Before World War II began, a German immigrant to America was visiting his family in the country. William Sebold was the perfect target for the Abwehr, Hitler’s secret intelligence service, or so they thought.
The Abwehr asked him to be a spy for the Third Reich and report to them about United States military operations. To ensure his cooperation, the Abwehr threatened his family. However, Sebold loved America and wasn’t going to give in to the Abwehr’s demands.
Sebold fought in World War I for the German Army, where he was an engineer. After the war he came to the United States, became a citizen and worked as an aircraft engineer. But he had family living in Germany. When he went to visit his mother, he was immediately approached by the Gestapo and told he would be approached by intelligence.
“Dr. Ritter” approached Sebold, telling him the Germans had a mission for him. They sent him to a seven-week training and gave him the code name “Tramp” and as Harry Sawyer.
They told him to go back to America and someone who would tell him how to get messages to German intelligence. Instead, he went to the American Consul General and told them all the details and offered his help in taking them down. He became a double agent on February 8, 1940.
With the help of the FBI, he got a Times Square office as Harry Sawyer, who was a diesel engineer. Meetings would take place in the office between the German spies in the U.S. and Sebold.
His very first meeting was with the head of the spy ring, Fritz Duquesne. Duquesne’s plans were to sabotage U.S. factories and their operations, and all the information, plans, and payments were handled at Sebold’s office with the FBI watching the entire time.
They watched for 16 months and had Sebold give the Germans useless information. By June 1941, the FBI had arrested 33 agents-19 were accused spies pled guilty, and the 14 were found guilty at trial.
Sebold was nowhere to be found after it was all over, likely due to witness protection. But he played a key role in destroying the German’s American spy network.