Monday, July 18, 2016

The Man with the Butterfly Net was a Spy... and then founded the Boy Scouts

Just a few years into his military service, Robert Baden-Powell had served in South Africa and was transferred to Malta, where he began his spy career as an intelligence officer for the director of military intelligence. One of his favorite disguises was that of an entomologist who studied butterflies, a cover that allowed him to move around freely without looking suspicious. He revealed his scientific subterfuge in his book "My Adventures as a Spy."

Click to enlarge.
"Carrying this book and a colour-box and a butterfly net in my hand, I was above all suspicion to anyone who met me on the lonely mountain side, even in the neighbourhood of the forts," Baden-Powell wrote. And not only did he disguise himself as a butterfly collector; he hid secret information about those forts, as well as other military secrets in drawings of insects and other natural ephemera, which you can see scattered throughout this post.

In Baden-Powell's illustrations, natural patterns are used to transmit messages and information within a drawing; a leaf's pattern could reveal the contours of an area to be invaded, as above. Once a recipient knew how to read the illustrations, it was possible to convey the information easily, without much translation or complex code-breaking needed. more