I think of you

I think of you

This week, the Rome Arts Hall of Fame from my hometown sent out their annual call for nominations to previous inductees, including me (Hall of Fame Class of 2019.)

The letter came from Maria Rich, who scribbled a note in the margin of the letter: “I think of you every time I drive down East Dominick.”

Handwritten note from Maria Rich

She didn’t need to say more for us to share a moment across the miles. (Also it feels amazing when a reader really gets it.) East Dominick Street in Rome, NY, was the inspiration for Hamilton Street in the Galliano Club thrillers (affiliate link).

I was thrilled to think that the imaginary world of the historical fiction Galliano Club thriller books is alive on the real street.

street sign Rome NY

For those who have never traveled to Upstate New York, the area was a bastion of Italian immigration in the early part of the 20th century. Italian immigrants like my grandfather who was also a deputy sheriff of Oneida County, sweated in the mills and factories that built so much of America’s industrial infrastructure. For decades, 10% of all copper used in American manufacturing came from Rome, much of it processed in the Revere Copper and Brass Rolling Mill on Dominick St.

Related: From New York to Mexico and back again

Copper City sign

100 years later, Italian names still prevail. Don’t get me started about the fantastic Italian food to be found upstate

The InWoodOut blog has done an ACTUAL TOUR through upstate New York via the Galliano Club books! I’ve never read anything like it.

Enjoy the tour here: https://frominwoodout.com/travel-guide-galliano-club-thrillers-rome-new-york/

An 80-year-old deception operation has lessons for today

An 80-year-old deception operation has lessons for today

Eighty years ago, a dead British naval officer named Bill Martin washed up on a Spanish beach. He was a landing craft expert with a fiancée named Pam. They’d gone to the theater in London a few days before his plane crashed in the Atlantic with no survivors.

Based on the letters in a briefcase tethered to his waist, Martin had been carrying secret orders to a British general in North Africa.

The letters wound up in the hands of supposedly neutral Spanish authorities who shared them with representatives of Hitler’s Nazi government. Photographs of the letters were rushed to Berlin.

In this way, Hitler learned that the Allies planned to attack via Greece and the Balkans, with a false feint at Sicily and a minor diversion in Sardinia. Reports from other sources soon trickled in, verifying the Allied plan for Greece.

In response, Hitler fortified forces there rather than Sicily.

Fished in

Bill Martin never existed.

He wasn’t a naval officer. He didn’t have a fiancée named Pam. He never went to the theater in London.

The body that washed ashore in Spain with top secret information was the product of Operation Mincemeat, an intelligence operation designed to trick Germany into diverting military forces away from Sicily before the Allied invasion of the Italian island in July 1943.

The ruse worked.

Thousands of lives were saved when US and UK forces landed on the beaches of the Mediterranean island. Although the remaining German troops fought hard, the Allies successfully took Sicily and drove north up the boot of Italy. The Germans conducted a running retreat but the Italian army collapsed, taking Mussolini and the Pact of Steel between Rome and Berlin with it.

Operation Mincemeat

The body that became Bill Martin was that of Glyndwr Michael, a Welsh vagrant who’d died of accidental phosphorus poisoning. Michael’s body was preserved in a morgue, then dressed in a naval uniform, carried in a special capsule aboard a British submarine, and deposited on the Spanish coast at Huelva.

It was a daring and tricky concept that took months of painstaking research and preparation. The questions the planners faced were daunting.

For example, what if a good Spanish pathologist correctly determined the body had been dead for far longer than the date on the theater ticket stub? What if the operation was leaked and Hitler knew to expect a ruse? What if German spies inside Britain discovered that Bill Martin was a fake? If the letters were labelled as fake because London didn’t seem worried they were missing?

And so on.

How did they carry off such a stunning deception?

Attention to detail

Knowing that the Germans had eyes everywhere, Operation Mincemeat planners created and backstopped Bill Martin’s entire life. From birth certificate to Pam’s engagement ring, every detail had to hold up to the most diligent scrutiny. It was the ultimate CYA effort.

One unsupported fact and everything about Bill Martin, including the letters, would be suspect.

Authoritative voices

The more a lie is repeated by trusted voices, the more believable it becomes.

A key British double agent known as Agent Garbo was highly regarded by Berlin. Planners there thought he was running a network in spies inside England but each spy was a complete fiction; another amazing World War II deception.

His British handler instructed Garbo to inform his German handler that a plane with an important courier had gone down and that London was panicking. Garbo’s authoritative voice created a self-reinforcing echo chamber that “verified” the fake battle plan.

Know your audience

Thanks to ULTRA intercepts of German communications, the British had a significant amount of information on both Spanish and German officials in Spain. In part, this prompted the port of Huelva to be the drop zone, because the German representative there could be counted upon to take prompt action.

Bill Martin’s details could be primed to cater to these officials. For example, the names dropped in the letters had to be recognized in Berlin.

From Spain’s rocky status as a neutral, to the German High Command’s reluctance to challenge Hitler’s war planning, it was essential to understand how different actors would perceive the situation and cater to their motivations.

The lesson for us

Besides being a brilliant World War II deception that saved lives, Operation Mincemeat, is a universal lesson in what makes deception “stick.”

This includes getting the details right, reinforcing the lie with authoritative voices, and catering to the intended recipient’s weaknesses, vanities, vulnerabilities, beliefs and habits.

As in Operation Mincemeat, deception is often intended to make you take action.

Look around. These “best practices” in fomenting and perpetuating deception are still in use today.

This post is the first in my new #deception101 series in which I take a 360 look at deception, from the perspective of being both a mystery author a an ex-CIA intel officer.

