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GARBO: The Man You Never Knew That Saved The Second Front in WWII

Spaniard Juan Pujol Garcia was the greatest Allied double-agent of the Second World War. Despite his historical low profile, Pujol was the Allies most important secret weapon on D-Day.

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Today’s special Tuesday edition of Sunday Brunch continues with The Good News Review’s campaign to introduce and honor some of the most important and lesser known hero’s of World War II. In accordance with the upcoming 72nd anniversary of D-Day, TGNR looks into the Allied Spaniard double-agent Juan Pujol Garcia, better known as agent GARBO; the man who saved D-Day and the Second Front without firing a single shot.

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It has been often debated if certain individuals are born out of time, those who’s personalities and values do not befit the generation that befell them. It is also pondered if some people are genuinely born to achieve a specifically predestined greater purpose. In the case of Juan Pujol Garcia, it is plausible to conclude he may have been both.

Juan Pujol Garcia is a name many are likely unfamiliar with, and for many years that exceptional anonymity was by design. Despite his historical low-profile, Juan Pujol Garcia was nothing less than the greatest Allied double-agent of the Second World War. The German Abwehr, military intelligence, knew him by the code-name ARABEL. Yet Pujol is best known by his British domestic counter-intelligence service, MI5, code-name GARBO.

Pujol’s role was a major factor in the success of D-Day, and the brutal combat that followed. He saved countless lives on what was called the “Second Front” in France, all without ever firing a single shot. 

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Juan Pujol Garcia: Catalonia’s Native Son

Juan Pujol Garcia was born on February 14th, 1912 in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. As a Spaniard born in the early 20th Century, Pujol would share many common hardships of his fellow countryman during a period of immense social upheaval, and civil war.

Pujol was fortunate, and born into an upper-middle class family. Their wealth was the product of his father’s successful ownership of a textiles factory. Yet in reality, it was not material wealth that was Juan Pujol’s greatest inheritance.

Pujol strongly embraced the idealized vision of life and humanity extolled by his father throughout his childhood. Family, charity, decency, liberty, and critical thought; these were the greatest lessons extolled to the young Juan Pujol by his father.

These established virtues, coupled with his father’s dutiful rearing, and Pujol’s overwhelming imagination provided Pujol with a stern moral compass that dictated his actions throughout his life. He would need them.

The Spanish Civil War: A Personal Tempest

Juan Pujol Garcia, later agent GARBO, circa 1931National Archive of Spain

Juan Pujol Garcia’s official Spanish Army photo

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In 1936 at age 24, Juan Pujol found himself a midst the Spanish Civil War: the horrific three-year struggle between the government of Republican Spain, and the upstart Spanish Nationalist’s lead by General Francisco Franco.

It was a wild change for the young Pujol. Pujol had previously undertook a handful of unsuccessful professional endeavors that included chicken farming and cinema management. Pujol had abandoned his formal education following a row with an instructor.

Pujol had completed compulsory military service in 1931 as a member of the cavalry. The experience lead him to the conclusion that he had no personal place within the ranks of a military unit. Further in 1936, his then late father’s factory had been appropriated by its workers, an action that was supported by the ruling Republican Spanish government.

Despite his wholesale resentment for the Republicans, Pujol was recalled for military service. What followed was an odyssey of events that saw Pujol initially evade the Republican mobilization, and serve one-week of imprisonment by the Republicans until his girl friends family provided fraudulent ID papers showing him too old to mandatorily serve.

Following his release, Pujol embarked for a short time managing a pig farm whose sole consumer was the Republican state. Pujol was so soured by the forced centrally planned war economy that he volunteered for infantry service in the Republican army, enacting a plan to defect to the Nationalist lines.

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After a successful half-baked and nearly fatal defection; Pujol faced additional imprisonment by the Nationalist faction after openly expressing sympathy for the former Spanish monarchy.

The whirlwind that Pujol was swept away by cultivated a deep seeded personal resentment for both Communism and Fascism – seeing little difference for the totalitarian twins. His experience during those three years would change not just Pujol, but the fate of Europe.

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Europe Goes to War, Again

On September 1st, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Three days later the governments of England and France declared war on Germany in defense of Poland. The Second World War in Europe had begun.

Throughout the European conflict, the victorious Spanish Nationalist government remained officially, yet realistically dubious neutrality. Spain under Franco managed to maintain non-belligerency, but had clear Fascist sympathies. Franco indebted to Nazi Germany and Facist Italy for their military support during the civil war that propelled them to power.

