Winston Churchill became prime minister in May 1940. Churchill realised straight away that it would be vitally important to enlist the United States as Britain's ally. Randolph Churchill, on the morning of 18th May, 1940, claims that his father told him "I think I see my way through.... I mean we can beat them." When Randolph asked him how, he replied with great intensity: "I shall drag the United States in."
Britain was in a very difficult situation. In 1939 Germany had a population of 80 million with a workforce of 41 million. Britain had a population of 46 million with less than half Germany's workforce. Germany's total income at market prices was £7,260 million compared to Britain's £5,242 million. More ominously, the Germans had spent five times what Britain had spent on armaments - £1,710 million versus £358 million. Churchill was informed that Britain would soon run out of money to fight the war.
Churchill sent William Stephenson to the United States to make certain arrangements on intelligence matters. Stephenson's main contact was Gene Tunney, a friend from the First World War, who had been World Heavyweight Champion (1926-1928) and was a close friend of J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. Tunney later recalled: "Quite to my surprise I received a confidential letter that was from Billy Stephenson, and he asked me to try and arrange for him to see J. Edgar Hoover... I found out that his mission was so important that the Ambassador from England could not be in on it, and no one in official government... It was my understanding that the thing went off extremely well." Stephenson was also a friend of Ernest Cuneo. He worked for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and according to Stephenson was the leader of "Franklin's brain trust". Cuneo met with Roosevelt and reported back that the president wanted "the closest possible marriage between the FBI and British Intelligence."
On his return to London, Stephenson reported back to Churchill. After hearing what he had to say, Churchill told Stephenson: "You know what you must do at once. We have discussed it most fully, and there is a complete fusion of minds between us. You are to be my personal representative in the United States. I will ensure that you have the full support of all the resources at my command. I know that you will have success, and the good Lord will guide your efforts as He will ours." Charles Howard Ellis said that he selected Stephenson because: "Firstly, he was Canadian. Secondly, he had very good American connections... he had a sort of fox terrier character, and if he undertook something, he would carry it through."
Churchill now instructed Stewart Menzies, head of MI6, to appoint William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC). Menzies told Gladwyn Jebb on 3rd June, 1940: "I have appointed Mr W.S. Stephenson to take charge of my organisation in the USA and Mexico. As I have explained to you, he has a good contact with an official (J. Edgar Hoover) who sees the President daily. I believe this may prove of great value to the Foreign Office in the future outside and beyond the matters on which that official will give assistance to Stephenson. Stephenson leaves this week. Officially he will go as Principal Passport Control Officer for the USA."
As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase (British Security Coordination) is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention." An office was opened in the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan with the agreement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI.
Thomas E. Mahl, the author of Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States: 1939-44 (1998), has argued that Ernest Cuneo was "liaison between British Security Coordination and several departments of the U.S. government". He later wrote to Charles Howard Ellis, assistant-director of the British Security Coordination: "I saw Adolf Berle at State Department, Eddie Tamm, J. Edgar Hoover and more often the Attorney General; on various other matters Dave Niles and the White House and Ed Foley at the Treasury, but as far as I know there wasn't a sentence recorded. I reported to Bill Donovan and George Bowden, but never in writing."
Winston Churchill had a serious problem. Joseph P. Kennedy was the United States Ambassador to Britain. He soon came to the conclusion that the island was a lost cause and he considered aid to Britain fruitless. Kennedy, an isolationist, consistently warned Roosevelt "against holding the bag in a war in which the Allies expect to be beaten." Neville Chamberlain wrote in his diary in July 1940: "Saw Joe Kennedy who says everyone in the USA thinks we shall be beaten before the end of the month." Averell Harriman later explained the thinking of Kennedy and other isolationists: "After World War I, there was a surge of isolationism, a feeling there was no reason for getting involved in another war... We made a mistake and there were a lot of debts owed by European countries. The country went isolationist.
In July, 1940, Henry Luce, C. D. Jackson, Freda Kirchwey, Raymond Gram Swing, Robert Sherwood, John Gunther and Leonard Lyons, Ernest Angell and Carl Joachim Friedrich established the Council for Democracy in July, 1940. According to Kai Bird the organization "became an effective and highly visible counterweight to the isolation rhetoric" to America First Committee led by Charles Lindbergh and Robert E. Wood: "With financial support from Douglas and Luce, Jackson, a consummate propagandist, soon had a media operation going which was placing anti-Hitler editorials and articles in eleven hundred newspapers a week around the country." The isolationist Chicago Tribune accused the Council for Democracy of being under the control of foreigners: "The sponsors of the so-called Council for Democracy... are attempting to force this country into a military adventure on the side of England."
According to The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45, a secret report written by leading operatives of the British Security Coordination (Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill), William Stephenson played an important role in the formation of the Council for Democracy: "William Stephenson decided to take action on his own initiative. He instructed the recently created SOE Division to declare a covert war against the mass of American groups which were organized throughout the country to spread isolationism and anti-British feeling. In the BSC office plans were drawn up and agents were instructed to put them into effect. It was agreed to seek out all existing pro-British interventionist organizations, to subsidize them where necessary and to assist them in every way possible. It was counter-propaganda in the strictest sense of the word. After many rapid conferences the agents went out into the field and began their work. Soon they were taking part in the activities of a great number of interventionist organizations, and were giving to many of them which had begun to flag and to lose interest in their purpose, new vitality and a new lease of life. The following is a list of some of the larger ones... The League of Human Rights, Freedom and Democracy... The American Labor Committee to Aid British Labor... The Ring of Freedom, an association led by the publicist Dorothy Thompson, the Council for Democracy; the American Defenders of Freedom, and other such societies were formed and supported to hold anti-isolationist meetings which branded all isolationists as Nazi-lovers."
William Stephenson knew that with leading officials supporting isolationism he had to overcome these barriers. His main ally in this was another friend, William Donovan, who he had met in the First World War. "The procurement of certain supplies for Britain was high on my priority list and it was the burning urgency of this requirement that made me instinctively concentrate on the single individual who could help me. I turned to Bill Donovan." Donovan arranged meetings with Henry Stimson (Secretary of War), Cordell Hull (Secretary of State) and Frank Knox (Secretary of the Navy). The main topic was Britain's lack of destroyers and the possibility of finding a formula for transfer of fifty "over-age" destroyers to the Royal Navy without a legal breach of U.S. neutrality legislation. Lord Lothian, the British ambassador in Washington, informed Knox on 28th July, 1940, that Britain had entered the war with 176 destroyers and that only 70 of these were still afloat. He requested 40 to 100 destroyers and 100 flying boats.
It was decided to send William Donovan to Britain on a fact-finding mission. He left on 14th July, 1940 with the journalist Edgar Ansel Mowrer.When he heard the news, Joseph P. Kennedy complained: "Our staff, I think is getting all the information that possibility can be gathered, and to send a new man here at this time is to me the height of nonsense and a definite blow to good organization." He added that the trip would "simply result in causing confusion and misunderstanding on the part of the British". Andrew Lycett has argued: "Nothing was held back from the big American. British planners had decided to take him completely into their confidence and share their most prized military secrets in the hope that he would return home even more convinced of their resourcefulness and determination to win the war."
William Donovan arrived back in the United States in early August, 1940. In his report to President Franklin D. Roosevelt he argued: "(1) That the British would fight to the last ditch. (2) They could not hope to hold to hold the last ditch unless they got supplies at least from America. (3) That supplies were of no avail unless they were delivered to the fighting front - in short, that protecting the lines of communication was a sine qua non. (4) That Fifth Column activity was an important factor." Donovan also urged that the government should sack Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, who was predicting a German victory. Edgar Ansel Mowrer also wrote a series of articles, based on information supplied by William Stephenson, that Nazi Germany posed a serious threat to the United States.
On 22nd August, 1940, Stephenson reported to London that the destroyer deal was agreed upon. The agreement for transferring 50 aging American destroyers, in return for the rights to air and naval basis in Bermuda, Newfoundland, the Caribbean and British Guiana, was announced 3rd September, 1940. The bases were leased for 99 years and the destroyers were of great value as convey escorts. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the British Chief of Combined Operations, commented: "We were told that the man primarily responsible for the loan of the 50 American destroyers to the Royal Navy at a critical moment was Bill Stephenson; that he had managed to persuade the president that this was in the ultimate interests of America themselves and various other loans of that sort were arranged. These destroyers were very important to us...although they were only old destroyers, the main thing was to have combat ships that could actually guard against and attack U-boats."
Stephenson was very concerned with the growth of the American First Committee. by the spring of 1941, the British Security Coordination estimated that there were 700 chapters and nearly a million members of isolationist groups. Leading isolationists were monitored, targeted and harassed. When Gerald Nye spoke in Boston in September 1941, thousands of handbills were handed out attacking him as an appeaser and Nazi lover. Following a speech by Hamilton Fish, a member of a group set-up by the BSC, the Fight for Freedom, delivered him a card which said, "Der Fuhrer thanks you for your loyalty" and photographs were taken.
A BSC agent approached Donald Chase Downes and told him that he was working under the direct orders of Winston Churchill. "Our primary directive from Churchill is that American participation in the war is the most important single objective for Britain. It is the only way, he feels, to victory over Nazism." Downes agreed to work for the BSC in spying on the American First Committee. He was also instructed to find information on German consulates in Boston and Cleveland and the Italian consulate in the capital. He later recalled in his autobiography, The Scarlett Thread (1953) that he received assistance in his work from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, Congress for Industrial Organisation and U.S. army counter-intelligence. Bill Macdonald, the author of The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents (2001), has pointed out: "Downes eventually discovered there was Nazi activity in New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Cleveland and Boston. In some cases they traced actual transfers of money from the Nazis to the America Firsters."
Charles Howard Ellis was sent to New York City to work alongside William Stephenson as assistant-director. Together they recruited several businessmen, journalists, academics and writers into the British Security Coordination. This included Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Ian Fleming, Cedric Belfrage, Ivar Bryce, David Ogilvy, Isaiah Berlin, Eric Maschwitz, Giles Playfair, Benn Levy, Noël Coward and Gilbert Highet.
Maschwitz admitted in his autobiography, No Chip on My Shoulder (1957) "I had been provided with a passport that gave my profession as Ministry of Supply. I was to be taken not as an army officer but as a former playwright on national service as a civilian." Grace Garner, Stephenson's secretary, claimed he recruited several journalists including Sydney Morrell from the Daily Express and Doris Sheridan, from the Daily Mirror. "This was propaganda, or at least putting forward the British case. Sheridan liaised with the Arab sections in New York, keeping in touch with foreign nationals. The English playwright Eric Maschwitz was recruited to write propaganda and scripts. University professor Bill Deaken worked for the office, as well as the philosopher A. J. Ayer." John D. Bernal, who was working closely with Winston Churchill during the war, used to call in the office. Garner described as a "dead ringer" for Harpo Marx. "You could have walked him straight onto the set. Wild. He had a funny hat on, and this saggy, greeny old coat, bulging with documents."
An office was opened in the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan with the agreement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. Roosevelt's top security advisor, Adolph Berle, sent a message to Sumner Welles, the Under Secretary of State: "The head of the field service appears to be Mr. William S. Stephenson... in charge of providing protection for British ships, supplies etc. But in fact a full size secret police and intelligence service is rapidly evolving... with district officers at Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco, Portland and probably Seattle.... I have in mind, of course, that should anything go wrong at any time, the State Department would be called upon to explain why it permitted violation of American laws and was compliant about an obvious breach of diplomatic obligation... Were this to occur and a Senate investigation should follow, we should be on very dubious ground if we have not taken appropriate steps."
Cedric Belfrage joined the BSC in December 1941. William Deaken, one of the senior figures in the organisation, argued: "Belfrage was brought in as one of the propaganda people... he was a known communist." He was recruited by the BSC because if his contacts with American journalists. The strategy was to work with American journalists to persuade them to write articles that would advocate intervention in the Second World War.
According to William Boyd: "BSC's media reach was extensive: it included such eminent American columnists as Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, and influenced coverage in newspapers such as the Herald Tribune, the New York Post and the Baltimore Sun. BSC effectively ran its own radio station, WRUL, and a press agency, the Overseas News Agency (ONA), feeding stories to the media as they required from foreign datelines to disguise their provenance. WRUL would broadcast a story from ONA and it thus became a US "source" suitable for further dissemination, even though it had arrived there via BSC agents. It would then be legitimately picked up by other radio stations and newspapers, and relayed to listeners and readers as fact. The story would spread exponentially and nobody suspected this was all emanating from three floors of the Rockefeller Centre. BSC took enormous pains to ensure its propaganda was circulated and consumed as bona fide news reporting. To this degree its operations were 100% successful: they were never rumbled."
Roald Dahl was assigned to work with Drew Pearson, one of America's most influential journalist as the time. "Dahl described his main function with BSC as that of trying to 'oil the wheels' that often ground imperfectly between the British and American war efforts. Much of this involved dealing with journalists, something at which he was already skilled. His chief contact was the mustachioed political gossip columnist Drew Pearson, whose column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, was widely regarded as the most important of its kind in the United States."
Ian Fleming, Louis Mountbatten and James Roosevelt were visitors to the British Security Coordination head office. Grace Garner recalls: "Mountbatten would not come to the office frequently. Fleming came in from time to time, and of course they were both so good-looking that just like dominoes, the girls would go down - whoosh, like that.... James Roosevelt, the president's son, did a few things in the way of propaganda for Britain, and he appeared at meetings."
William Allen White had established the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDAAA) in May, 1940. White gave an interview to the Chicago Daily News where he argued: "Here is a life and death struggle for every principle we cherish in America: For freedom of speech, of religion, of the ballot and of every freedom that upholds the dignity of the human spirit... Here all the rights that common man has fought for during a thousand years are menaced... The time has come when we must throw into the scales the entire moral and economic weight of the United States on the side of the free peoples of Western Europe who are fighting the battle for a civilized way of life." It was not long before White's organization had 300 chapters nationwide.
