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  • Helen Fry

British Intelligence Bugging conversations in WWII


This week has seen much debate and controversy over the bugging of conversations (emails, texts, etc) and outbursts about countries bugging each other. The spying game is, in the words of one historian, the second oldest profession. So what’s new? Just the sophisticated mode of technology and the fact that some of it can even be done from space.


During WW2 British intelligence rigged 3 stately homes with the latest bugging devices and held enemy prisoners there. The special unit was MI19 and used ‘secret listeners’ to monitor and record German prisoners’ conversations.


One location became the focus this week of a major article in the Radio Times (pages 25-6). Latimer House in Buckinghamshire was one of those sites. Fritz Lustig, one of only three surviving secret listeners, was taken back to see the cells. His son, journalist Robin Lustig, wrote a moving and powerful feature about his father’s reactions to seeing the original cells which are not open to the public for reasons of health & safety.


From this site a mass of intelligence was gained that enabled the Allies to win the war against Hitler. It included the discovery of the V1 and V2 development site where Hitler was experimenting with his “secret weapon”. The devastation caused by the ‘Doodlebug’ and the V2 is still within living memory. These intelligence units, like the one at Latimer House, gained so much information about the enemy that it shortened the war alongside Bletchley Park.