The official neutrality of Spain made Juan Pujol himself a neutral non-competent. However it was an official designation Pujol never recognized.

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Given Pujol’s experiences in the Spanish civil-war and unwavering belief in personal liberty, he declared a one man war against Adolf Hitler. Pujol recognized Hitler for what he was: the greatest threat humankind had ever faced. Though what was Pujol to do? He faced one considerable setback, Pujol had no applicable skills – short of his prodigious imagination – that he could offer in service to the Allied powers.

As the course of war swept further across the great powers of Europe, Pujol and his wife Araceli began their crusade against Nazism. Together they began making contact with the British and eventually American embassy’s in Madrid, and formally offering Pujol’s services as a spy to combat the Axis powers.

Pujol and Araceli made multiple approaches to gain the interest of the Allied powers, but each time they were shewed off. Initially he could offer no skill of clear value to them. Further as a rule of good intelligence, one does not accept cold offers for espionage from individuals fresh off the street.

Despite Pujol’s initial rejections, he conceived a way to increase his potential value: Pujol would make contact with the German embassy in Madrid, and offer to spy for them.

Pujol went to school on Hitler and Nazism, managing to convince his future Abwehr handler, Abwehr Major Karl-Erich Kuhlental, that he was a dedicated fascist official, with passport access to Great Britain and British secret documents.

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Pujol’s offer was eventually, after much persistence, accepted hook, line, and sinker. Pujol was in “the game,” and was subsequently trained in the rudimentary arts of espionage. Skills such as secret ink use, and ciphering coded messages. He was subsequently assigned to spy in Great Britain.

The Abwehr gave Pujol the official codename “ALARIC ARABEL,” the namesake stemming from Alaric I the Roman trained Goth warrior, future first king of the Visigoths, whose victories proved pivotal to precipitate the fall of the Roman Empire.

Pujol’s plan was not without flaw’s or incredible danger. Pujol nor Araceli spoke any English, had never traveled to England, and only had a passport that would get them both as far as Portugal. Despite the dangers and difficulties, it was the beginning Pujol desired.

Allied WW2 Propaganda Cartoon, warning on Axis spiesU.S. National Archives

Allied propaganda cartoon poster warning against Axis espionage

Pujol and his wife secretly moved to Lisbon, despite being assigned to England. While in Lisbon, Pujol generated absolutely fraudulent reports about war-time England. Information that was cultivated from open resources found in a Lisbon public library, such as an ABC railway guides and news reel’s.

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Pujol then transmitted his reports via a “secret courier” to Madrid. Pujol’s reports usually constituted a very unusual but distinct product created almost entirely from Pujol’s unmatched imagination.

To enhance his subterfuge, Pujol created a network of fictitious recruited sympathetic agents and sub-agents located throughout Britain. Agent character’s including deserting Greek merchant sailors, a businessman living in the key British port of Liverpool, contacts within the Welsh “Aryan Brotherhood,” and even a “dowdy” secretary employed in the British War Office with whom he carried a torrid affair.

His handler Kuhlental, and subsequently the German High Command itself, astonishingly appeared to believe every word he wrote.

In truth, many of Pujol’s fictional reports on England had little substance regarding valuable intelligence. Yet he maintained credibility by incorporating lengthy flowery Nazi diatribes. Most of which were espousing the eventual victory of Hitler’s proclaimed 1,000 year Reich, and the defeat of Soviet Bolshevism. 

Pujol’s credibility rose immeasurably among the brain trust of the Nazi war machine. Yet despite that incredible accomplishment, the British still refused Pujol’s offers of assistance, then fearing he may be a German double-agent himself.

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The British did not consider the genuine nature of Pujol’s proposal until he generated a report to his German handler about a major fictional convoy headed from Liverpool to relieve the all important embattled isle of Malta.

Based on Pujol’s report alone, Germany dispatched a considerable Luftwaffe – German Air Force – contingent to search for the non existent convoy. Through Britain’s famous code breaking efforts, ULTRA at Bletchley Park, England intercepted both Pujol’s dummy report, and Germany’s serious response.

MI-5 thought they had missed a German agent operating in Britain. If so it would have represented a true aberration, as MI-5 had been wholly successful capturing every German agent assigned to the UK up to that point.

Through Britain’s Secret-Intelligence Services (SIS), the British identified the source as none other than the Spaniard who had approached them time and again since the war began. Once identified, MI-5 extracted Pujol and his family secretly to England via Gibraltar in early 1942.