Members of the CDAAA argued that by advocating American military materiel support of Britain was the best way to keep the United States out of the war in Europe. It played an important role in the passing of the Lend-Lease Act on 11th March, 1941. The legislation gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt the powers to sell, transfer, exchange, lend equipment to any country to help it defend itself against the Axis powers. A sum of $50 billion was appropriated by Congress for Lend-Lease. The money went to 38 different countries with Britain receiving over $31 billion.
However, the CDAAA refused to support military intervention in the war. William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC), found this frustrating and he encouraged William Donovan to recruit Americans to start a much more militant organisation. Donovan approached Allen W. Dulles and along with BSC agent, Sydney Morrell, to establish the Fight for Freedom (FFF) group in April 1941.
In July 1941 Sydney Morrell was asked to write a report on the organisations that had been set up with the help of the BSC. "The Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League. Used for the vehement exposure of enemy agents and isolationists. Prints a wide variety of pamphlets, copies of which have been sent to you. Has recently begun to attack Lindbergh and the many other conscious or unconscious native Fascists.... Friends of Democacy. An example of the work of this organization is attached. It is a complete attack upon Henry Ford for his Nazi leanings." Morrell believed that more could be achieved if they created one unified organization: "The most effective of all propaganda towards the US would be through a unified organization which could be used to attack the isolationists, such as America First, on the other hand, and to create a Nation-wide campaign for an American declaration of war upon the other."
Members included Ulric Bell, (Executive Chairman), Peter Cusick (Executive Secretary), Allen W. Dulles, Joseph Alsop, Henry Luce, Dean G. Acheson, James P. Warburg, Marshall Field III, Fiorello LaGuardia, Lewis William Douglas, Carter Glass, Harold K. Guinzburg, Conyers Read, Spyros Skouras and Henry P. Van Dusen. The group also contained several journalists such as Herbert Agar (Louisville Courier-Journal), Geoffrey Parsons (New York Herald Tribune), Ralph Ingersoll (Picture Magazine) and Elmer Davis (CBS). At its peak, the FFF headquarters at 1270 Sixth Avenue in New York City had an office staff of twenty-five.
Fight for Freedom group monitored the activities of the leading isolationist organization, the America First Committee. Leading isolationists were also targeted and harassed. When Gerald Nye spoke in Boston in September 1941, thousands of handbills were handed out attacking him as an appeaser and Nazi lover. Following a speech by Hamilton Stuyvesan Fish, a member of a group set-up by the BSC, the Fight for Freedom, delivered him a card which said, "Der Fuhrer thanks you for your loyalty" and photographs were taken.
In October 1941, the British Security Coordination attempted to disrupt a rally at Madison Square Garden by issuing counterfeit tickets. H. Montgomery Hyde has argued that the plan backfired as the AFC got a lot of publicity from the meeting with 20,000 people inside and the same number supporting the cause outside. The only opposition was an obvious agent provocateur shouting "Hang Roosevelt".
In 1941 BSC agent Donald MacLaren employed Rex Stout, George Merton (another BSC agent) and Sylvia Porter of the New York Post, to write a propaganda booklet entitled Sequel to the Apocalypse: The Uncensored Story: How Your Dimes and Quarters Helped Pay for Hitler's War. It was published in 1942. Stout also hosted three weekly radio shows, and coordinated the volunteer services of American writers to help the war effort.
Another BSC agent, Sanford Griffith, established a company Market Analysts Incorporated and was initially commissioned to carry out polls for the anti-isolationist Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies and Fight for Freedom group. Griffith's assistant, Francis Adams Henson, a long time activist against the Nazi Germany government, later recalled: "My job was to use the results of our polls, taken among their constituents, to convince on-the-fence Congressmen and Senators that they should favor more aid to Britain."
As Richard W. Steele has pointed out: "public opinion polls had become a political weapon that could be used to inform the views of the doubtful, weaken the commitment of opponents, and strengthen the conviction of supporters." William Stephenson later admitted: "Great care was taken beforehand to make certain the poll results would turn out as desired. The questions were to steer opinion toward the support of Britain and the war... Public Opinion was manipulated through what seemed an objective poll."
Michael Wheeler, the author of Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Manipulation of Public Opinion in America (2007): "Proving that a given poll is rigged is difficult because there are so many subtle ways to fake data... a clever pollster can just as easily favor one candidate or the other by making less conspicuous adjustments, such as allocating the undecided voters as suits his needs, throwing out certain interviews on the grounds that they were non-voters, or manipulating the sequence and context within which the questions are asked... Polls can even be rigged without the pollster knowing it.... Most major polling organizations keep their sampling lists under lock and key."
The main target of these polls concerned the political views of leading politicians opposed to Lend-Lease. This included Hamilton Stuyvesan Fish. In February 1941, a poll of Fish's constituents said that 70 percent of them favored the passage of Lend-Lease. James H. Causey, president of the Foundation for the Advancement of Social Sciences, was highly suspicious of this poll and called for a congressional investigation.
Ernest Cuneo was such an important figure to the British Security Coordination that he was given his own code name, "Crusader". He later admitted that he passed important information obtained from his government position to the BSC: "Friendly and neutral powers are quaint and laughable terms unrecognised in the world of international intelligence. Every major nation taps every other major nation, none more than its Allies."
Jennet Conant, the author of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington (2008) argues that Cuneo was "empowered to feed select British intelligence items about Nazi sympathizers and subversives" to friendly journalists such as Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson, Walter Lippmann, William Allen White, Dorothy Thompson, Raymond Gram Swing, Edward Murrow, Vincent Sheean, Helen Kirkpatrick, Eric Sevareid, Edmond Taylor, Rex Stout, Edgar Ansel Mowrer and Whitelaw Reid, who "were stealth operatives in their campaign against Britain's enemies in America".
Cuneo also worked closely with editors and publishers who were supporters of American intervention into the Second World War. This included Arthur Hays Sulzberger (New York Times), Henry Luce (Time Magazine and Life Magazine), Helen Rogers Reid (New York Herald Tribune), Barry Bingham (Louisville Courier-Journal), Paul C. Patterson (Baltimore Sun), Dorothy Schiff (New York Post) and Ralph Ingersoll (Picture Magazine).
Marshall Field III was a strong supporter of the Allies in the Second World War. He worked closely with the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fight for Freedom, an organization established by the British Security Coordination. In October 1941 Field started the Chicago Sun to counter the isolationist policy of Colonel Robert McCormick, who owned the Chicago Tribune. According to Field's editor, Turner Catledge: "It was early in 1941 that Field resolved to start a newspaper... Roosevelt was trying to move the nation toward support of England and Colonel McCormick was fighting him tooth and nail... The Tribune's influence on the American heartland was great, and to Field and others who thought the United States must fight Nazism, McCormick's daily tirades were agonizing."
Walter Trohan argues in his autobiography, Political Animals: Memoirs of a Sentimental Cynic (1975), that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI became involved in this project: "In order to help the paper get an Associated Press franchise, then a guarded possession, FDR had FBI agents call upon various small-town publishers and urge them to support Field's bid for a franchise. J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, later showed me the order he had received to undertake a campaign, which he considered above and beyond his unit's functions."
Picture Magazine managed to achieve a circulation of 200,000, however, without the ability to carry advertising, it could only survive with the sponsorship of Marshall Field III, who now owned Chicago Sun, another pro-intervention newspaper. Thomas E. Mahl, the author of Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44 (1998) has argued: "PM never attracted enough circulation to make money, but it was a wonderful propaganda vehicle despite its small circulation. In September, 1940, Field bought out the other backers for twenty cents on the dollar." In a declassified report from British Security Coordination it listed PM as "among those who rendered service of particular value".
Released BSC documents list Walter Lippmann as "among those who rendered service of particular value". Thomas E. Mahl, the author of Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44 (1998) has argued: "In late winter or early spring 1940, Lippmann even told the British to initiate Secret Intelligence Service operations against American isolationists. His exact thoughts are unknown. His specific ideas were 'too delicate' for the British Foreign Office to put to paper, but the idea is quite clear. Lippmann was a heavy weight. His suggestions on how to handle the American public reached as high as the British War Cabinet."
In some cases journalists complained about the change of policy. H. L. Mencken , who was a regular contributor as well as being on the board of the Baltimore Sun, resigned in 1941 because of what he considered to be the newspaper's "wildly pro-British bias". He later recalled a meeting he had with the publisher, Paul C. Patterson: "I told Patterson that, in my judgment, the English had found him an easy mark, and made a monkey out of him. He did not attempt to dispute the main fact." Mencken wrote in his diary in October 1945: "From the first to the last they (the newspapers owned by Patterson) were official organs and nothing more, and taking one day with another they were official organs of England rather than of the United States."
Robert E. Sherwood, one of Roosevelt's speechwriters, also agreed to help the British Security Coordination. As he pointed out in his book, Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (1948): "Six months before the United States entered the war... there was, by Roosevelt's order and despite State Department qualms, effectively close cooperation between J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI and British security services under the direction of the quiet Canadian, William Stephenson... If the isolationists had known the full extent of the secret alliance between the U.S. and Britain, their demands for the President's impeachment would have rumbled like thunder across the land." William Stephenson later claimed that Sherwood was "one of the most persistent and effective" of those contacts with "influence at the White House".
Isaiah Berlin, one of Britain's leading philosophers, was also recruited to work for the BSC. Michael Ignatieff, the author of A Life of Isaiah Berlin (1998) has pointed out: "Isaiah Berlin's job was to get America into the war. He was to be a propagandist, working with trade unions, black organizations and Jewish groups. He lived in mid-town Manhattan hotels and went to work every morning at the British Information Services on the forty-fourth floor of a building in the Rockefeller Center. There he went through piles of American press clippings ranged in shoe-boxes. From these he put together a weekly report for the Ministry of Information on the state of American public opinion. In the early months of 1941 the isolations were in the ascendant and the prospects of getting America into the war seemed remote." Despite his efforts, by the end of 1941, 80% of the American public was still opposed to the sending of American troops to Europe.
Ernest Cuneo later admitted that the BSC sometimes committed illegal acts: "Given the time, the situation, and the mood, it is not surprising however, that BSC also went beyond the legal, the ethical, and the proper. Throughout the neutral Americas, and especially in the U.S., it ran espionage agents, tampered with the mails, tapped telephone, smuggled propaganda into the country, disrupted public gatherings, covertly subsidized newspapers, radios, and organizations, perpetrated forgeries - even palming one off on the President of the United States - violated the aliens registration act, shanghaied sailors numerous times, and possibly murdered one or more persons in this country."
In an interview with Thomas E. Mahl, for his book, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44 (1998), Edmond Taylor, admitted the role played by the British Security Coordination in his journalism: "What they did more often, especially before Pearl Harbor and in the early months of the war, was to connive, usually is non-committally as possible, with Americans like myself who were willing to go out of regular (or even legal) channels to try to bend U.S. policy towards objectives that the British, as well as the Americans in question, considered desirable."
Isaiah Berlin visited editors and tried to persuade them to publish articles that provided a positive image of Britain. Berlin took Harold Ross, the editor of the New Yorker, to lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. At the end of the lunch Ross commented: "Young man, I can't understand a word you say, but if you write anything, I'll print it." Berlin also worked closely with Jewish supporters of American intervention in the Second World War. This included Rabbi Stephen Wise and Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandelis. Other contacts included Sidney Hillman and David Dubinsky, the leaders of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA).
Arthur Hays Sulzberger supported a series of pro-intervention groups established by the British Security Coordination. In his book, Without Fear or Favor: The New York Times and its Times (1980) Harrison Salisbury argues, "Not long after the outbreak of the war (in Europe) Sulzberger learned that a number of these correspondents had connections with MI6 the British intelligence agency." Salisbury describes him as being "very angry" about this but they remained on the newspaper. According to Hanson W. Baldwin, a journalist on the New York Times "leaks to British intelligence through The Times continued after U.S. entry into the war."
Despite the help he gave to the campaign to persuade the United States to enter the Second World War, Sulzberger was still criticised by the BSC for not supporting the cause as well as the New York Herald Tribune. One of its agents, Valentine Williams had a meeting with Sulzberger and on 15th September, 1941, he reported to Hugh Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare: "I had an hour with Arthur Sulzberger, proprietor of the New York Times, last week. He told me that for the first time in his life he regretted being a Jew because, with the tide of anti-semitism rising, he was unable to champion the anti-Hitler policy of the administration as vigorously and as universally as he would like as his sponsorship would be attributed to Jewish influence by isolationists and thus lose something of its force." He also suggested to Isaiah Berlin, who lobbied Sulzberger to be more outspoken about the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany: "Mr Berlin, don't you believe that if the word Jew was banned from the public press for fifty years, it would have a strongly positive influence."
Benjamin de Forest Bayly was brought in as Deputy Director of Communication. He later recalled that they wanted "a man who understood something about commercial communications, and who would have enough security clearance to buy top secret radio material. The point is that the English were, at the moment, developing all sorts of secret radio. Putting in the spies in Europe, and that sort of thing. They didn't want to divulge what they were buying through normal commercial channels."
Bill Ross Smith, who worked for British Security Coordination in New York City, has argued: "Stephenson was exactly the right man, because he had all these terrific contacts and had this tremendous flair of influencing people, in an incredibly quiet way. If he could walk into this room now, he could sit down in that chair and, without saying a word, dominate this room. I tell you he was absolutely, bloody well a genius... He was no James Bond because he didn't go around killing people with his bare hands, or even with a gun. He dealt strictly with his brain and personality."
