LONDON -- Adolf Hitler's chief spymaster supplied Britain's MI6 counter-intelligence with top-secret information during World War II, including the Barbarossa plan to invade Russia, according to excerpts Sunday from a book by an intelligence expert.
Nigel West said the spymaster, German Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, was the reason why British intelligence succeeded in such crucial World War II battles as the landings in Sicily, the Anzio beachhead in Italy and most crucially, Normandy.
In his book, 'MI6, British Secret Intelligence Operations 1909-45,' West reveals that Canaris, head of Nazi Germany's military intelligence, passed top-secret information to MI6 through a Polish woman, Halina Szymanska, in hopes of bringing about the fall of Hitler.
Canaris' contacts with Britain have been hinted at since 1944 when he was disgraced and strangled with a piano wire by the Nazis for his part in the bomb plot against Hitler, but MI6 and Mrs. Szymanska kept their silence for the past 40 years.
West said senior intelligence men had privately confirmed the Canaris connection and Mrs. Syzmanska, now 78 and living in a small North Carolina town, concurred with West's story in an interview with London's Mail on Sunday newspaper. The Mail and the Sunday Times are both running excerpts from the book.
'I did not want to be a Polish Mata Hari. I did what I did because it seemed right,' said Mrs. Syzmanska, who risked death by traveling in and out of occupied Europe during the war to meet Canaris. The cover for her travels was to visit the clothes designer Pierre Balmain.
Most of Canaris' information was political, but West said that in the autumn of 1940 he disclosed Hitler's intentions to invade Russia the following year, the famed Barbarossa plan.
Unfortunately, MI6 did not believe the information.
West's book, to be published Oct. 27, is his fifth on the intelligence services since 1980. His information is often so precise many people believe he is simply the unofficial historian of the secret services.
Another revelation in West's new book is that Sir Alexander Korda, the legendary father-figure of the British film industry, worked closely throughout his career for MI6, allowing his film company to be used as a cover for British spies traveling abroad.
The Hungarian-born Korda, who made the classic spy film 'The Third Man', received his knighthood partly in recognition of his discreet commitment to MI6, West said. Korda, who died in 1956, never spoke of his links.
The Korda revelation comes at an awkward moment for MI6 because it highlights the way British intelligence uses companies as cover.
Last week, reports emerged that MI6 had bungled an attempt to recruit a couple to spy for the British in Northern Ireland. The couple had won a week's holiday to Spain, where they were propositioned by MI6 officers with large sums of money to spy.
The London-based company from which they won the trip, Casuro, turned out to be bogus but was traced back to an MI6 address.