GARBO’s network of fictional agents and sub agents Wikicommons

Pujol’s network of fictional recruited agents and subagents “operating” in the UK

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A Star is Born

Upon arrival in Britain, Pujol underwent extensive debriefing by the British SIS. With Pujol’s singular gift for imagination relating to subterfuge, and MI-5’s confidence in his unconditional loyalty to the Allied cause, Pujol was made a double-agent. It was then that he received his now famous nom de guerre, the code-name agent “GARBO.”

Pujol’s code-name was bestowed in salute to the timeless talent of actress Gretta Garbo. In the personal estimation of Colonel Thomas Argyll Robinson, MI-5’s head of the XX (Double Cross) program, Pujol was the greatest actor in the world.

“Tangle within tangle, plot and counter-plot, ruse and treachery, cross and double-cross, true agent, false agent, double agent, gold and steel, the bomb, the dagger and the firing party, were interwoven in many a texture so intricate as to be incredible, and yet true.” – Sir Winston Churchill reflecting on British wartime clandestine activities

True Agent to Double Agent: When Counter-Intelligence Is more valuable than bloodletting – Double Cross

From the outbreak of war in 1939, MI-5 began a sweeping undertaking to identify and apprehend every agent sent by Nazi Germany to the British Isles. Once apprehended, the captive agents were evaluated for their suitability in the “Double-Cross” system (XX), a program designed to “turn” captured German agents and use them as double-agents to England’s advantage. Throughout the course of the war, Britain’s Double-Cross system was a smashing success, and Pujol was to become their star player. His stage was to set the table in Normandy. 

Greta Garbo, the namesake for Pujol’s MI-5 codename GARBOPublic Domain

Legendary Greta Garbo, Pujol’s codename sake

 

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“The Second Front”

Pictured left to right, Josef Stalin, President Franklin D. Roosevelt & Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill. “The Big Three” at the Tehran Conference of November 1943.U.S. National WWII Museum

“The Big Three” at the Tehran Conference in November 1943, where the western allies commitment for a “second front” (D-Day) was established. Pictured from left to right: J. Stalin, F.D. Roosevelt, W. Churchill

In the Second World War there was one major strategic issue that trumped all others between the members of the most successful shotgun marriage/military coalition in history: the continued demand by the Soviet Union that the United States and British create a “second front” against Germany in Western Europe. Such an invasion, were it ever to succeed, would be a mammoth amphibious assault on the northern coast of France hitherto unparalleled in human history. This invasion would forever become known as D-Day.

Commencing with the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany in June 1941, the Soviets had continually pressed their western allies to create a new and massive theater of war opposite the savage combat raging along the Eastern Front. By doing so it would serve to alleviate stress on their embattled nation, forcing Germany to strategically redeploy its forces to parry the assault from the English Channel.

In late 1942 at that stage of the war, any Allied return to northwest Europe was still no less than 18 months away. Yet to Allied leaders at that time, the idea that in a year and half time they would successfully return to France bordered on insane ramblings. Whatever the reality of the second-front’s noxious political ramifications, that ship was a long way from sailing. 

Yet at that time it was decided by the Allied intelligence braintrust that be, all of their human intelligence assets acquired by MI-5’s Double-Cross system would be used to aid the Allied invasion of France.

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What is known today as Operation OVERLORD, D-Day, had several significant challenges:

1.) Given the German theory regarding the defense of the European continent, the French coast along the English Channel was a hellscape of fortification. Nazi propaganda referred to the collection of concrete bunkers, pill boxes, landing obstacles, and tactically advantageous placed ordinance as “The Atlantic Wall.”

Though clearly stronger in some sectors believed likelier invasion targets than others, the Atlantic Wall was more or less a series of continuous coastal fortifications. These fortifications ran from above the Arctic Circle in Nazi occupied Norway, along the coastal length of the Arctic and North Seas, fully through the English Channel, and culminating at the Spanish frontier. The vaunted defensive structure was 1,670 miles long.

A colorized map of the German “Atlantic Wall” in occupied Europe 1940 - 1944Wikicommons

Map of the Atlantic Wall, colored in green

2.) One need not the worst set of binocular’s to recognize that the British Empire, the United States, and Canada were amassing an incredible collection of military personnel and equipment for the expected eventual cross-channel invasion originating from Southern England.

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Between 1942 and 1944, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland became a virtual fortress of military might. Nearly 1.5 million US Army soldiers alone were stationed in the British Isles prior to the invasion of France.