Over the next few years Stephenson worked closely with William Donovan, the chief of the Office of Strategic Service (OSS). Gill Bennett has argued: "Each is a figure about whom much myth has been woven, by themselves and others, and the full extent of their activities and contacts retains an element of mystery. Both were influential: Stephenson as head of British Security Coordination (BSC), the organisation he created in New York at Menzies's request and Donovan, working with Stephenson as intermediary between Roosevelt and Churchill, persuading the former to supply clandestine military supplies to the UK before the USA entered the war, and from June 1941 head of the COI and thus one of the architects of the US Intelligence establishment."
Benjamin de Forest Bayly has argued that Stephenson was very close to Henry Luce, Walter Winchell and Robert E. Sherwood: "He liked propaganda. And propaganda was really one of the important things he did. He saw to it, before even Pearl Harbor, that the anti-British feeling there was squelched by writers. He got all sorts of people to write things that helped that... Winchell was a man who actually got a reputation for being a very straightforward person, and he did a lot of propaganda work for Bill Stephenson. If Bill could sell him on why the U.S. should do this, and if it did that, then Winchell would be your man."
Isaiah Berlin had regular meetings with journalists such as Drew Pearson, Walter Lippman, Philip Graham, Joseph Alsop, Arthur Krock and Marquis Childs, in an effort to publish information favourable to the British. Berlin took Harold Ross, the editor of the New Yorker, to lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. At the end of the lunch Ross commented: "Young man, I can't understand a word you say, but if you write anything, I'll print it." Despite his efforts, by the end of 1941, 80% of the American public was still opposed to the sending of American troops to Europe.
One of Stephenson's agents was Ivar Bryce. According to Thomas E. Mahl, the author of Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44 (1998): "Bryce worked in the Latin American affairs section of the BSC, which was run by Dickie Coit (known in the office as Coitis Interruptus). Because there was little evidence of the German plot to take over Latin America, Ivar found it difficult to excite Americans about the threat."
Nicholas J. Cull, the author of Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign Against American Neutrality (1996), has argued: "During the summer of 1941, he (Bryce) became eager to awaken the United States to the Nazi threat in South America." It was especially important for the British Security Coordination to undermine the propaganda of the American First Committee. Bryce recalls in his autobiography, You Only Live Once (1975): "Sketching out trial maps of the possible changes, on my blotter, I came up with one showing the probable reallocation of territories that would appeal to Berlin. It was very convincing: the more I studied it the more sense it made... were a genuine German map of this kind to be discovered and publicised among... the American Firsters, what a commotion would be caused."
William Stephenson, who once argued that "nothing deceives like a document", approved the idea and the project was handed over to Station M, the phony document factory in Toronto run by Eric Maschwitz, of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). It took them only 48 hours to produce "a map, slightly travel-stained with use, but on which the Reich's chief map makers... would be prepared to swear was made by them." Stephenson now arranged for the FBI to find the map during a raid on a German safe-house on the south coast of Cuba. J. Edgar Hoover handed the map over to William Donovan. His executive assistant, James R. Murphy, delivered the map to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. On 27th October, 1941: "I have in my possession a secret map, made in Germany by Hitler's government, by planners of the new world order. It is a map of South America and part of Central America as Hitler proposes to organize it."
The historian, Thomas E. Mahl argues that "as a result of this document Congress dismantled the last of the neutrality legislation." Nicholas J. Cull has suggested that Roosevelt should not have realised it was a forgery. He points out that Adolf Berle , the Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, had already warned Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State that "British intelligence has been very active in making things appear dangerous in South America. We have to be a little on our guard against false scares."
British Security Coordination (BSC) managed to record the conversations of Japanese special envoy Suburu Kurusu with others in the Japanese consulate in November 1941. Marion de Chastelain was the cipher clerk who transcribed these conversations. On 27th November, 1941, William Stephenson sent a telegram to the British government: "Japanese negotiations off. Expect action within two weeks." According to Roald Dahl, who worked for BSC: "Stephenson had tapes of them discussing the actual date of Pearl Harbor... and he swears that he gave the transcription to FDR. He swears that they knew therefore of the oncoming attack on Pearl Harbor and hadn't done anything about it."
Bill Macdonald, the author of The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents (2001) has pointed out: "Although they were called British Security Coordination, the Stephenson people were very much a law unto themselves. They made many separate deals with other countries and distributed information amongst the three Western Allies. They controlled many of the secrets of the three countries, including ULTRA and MAGIC, and also had communication influence in the South Pacific and Asia. There were a number of British appointments at BSC, but essentially, Stephenson contacted his friends, put them to work, and had them find staff... The important work these people accomplished during the war has never been fully explored."
A. J. Ayer, joined the British Security Coordination in October 1941. In his autobiography, Part of My Life (1977), Ayer points out: "The New York offices of SOE were in Rockefeller Center. It shared them with other Intelligence agencies under the general title of British Security Co-ordination.... My first duty was to learn as much as I could about South American politics and the persons and organizations in the various countries who were likely to be German or Italian sympathizers. At the beginning, therefore, my time was mostly spent in mastering the contents of a very large number of files. The countries about which I came to know most were Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru."
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, much of the BSC's security and intelligence work could legitimately be taken over the FBI and other United States agencies. William Stephenson told Stewart Menzies, head of MI6, that the very existence of the BSC was now threatened. In January 1942, the McKellar Bill was before Congress, requiring the registration of all "foreign agents". Stephenson told Menzies this "might render work of this office in U.S.A. impossible as it is obviously inadmissible that all our records and other material should be made public". After some vigorous lobbying by Stephenson and others, the McKellar Bill was amended so that agents of the Allied "United Nations" would be exempt from registration and need only report in private to their own embassy.
On 13th February, 1942, Adolf Berle received information from the FBI that a BSC agent, Dennis Paine, had been investigating him in order to "get the dirt" on him. Paine was expelled from the United States. Stephenson believed that Paine had been set-up as part of a FBI public relations exercise. He later recalled: "Adolf Berle was slightly school-masterish for a very brief period due to misinformation, but could not have been more helpful when factual situation was clarified to him."
William Boyd has argued the BSC "became a huge secret agency of nationwide news manipulation and black propaganda. Pro-British and anti-German stories were planted in American newspapers and broadcast on American radio stations, and simultaneously a campaign of harassment and denigration was set in motion against those organisations perceived to be pro-Nazi or virulently isolationist".
Keith Jeffery, the author of MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service: 1909-1949 (2011) has pointed out: "The New York organisation expanded well beyond pure intelligence matters, and eventually combined the North American functions not just of SIS, but of M15, SOE and the Security Executive (which existed to co-ordinate counter-espionage and counter-subversion work): intelligence, security, special operations and also propaganda. Agents were recruited to target enemy or enemy controlled businesses, and penetrate Axis (and neutral) diplomatic missions; representatives were posted to key points, such as Washington, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle; American journalists, newspapers and news agencies were targeted with pro-British material; an ostensibly independent radio station (WURL), with an unsullied reputation for impartiality, was virtually taken over." William Donovan, the chief of the Office of Strategic Service (OSS) has called the British Security Coordination (BSC) "the greatest integrated secret intelligence and operations organization that has ever existed anywhere".
At the end of the Second World War the files of British Security Coordination were packed onto semitrilers and transported to Camp X in Canada. Stephenson wanted to have some record of the activities of the agency, "To provide a record which would be available for reference should future need arise for secret activities and security measures for the kind it describes." He recruited Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, to write the book. Stephenson told Dahl: "We don't dare to do it in the United States, we have to do it on British territory." Dahl commented: "He pulled a lot over Hoover... He pulled a few things over the White House, too, now and again. I wrote a little bit but eventually I called Bill and told him that it's an historian's job... This famous history of the BSC through the war in New York was written by Tom Hill and a few other agents." Only twenty copies of the book were printed. Ten went into a safe in Montreal and ten went to Stephenson for distribution.
In the 1960s Stephenson commissioned H. Montgomery Hyde, to write The Quiet Canadian (1962) about his work at the British Security Coordination. According to his biographer, David Hunt: "Its numerous invented stories, based on briefing from Stephenson, created a certain sensation but it still came short of Stephenson's inflated ideas; and as fresh revelations of British successes in the intelligence sphere continued to appear - for instance the Ultra secret - he clearly wished to claim credit for them." A classified CIA review said: "The publication of this study is shocking... Exactly what British intelligence was doing in the United States was closely held in Washington, and very little had hitherto been printed about it... One may suppose that Mr. Hyde's account... is relatively accurate, but the wisdom of placing it on the public record is extremely questionable."
The story of the development of the Anglo-American Intelligence relationship, and in particular of British influence on the establishment in July 1941 of the US Coordinator of Information (COI), precursor of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) established in June 1942 and of the post-war Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), remains the subject of research and some speculation. At the centre of the story and of the literature are two men who in the view of many (especially themselves) came to symbolise the Anglo-American Intelligence relationship, "Little Bill", later Sir William Stephenson, and Major-General William "Wild Bill" Donovan. Each is a figure about whom much myth has been woven, by themselves and others, and the full extent of their activities and contacts retains an element of mystery. Both were influential: Stephenson as head of British Security Coordination (BSC), the organisation he created in New York at Menzies's request and Donovan, working with Stephenson as intermediary between Roosevelt and Churchill, persuading the former to supply clandestine military supplies to the UK before the USA entered the war, and from June 1941 head of the COI and thus one of the architects of the US Intelligence establishment.
Morton's part in the story was largely that of intermediary. Contemporary American observers, such as US Ambassador in London Joseph Kennedy, his Military Attaché General Raymond E. Lee, and Ernest Cuneo, a US lawyer with close intelligence and political connections, saw him as a "top level operator", a "discreet and shadowy figure" with a "through wire" to Churchill." By this they meant that he was the man to approach with an urgent message for the Prime Minister. In respect of Stephenson and Donovan he was seen principally as a facilitator of what were assumed to be close personal relationships with Churchill enjoyed by both men. However, the evidence suggests that Churchill met Donovan on no more than one or two occasions, and may never have met Stephenson at all. Any dealings with the Prime Minister were conducted almost exclusively through Morton, a central point of contact. Churchill was uninterested in the detail of clandestine liaison arrangements, being concerned principally with his own relationship with Roosevelt, and with senior US representatives such as Harry Hopkins. He was also reluctant, in the summer of 1940 at least, "to give our secrets until the United States is much nearer to the war than she is now". He was content to leave intelligence liaison with Stephenson, Donovan and others to Morton on a personal, and Menzies on an operational, level.
It was, in fact, Menzies who was most effective in building the practical working relationship between British and American intelligence (and thereby laying the foundations for US post-war intelligence institutions). When Morton boasted to Colonel Ian Jacob in September 1941 that "to all intents and purposes US security is being run for them at the President's request by the British", he was referring to Stephenson and BSC: both reporting to Menzies. Stephenson, as we have seen, had approached SIS in 1939, with Morton's support, to secure Menzies' sponsorship for his industrial intelligence network.
No sooner had the arrangement been established satisfactorily in the spring of 1940, however, than Stephenson turned his attention, at Menzies's request, to exploring closer links with the US authorities; in particular, to establishing a closer relationship between SIS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Stephenson had spent much time in the US, where Menzies wished to increase the scope of SIS operations, and to cooperate more closely with both official and less formal authorities, establishing his own channels rather than, for example, going through M15 to the FBI. At this stage there was no central coordination of "US Intelligence" in any institutional form, only disconnected and rival bodies that sought to draw on the experience of their British analogues: Menzies wanted it to be he, and SIS, that provided it.
I have appointed Mr W.S. Stephenson to take charge of my organisation in the USA and Mexico. As I have explained to you, he has a good contact with an official who sees the President daily. I believe this may prove of great value to the Foreign Office in the future outside and beyond the matters on which that official will give assistance to Stephenson. Stephenson leaves this week. Officially he will go as Principal Passport Control Officer for the USA. I feel that he should have contact with the Ambassador, and should like him to have a personal letter from Cadogan to the effect that it may at times be desirable for the Ambassador to have personal contact with Mr Stephenson.
The head of the field service appears to be Mr. William S. Stephenson... in charge of providing protection for British ships, supplies etc. But in fact a full size secret police and intelligence service is rapidly evolving... with district officers at Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco, Portland and probably Seattle....
I have in mind, of course, that should anything go wrong at any time, the State Department would be called upon to explain why it permitted violation of American laws and was compliant about an obvious breach of diplomatic obligation... Were this to occur and a Senate investigation should follow, we should be on very dubious ground if we have not taken appropriate steps.
(i) The Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League. Used for the vehement exposure of enemy agents and isolationists. Prints a wide variety of pamphlets, copies of which have been sent to you. Has recently begun to attack Lindbergh and the many other conscious or unconscious native Fascists....
(ii) The League for Human Rights. A subsidiary organization of the American Federation of Labour which in its turn controls 4,000,000 trade unionists....
(iii) Friends of Democacy. An example of the work of this organization is attached. It is a complete attack upon Henry Ford for his Nazi leanings.
(iv) Fight for Freedom Committee. Both this and (iii) above are militant interventionist organizations whose aim is to provide Roosevelt with evidence that the U.S. public is eager for action.
(v) American Committee to Aid British Labour. Another branch organization of tile American Federation of Labour. It is organized along the lines that British labour is in the front line defending American labour. The latest activity of this organization has been to inaugurate a week during which all American trade unionists are asked to donate towards a fund in aid of British labour....
(vi) Committee for Inter-American Co-operation. Used this for sponsoring SO.1 work in Central and South America. It is now being used intensively for penetration in all Latin American countries, both as cover for agents and for sponsoring pamphlets.
(vii) American Last. A purely provocative experiment started in San Francisco in an attempt to sting America into a fighting mood.
