A German naval officer who escaped from internment in Chile during World War II, Canaris was appointed
chief of the Abwehr in January 1935. He proved an assiduous spymaster, and under his supervision extensive networks were developed in Great Britain and the United States and representatives were posted under diplomatic cover to most of the capitals of Europe. His organization grew very large, adopted the Brandenburger Grenadier regiment as a military adjunct, and trained saboteurs to disrupt industry in the United States. Although personally an anti-Nazi, Canaris employed many zealous Nazis, but some of those closest to him were to be implicated in the 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
Prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Canaris disclosed details of the plan to his Polish mistress, Halina Szymanska, whom he knew to be in touch with Polish, and presumably therefore British, intelligence officers. Canaris was dismissed following the defection of Erich Vermehren and was arrested in the aftermath of the 20 July plot. He is believed to have been hanged at Flossenberg concentration camp in February 1945. After his death, rumors abounded about the extent of his contact with the Allies, but no cred-
ible evidence has emerged to support assertions that he held a wartime meeting with the British Secret Intelligence Service chief Stewart Menzies in Spain. In February 1940 GRU defector Walter Krivitsky claimed to MI5 that Canaris has been on the Soviet payroll before the war, but again the allegation is unsubstantiated.