3.) With the clear eventuality of the cross-channel invasion, how would Allied military planners choose landing sights that would be both successful, and also incur the fewest casualties?

To address these three main strategic obstacles, the western Allies decided that if one cannot hide a massive military force preparing to invade, one must lead the enemy to believe the assault would occur in a particular location, yet happen in another.

As such, two suitable locations were the leading candidates; the Pas-de-Calais and the Normandy coast.

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The Pas-de-Calais was a well developed French port, perfectly designed to handle the logistical demands of supply, combat deployments, and also being conveniently located at the shortest distance across the English Channel, 20 miles, for an attack originating in Dover.

The second contender was the Normandy coast situated on the Bay of the Seine, between Cherbourg and Le Havre. It was a comparatively longer trip across the channel, though enjoyed more tactically  favorable landing beaches. Further, two major French ports were located at the aforementioned Cherbourg and Le Harve.

It was decided that Normandy and not the Pas-de-Calais would be the location of choice. Yet the Allies had to convince Hitler and the German High Command that the main blow would ultimately fall at Calais.

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Operation OVERLORD (D-Day) invasion map, indicating dummy landing site at Pas-de-Calais, and the real site in NormandyOriginal Image U.S. Dept of War, 1944

Operation OVERLORD invasion map. Indicating the ruse landing sight in Calais seen in red, and intended Normandy landing beaches in blue

 

“A truth so precious it must be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” – Winston Churchill

With the assets accumulated by MI-5, all of the agents in the Double-Cross system were carefully used to orchestrate a massive strategic deception by generating the ruse that the main invasion force would attack at Pas-de-Calais.

In practice MI-5 used their double-agents to transmit a varied melange of carefully calculated faulty intelligence to the Abwehr. Information often consisting of half truths, uselessly accurate details, with various bald face lies, and occasional downright rubbish.  

In doing so, MI-5 was careful not to clearly outline the ruse invasion destination. Instead by virtue of a more subtle and nuanced approach, MI-5 identified overall German beliefs regarding Allied invasion prospects. In doing so, the Allies gently coaxed German strategic thinking by manipulating their confirmation bias. Therefore over enough time, they successfully reinforced the general Axis consensus that the invasion of France would originate in Calais.

Over time Pujol, then GARBO, further reinforced his profile as the most trusted Axis agent in England. Agent GARBO was assigned the Anglo-Spanish MI-5 case officer Tommy Harris, who he would work with to develop the existing fictitious spy network, thereby keeping German intelligence on the back foot. Pujol and Harris in their collaboration managed to convince German intelligence of two non-existent Allied armies.

The first such force was located in eastern Scotland, and was reportedly tasked to invade and liberate Nazi-occupied Norway. The second fictitious force was the First United States Army Group (FUSAG), that was stationed in the southeast of England at Kent, set to invade Pas-de-Calais.

Agent GARBO’s reports were reinforced by observable tangible evidence of their presence. The Allies generated dummy radio traffic, smoke from cooking stoves, as well as displaying dummy inflatable equipment to be viewed by the beleaguered Luftwaffe, who could only perform high altitude reconnaissance of little accuracy.

Even legendary U.S.Army General George S. Patton was announced in command of the fictitious FUSAG, because the Germans reverence for Patton lead them to believe he would assert the invasion spearhead. If that all were not enough, the fictitious force had a highly publicized visit by King George VI. 

The complex picture painted by the Allies for the Axis’ benefit managed to convince Hitler to redeploy forces to reinforce both the Norwegian coast, and the Pas-de-Calais. In doing so, it reduced the forces available to defend Normandy.

June 6th, 1944

D Day Landing CraftUS National WWII Museum

View from Allied landing craft at Omaha Beach

On the eve of the Allied invasion of Normandy, agent GARBO and Harris were authorized by MI-5 to send a warning to Germany of the forces approaching the Normandy coast. The message was designed to be transmitted early enough to maintain Pujol’s credibility, yet too late for the German’s to properly redeploy their forces. With the best of fate on the dynamic duos side, the German radio officer had turned off their set for the night when the warning was originally transmitted. Therefore the warning was not received until 8AM that morning, far too late. 

General Eisenhower in overall command of OVERLORD believed for the invasion to ultimately succeed, the Allies required 48 hours after landing without experiencing a significant German counter-attack.