Stephenson arrived in New York to take over as Passport Control Officer on Friday 21 June 1940. The following day France signed an armistice with the Germans, leaving Britain and the empire to stand alone. The official history of what became (from January 1941) British Security Co-ordination, which Stephenson had caused to be compiled in 1945, states that, before he left London, he "had no settled or restrictive terms of reference", but that Menzies "had handed him a list of certain essential supplies" which Britain needed. Menzies also laid down three primary concerns: "to investigate enemy activities, to institute adequate security measures against the threat of sabotage to British property and to organize American public opinion in favour of aid to Britain". With his headquarters on the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth floors of the International Building in the Rockefeller Center, 630 Fifth Avenue, Stephenson built up a very extensive organisation, recruiting many staff from his native Canada, although Menzies sent the intelligence veteran C. H. (Dick) Ellis to be his second-in-command. The New York organisation expanded well beyond pure intelligence matters, and eventually combined the North American functions not just of SIS, but of M15, SOE and the Security Executive (which existed to co-ordinate counter-espionage and counter-subversion work): intelligence, security, special operations and also propaganda. Agents were recruited to target enemy or enemy controlled businesses, and penetrate Axis (and neutral) diplomatic missions; representatives were posted to key points, such as Washington, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle; American journalists, newspapers and news agencies were targeted with pro-British material; an ostensibly independent radio station (WURL), "with an unsullied reputation for impartiality", was virtually taken over; and close liaison was established with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Stephenson also ran special operations throughout the western hemisphere and from July 1942 to April 1943 was put in charge of all SIS's South American stations.
Roosevelt: "Could Bohr be whisked out from under Nazi noses and brought to the Manhattan Project?"
Stephenson: "It will have to be a British mission. Niels Bohr is a stubborn pacifist. He does not believe his work in Copenhagen will benefit the Germany military caste. Nor is he likely to join an American enterprise which has as its sole objective the construction of a bomb. But he is in constant touch with old colleagues in England whose integrity he respects."
Here is a life and death struggle for every principle we cherish in America: For freedom of speech, of religion, of the ballot and of every freedom that upholds the dignity of the human spirit... Here all the rights that common man has fought for during a thousand years are menaced... The time has come when we must throw into the scales the entire moral and economic weight of the United States on the side of the free peoples of Western Europe who are fighting the battle for a civilized way of life.
The activities of BSC's Dennis Paine were another point of contention with American officials. In early 1942 the FBI claimed to have definite evidence that Dennis Paine of British intelligence in New York was conducting a Surveillance operation on assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle, for the purpose of getting "dirt" on him, because he was thought to be anti-British. The FBI informed Berle that they had proof Paine had been conducting a campaign against him. The FBI wanted Paine out of the U.S. immediately, and if he wasn't out within 24 hours, they would arrest him. Berle called in Halifax and Stephenson to complain, and Paine was sent out of the country. Halifax and Stephenson were reported to have thoroughly objected to the deportation, and denied involvement, but Hoover was adamant.
Dennis Paine worked for Ross Smith, and he believes Paine was set up, perhaps by the FBI, to encourage more State Department control of BSC and OSS. Paine was known to the FBI through a German-speaking American FBI informer who patrolled the dock areas of New York picking up information in bars. "Paine may have used him as an informer himself." Ross Smith says Paine was his immediate assistant on the Ship's Observer Scheme, and was not involved in any type of surveillance.
Following the war Paine denied vehemently that he was involved, Ross Smith said. "The real outcome of this was that Berle was then able to put great pressure to bring all British intelligence activities to an end, and to try and bring British things under greater control. This was averted, however, by the intervention of Donovan." It was apparent to Ross Smith that if the Paine affair was not an FBI plot, it was a contrived attempt to get Berle to take action to try and get BSC under the control of the FBI.
"British Security Coordination". The phrase is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history; a covert operation, moreover, that was run not in Occupied France, nor in the Soviet Union during the cold war, but in the US, our putative ally, during 1940 and 1941, before Pearl Harbor and the US's eventual participation in the war in Europe against Nazi Germany...
After the fall of France in June 1940, Britain's position became even weaker - it was assumed that British capitulation was simply a matter of time; why join the side of a doomed loser, ran the argument in the US. Roosevelt's hands were therefore firmly tied. Much as he might have liked to help Britain (and this, I feel, is a moot point: just how enthusiastic was FDR himself?) he dared not risk alienating Congress - and he had a presidential election looming that he did not want to lose. To go to the country on a "Join the war in Europe" ticket would have been electoral suicide. He had to be very pragmatic indeed - and there was no greater pragmatist than FDR.
All the same, Churchill's task, as he himself saw it, was clear: somehow, in some way, the great mass of the population of the US had to be persuaded that it was in their interests to join the war in Europe, that to sit on the sidelines was in some way un-American. And so British Security Coordination came into being...
Stephenson called his methods "political warfare", but the remarkable fact about BSC was that no one had ever tried to achieve such a level of "spin", as we would call it today, on such a vast and pervasive scale in another country. The aim was to change the minds of an entire population: to make the people of America think that joining the war in Europe was a "good thing" and thereby free Roosevelt to act without fear of censure from Congress or at the polls in an election.
BSC's media reach was extensive: it included such eminent American columnists as Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, and influenced coverage in newspapers such as the Herald Tribune, the New York Post and the Baltimore Sun. BSC effectively ran its own radio station, WRUL, and a press agency, the Overseas News Agency (ONA), feeding stories to the media as they required from foreign datelines to disguise their provenance. WRUL would broadcast a story from ONA and it thus became a US "source" suitable for further dissemination, even though it had arrived there via BSC agents. It would then be legitimately picked up by other radio stations and newspapers, and relayed to listeners and readers as fact. The story would spread exponentially and nobody suspected this was all emanating from three floors of the Rockefeller Centre. BSC took enormous pains to ensure its propaganda was circulated and consumed as bona fide news reporting. To this degree its operations were 100% successful: they were never rumbled.
Nobody really knows how many people ended up working for BSC - as agents or sub-agents or sub-sub-agents - although I have seen the figure mentioned of up to 3,000. Certainly at the height of its operations in late 1941 there were many hundreds of agents and many hundreds of fellow travellers (enough finally to stir the suspicions of Hoover, for one). Three thousand British agents spreading propaganda and mayhem in a staunchly anti-war America. It almost defies belief. Try to imagine a CIA office in Oxford Street with 3,000 US operatives working in a similar way. The idea would be incredible - but it was happening in America in 1940 and 1941, and the organisation grew and grew...
One of BSC's most successful operations originated in South America and illustrates the clandestine ability it had to influence even the most powerful. The aim was to suggest that Hitler's ambitions extended across the Atlantic. In October 1941, a map was stolen from a German courier's bag in Buenos Aires. The map purported to show a South America divided into five new states - Gaus, each with their own Gauleiter - one of which, Neuspanien, included Panama and "America's lifeline" the Panama Canal. In addition, the map detailed Lufthansa routes from Europe to and across South America, extending into Panama and Mexico. The inference was obvious: watch out, America, Hitler will be at your southern border soon. The map was taken as entirely credible and Roosevelt even cited it in a powerful pro-war, anti-Nazi speech on October 27 1941: "This map makes clear the Nazi design," Roosevelt declaimed, "not only against South America but against the United States as well."
The news of the map caused a tremendous stir: as a piece of anti-Nazi propaganda it could not be bettered. But was the South America map genuine? My own hunch is that it was a British forgery (BSC had a superb document forging facility across the border in Canada). The story of its provenance is just too pat to be wholly believable. Allegedly, only two of these maps were made; one was in Hitler's keeping, the other with the German ambassador in Buenos Aires. So how come a German courier, who was involved in a car crash in Buenos Aires, happened to have a copy on him? Conveniently, this courier was being followed by a British agent who in the confusion of the incident somehow managed to snaffle the map from his bag and it duly made its way to Washington.
The story of the South America map and the other BSC schemes was written up (in an extensive document of some hundreds of pages) after the war for private circulation by three former members of BSC (one of them Roald Dahl, interestingly enough). This secret history was a form of present for William Stephenson and a selected few others; it was available only in typescript and only 10 typescripts ever existed. Churchill had one, Stephenson had one and others were given to a few high officials in the SIS but they were regarded as top secret.
When Stephenson's highly colourful and vividly inaccurate biography was written (A Man Called Intrepid, 1976), the BSC typescript was drawn on by its author, but very selectively - in order to spare American blushes. The story of BSC seemed to be one of those wartime secrets that was never to be wholly revealed, like Bletchley Park and the Enigma machine decryptions. But the Enigma story was eventually made public and has been written about endlessly since the mid-1970s, fostering films, TV plays and novels in the wake of the revelations. But somehow BSC and the role of British agents in the US before Pearl Harbor has remained almost wholly undisclosed - one wonders why.
In 1998 the BSC typescript (one of only two remaining) was eventually published. To say it fell stillborn from the press would be an understatement. Yet here is a book of some 500 pages, written just after the war by former BSC agents, telling the whole story of Britain's US infiltration in great detail, recounting all the dirty tricks and the copious and widespread news manipulation that went on. I think it's fair to say that historians of the British Secret Services know about BSC and its operations, yet in the wider world it still remains virtually unheard of.
The reason is the story of BSC and its operations before Pearl Harbor is deeply embarrassing and remains so to this day. The document is explicit and condescending about American gullibility: "The simple truth is the United States is inhabited by people of many conflicting races, interests and creeds. These people, though fully conscious of their wealth and power in the aggregate, are still unsure of themselves individually, still basically on the defensive." BSC set out to manipulate "these people" and was very successful at so doing - hardly the kind of attitude countries involved in a "special relationship" should display. But that relationship is a Churchillian myth, invented and fostered by him after the war, and has been bought into wholesale by every subsequent British prime minister (with the possible exception of Harold Wilson).
As the secret history of the BSC unequivocally shows, sovereign states act exclusively to serve their own interests. A commentator in the Washington Post who read the BSC history remarked, "Like many intelligence operations, this one involved exquisite moral ambiguity. The British used ruthless methods to achieve their goals; by today's peacetime standards, some of the activities may seem outrageous. Yet they were done in the cause of Britain's war against the Nazis - and by pushing America towards intervention, the British spies helped win the war." Would BSC's activities eventually have encouraged the US to join the war in Europe? It remains one of the great "what ifs" of historical speculation. The tide of US public opinion seemed to be turning towards the end of 1941 - though isolationist sentiments remained very strong - and BSC's propaganda and relentless news manipulation deserved much of the credit for that change but, in the event, matters were taken out of BSC's hands. On the morning of Sunday, December 7 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor - the "day of infamy" had dawned and the question of American neutrality was gone for ever.
In the early spring of 1940, William Stephenson paid a visit to the United States. Ostensibly private business was the purpose of his journey. In fact, he travelled at the request of CSS.
He had received instructions which were explicit but limited in purpose to furthering Anglo-American cooperation in one specific field. He was required to re-establish on behalf of CSS a high-level liaison with the Federal Bureau of Investigation - a liaison which had been cut off as a result of British belligerency and American neutrality but without which SIS could not function effectively in the United States.
William Stephenson saw J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, and explained the purpose of his mission. Hoover said frankly that, while he himself was not opposed to working with SIS, he was under strict injunction from the State Department to refrain from collaboration with the British in any way which could be interpreted as an infringement of United States neutrality, and he made it clear that he would not be prepared to contravene this policy without direct Presidential sanction. Further, he stipulated that even if the President could be persuaded to agree to the principle of collaboration between the FBI and SIS, such collaboration should be effected initially by a personal liaison between William Stephenson and himself and that no other US government department, including the Department of State, should be informed of it.
Accordingly, William Stephenson arranged for a mutual friend to put the matter before the President, and Mr Roosevelt, upon hearing the arguments in favour of the proposed liaison, endorsed them enthusiastically. "There should be the closest possible marriage", the President said, "between the FBI and British Intelligence." Later, by way of confirmation, he repeated these words to HM Ambassador in Washington...
J. Edgar Hoover is a man of great singleness of purpose, and his purpose is the welfare of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI had already been in existence some years when, as a young man, Hoover was appointed its director nearly a quarter of a century ago. But he became its personification. He transformed it from a little known federal agency into a national institution, with a fabulous reputation for efficiency and achievement, an institution which is now regarded as the surest possible guarantee that crime in the United States cannot pay. Although Hoover is occasionally criticized in the liberal press on account of his suspected right-wing bias and anti-Communist phobia, the FBI has to endure none of that newspaper sniping against its usefulness to which other federal agencies, almost without exception, are periodically subjected. Its record has placed it above criticism.
Hoover has little time for leisure and few interests outside the FBI. His acquaintances are, therefore, predominantly made up of those with whom his work brings him into contact. To them he can be extremely affable, provided he is satisfied that they threaten neither directly nor indirectly the prestige and influence of the agency which he directs with such devotion. Hoover is in no way anti-British, but in every way pro-FBI. His job is at once his pride and his vanity. These facts are emphasized because they are fundamental to an understanding of the course of BSC's relationship with the FBI, which did not run smoothly throughout.
At the outset - and indeed until a few weeks before Pearl Harbor, when events, to be described in a subsequent chapter, caused a radical change in his attitude - Hoover could hardly have been more cooperative. Clearly William Stephenson's organization employing, as it did, not only its own intelligence agents but what amounted to its own police force represented an obvious threat to United States neutrality and could not have existed at all without the FBI's sanction.
The liaison with Hoover provided William Stephenson with a foundation upon which to build a secret organization in the United States. To achieve his immediate parallel purpose of obtaining certain essential supplies for Britain, he needed an intermediary par excellence for negotiations with the White House. In that respect it was fortunate that he was already well acquainted with William Joseph Donovan.
Donovan may be described as in every way a big man. He has great generosity of spirit, many enthusiasms and considerable breadth of interests. He is a former American football star and holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor which he won in the First World War, when he commanded the famous "Fighting 69th" and earned for himself the title "Wild Bill" Donovan - somewhat inappropriately, for though he is energetic and has a commanding personality, he is by nature modest and unassuming. In private life, he is a highly successful New York lawyer. He is self-made and has risen to his present eminence in what Americans like to call `the hard way'.
Though a member of the Republican Party, he exercised considerable influence in the inner councils of the Roosevelt Administration, for the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, and the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, were all his friends of long standing. Further, he was one of the President's most trusted personal advisers.
