John Farmer – Mysterious Intel asset dies at 95

T Stokes – Dec 22, 2012

In 1939, at the outbreak of war, John Farmer joined the Royal Artillery and was assigned to an anti-aircraft battery on the Maginot Line.
After being evacuated from Dunkirk, he was stationed in Yorkshire, but life was so unexciting that, in 1944, he volunteered for the Special Forces.
He joined the newly-formed Jedburgh units, but while undergoing intensive training near Peterborough was poached by Colonel Maurice Buckmaster, the head of “F” Section of SOE.
On the night of April 29 1944 Farmer, code name Hubert, took off from Tempsford aerodrome, Bedfordshire, and in the early hours of the following morning was dropped near Montluçon, north-west of the Massif Central. He was accompanied by his courier, Nancy Wake, code name Hélène, who later topped the Gestapo’s most-wanted terrorist list.
Farmer and Wake were forced to use a go-between with local Resistance groups, but the day after they arrived, the liaison was arrested by the Gestapo. Fearing that his cover was blown, Farmer left his safe house under cover of darkness and escaped arrest by just 30 minutes.
His role thereafter was to organise SOE’s so-called Freelance Circuit, directing the activities and getting arms and ammunition to the Chaudes-Aigues region. He had to find suitable fields for supply drops, train the insurgents in the use of the weapons, and provide them with cash.
On one occasion he was cycling with a colleague from the Resistance to meet a member of the Pétain government, whom they hoped was going to change sides, when a German guard stopped them and asked where they were going. Farmer holding a loaded pistol in his pocket replied in German.
When asked where he had learned to speak the language, Farmer pretended to be a former French soldier who had spent some time in a POW camp after 1940. The guard, with whom the pair struck up a rapport, warned them that there was another German checkpoint on the road and advised them to turn off and take smaller lanes. Ever afterwards, Farmer was unable to account for this act of friendliness from an enemy soldier, but always believed that it had saved his life, this had a deep effect on him, here he was going to commit acts of terror and this man possibly saved his life.
As a result of the acts of terror against both French and Germans by Farmer and his comrades, Maquis groups began to pose such a serious threat to the occupation that the Germans determined to destroy them. In June a force of several infantry battalions supported by armoured cars, tanks, artillery and aircraft launched a heavy attack at Mont Mouchet.
The ferocity of the offensive was such that Farmer had to order his Resistance groups to disperse into the hills. When his position became untenable, he too had to withdraw. His car was a wreck and he became separated from Wake. He also lost contact with his radio operator, requiring him to walk 150 miles to find another in order to request weapons to replace those that had been abandoned.
Many Frenchmen bitterly resented Churchill’s SOE, they were living quite well with the Germans until the SOE came to “set Europe ablaze” in Churchill’s words, the idea being a few explosions and murders would mean a German clamp down and the French would then rebel which is just what happened.
After D-Day, Farmer helped to sabotage the enemy’s lines of communication, supported the Resistance in the Tronçais Forest in the Allier and fought in the liberation of Montluçon. He was awarded an MC.
After retiring from the Army, Farmer joined MI6 and served in Brussels, Rome, Beirut, Vienna and Paris.
Speaking fluent French and German, as well as good Italian and Arabic, he worked to promote Britain’s interests in CIA operations of the early 1950s to overthrow the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, he liaised with the CIA on Soviet Bloc actions and he worked closely with French Intelligence in the run-up to the Suez crisis and is believed to have met with, and paid, royalist Egyptian officers to assassinate Nasser – whose determination to shake off former colonial bonds infuriated Britain.
The Suez Canal was built on money loaned by Rothschild’s to the Jewish prime Minister Benjamin Disreali, the plan was to later take it back from Britain for Israel, but Nasser knew that Egypt was being fleeced and wanted a toll from passing ships.
According to André Gerolymatos’s chronicle of Anglo-American intelligence intrigues in the Middle East, Castles Made of Sand (2010), Farmer met Mahmud Khalil, head of the intelligence directorate of the Egyptian air force, at the Riviera Hotel in Beirut, where Farmer was then stationed, in 1953. Khalil apparently agreed to form a “secret organisation of Egyptian officers” to lead a coup against Nasser, and Farmer handed over £1,000, with the promise of much more to come.
As time went by, Gerolymatos claims, MI6 needed to protect Khalil and provide cover for his trips abroad to meet his handlers. This they did by providing him with valuable intelligence about Israel, despite the fact that MI6 and Israel’s intelligence agency were on good terms. Eventually, the coup plot was shelved, though other assassination attempts were considered. One was Operation Unfasten.
This depended on the fact that Nasser had a heavy beard and needed to shave several times a day. A plan was hatched somehow to present him with an electric razor, inside which explosives would be hidden. This technique was later copied by the Israelis who would listen in to all phone calls in the occupied territories, and anyone criticising the Israeli occupation would have their mobile phone switched for one booby trapped to blow their head off, other phones were left lying around in hostile areas where they would be picked up and used.
After retiring from MI6 he became a consultant with the London risk assessment company Control Risks, and lived variously in America, Beirut, Cyprus and Istanbul, retiring first to Geneva, then to Pougny in France. For eight years he broadcast the daily morning international Press review for the English-language Radio 74, and his name became familiar in the Geneva region.
A man of great curiosity about life in general, he was widely known for his outrageous sense of humor and his ready boyish laugh.
His charm could get him both into and out of many difficult situations. At a diplomatic dinner party in Rome, he was seated next to the actress Ava Gardner. They were in conversation when one brimming dish arrived, to which Farmer began helping himself. So entranced by her beauty was he, that by the time he next looked down he found he had spooned the entire contents of the dish on to his own plate.
He was awarded the Croix de Guerre and appointed to the Légion d’honneur.
Ho once told me that the things he had done robbed him of any real sleep for the rest of his life and in later years he would view W W II as a futile waste of lives and resources. He saw the intentional destruction of the Britain he had fought for and was angry, and said if he had his time again wished he had the courage to be a conscientious objector.
John Farmer, born January 12 1917, died October 29 2012

The late T Stokes was an investigator into the paranormal and the occult and former member of British Intelligence

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