Intrigued? Leave a comment!

For more, get OPERATION MINCEMEAT by Ben Macintyre

deception,operation mincemeat

Historic Preservation That Scares Us and Why That’s a Good Thing

Elsewhere in this blog I’ve talked about historic preservation as a means of taking the temperature of a culture. A healthy culture chooses to preserve both its good and bad: we celebrate the good and learn from the bad. The bad is often scary and it might be preferable not to remember these things but they carry unforgettable universal lessons.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria

historic preservation

photo courtesy wikipedia commons

Background: The beautiful Gothic cathedral in the center of Vienna is home to the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Vienna. It anchors the main Stephensplatz with fantastic architecture, stained glass windows, and graceful spires (445 high at its tallest point.) Dedicated to St. Stephen in 1147, the church underwent the usual Middle Ages rebuilding and fires.  After WWII much of it was rebuilt and the cathedral reopened in 1952.

Preservation: Human remains lie under the church in its catacombs. You can tour the catacombs, passing through a narrow passage to see neatly stacked skulls in one huge chamber, femurs in another and so on. The bones are the remains of the eight cemeteries that used to exist around the church. The cemeteries were closed in 1735 due to bubonic plague and the dead were taken from the cemeteries and stored under the church in what must have been a space-saving and gruesome manner. Bodies were buried in the catacombs until 1783, when most burials within Vienna were outlawed. According to Wikipedia, the catacombs hold over 11,000 remains.

Lesson: The power of disease cannot be forgotten. Those bones symbolize the destructive power of disease and the ignorance of how to cure it. This is why today we have the Center for Disease Control.

Dachau concentration camp, outside Munich, Germany

Dauchau memorial

“Never Again” memorial, Dachau. Photo courtesy wikipedia commons

Background: Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp established in Germany, described as a camp for political prisoners. It opened in 1933, 51 days after Hitler came to power. It was in operation for 12 years and recorded 206,206 prisoners and 31,951 deaths–like all the numbers associated with Nazi death camps take these with a grain of salt.  The American forces that liberated the camp were so shocked at what they found–and by local residents’ claim that they knew nothing about the camp—that they made the residents clean it up.

Preservation: A walk through the preserved site is like walking through a cemetery while the spirits call out to you. There is a memorial and a museum. The foundation of the barracks are left. A short walk from the barracks and the parade ground is the crematorium. One oven was sized for children and is a sight I’ll never forget.

Lesson: Man’s inhumanity to man is a sledgehammer blow of a lesson when you see Dachau. Everyone who walks through here understands it at a visceral level. But genocide endures nonetheless.

Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo, Norway

Kon tiki museum photo

The Kon-Tiki raft. Photo courtesy the Kon-Tiki Museum

Background: In 1947, a young Norwegian anthropologist named Thor Heyderdahl set out to prove his theory that ancient pre-Columbian peoples traveled across the Pacific from South America to the Polynesian islands. Using only the materials that would have been available to those ancients, he constructed a balsa raft called the Kon-Tiki. Together with 5 others, he sailed it for 101 days across 4300 miles from Peru to the remote Tuamotu islands, proving his theory that such travel voyages showed that “early man had mastered sailing before the saddle and wheel were invented.”

Preservation: The Kon-Tiki raft is now in a fantastic museum in Oslo, Norway, together with another Heyderdahl raft called Ra. His archives at the Kon-Tiki Museum are part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World registery.

Lesson: This raft and its journey hardly seem to be an example of scary historic preservation until you consider the implications of Heyderdahl’s theory. Ancients travelling the globe in pre-Columbian times, settling and spreading their seeds in far-flung places means that we could all be a lot more related than we think. And that is a scary thought to many.

Arizona Battleship Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor memorial

Arizona Memorial. Photo courtesy wikipedia commons

Background: On 7 December 1941, the day that will live in infamy, Japanese imperial forces attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. Waves of aircraft bombed battleships sitting at anchor, destroying much of the US’s naval power. On the USS Arizona alone, 1,177 crew members died, making it the greatest loss of life on any U.S. warship in American history.

Preservation: In 1961, a floating monument was erected over the sunken USS Arizona. Visitors can peer through the glass floor and see the mid-portion of the sunken battleship. I remember being embarrassed that I’d worn high heels; it seemed indecent that my feet should click against the watery graves of so many men. The 184-foot long Memorial also has an area called the shrine room, where the names of those killed on the Arizona are engraved on the marble wall.

Lesson: The Memorial is a powerful reminder of the havoc wreaked by war. It cautions us not to forget those who sacrifice.

Pompeii, near Naples, Italy

Pompeii in sun

Ruins at Pompeii. Photo courtesy wikipedia commons

Background: In 79 AD, the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed and buried under 13-20 feet of ash and lava when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted. It is hard to know how many people died that day but Pompeii was thought to have been a large and thriving agricultural town. The eruption, which lasted 12 hours, ironically occurred the day after the feast day of the Roman god of volcanoes.

Preservation: The ruins of Pompeii were discovered in 1748. One of the archaeologists supervising the ash removal devised a way to inject plaster into the bodies found, preserving their death agonies as they were incinerated or died from smoke inhalation. As I walked around the large site in Italy’s August heat, marveling at the amphitheaters and well-constructed homes, it was easy to think of hot ash raining down and to realize how much had been lost.

Lesson: Nature does what it will and we must respect and adapt to it. As the climate change debate goes on and we deal with unexpected droughts, tornados or snow in places that ordinarily don’t see these weather phenomena, perhaps it is a good time to consider that the people of Pompeii probably though they had the god of volcanoes well in hand.

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historic preservation


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


historic preservation

Author Carmen Amato

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