Donovan, by virtue of his very independence of thought and action, inevitably has his critics, but there are few among them who would deny the credit due to him for having reached a correct appraisal of the international situation in the summer of 1940. At that time the United States Government was debating two alternative courses of action. One was to endeavour to keep Britain in the war by supplying her with the material assistance of which she was desperately in need. The other was to give Britain up for lost and concentrate exclusively on American rearmament to offset the German threat. That the former course was eventually pursued is due in large measure to Donovan's tireless advocacy of it.
Donovan greatly impressed by visit and reception... has strongly urged our case re destroyers... is doing much to combat defeatist attitude Washington by stating positively and convincingly that we shall win.
Donovan has urged upon President to see promised matters through himself with definite results ... Donovan believes you will have within a few days very favourable news... thinks he has restored confidence as to Britain's determination and ability to resist.
The first was Robert Sherwood, who, as his plays reveal, is an anglophile and a passionate anti-Fascist. It is now an open secret that Sherwood had a considerable hand in writing the President's more important speeches on international affairs, and he made a practice of showing each of these to WS (William Stephenson) while it was still in draft form, thus affording WS opportunity to suggest modifications, additions or deletions from the British point of view. He did this with the President's knowledge and approval.
The cooperation of newspaper and radio men was of the utmost importance. Without it, as will become apparent later on, many of BSC's operations against the enemy would have been impossible. Yet, in enlisting it, whether directly or through intermediaries, the greatest care had always to be exercised, for clearly if BSC had ever been uncovered or had the sources of its information been exposed, it would at once have been in the position of an overt British propaganda organization and as such considerably worse than useless. The conduct of its Political Warfare was entirely dependent on secrecy. For that reason the press and radio men with whom BSC maintained contact were comparable with sub-agents and the intermediaries with agents. They were thus regarded.
Several of BSC's more important press contacts were established directly by WS before he had the advantage of a working organization. The number was subsequently increased - and radio contacts were added - through intermediaries. There is no need to list them all, but among those who rendered service of particular value were George Backer, publisher of the New York Post, Ralph Ingersoll, editor of PM, Helen Ogden Reid, who controls the New York Herald Tribune, Paul Patterson, publisher of the Baltimore Sun, A. H. Sulzberger, President of the New York Times, Walter Lippman and several other columnists, William L. Shirer, the commentator, and Walter Lemmon, owner of Station WRUL.
While such a team was clearly in a position to exercise considerable influence on public opinion, it remained true that the American press was in a large measure controlled by men of anti-British and isolationist persuasion. To overcome this handicap WS employed three methods. First, he made use of pro-Administration columnists, who, though their columns appeared in the hostile press, were free to write what they pleased because of their mass appeal - for example, Walter Winchell.
Secondly, he enlisted the cooperation of individual employees of isolationist newspaper owners who were prepared in the cause of anti-Fascism to work surreptitiously against the interests of their masters - for example, the head of International News Service (a Hearst-controlled news agency) was persuaded to render great assistance to one of BSC's major campaigns. Thirdly, in a few instances, he made contact, initially through intermediaries and latterly directly, with hostile publishers in an endeavour not so much to win them over as to neutralize them. As example, he undertook a prolonged wooing of Roy Howard, President of the large chain of Scripps-Howard newspapers, though it should be said here in parenthesis that Howard's immediate assistant was persuaded to work actively in BSC's behalf. WS learned that Roy Howard was anti-British largely by reason of a well-developed inferiority complex; he was a little man - vain, ambitious and overdressed; a clever reporter with a thirst for political power. The first definite move to tame him was made in August 1940, when he visited Australia and at WS's suggestion was paid special attention. Apparently he remained unimpressed, for upon his return he pursued his anti-British and isolationist policy with more vigour than ever before, and though invited - in December of 1940 - to visit England, ignored the invitation. It was not until June of 1943 - by which time, of course, the isolationist issue was dead, although the question of Anglo-American relations was still very much alive - that WS's efforts at conciliation reached, as it were, a climacteric. In that month it was arranged that Lord Beaverbrook should invite Howard to visit England and on this occasion he accepted. He flew to London with Lord Beaverbrook, WS, Donovan and Harriman in Lord Beaverbrook's private plane. Either on the way over or during his stay he experienced a slight but quite perceptible change of heart. Shortly after his return to the United States he remarked to a BSC source: "American feeling toward Britain has improved considerably in the past year or so ... Americans do not like Britishers better, but they have a fuller appreciation of what Britain has done and is doing ... Most Americans, including myself, are now out of patience with criticism of British internal management."
Other newspaper owners - more warped and deeply embedded in the isolationist doctrine than Roy Howard - were beyond hope of conversion and the possible advantage to be gained from contacting them would clearly not have discounted the danger of so doing. Yet during the critical period before Pearl Harbor they represented such a grave menace to the British cause that serious consideration was given to the possibility of putting them out of business; and an opportunity for silencing in this way the elderly but extremely powerful William Randolph Hearst did in fact occur.
In June 1941, WS learned that the Hearst syndicate owed $10,500,000 to Canadian paper manufacturers - all in the form of demand notes which were renewable every six months. Upon further investigation, it was found that any one of the creditor companies, by demanding payment, could have quickly brought about the liquidation of the entire Hearst syndicate; and its collapse would have been rendered all the more certain by the fact that if one company had taken action, the others would inevitably have followed suit. Up to that time they had not pressed for payment, because their only hope of recovering the sums due to them was to keep the syndicate alive. On the other hand, if the Canadian paper supply had ceased or been interrupted, publication of all the Hearst newspapers would have become impossible within thirty days, since paper could not be obtained elsewhere.
Through friends in Canada WS ascertained that it would be possible to buy one or more of the demand notes, since these were negotiable. Had this been done, the buyer would have been able either to force the Hearst syndicate to suspend publication altogether or to bring about a radical change in its policy. The matter was referred to the Treasury but, after due consideration, the Treasury stated that it was unwilling to provide the necessary funds.
As a footnote to this chapter, it should be observed that just as BSC's various functions, though divided by name and performed under the jurisdiction of separate organizations in London, were closely related, so, too, the American assistance described above served needs additional to those of Political Warfare. It is clear that WS could not have used the Administration as a medium of propaganda if he had had no means of passing information to the White House. It is equally clear that he would have been severely handicapped in planning any Political Warfare operations if he had had no means of receiving information from the White House. But by the very fact of securing such means he became equipped also to engage in covert diplomacy and to collect secret intelligence about American affairs. As already stated, WS undertook secret negotiation with the White House through men like Donovan, Astor and Sherwood, and through them, too, he was given advance information of the President's intentions and engagements in foreign policy.
These and other high-level contacts were a prolific source of intelligence and for that reason were maintained after Pearl Harbor, when to influence American public opinion was no longer a matter of major concern. In result, WS was able to keep CSS constantly advised concerning trends and likely developments in United States affairs - both foreign and domestic.
Newspaper contacts also yielded a certain amount of intelligence. This may seem a surprising statement at first sight, but the truth is that the majority of American politicians, not excluding Cabinet Ministers, are willing to supply influential members of the press with `inside' information in return for favourable publicity. Such information is, of course, usually handed out under pledge of secrecy - to be used as "background material" and not for publication. But it is given out nonetheless, and during the war, as BSC discovered, contained much material of political interest as well as several operational secrets of vital importance.
The period during which Donovan's organization was largely dependent on BSC may be said to have lasted until June 1942. In that month a Presidential Executive Order abolished COI and established two new agencies in its place - the Office of War Information (OWI) and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The former, under Elmer Davis, was entrusted with responsibility, inter alia, for all overseas propaganda other than "black" (i.e. covert) propaganda. The latter, under Donovan, was entrusted with COI's remaining functions. OSS's sphere of operations was restricted to exclude the Western Hemisphere, and Donovan was placed directly under the Chiefs of Staff.
This order, while it limited the scope of Donovan's activities, yet considerably strengthened his position. It removed the causes of friction which had hitherto existed between his organization and other US intelligence agencies, notably the FBI. At the same time, by establishing OSS as an arm of the US Services, it put Donovan above suspicion of being an instrument of Presidential policies and made his organization an essential part of the war effort.
At the time the order was issued both WS and Donovan were in London, and it was, therefore, the occasion for discussions concerning future collaboration between OSS and its British equivalents. Out of these discussions there emerged agreements between OSS and SIS, and between OSS and SOE as follows:
1. Between OSS and SIS
It was decided that there should be as free an interchange of intelligence as possible - and on as high a plane as possible - but no integration of OSS with SIS inasmuch as each organization would remain free to adopt its own methods for the collection of intelligence and would operate independently wherever it pleased. This agreement, which was formalized in a short exchange of letters, remained valid for the duration of the war.
2. Between OSS and SOE
For the purpose of Special Operations, the world was divided into various zones designated as British zones, American zones and British-American zones. It was decided that in British zones, SOE should have command and in American zones OSS; while in British-American zones, such as Germany, both organizations would be free to operate independently, although, wherever possible, their activities should be closely coordinated. This agreement, known as the London Agreement, was, with certain minor alterations, subsequently approved on the American side by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and on the British side by the Foreign Office and the British Chiefs of Staff....
To make a detailed assessment of the work of OSS in the field is outside the scope of this book. Yet it can be said for certain that well before the war ended it was comparable quantitatively with the combined efforts of SIS and SOE - in itself a considerable accomplishment when it is remembered how little time Donovan was afforded to build his organization and how many serious obstacles he faced at the outset. Qualitatively, too, much of OSS's work was without doubt of first-class importance by any standard. As just one example, it is, perhaps, pertinent to recall that the head of OSS's office in Berne persuaded an official of the German Foreign Office to provide him with copies of all telegrams which passed through his hands. This material, on the assumption that it was genuine, was clearly intelligence of the greatest value, and for a long while SIS, despite OSS's assurances to the contrary, could not believe that it was other than a "plant". However when GCCS were eventually enabled to check it against their own findings, its reliability was established beyond question.
Under Presidential Executive Order of 20 September 1945, OSS has been abolished as a separate agency and its functions divided, for the time being, between the Departments of War and State. This does not mean, however, that its establishment before Pearl Harbor has proved of only evanescent worth. Whatever new arrangements may eventually be made, it is clear that the United States Government is now fully convinced of the need for preserving a coordinated Foreign Intelligence Service which must be built on the foundations laid by OSS.
Timely steps should also be taken to conserve those resources and skills developed within your organization which are vital to our peacetime purposes... I want to take this occasion to thank you for the capable leadership you have brought to a vital war time activity in your capacity as Director of Strategic Services. You may well find satisfaction in the achievements of the office and take pride in your own contribution to them. These are in themselves large rewards. Great additional reward for your efforts should lie in the knowledge that the peacetime intelligence services of the Government are being erected on the foundation of the facilities and resources mobilized through the Office of Strategic Services during the war.
Paralleling the tactics used by the NSDAP in Germany, the pro-Nazi forces within the United States formed "patriotic societies" devoted ostensibly to serving the interests of "Americanism". There were a great many such organizations ranging all the way from ridiculous little imitations of Fascism like William Dudley Pelley's "Silver Shirts" to wealthy and powerful organizations such as the America First Committee. The dozens of interlocking isolationist organizations held mass meetings, issued pamphlets and periodical news-sheets, trained street-corner speakers and organized "educational" meetings under the auspices of existing clubs. Quickly their effectiveness grew, so that by early 1941 the temper of the people all over the country became difficult to assess. It gave the impression of being unstable and dangerous.
In Detroit, Lord Halifax was hit with eggs and ripe tomatoes which were thrown with unusual accuracy by some isolationist women. The Ambassador said: "We do not have any such surplus in England." A Senator told 3,000 people in Brooklyn that "It is not freedom of the seas that England wants, but domination". A Congressman shouted at a large audience: "the present war was brought upon the Third Reich by England and France". Many other remarks of the same irresponsible kind were being made by prominent people. The Germans were doing well in the United States.
The situation was becoming serious, for, in contrast to the success of enemy propaganda, British efforts were feeble and ineffective. In April 1941, BSC began to investigate. It was noticed that during and immediately after the Battle of Britain, and even after the sinking of the Graf Spee, there had been a sudden growth of sentiment in favour of Britain. However, adequate measures had not been taken to exploit the propaganda advantages of such victories, whereas the German propaganda forces invariably put every opportunity that came their way to fullest use, rallying to the attack whenever a new occasion offered. The news agencies, Transocean and DNB, were always first with the headlines and they would counteract whatever German reverses there were to report in other spheres. Accordingly, WS obtained reports on the situation from Donovan, who was in close touch with the President, discussed the matter with American public opinion experts...
These warnings went unheeded, and accordingly WS decided to take action on his own initiative. He instructed the recently created SOE Division to declare a covert war against the mass of American groups which were organized throughout the country to spread isolationism and anti-British feeling. In the BSC office plans were drawn up and agents were instructed to put them into effect. It was agreed to seek out all existing pro-British interventionist organizations, to subsidize them where necessary and to assist them in every way possible. It was counter-propaganda in the strictest sense of the word. After many rapid conferences the agents went out into the field and began their work. Soon they were taking part in the activities of a great number of interventionist organizations, and were giving to many of them which had begun to flag and to lose interest in their purpose, new vitality and a new lease of life. The following is a list of some of the larger ones:
1. The Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights. This society organized boycotts of all firms dealing in German goods, published exposures of Germans and pro-German Americans in the USA, picketed isolationist meetings and issued a periodical bulletin on Nazi activities in America. As an example of its work, at an America First rally featuring Lindbergh as speaker, the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League distributed leaflets showing Lindbergh in amicable conversation with the be-medalled Erhard Milch of the Luftwaffe.
