was placed there for that purpose. Good point.

I would agree with your statement that the powers that be wanted the information out in the public space in particular the aspect of Naval Intelligence being unable to crack the 'code'.

Thanks for your comment, it was well thought out and appreciated.