Based on agent GARBO’s clear warning to Germany that the Allied invasion of Normandy was a diversionary measure, and that the major offensive would come later from the fictitious FUSAG stationed in southeast England, Germany never redeployed their massive defensive build up in Calais.

Eisenhower would not simply receive the 48 hours he required post-invasion, Pujol’s efforts would keep German reinforcements in Calais for nearly two months, awaiting an invasion that would never come by armies that never existed.

When German intelligence eventually inquired why the attack at Calais never commenced, Pujol responded by saying that it never became necessary as the diversionary attack in Normandy had been so successful.

(Article Continues Below…)

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Agent GARBO: The Vanishing Act

Juan Pujol Garcia played a major role in the grand D-Day deception, saving countless lives on both sides of the line, helping best to ensure the invasions success. For his effort, Pujol holds a bizarre yet fascinating distinction, as he was decorated by both the Allies and the Axis.

Given that agent GARBO’s duplicity was never exposed, he was awarded both the Iron Cross First-Class by Adolf Hitler, and the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by England, each in secret. Pujol completely duped his Nazi handlers, and they would never uncover his deception.

To guarantee Pujol’s personal safety from possible future Nazi retribution post-war, MI-5 spread the rumor that Pujol had died in Angola from Malaria in 1949. Following the war, Pujol left his wife and children and began a new life in Caracas, Venezuela.

In Venezuela, Pujol would live in obscurity until he was identified by acclaimed author and British espionage historian Nigel West in 1984, following an extensive search. Pujol’s legendary role and identity would not be revealed to the world until he was invited to the Normandy coast for the ceremony honoring the 40th anniversary of D-Day.

The Nazi Germany Iron-Cross first class medal, and the British Member of the British Empire (MBE) medal, both of which GARBO was awarded in secretComposite from Wikicommons/TGNR

Pictured from left to right: Iron Cross First-Class, & Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) medals

Juan Pujol Garcia never relented in his personal war against Nazism. His heroics would not be known for decades, and his story is still generally obscure to many. When he eventually co-wrote with Nigel West the memoir that accounted his epic tale, Pujol took great pride in never once firing a shot in battle or taking a life.

Pujol was in tears when he first saw the graves for the fallen on D-Day 40 years later, bitter in the knowledge he could not save all of the men lost there. Quietly Pujol murmured, “I couldn’t save them.”

Breaking Headline revealing identity of Juan Pujol Garcia as GARBOUnknown

The world headlines revealing publicly his incredible tale from four decades prior at the D-Day 40th Anniversary

Given all Juan Pujol Garcia accomplished, every life he did save, and all the official honors bestowed him, agent GARBO deserves one distinction above all others: Juan Pujol Garcia was the living definition of irrepressible. Irrepressible in service to the better world he never ceased trying to create.

In the end Pujol was both the man with a utopian vision, and the man who in many ways born well before his time. Undoubtedly, it would also seem he was born in that epoch to serve a greater purpose that all humanity has realized.

Juan Pujol Garcia - Agent GARBO - traveling in 1984

Juan Pujol Garcia in 1984.

 

Sources: “Operation Garbo,” Nigel West, Juan Pujol Garcia, 1985. “The Spies Who Fooled Hitler,” BBC. “Timewatch: MI-5 at War.” “Garbo The Spy,” 2009. “GARBO,” Dr. John McLaughlin.

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Paul K. DiCostanzo is the Managing Editor for TGNR. He is a noted public speaker, an emerging historian of the Second World War, a vocal advocate for Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative Colitis, and highly regarded interviewer. Prior to TGNR, Paul has a background in American National Security and American Foreign Policy. He has served as the Managing Editor for TGNR since March 2015.

Sunday Brunch

The New Quartz App: Uzabase’s Bet on the Future of News on Social Media

An inside look at the up-and-coming news and social media platform, Quartz seeks to eliminate fake news, bots, and toxic trolling – aiming to become “the worlds most influential Business Media” by 2023.

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New Quartz app by Uzabase
Image Credit: Pexels

Social media has revolutionized modern journalism. Through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Flipboard, the public curates today’s news through likes, up-votes, karma, and shares. In this way social network subscribers, not editors, determine which headlines fill a subscriber’s Facebook feed and which ones never see the light of cyber day. However, such a user-driven news cycle has spawned growing problems with fake news, bots, trolling, and toxic exchanges between commenters. As a result, many readers have soured on the established social media outlets. Enter Japanese company Uzabase who believes they can re-engage the disillusioned masses with their innovative program: The Quartz App. 