2. The League of Human Rights, Freedom and Democracy. This was a committee aimed at winning the support of organized labour. It had branches in over 200 cities. Its honorary president was William Green, head of the American Federation of Labor, its president, Matthew Woll, vice-president of the American Federation of Labor; and its vice-president, David Dubinsky of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union. Its theme was that American labour owed it to itself to assist British labour in the fight against Hitler. One of its best achievements was the distribution of a pamphlet contrasting Nazi statements of principle with those of distinguished Americans, under the title of "Their Aims - Our Aims". Sample copies of this were sent to 4,800 branch offices of AFL unions, with such success that over 8,000,000 were eventually distributed in the United States alone and 2,000,000 more in Latin America. In addition, it sent selected news items to 400 labour papers and magazines every week.
3. The American Labor Committee to Aid British Labor was another affiliate of the American Federation of Labor, also under the chairmanship of Matthew Woll. It held mass meetings, sponsored radio broadcasts and distributed "Aid British Labor" buttons, "Help Smash Dictators" circulars, posters, etc. These two committees were particularly useful in the period when much of organized labour was still anti-British because it followed, or was attracted to, pro-Soviet isolationists. It was impossible to do anything with large segments of the Congress of Industrial Organizations before June 1941, but its powerful rival, the American Federation of Labor, was thus induced to side with the British.
4. The Ring of Freedom, an association led by the publicist Dorothy Thompson, the Council for Democracy; the American Defenders of Freedom, and other such societies were formed and supported to hold anti-isolationist meetings which branded all isolationists as Nazi-lovers.
5. The Free World Association, which had on its committee the Spanish Republican politician Julio Alvarez del Vayo, the Uruguayan anti-Nazi propagandist Hugo Fernandez Artucio, the Socialist Louis Dolivet, and other distinguished liberals with whom BSC was closely in touch. Founded in June-July 1941, it functioned in the United States mainly through liberal meetings and articles in liberal weeklies, but had more influence in Latin America, which will be described in the proper place. It also sponsored broadcasts to Europe. In conjunction with the "Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies" and the societies described under (1) and (2) above, it held over a hundred "Stop Mass Murders" meetings throughout the USA in November 1941 against the shooting of French hostages by the Germans. There were 750 speakers, the estimated attendance was 350,000, and 20,000 newspapers carried announcements or reports of the proceedings.
6. The Civilian Defence and Information Bureau, which sent 85,000 copies of an article on the British Empire by Sir Norman Angell, reprinted in pamphlet form, to the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, local chairmen of the "Committee to Defend America", doctors, lawyers, and educators through the USA.
7. Many anti-Nazi groups were organized among the foreign-language minorities in the United States. These communities had been penetrated by German or Italian propagandists.
Obviously the part BSC played in stimulating and encouraging these and many other similar societies throughout the United States had to be carefully concealed. All financing and all contacts were managed through reliable cut-outs so that the fact that Britain was greatly responsible for what appeared to be a new surge of honest American opinion was never revealed.
Close examination of US press during past fortnight indicates almost complete failure prevent Axis monopoly of war news coverage ... most journals... carry preponderance of Axis news... photographs... few if any British photographs appear... Axis news reports reach here more quickly than ours... rapidly followed by copious flow of descriptive material photographs and films... Transocean and DNB keep up flow and build up stories even in quiet periods.... invariably beat our news to headlines... We fail counteract major stories such as Greek withdrawal by good presentation of other stories such as Ethiopian success... US newsmen here say Germans show far better sense of news and timing... infinitely better understanding US psychology.
America First: There was one isolationist society which was so large and so powerful that BSC decided to give it special attention. The America First Committee embraced peoples of all creeds in all places in the United States. Among its members there was Charles Lindbergh, who was then still a national hero. There were Colonel Robert McCormick and his powerful Chicago Tribune, Father Coughlin and Father Curran who brought with them the Catholics and the Irishmen, and such men as Henry Ford, General Robert E. Wood of the huge Sears-Roebuck merchandising firm and many other anti-Roosevelt industrialists who provided sound financial support. Some of the greatest publicity experts in the US, such as Bruce Barton and Chester Bowles, were also members.
America First did not start as a pro-German association. It was founded in Chicago in October 1940 and was designed to compete with the pro-British societies such as William Allen White's Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. Full-page advertisements appeared in newspapers throughout the country. Large-scale propaganda was conducted and the aims and ideals of America First were made known in every town in every state. The propaganda was clever and was calculated to obtain the support of the greatest possible number of groups and cliques. It appealed to pacifists, haters of Roosevelt, haters of Great Britain, anti-Communists, anti-Semites, admirers of Germany, American imperialists, devotees of big business, and to those who hated Europe, who regarded that continent as a corrupt and backward region which stood for all the things from which the Pilgrim Fathers and their successors had fled.
Through the winter of 1940 America First grew monstrously. By the spring of 1941, it was extending itself into a nationwide movement, founding "chapters" in all the principal cities and in many universities, building up a huge mailing list for its propaganda, bringing in sympathizers from other isolationist and anti-British societies, holding mass meetings, training street-corner speakers; "lobbying" in Washington, spreading directions for exercising pressure on Congress, passing out handbills, postcards and pamphlets libelling Britain and the President, funnelling its ideas into foreign-language groups and from time to time picketing the British Embassy, Consulates and other British Missions. By the late spring of 1941, it had 700 "chapters" and nearly 1,000,000 members (with Charles Lindbergh emerging as its leader). The principal call on its energies was a campaign directed against the passing of the Lend-Lease Act and against the proposal for convoying ships across the Atlantic.
In the summer of 1941, the Russo-German treaty was broken, which meant that America First lost nearly all its left-wing support. But the society was so vast that this had no effect upon its continued existence. The Germans had been quick to realize its worth. Many of them had infiltrated into its ranks. As a result, it became more and more openly anti-British and pro-German, while at the same time it lost its original wholly American appearance. Many of its more skilful speakers coupled together the names of Hitler and Churchill or Hitler and Stalin as com¬petitors for European domination. Audiences booed the names of Churchill and Stalin, but remained silent when Hitler was mentioned. Day by day, week by week, the abuse which speech-makers poured upon the British Empire grew more violent and vitriolic. Only a few months before Pearl Harbor Lindbergh publicly intimated that there were only three groups which wanted America to enter the war: the British, the Jews and the Roosevelt Administration. The hysterical blend of hatred and exaltation with which this message was greeted was frighteningly reminiscent of a Parteitag in Nuremberg.
From its very beginning WS perceived the potential menace of the America First Committee. As the speed of its growth was observed, agents were dispatched to each part of the country to attend its meetings, to keep track of its new members and to ponder upon new and effective ways of instigating counter-propaganda. One agent befriended the woman who was the head of the society's lecture bureau in New York and procured from her a mass of information about its propaganda themes, its financing and its backers, particularly about its German backers, the official ones such as Ulrich von Gienanth of the German Embassy, and the private ones such as Gunther Hansen-Sturm. Another agent, an expert on Japan, investigated the society's dangerous Far Eastern Committee, and in the offices of BSC these findings and many more were collected and pieced together. The disposition of the enemy's forces was thus obtained so that plans could be made for the forthcoming battle.
The counter-offensive was developed along three different lines. First, arrangements were made for a press exposure of the society's close ties with German activities. Secondly, various pro-British American groups were approached and counter-attacks were planned through them. Thirdly, efforts were made to prove that the society was concerned with illegal, treasonous activities. All three of these lines of counter-offensive were successfully pressed home, the while BSC remained in the background, drawing up new plans of battle and giving directions for carrying them out.
For the press exposure, BSC agents collected quantities of material, which was a straightforward intelligence job. Copies were obtained of cheques made out to Congressmen - as, for example, a cheque to Hamilton Fish from G. Hansen-Sturm, the Nazi propagandist. Many stories were written up regarding the evil pro-German habits and sympathies of particular personalities.
The pro-German attitude of the whole society was analysed in carefully prepared essays. All this and much more was handed out by devious means to the great impartial newspapers of the country, and throughout the summer and autumn of 1941 the press featured newsworthy and damaging information about the pro-German society which was a cancer within the nation. Personalities were discredited, their unsavoury pasts were dug up, their utterances were printed and reprinted. Those who read what was written (and they were many) could not but realize that something was wrong. Little by little a sense of guilt crept through the cities and out across the states. The campaign took hold.
The second line of counter-offensive, that of assisting and subsidizing pro-British societies, has been mentioned in the previous section. Nevertheless, because America First was a particularly serious menace, BSC decided to take more direct action. Its agents persuaded one or more of these pro-British societies to cover each important America First meeting and do all that they could to disrupt it and discredit the speakers. When Senator Nye spoke in Boston in September 1941, Fight for Freedom passed out 25,000 handbills attacking him as an appeaser and as a Nazi-lover, inserted a large advertisement in the local newspapers to the same purpose and procured counter-statements answering his speech. Its representatives also called up every radio station in the area asking for time to answer any broadcast that he might make, with the result that the stations in question decided not to give him any facilities.
When Representative Hamilton Fish made a speech at an America First rally in Milwaukee, Fight for Freedom was there too, and just before Fish concluded his inspiring oration, someone handed him a card on which was written "Der Fuehrer thanks you for your loyalty". Photographers took a picture of the scene, and the picture, with the contents of Hitler's note upon the caption, made good copy for the newspapers. At the same meeting members of the American Legion acted as pickets outside the hall and numbers of girls inside the auditorium distributed Fight for Freedom literature.
Those are just two examples. Such activities by BSC agents and cooperating pro-British committees were frequent, and on many occasions America First was harassed and heckled and embarrassed. Only once did a plan miscarry, and that was at the Madison Square Garden on 30 October 1941, when Lindbergh was to address a huge rally. It happened then that BSC agents caused duplicate tickets for the meeting to be printed. These were passed out free to members of the friendly societies. The plan was for some of the holders of these illicit tickets to go early and be seated before the legitimate ticket holders arrived, and for others to arrive late and start trouble by demanding loudly the accommodation to which their tickets ostensibly entitled them. It seemed that there was a good possibility of disrupting the whole meeting. But unluckily - for some unexplained reason - there was a very small audience that night. The duplication of tickets was soon noticed and the ushers merely showed all the would-be protestors to many of the hundreds of vacant seats available. There was no trouble. America First merely had a bigger audience than would have been the case without BSC's benevolent intervention.
The third line of counter-offensive, the attempt to prove that America First was concerned with illegal, treasonous activities, is best illustrated by the campaign that developed into what has since come to be known as "The Congressional Franking Case"...
Upon investigation of a number of other New York envelopes "franked" by the notorious Senator Wheeler, it was found that the addresses were stencilled in a peculiar blue ink by a distinctive type of addressing machine. Further investigation proved that the machine was an out-of-date Elliott, of which there were only three in New York. BSC's agents ascertained that one of these three machines was the property of the Steuben Society, a German "cultural" organization. The next step was to obtain samples of confidential bulletins distributed by this Society. The samples were examined and found to have been stencilled on a similar machine, in the same peculiar blue ink and in the same distinctive style. The address plate bore the same code-number as the one that had been used for Wheeler's envelopes. The bulletins themselves urged members to attend certain meetings of the Steuben Society, at which reprints of speeches by Wheeler would be available in "franked" envelopes to be mailed to their friends.
In May 1941, the campaign was begun. BSC's friend - the direct mail specialist - published an open letter to Senator Wheeler accusing him of misusing the privilege of the Congressional "frank", with citations of all this evidence and more. It appeared throughout the United States in newspapers and magazines, while 100,000 reprints were distributed through firms and organizations. Wheeler protested in the Senate, but his reply was evasive and utterly inconclusive, and in the course of it he admitted incidentally that America First had purchased a million of his "franked" postcards. The immediate result was that the Steuben Society was fined for violation of the postal regulations. Wheeler himself lost considerable prestige...
BSC's campaign against America First throughout 1941 did not bring about the complete disintegration of the society, but success was had in reducing considerably its usefulness to the Germans at a very critical time, and the way was paved for the great disrepute into which it eventually fell. It happened that Senator Nye was delivering an address to one of the society's larger meetings when the chairman suddenly announced that the Japanese had attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Without hesitating Nye remarked: "It is just what the British planned for us." But a few days after the United States entered the war, America First was virtually no more than an evil memory.
The New York offices of SOE were in Rockefeller Center. It shared them with other Intelligence agencies under the general title of British Security Co-ordination. When I reported there for work, I was delighted to find that the head of my section was Bill Deakin, whom I had not seen since the beginning of the war. Combining authority with tact, he ran the section most efficiently. My first duty was to learn as much as I could about South American politics and the persons and organizations in the various countries who were likely to be German or Italian sympathizers. At the beginning, therefore, my time was mostly spent in mastering the contents of a very large number of files. The countries about which I came to know most were Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru. Much of this knowledge had no very clear relation to the war, but I enjoyed acquiring it and found myself valuing it for its own sake.
My closest colleague was Tony Samuel, with whom I shared an office. The youngest of three brothers, of whom I had known the second slightly at school, he was well provided with money; his grandfather, the first Lord Bearstead, had been one of the founders of the Shell Oil Company. Tony was several years younger than I, but shrewd and worldly wise. He suffered from deafness, which gave him an air and also, I think, a feeling of detachment. Unaffectedly generous, and with a vein of ironic humour, he was an agreeable companion both inside and outside the office. In the fifteen months or more that we worked together, I do not remember that we ever quarrelled.
Among the members of the other sections whom I got to know more or less well, a surprising number had a literary or theatrical background. There was the playwright, Ben Levy, who unlike most of the others was politically conscious and became a Labour member' of Parliament for a brief period after the war; his friend, Eric Maschwitz, a composer of lyrics for musical comedies and revues who had written the song A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square; Montgomery Hyde, the author among many other books of an excellent biography of Oscar Wilde; Christopher Wren, not, I think, himself a writer but the son of the author of Beau Geste; and my best friend among them, the elegant and charming Tim Brooke, who had worked in Hollywood. A later recruit from Hollywood ; was the novelist Noel Langley, who had gone there to make money but complained about its materialist values: he had written among other things the film script for The Wizard of Oz. His arrival succeeded that of my old Oxford friend Giles Playfair, an actor turned author, and of Bunty Howard, who was married to the actor Jack McNaughton and herself an actress. They had come from Australia, having escaped from Singapore when it fell to the Japanese.
