William Eddy, the American missionary recruited as a spy in Tangier

Colonel William Eddy was an Arabic-speaking missionary, who studied the Quran and knew much about the Muslim world. During World War II, he was recruited by the United States to lead covert operations in Tangier.

The North African landing. / Ph. DR
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During World War II, the United States knew that «missionaries make great spies» and William Alfred Eddy was the fitting profile at a time when Germans showed interest in North Africa. The Sidon-native who served as a Marine in World War I was one of the agents recruited by the Americans to identify spies in the city of Tangier.

Born in Lebanon, Eddy was a fluent Arabic-speaker, a literary student and a professor of English. His parents were American Presbyterian missionaries who lived in the Middle East. After the war, he «became a missionary» just like his parents, «sharing the Christian gospel with students in the Muslim world», The Time wrote, Tuesday, in an article dedicated to the US recruited missionaries.

But by the 1940s, the missionary decided to join the ranks of Americans in the war against the Nazis. He was recruited to «help launch the United States’ first foreign intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)» and to fulfill other «suspicious» missions in Morocco.

A missionary and a spy in Tangier

In fact, the decorated veteran was appointed in December 1941 as «naval attaché in Tangier», wrote Andrew Bouchanan in his book «American Grand Strategy in the Mediterranean during World War II», (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

But Eddy’s real mission had little to do with the title he bore. In Morocco, «Eddy’s real assignment (…) was to coordinate covert operations throughout the Maghreb».

According to Time, Eddy was also recruited to «put his knowledge of the Quran, years of practice of speaking Arabic and partnerships with Muslim leaders to good use preparing the way for Operation Torch», also known as the American landing in Casablanca.

In Tangier, Eddy was involved in «car bombings, sabotage, assassinations and intimidations», wrote AramcoExpats. In the city, the former colonel also rubbed shoulders with spies and Axis agents that he hated and plotted against.

He was a fierce recruit, one that «plotted to kill all members of the German and Italian Armistice Commission in Morocco and in Algeria at the moment the landing takes place», The Time reports.

Eddy's own battled against the Germans had even pushed him once to inform the OSS head once that he is «targeting dozens of people» and that he «ordered the executions of ‘all known agents of German and Italian nationality’».

While heading OSS operations in North Africa, Eddy «plunged eagerly into a Casablanca-esque (referring to Casablanca, the 1940s movie) world of espionage, double-cross, and sexual intrigue freamed by the fantasies of American Orientalism», wrote Bouchanan. And to execute his plans, the veteran recruited French hitmen, the Time added.

Missionaries and spies

And just like fellow missionaries recruited to serve as spies, Eddy looked for ways to justify his deeds. In his letters to his wife and family he once wrote that he was «praying» that «all of us come through to better days when mercy and charity again return to the earth».

To the Time, Eddy’s plan was as follows «to honor the death and resurrection of his Lord and Savior, no movies, no fleshly wickedness and not much booze (...) And in the meantime, covertly arrange for the murders of German, Japanese and Italian agents».

But Eddy knew that being a missionary contradicted the ins and outs of his mission in North Africa. In one of his letters, he admitted that «[he] deserves to go to hell when [he] dies».

«It is still an open question, whether an operator in OSS or in CIA can ever again become a wholly honorable man», he wrote once.

After his Morocco stay was wrapped up, he moved on for other missions before returning to Lebanon where he spent his last days.

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