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» Uzabase is a Tokyo-based information infrastructure company, specializing in providing critical information to help inform business activity. 

» NewsPicks was first launched by Uzabase in Japan in September 2013, fashioning the platform as, “a service for supporting the daily decision-making process of business people.” NewsPicks sought to create a social media platform predicated on a growing community of professionals, providing their incisive analysis on news items from each users respective career experience. 

» Uzabase introduced NewsPicks – now The Quartz App – to the U.S. market in November 2017, as a joint venture with Dow Jones. NewsPicks U.S. touted itself as an oasis from fake news, bots and trolling through curation by human editors in real time. NewsPicks has often been described as a hybrid between Twitter and LinkedIn, specifically focused on business related news. 

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» In July 2018, Uzabase acquired Dow Jones’ interest in the NewsPicks platform. Furthermore, Uzabase announced its acquisition of the online business news site Quartz from Atlantic Media. 

» On Tuesday November 13th, Uzabase officially integrated the NewsPicks platform with Quartz, creating a single entity that consolidates the social media platform with the popular online business news brand. In doing so, Uzabase views the move as a critical component to become “the world’s most influential Business Media” by 2023.

TGNR’s Paul K. DiCostanzo spoke with Ernie Sander, Director of Platform Community at Quartz about how the platform has evolved after one-year since launching in the U.S. market, and what Quartz is aiming to achieve in the foreseeable future.

TGNR Paul K. DiCostanzo: You’re coming up on one year since NewsPicks launched. What are you noticing about the nature of the audience you’re building, who are you attracting thus far to the platform?

Quartz Ernie Sander: One thing I notice is that people are hungering for a place where they can go every day to process what’s going on in the world, and to talk about the things in the news that interest them. Not so much news headlines, but stories that they read and that they find compelling or memorable.

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A lot of people are disenchanted with their experiences on the big social platforms. They’ve quit Facebook or Twitter for one reason or another. Maybe it’s the anger or the trolling. Maybe it’s filter bubbles or the dubious news sources.

What I’ve noticed is that there’s a real desire among people to find a venue online where other users are informed about topics, rather than just winging it or reacting from straight emotion. They also want the other users to be capable of behaving in a civilized way.

I hear from a lot of people who tell me, after I’ve introduced the app to them and they’ve played around with it, that they get it. They feel like NewsPicks/Quartz fills that need for them.

It’s interesting because obviously the media industry is really crowded with platforms and apps and publishers. Yet NewsPicks/Quartz is attracting, I think, a crowd that sees a void in all those other offerings.

They might like bits of Reddit, and bits of Twitter, and bits of LinkedIn, but they’re looking for something that unifies those elements—and gets rid of the things they don’t like. That’s what I hear from a lot of people.

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There’s also a really neat unpredictability to who comes to the app. Users end up sharing their picks and comments on their other social channels. They’re starting to organically spread the word to their networks.

We’ll notice new commenters and we’ll look them up and see who they are. They come from all different worlds. They come from science and tech, from retail and entertainment, from banking and education. There’s a cool serendipity to who’s discovering the app.


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TGNR-PKD: What is a specific example of what you’ve described?

QZ: I was talking today, for example, with a couple of guys who are leading figures in the agriculture-meets-tech world. They’re at the center of the question of what food is going to look like in the future. How’s it going to get to the table? How’s it going to be grown? It’s everything from crossbreeding different kinds of strawberries to using robots to pick the crops.

That’s a conversation that is still very nascent in the app at this point. But if you get five, six, seven, eight, 10 people who are in that space professionally, that becomes an interesting discussion. We’re on our way to building that conversation.

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TGNR-PKD: NewsPicks was originally a Japanese endeavor. How has launching this in the United States differed from the original Japanese experience?

QZ: It’s a great question. I, unfortunately, wasn’t there for the launch of the Japanese app, which was three, four years ago. I can’t really speak to what that was like. I think in talking to the founder, Yusuke Umeda, one of the things that we benefit from on the US side is that experience on the Japanese side in terms of knowing what things help growth, what things can cause that growth to slow, how to get it moving again, etc.

The Japanese team has a playbook that has been really helpful here.

TGNR-PKD: The platform has a lot of times focused on business, finance of various forms, hard politics, and things of that nature. How are you looking to further engage in other subjects that are also popular on other social media news outlets, and incorporate that successfully into NewsPicks/Quartz?