A more important figure in the office than any of these was an international lawyer called Alexander Halpern, a Russian who had held some position in the Kerensky government. His wife Salome had kept the title of Princess and something of what I took to be the style of the ancien regime. They settled in London after the war, and I used often to meet Guy Burgess at their house. They took his discourses on politics more seriously than I did, but I do not believe that they suspected how far his commitment to communism had gone. Another of my colleagues whom I have occasionally seen in later life was Ivar Bryce, who might have served as a model for James Bond, the creation of his friend Ian Fleming, if one could imagine Bond divested of his appetite for violence. Ivar's looks were such that when he walked past our offices, the secretaries, who were massed in the centre, seemed each to give a little sigh. Like my own secretary Margery Cummer, of whom I became very fond, they were nearly all recruited from Canada. One reason for this may have been that the head of the office, William Stephenson, was a Canadian. He is said to have been an impressive person and good at the work, for which he was given a knighthood, but I never rose far enough in the hierarchy to meet him.
Seeing Gilbert Highet again in New York and finding that he had something of a bad conscience about taking no part in the war, I spoke about him to Bill Deakin, who thereupon enlisted him in our section. Gilbert put his considerable energy into the work and did it so well that when Bill left us a few months later to go first to Cairo and then to be parachuted into Jugoslavia, as leader of the first British mission to make contact with Tito, Gilbert was preferred to Tony Samuel and myself as his successor. Being comfortable as we were, neither Tony nor I begrudged him this promotion. It was an embarrassment as well as a source of pride to Gilbert when his wife, Helen MacInnes, published Above Suspicion, the first of her long series of spy stories, since he thought that he might be suspected of having broken his oath of secrecy by giving her advice. In fact, I have no doubt that the novel, which was an immediate success, was written entirely without his help. Its villain was modelled on Adam von Trott, who had been a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol when Gilbert was there, and a great social success in Oxford; he had joined the German Foreign Service and was employed in their Embassy in Washington. It turned out later that Helen had done him an injustice. He was indeed a Nationalist but not a Nazi, and his involvement in the unsuccessful plot against Hitler, in 1944, was to bring him torture and death.
Apart from keeping an eye on South America, the main business of our New York office had been to try to counteract the influence of the various groups in the United States that were either hostile to Britain or at any rate determined that their government should maintain a strict neutrality. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred about a fortnight after I arrived in the United States, and the American declaration of war on all the Axis powers, our work lost much of its importance. Not only did the American Government assume the chief responsibility for counter-espionage inside its own territory, but, following an old tradition, it regarded the countries of Central and South America as falling within its sphere of influence. At that time its own intelligence services were not very well co-ordinated; it became a joke among us that some South American informants were making a good living out of obtaining doubtful information from one United States agency and selling it to another: nevertheless these agencies saw it as their show and were not disposed to have us meddling in it. This did not mean that we withdrew our agents from the field, but we had to be careful about adding to their number. The result was that, for the time being at least, there was no question of my proceeding to any South American country.
George Hill was secretary to the arch-isolationist Representative Hamilton Fish. He also happened to be the Washington Commander of the Order of the Purple Heart, the American wounded ex-servicemen's organization. Both these positions enabled him to arrange for the insertion of isolationist propaganda in the Congressional Record. Such stuff need not be read out in Congress. It is necessary only for the Congressman to rise, obtain the formal permission of the House to insert his own introductory remarks and a document of any length in the Record, and then hand the whole to the Government Printer. Hill had no difficulty in getting his material inserted. If straightforward methods failed, which they seldom did because he was careful to approach only isolationist Senators and Representatives, then he fell back upon the Order of the Purple Heart. He would tell the secretaries of Congressmen that the Order of the Purple Heart wished their employer to have such and such a speech printed in the Congressional Record. The desires of such a respected veterans' organization were naturally never questioned.
Hill's purpose in getting this material in the Record was in order to obtain reprints of it from the Government Printer for distribution. Through Congressmen's secretaries, he got certain Congressmen to sign an order to the Government Printer for the required number of reprints, stating usually that the request came from the Order of the Purple Heart. He paid the secretaries the government price for the printing, which was about a third of the retail price. He sold the reprints to America First or to other organizations at the regular retail price and kept the difference himself.
This much was revealed to BSC agents. Then by the exertion of pressure in certain quarters, a Federal Grand jury investigation of German propaganda was arranged. During the investigation, an anti-British propagandist called Prescott Dennett was subpoenaed for misusing "franked" envelopes put out by his anti-British Islands for War Debts Committee. Dennett was working with Hill. The threat of investigation frightened him into telephoning Hill and asking him to remove to a place of safety some bags of `franked' mail which he, Dennett, had in his possession. Hill ordered a government lorry to pick up the bags and deliver them to a storeroom in Congress used by Hamilton Fish. The lorry picked them up, but by mistake it delivered them to Fish's office. Fish's girl secretary became flustered. She kept some of them and sent twelve others over to the office of America First. All these moves were being watched by BSC agents, and at this point it was suggested that the Federal authorities should raid the America First office.
The raid was made, and the bags were found. The girl secretary was subpoenaed and all the evidence was turned over to the Federal Prosecutor. Further evidence was provided by a reporter who stole two dustbins full of ashes from the headquarters of several isolationist committees, searched the ashes and found legible fragments of "franked" envelopes of the same type. Hill was brought to give evidence before the Federal Grand jury investigating German propaganda. During his evidence, he stated on oath that he had not given orders to hide these mail bags. He was prosecuted for perjury and sentenced to a term of two to six years' imprisonment.
Congressman Hamilton Fish himself came under fire. He was invited to testify before the Grand jury, and, when he did not respond, was subpoenaed. He tried to get the House of Representatives to grant him immunity from questioning, but failed. He was saved by the peculiar laxity of the American legal system. He rejoined the army in great haste and entered the decent obscurity of a training camp, from which he did not emerge until the affair had subsided.
However, in these troubled waters a bigger fish had been caught: George Sylvester Viereck, who had been Hill's paymaster. Viereck was a naturalized American citizen. He was a poet and writer. He had done propaganda work for Germany in the last war. He was a passionate admirer of the Hohenzollerns, claiming incidentally that he himself was a Hohenzollern bastard. BSC agents watched him carefully from the beginning. One of them knew him personally and spent much time with him and his friends. The Bermuda censors regularly picked up copies of his weekly reports to the propagandist Wirsing in Munich. All findings were passed by WS to the FBI and also to General Donovan for the Attorney-General.
The result was that in October 1941 Viereck was arrested for failing to give sufficient information when he registered as a foreign agent. In January 1942, he was tried. Hill, who had already been convicted, was brought out of gaol to give evidence and received a remission of sentence therefore. Hill said he had been introduced to Viereck by Hamilton Fish in July 1940 and had received money from him. A censor from Bermuda testified that she had intercepted an envelope from Viereck containing the manuscript of a book by Congressman Rush Holt, addressed to the German Ambassador in Lisbon. Much other evidence was forthcoming and Viereck was convicted. He appealed and was re-tried with the same result. He appealed again but without success, and was sentenced to one to five years with heavy fines. The Special Assistant to the United States Attorney-General wrote to BSC saying: "I want to express the thanks of the Department to British Security Coordination for the assistance which you have rendered in the Viereck case... We have found our association with you personally most pleasant and hope that we shall continue to keep in touch."
In December 1942, when Viereck was already in gaol, he was charged, together with twenty-seven other defendants, including many of the most violent anti-British isolationists, such as Ralph Townsend and Elizabeth Dilling, with seditious conspiracy. The trial which resulted was the biggest sedition case in the history of the United States. After careful consideration, the Assistant Director of Censorship determined that evidence obtained by British Censorship must not be introduced at the trial, because it would be likely to implicate a number of distinguished Congressmen and national figures.
Senator Wheeler and others succeeded in effecting the removal from the case of Federal Prosecutor Maloney, with whom BSC had worked in closest cooperation since the beginning of the investigation of Nazi propaganda; and due largely to the obstructive tactics of the defence the trial dragged on and on, and was apparently far from approaching its end when it was halted by the death of the presiding judge. However, at present writing a new trial is scheduled. Meanwhile Viereck remains in gaol.
The investigations and the events leading up to the exposure of Viereck and Fish and Hill have been set down in a book. Three thousand copies of it were bought and distributed by Fish's opponents in his Congressional District before the elections of November 1944. Fish was not re-elected. He attributed his defeat to Reds and Communists. He might - with more accuracy - have blamed BSC.
It may be worth recording the more important rules which BSC observed in running its rumour organization. They were as follows:
1. A good rumour should never be traceable to its source.
2. A rumour should be of the kind which is likely to gain in the telling. (On occasion BSC released a rumour in two parts. For example, a story about a ship finding dead German sailors off Kerguelen Island was supplemented a few days later with the name and some details of the raider in which the sailors were supposed to have served.)
3. Particular rumours should be designed to appeal to particular groups. Catholics in South America, for example, were always deeply influenced by stories of Nazi desecration of churches and monasteries. When the Vatican Radio, in December 1942, deplored sexual immorality in Germany, BSC was presented with an opportunity to invent material with which to feed the flames of Catholic resentment.
4. A particular rumour should have a specific purpose. The objectives of rumour spreading may be many, but a single rumour cannot be expected to serve more than one of them.
5. Rumours are most effective if they can be originated in several different places simultaneously and in such a way that they shuttle back and forth, with each new report apparently confirming previous ones.
The last point deserves elaboration, for with the cooperation of the New York correspondent of a leading London newspaper, BSC and SOE/London learned how to spread rumours over a very wide area. SOE would start a rumour in London by planting it in the office of the London newspaper in question. If the subject of the rumour were of sufficient importance, the paper would cable its New York correspondent for further information, because at that time British newspapers were obtaining much of their news of occupied Europe via the USA. BSC, having been warned by SOE, would then be prepared to `feed' the New York correspondent with additional information. At the same time, the London newspaper would make inquiries of an American news agency, which in turn would cable its Berlin correspondent. The rumour would thus be planted in Berlin - with the German censors, the Gestapo and the Berlin correspondent of the US news agency, who would in all likelihood discuss it with other newspaper correspondents.
A case history in point is provided by the following extract from a report sent to London by BSC in August 1941:
This rumour, after publication in the New York Post on August 15th, was cabled to Moscow by the Tass correspondent in Washington. It was broadcast from Moscow the following day in the form of a report from Switzerland. Presumably it was also published in the Moscow press and was sent thence to London by the British correspondents in Moscow. It was then cabled from London back to the United States by the United Press and was published in a completely new form on August 19th in the N. Y. Daily News, N. Y. Herald Tribune, and the N. Y. Daily Mirror.
A few examples are given below to illustrate the types of rumour which BSC circulated.
1. In November 1941, London requested that BSC disseminate or circulate rumours aimed at shattering the morale of U-boat crews. At once the ONA put out a story under an Ankara dateline which had every appearance of being authentic and which stated that a new super-explosive had been discovered by the British for filling depth charges. The story appeared on the front page of all the leading American newspapers. It reappeared in South America, bounced backwards and forwards across the Atlantic and finally reached Germany and the families of the U-boat crews.
2. On the basis of an intercepted letter, BSC invented a story that General Wilhelm Von Faupel was in North Africa plotting to bring the territory under Spanish-German domination. This was published in the Christian Science Monitor and quoted by the influential William L. Shirer in a news commentary over WABC.
3. In the Spanish diplomatic bag a letter was found explaining the official propaganda line to the Falange in Venezuela. It quoted the Russian paper Red Star for details of damage done in Bremen and Hamburg by RAF raids. A story was written by BSC (under a Caracas dateline) to the effect that Spanish propagandists were now quoting Soviet newspapers against Germany. It was sent out through the Overseas News Agency to the New York press and broadcast in German over WRUL. Two days later it was republished by anti-British sections of the American press.
4. In June 1942, the Ministry of Information asked SOE to spread a rumour about a German submarine torpedoing a Brazilian ship. BSC originated the story in Argentina. It was cabled back to London as genuine news and denied with indignation over the German wireless.
As a logical postscript to this Part, it should be said that BSC maintained contact with a number of key American newspapermen until the end of the war. It did so for two reasons: first, because there were occasional items of special concern which London requested BSC to "plant" in the US press; secondly - and more importantly - because, as already indicated, newspapermen often possessed secret intelligence about American affairs which they could be persuaded to divulge provided they were kept supplied with exclusive information from BSC's sources. This was essentially the pre-Pearl Harbor technique of Political Warfare in reverse, and to illustrate how it worked it is pertinent to recount something of BSC's dealings with two newspapermen who were (and still are) very much part of the American scene - Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson.
Both of them, when they embarked upon their careers as columnists, set about obtaining "hot" news by the infallible method of unearthing all that was discreditable in the past of prominent public figures and threatening to publish it unless their prospective victims would undertake to supply the columnists with other information they might require. This would have been no more than blackmail but for the fact that their victims also benefited. So huge was the audience which the two of them commanded daily that they could make, as well as break, a man. Hence the deference with which they were treated by all alike, from the President himself downwards. They were feared universally, because of their enormous power.
As a result of their profession, Winchell and Pearson were exceptionally well informed of what was going on in America.
They were, therefore, obvious though delicate sources for BSC to tap.
(a) Walter Winchell
Winchell's column, which was printed in more than 800 newspapers, was read by well over 25,000,000 persons daily, or one in every five or six of the entire population of the United States. There was no Senator or Representative whose constituents were not reached by his writings, and since Congressmen like votes, they were obliging to Winchell.
