Sub Hunter: Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway's motives for trying his hand at spying were simple enough. Espionage, writes Carlos Baker in Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, stirred his sense of "patriotism, pleasure in secret planning, and a love for commanding `inside' operations, especially if they involved firearms . . . ."
And he was bored. Living in a villa near Havana after Pearl Harbor, Hemingway could find no wartime challenges to occupy his writerly skills. So he volunteered to run a counterintelligence group to weed fascists out of the Spanish refugees then pouring into Cuba. He lied to get the job, telling State Department officials he had set up a similar network in Madrid, and recruited his drinking buddies--from Spanish noblemen to waiters at his favorite bar. "The organization was somewhat loose," writes Baker, "held together by the force of Ernest's personality and liberal infusions of wine, spirits, and pesos."
A few weeks into the operation, Hemingway was struck again by the martial urge. After clearing it with the State Department, he outfitted his 38-foot fishing boat for antisub operations. With a brace of .50-caliber machine guns and a handful of grenades and homemade bombs, Hemingway went on the prowl for German submarines. His wife thought his patrols were an excuse to booze in the sun. But they served a real purpose: German submarines in early 1942 were sinking dozens of ships a month in the Florida Straits, and civilian spotters were widely used by the Navy to track them.
Eventually, though, it became clear that neither Hemingway's spy network nor his sub patrols had produced much in the way of intelligence. He quit the spy business after only a year, insisting the job needed "a real pro." His efforts had an impact, though. After Hemingway, amateurs were no longer used in important intelligence operations. -Justin Ewers
This story appears in the January 27, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.