QZ: People can pick and comment on anything they want in the app. There’s no requirement that they pick certain topics. That said, I think we are more focused on a business-interested audience. I’m not talking narrowly about things like earnings, the markets, or economic statistics. I’m talking about a much more expansive view of business—business as it intersects with a whole bunch of different sectors, from tech to food to fashion to entertainment to science, etc.

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We think it’s that set of topics that is most profoundly changing the world as we know it—and that’s where the conversation should be happening.

At this point, we’re not interested in building a site for people to talk about last night’s football game or debate a recent movie review. We think there are already lots of places to have those conversations. That’s not to say that somebody won’t pick a story at some point about something like that, and that it won’t generate a big conversation on the site that we might even feature. But in general, we don’t really think about how we can capture that world. I think we’re really focused on people whose interests—and more importantly whose picks and comments–somehow touch business. Again, with that fairly open-ended definition of business.

TGNR-PKD: Now, as NewsPicks/Quartz expands and your audience starts getting bigger, you’re undoubtedly going to have to deal with a variety of issues in all likelihood. Everything from bots to fake news. To this point, the site in my experience has been completely void of any of that. How do you plan to keep it that way as you attract more users?

QZ: There are a couple of things that help us in that respect. One is that our homepage, also called Editor’s Picks, is curated by humans. It’s much easier to control what happens on that page: to delete comments that are inappropriate and rid it of people who don’t abide by our Terms of Service.

Also, we see—and read—every comment that comes in. So there’s a lot of scrutiny on what happens on the app, and we care a lot about the tone, the civility. We’re pretty aggressive about doing what we have to do to adhere to that standard.

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This is different than a lot of the bigger social sites, which historically have taken the position that because they are platforms—rather than publishers–they have less responsibility for policing the content. We think that’s a cop out.


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TGNR-PKD: One of the things that’s unique about NewsPicks/Quartz is there’s no trolling, and that’s overt in your advertising. As the platform grows, how are you looking to best maintain as well as enforce the standard of civility you’ve achieved thus far? How will you continue to successfully eliminate the trolls?

QZ: On many sites, users get rewarded for mean-spirited behavior, for takedowns of other users. NewsPicks/Quartz is designed to be disappointing for trolls. Our users, for example, can only comment one time per story—to encourage them to be more deliberative and thoughtful with their contributions but also to remove the back and forth between commenters that corrupts so many comment streams.

And there’s no downvoting or disliking of comments. You don’t have to like another user’s comment, but unlike other sites, we don’t offer users a handy way to bash other people’s contributions.

All of this sort of removes the feedback loop that trolls crave.

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“[w]e really want other users on the app to be able to see the people behind the comments they read. And that we want users, in general, to behave as they would if they were sitting in a room with other users of the app.”


TGNR-PKD: How often has it been necessary to chastise anyone?

QZ: If comments are offensive or hateful or even blatantly off point, we get rid of them. When people become repeat offenders of these types of comments, we then get rid of them, too. That’s not uncommon at all.

The app was created as an oasis from the anger and identity politics that are rife on the internet. It’s also supposed to be an alternative to culture of anonymity that is prevalent. We care a lot about the realness of the community.

To that end, one of the things that we do is require people to use their photos and real names when they comment. We sometimes have to reach out to people because they’re using a picture of their dog or they have a movie star’s name as their name. We tell them we appreciate their comments, but we ask them to make those changes to their profiles.

We explain to them that we really want other users on the app to be able to see the people behind the comments they read. And that we want users, in general, to behave as they would if they were sitting in a room with other users of the app. We think that’s part of creating a valuable, trusted community.

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When we reach out to these people, a lot of them have gone ahead and made the changes to their profiles. Then they have written back to us and said, “Oh, OK, I understand what you’re trying to do.”

The lesson for me is that if you set the bar high, a lot of people will appreciate that—and will live up to it.

(Article Continues Below...)

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TGNR-PKD: In your view and the view of NewsPicks/Quartz at this time, how do you want to enhance the user experience one year from today? Where would you hope to be overall?

QZ: We want to be first stop for people looking for a good place to digest the most important and interesting stories of the day. One of the things that’s been so powerful about the Japanese example is that it’s the go-to-place to consume business news for millions of people. It’s an ingrained part of their day. It’s the first stop for them in the morning, in the afternoon, whenever they come, maybe multiple times a day. That’s where we want to be, too.

To get there, we need to make sure that the quality of our curation and comments is so good that users feel like it’s a richer experience than they can get anywhere else.

