Born in 1879 in Westphalia, Germany, the son of a member of the wealthy Junker class.
Sent to New York City in 1915 where he worked at the German Consulate. He was assigned to act as a spymaster, overseeing agents assigned to disrupt the conveyance of military supplies from American manufacturers to Britain (the United States was a neutral party at the time while Britain was at war with Germany).
Under his direction, agents set up phony American armaments firms and contracted with Allied countries to provide them with arms. With the Allies hopelessly waiting, the agents would make excuses for continuous delays, with the arms never being delivered. Other schemes he set into place had firms buying up gunpowder in huge quantities which preventing it from becoming available for the Allies.
After being saddled with a number of incompetent and reckless agents, Papen was directed to oversee numerous sabotage efforts against U.S. interests. He steadfastly refused, but did set up a scheme to blow up part of the Canadian Pacific Railway in order to thwart the efforts of Canadian troops to reach England to fight on behalf of the British. The scheme failed and the saboteurs were captured.
Papen also attempted to recruit German nationals living in the United States and persuading them to return to Germany to fight on behalf of their mother country. When this came to the attention of U.S. authorities, Papen was ordered to leave the United States.
Was assigned for a period of time to serve as a military attache in Spain where he came into contact with Mata Hari. Was later sent to Palestine where he was to aid the Turks in their war against England and especially in tracking down and crushing the insurgent troops under the leadership of T.H. Lawrence. These attempts were unsuccessful.
Became politically active after his return to Germany and eventually rose to the position of German chancellor. In 1939, after the ascension of Adolph Hitler, Papen was appointed the German Ambassador to Turkey. He once again acted as a spymaster in that country, competing against Allied spymasters for information.
In 1943, was introduced to Elyeza Bazna, an Albanian working as a valet for the British Ambassador in Ankara. Bazna offered to provide Papen with secret British documents and information in return for money. Papen approved and Bazna was given the codename “Cicero.” Bazna’s information was invaluable, highly detailed and accurate, even covering meetings between U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Allied plans for the invasion of Europe.
Bazna was compromised as Fritz Kopke, a German national working as an American agent, came across his name in a message from Papen to German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and passed it on to Allen Dulles who thereafter passed it on to British Intelligence head Claude Dansey.
After the war, Von Papen was arrested and tried for war crimes at the Nuremberg Tribunal. It was found that his actions were not deemed to have reached a level suffucient to rise to “conspiracy to commit crimes against peace”as he was charged. He was thus found not guilty by the Nuremberg Tribunal. He was, however, arrested by the new German government and charged with various crimes committed during the Nazi regime. He was found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison. Upon release, he wrote an autobiography documenting his activities.
Papen died in 1979.