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Agents on Secret Mission Crash in South American Jungle

A Byte Out of History
Agents on Secret Mission Crash in South American Jungle

01/15/04

Agents Foxworth and Haberfeld

Sixty-one years ago, a U.S. Army plane carrying two FBI agents on a secret mission crashed and exploded in the jungle of Suriname (then Dutch Guiana). It was January 15, 1943, and FBI Assistant Director Percy E. Foxworth, Special Agent Harold Haberfeld, and 33 others died in the worst American aviation disaster of that time. The wreckage was strewn across a mile and half of dense jungle, and few remains were found. Although sabotage was at first feared, later investigation showed the crash was due to mechanical difficulties.

The secret mission. The plane, a U.S. Army C-54, was shuttling the Bureau agents and other military personnel all the way to North Africa when it crashed in South America. Neither G-man carried his badge or other material that could identify him as an FBI agent. Foxworth and Haberfeld were working undercover and in secrecy at the request of General Dwight Eisenhower. The General had asked Director Hoover to send special agents to investigate an American citizen alleged to have collaborated with the Nazis when they controlled North Africa.

The importance accorded the mission can be gauged by the men who were sent on it. "Sam" Foxworth was the FBI's assistant cirector in charge of its Special Intelligence Service (SIS), created in 1940 when President Roosevelt tasked the Bureau with counterintelligence and intelligence collection responsibilities in South and Central America. Harold Haberfeld was a relatively new agent, but one who had had extensive experience living and working in North Africa and who was fluent in French, German, and Portuguese.

The aftermath. Two agents were immediately dispatched to complete the assignment, even as the Bureau mourned the loss of Foxworth and Haberfeld. "Sam Foxworth was one of my most capable assistants," Director Hoover wrote, "His loyal, industrious efforts have played an important role in the development of the FBI during the past 10 years. And Special Agent Haberfeld had an outstanding record in the service. His excellent background and superior abilities were assurance of a splendid future in the Bureau." In honor of Foxworth's service in the Bureau and his sacrifice in the war, the U. S. Navy launched a Liberty ship named the SS Percy E. Foxworth on February 8, 1944.

The past is prologue. Today, agents of the FBI are located in many legal attaché offices overseas and are routinely deployed internationally on special investigative assignments. Their mission? To ensure the security and safety of the American homeland, just as Agents Foxworth and Haberfeld were tasked to do 61 years ago.