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The Quartz App is Available for Download on both iOS  & Android Devices

Write to Paul K. DiCostanzo at pdicostanzo@tgnreview.com

*Publication Note: This article is not sponsored content, nor a tacit endorsement for the Quartz App. TGNR and its parent company are not affiliated with Uzabase or its subsidiaries.

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Social Entrepreneurship

Removing Land Mines: A HeroRat’s Tale

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APOPO Bart Weetjens land mines

 

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Somewhere the spirit and fire of Diana, Princess of Wales is absolutely glowing, as her work to remove forgotten land mines is being ingeniously realized. On this, the 20th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel mines, there is an incredible and highly innovative organization that is making that convention a reality. A Belgian NGO called APOPO is securing acres of land from mines and other un-exploded ordinances (UXOs) using specifically trained “HeroRats”. Not only have these HeroRats been immensely effective in their mission, their casualty rate is zero.

Removing Land Mines With an Unlikely but Perfect Partner

Despite the initial reaction of most people when rats become the subject of discussion, rats are in fact ideal candidates for the task of mine removal if you ask Bart Weetjens, founder of APOPO.  Weetjens’ HeroRats – specifically the indigenous giant Gambia pouched rat- are intelligent and surprisingly social creatures with a remarkably keen sense of smell.  Their discerning pink noses are what lead the HeroRat to its bounty: mines.

APOPO HeroRat land mines removal

A HeroRat on the scent.

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On their Tanzania training campus, candidate HeroRats receive positive reinforcement training called “clicker”. By graduation, HeroRats can hear a click from their handler, know to sniff for TNT in a mine, and, after notifying their shielded handler to the presence of a mine, receives a treat reward.

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TGNR Exclusive: A HeroRat Valentine From APOPO

Bananas and peanuts are their treats of choice. Most importantly, all HeroRats in the field are too light to trigger any active mines. It’s a simple arrangement that has generated overwhelming results. As of June 2015, APOPO is using their HeroRats for mine removal efforts in Angola, Cambodia, and Tanzania.

APOPO HeroRat treat for detecting land mines

Positive reinforcement

Beyond Land Mines – APOPO’s Multi-talented Hero’s

The magnificent success of HeroRats in land mine removal has inspired APOPO to branch out into disease detection and prevention. Specifically HeroRats are highly effective, using their amazing noses, in analyzing laboratory samples for Tuberculosis (TB). In a laboratory setting, a professional with a microscope can only effectively examine 25 samples of sputum a day. Conversly, trained HeroRats manage to screen over 100 samples of sputum in a single hour.  Moreover, HeroRats can detect TB presence in a sample with fewer bacteria than traditional methods. This is crucial in regions where comorbidity of TB and HIV/AIDS are high as individuals with HIV/AIDS can be TB positive but present with fewer bacteria in a sample.

APOPO HeroRat testing TB samples

HeroRat testing TB samples

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Whether it be clearing former battlefields of un denoted ordinance, or on the trail of disease prevention, HeroRats are a unique partner. For their immense contribution, HeroRats are well treated. During their working “careers” HeroRats work only a handful of hours each day and are retired after six years of service. Once they reach retirement, HeroRats continue to have daily check-ups, interaction with their handlers, and plenty of time to play and socialize with other retirees.

(Article Continues Below…)

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APOPO HeroRat retirement land mines removal

Enjoying the fruit of their labor

Though the work of APOPO and their HeroRats are far from complete, the results so far have been undeniable. For many the scourge of tuberculosis or UXO’s is a world away, yet they are all too local for many on Earth – North Africa and Eastern Europe are still removing WWII mines. APOPO’s mission is that rare combination of benevolent purpose and human ingenuity partnered with animal intelligence. All in the pursuit of solving a terrible dilemma with deadly consequences.

This article was originally published on July 5th, 2015. It was written in collaboration with Paul K. DiCostanzo, TGNR Managing Editor. 

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Sunday Brunch

How East Asia Lead Me Back To West Africa

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Bryce with his fellow Cape Verdeans

Cape Verdean expatriates and myself in Macau, China, during the 2014 Lusofonia Festival. Image Credit: B. Barros

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In today’s Sunday Brunch, TGNR features Senior Contributor Bryce C. Barros. Bryce, an American who lived and studied in Taipei City, Taiwan for several years tells of how he first began to find his distant Cape Verde roots in the last place one would think to look, in East Asia. He shares a touching and incredible story of self-discovery that truly illuminates the soul.

By Bryce C. Barros Senior Contributor

(more…)

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