A Winchell column consisted of between twenty and fifty separate references to individuals or events. He wrote seven of these columns each week. Striking an arbitrary average of twenty-five items per column, this makes a total of more than 9,000 items a year - intimate, important, airy or disconcerting notes about people and things. Thus a typical wartime column might contain as its principal feature a forthright, and possibly courageous, denunciation of some native-born Fascist enterprise. But it would also include some score of minor items, ranging from a stroll of Marlene Dietrich along Fifth Avenue to a notice that Mr Fishbein, the gooseberry king, was about to be divorced by Mrs Fishbein.
J. Edgar Hoover was Winchell's friend, frolicked with him, on occasion, at the Stork Club, and was even indebted to him for the capture of the notorious gunman, Louis (Lepke) Buchalter. Buchalter surrendered through Winchell, because he knew that the agents of the law would not shoot him at sight, if he were in the company of so celebrated (and influential) a personage. A telegram which WS sent to London on 3 March 1944, the contents of which were obtained from Winchell through an intermediary, said: "Lepke reprieved 48 hours... Dewey is faced with complex situation for personal decision. He is progressing towards practically certain Republican nomination ... Lepke's statement (which is being retained by Dewey in extreme secrecy) implicates important New Dealers... If ... worthwhile, Dewey again reprieving Lepke for the purpose of ... deferring the final great expose until just before election time, so that he may produce a knockout blow for the President at the crucial moment."
When Franklin D. Roosevelt entertained Winchell at the White House, he opened the conversation, according to Winchell, by saying: "Walter, here's an item for you." Bundists, America-Firsters, Coughlinites and all the lunatic fringe of American isolationism probably concentrated more sheer hatred on Winchell's sleek grey head than upon that of any other one man. It is notable that many of them went to jail or were indicted on charges of traitorous or treasonable conduct as a result of his disclosures.
It is hardly necessary to add that his income was enormous - he himself boasted that he had "salted away a couple of million" - or that he went in constant fear for his personal safety. The country estate to which he retired by day to sleep, bristled with sirens, electric eyes and other up-to-date forms of alarm.
In the middle of 1943, WS found an excellent intermediary for dealing with Winchell. He was an American lawyer - and one of his duties was to provide Winchell with material. He was considerably prominent in the political world and had direct access to President Roosevelt. Since he was a sincere admirer of Great Britain and was convinced of the necessity of Anglo-American cooperation, his acquaintance with WS and certain members of the staff of BSC soon became a close working partnership. He would provide information which he had obtained either from Winchell or from his other sources. In return he would be given material to pass on to Winchell; and, as the alliance grew closer, BSC found itself able not only to place items in Winchell's column but, on occasion, to write a part or even the whole of the column itself. For example, in October 1943, London cabled WS: "Between 30 and 40 ex-Graf Spee internees released on parole... Have you any discreet means of having Argentine public attention drawn to this breach of agreement?"
WS replied: "Your telegram ... being dealt with this weekend."
A column of over a thousand words was written, beginning: "The following is an exclusive exposure of the attempt of the Argentine Government to send reinforcements to the Nazi submarine fleet... The people of the Argentine are not informed of this fact... This is the second time that the Ramirez Government has broken its word of honour... We cannot shake the hands of men who are helping to send our flag to the bottom of the sea, while our fellow Americans are dying to keep it flying in the sky."
It was handed to Winchell through WS's intermediary, subsequently published in its entirety and thus circulated to more than 25,000,000 people. Furthermore, Winchell drew attention to it in his regular Sunday evening broadcast; and after the Argentine Ambassador in Washington had been prompted by this to issue a public denial, BSC wrote another column for Winchell from which the following is an extract: "`Impossible and barbaric" is the quote of the Argentine Embassy about my broadcast and column.
The phrase is too valuable to drop, because "impossible and barbaric" exactly describes the President of the Argentine. Here are the facts... "South American radio stations picked up Winchell's broadcast and re-broadcast the story throughout the continent. The result was that President Ramirez decreed that the crew of the battleship Graf Spee were to be `concentrated in small groups, which will be under the supervision of the Army and Navy."
Winchell was so pleased with the quality of the Argentine material that he said to WS's intermediary:
"This is terrific. For God's sake don't make me a flash in the pan. Keep going." Thenceforward it was not difficult for WS to place with Winchell any item which London wished to be ventilated.
For example, in December 1944, public opinion in America was beginning to favour a lenient peace for Germany. WS handed the intermediary a column written for Winchell with the title: "Humanity vs. the German people". It was a cogent argument against leniency, based on facts. Winchell published it as it stood. Three more articles on the same subject were then prepared by BSC officers. Winchell published these as "Humanity vs. the German People, Parts 2, 3 and 4". The evidence suggested that many Americans were profoundly influenced by these indictments, for little was heard thereafter about the desirability of mild peace terms for Germany.
On another occasion, WS's intermediary received a personal request from President Roosevelt to assist him in preparing public opinion for the drafting of army nurses. The intermediary turned to WS for help.
It seemed an excellent opportunity to publicize the British war effort (not infrequently underestimated in the United States) and a column entitled "British Women - Orchids to Some Gallant Ladies" was prepared by BSC. It was published by Winchell as it stood, and WS arranged through his contacts that, on the day of its publication, Representative Celler of New York should request in the House permission to read it in full into the Congressional Record. The Speaker granted Celler's request.
In January 1945, President Roosevelt asked WS's intermediary to assist him in preparing public opinion for the passing of a National Service Act. Once again the latter requested BSC's cooperation, and another column was written for Winchell, entitled "Things I Never Knew". It contained a full account of the National Service Act in Great Britain.
Andrew Russell Pearson is a tall, tight-lipped individual, who looks uncomfortably like a horse, a likeness which is increased by his habit of snorting as he speaks. He has little sense of humour. He is a Quaker, who still occasionally addresses members of his family as "Thou" or "Thee". The garden-pool of his Washington house is stocked with goldfish bearing such names as Harry Hopkins and Harold Ickes. The cows on his Maryland farm are similarly christened: Henry Morgenthau, Ed Stettinius, Eleanor Roosevelt. Cordell Hull was slaughtered in the spring of 1945 and eaten by Pearson and his family with relish.
Washington was Pearson's beat. Cabinet Ministers, Senators, and Congressmen were his servants. His methods of extracting information and rewarding his informants were similar to those employed by Winchell, although Pearson regarded himself as a more serious reporter than his colleague, because he dabbled to a smaller extent in pregnancies, divorces and infidelities. Actually, he was less intelligent, and certainly far less trustworthy, than Winchell. He had a goatish indifference to the feelings of others, and was quite unperturbed if one of his disclosures cost a friend or acquaintance his job.
Pearson kept extensive records, both in his head and on his files, of the misdemeanours of important public men, mainly of politicians in Washington. He knew which Senators and Representatives had taken bribes from business "lobbyists", and which had been unfaithful to their wives. Moreover, he was adroit at hinting that he would not use the information if they made a point of telling him now and again what was going on in their departments. The results were highly satisfactory to Pearson.
He was said to have in his possession an affidavit, signed by someone in a position to vouch for Sumner Welles's alleged homosexual activities. Whether or not this was true, it seemed strangely inappropriate to observe the suave and snobbish Welles making frequent visits to Pearson's house, in order to keep him au fait with events; and strangely inappropriate, too, to hear Pearson say: "So you say that the Brazilians are doing that? Well, I will ring up Welles and see if he knows anything about it."
He obviously had a considerable hold on Senator Langer of North Dakota, among others. On one occasion, a BSC officer said to him: "Drew, if you publish that, you must conceal the fact that it came from the British side."
"Easy," Pearson snorted. "I'll put in my column that Senator Langer of North Dakota said today... That will clear you."
"But won't he object?"
"You bet he won't," said Pearson. "He'd better not, anyway." Evidently Senator Langer paid a heavy price for his past errors. Before the war Pearson had a collaborator, Robert S. Allen.
But after Allen joined the army, Pearson continued alone. The column itself was started in 1932, just after Pearson and Allen had published a book, entitled Washington Merry-Go-Round. Ninety thousand copies of the book were sold, and Washington society was badly jarred by what it had to say of the private lives of leading citizens. Its success led Pearson and Allen to publish a daily column of similar character and with the same title. This column was even more popular and, before long, appeared in 616 newspapers with a readership of over 20,000,000 persons. It was second only to Winchell's in its influence on the public mind. During the war years, when it was written by Pearson alone, it lost none of its popularity, and Pearson's Sunday evening broadcasts, which were made just two hours before Winchell's, had an estimated audience of 15,000,000.
Pearson contrived, despite Cabinet changes, to remain in direct touch with at least three Cabinet Ministers at any given time. He was always able, for example, to ring up or visit Ickes, Morgenthau or Biddle. From these, and other sources, he obtained first-hand reports of all Cabinet meetings and, on occasion, quoted in his column the actual words used by the President or a passage of dialogue between Ministers during a session.
In England, of course, he would have been prosecuted at once for violating the Official Secrets Act. In the United States he was immune, provided that he did not publish information which might have caused the loss of American lives. Like Winchell, he was careful to foster the friendship of J. Edgar Hoover, and at suitable intervals went out of his way to praise him. His foresight paid him well. Once, Hull was so angry with Pearson that he swore to expose both him and his sources. Hoover was, accordingly, instructed by the White House to penetrate Pearson's intelligence system. "Of course," said Pearson casually, as he told the story to a BSC officer, "Hoover came along and told me about it. So I was able to take the necessary precautions."
Although Pearson was a staunch New Dealer and an admirer of President Roosevelt, the President never liked his column. The trivialities which it contained apparently nettled him as much as disconcerting anecdotes about members of his Administration. Once, when the President made a journey to Warm Springs, the column announced that a standing order for Danish pastry, of which the President was allegedly fond, had not been cancelled before his departure and that consequently Danish pastry was piling up high at the White House. Twenty-four hours later, three high officials paid separate visits to Pearson. "For God's sake," they said, "lay off the boss. Why are you always attacking him?" And they went on to explain that Danish pastry was not, in any case, the President's favourite confectionery. On another occasion, Pearson spread the story that Roosevelt enjoyed the tune `Home on the Range'. For months afterwards the President could not escape `Home on the Range', whenever he was within earshot of a band. Unfortunately, it was not Roosevelt, but his secretary, Marvin McIntyre, who liked it. Roosevelt detested it.
More serious was a charge of mendacity which the President brought against Pearson after a broadcast in which the latter said that Hull wanted to see Russia "bled white". Both the President and Hull protested that Pearson was entirely wrong, and warned him that such statements might be construed as a dangerous affront to an ally. Pearson replied that the Russians had long been aware of Hull's "consistently anti-Russian attitude", and added: "It didn't take me to tell them about it. However, if the President needed a scapegoat, I am glad if anything I have said now assists the Administration to make clear in words what certainly was not clear before in deeds."
After the President's protest Pearson had large placards made, displaying his own profile and under it the words: "The Man the President Called a Liar". For him it was good publicity.
But even Roosevelt acknowledged Pearson's value at election time in 1944, and he sent both Harry Hopkins and Hannegan to speak to him. Each of them told Pearson how much the President admired him for his courage, adding that, although they had had differences in the past, the time was too critical for anyone to allow small personal bickerings to hinder the cause. Pearson was delighted and thereafter campaigned ardently for Roosevelt.
WS gave instructions that Pearson should be cultivated as a potential source of important intelligence, and the necessary contact with him was made. A BSC officer in Washington spent many months gaining Pearson's confidence, and by the middle of 1943 the acquaintance had begun to produce solid results in the form of reports on, inter alia, political changes, the President's intentions and the views of high naval and military officials. The friendship grew closer until, early in 1944, the BSC officer was "regarded as one of the family".
But Pearson had to have information in return for that which he gave. Accordingly, carefully chosen matter was fed to him. This practice, however, did not produce results comparable with those in Winchell's case; for not only did Pearson refuse to allow anyone to write his column for him but frequently insisted upon putting his own interpretation upon information which he received. Nor was it possible to prevent him from publishing at the same time a considerable amount of anti-British material.
This material, some of it very violent, was fed to him assiduously by such highly placed officials as Admiral Leahy, Assistant-Secretary of War McCloy and others. Pearson did not publish it because he was anti-British. He was not. He published it because it was "hot" news. It was, for example, "hot" news that Assistant-Secretary of War McCloy told Pearson that he believed Britain to be delaying the second front, and no one could stop Pearson from printing it. On the other hand, his BSC contact dissuaded him from publishing much that would have been damaging to Britain, and at one point Pearson undertook to show him all such material before he used it. A great deal of it was proved to be untrue or inaccurate and was discarded by Pearson. Much of it also he was argued out of using, on the ground that it would be harmful to Anglo-American relations, and therefore to the general war effort. The only time that BSC actually wrote part of a Pearson column was when Pearson described the role which British women were playing in the war. It will be recalled that BSC placed this hitherto meagrely publicized material in Winchell's column also.
Pearson, who had no scruples himself in publishing unauthorized information, was nevertheless enraged when BSC succeeded in penetrating his own intelligence organization, although he never discovered how or by whom this was done.
As her story unfolds, it will become apparent that her feminine charms were the ultimate cause of her success. And yet, remarkably, she had no very obvious sexual allure. She was neither beautiful nor even pretty in the conventional sense, although she had attractive blonde hair. She was tall, with rather prominent features. Certainly there was nothing about her which smacked of easy virtue. She was a pleasant companion, for she was intelligent and talked well - or rather listened well. She had a soft, soothing voice which doubtless in itself inspired confidences. It may be that her appeal to her victims was in the first place intellectual, and that the discovery of her physical attraction came later as an intoxicating realization. That she was physically very attractive cannot be doubted, for the powerful hold she exercised over the worldly wise men whose secrets she sought to obtain was clearly based on sex.
But she had many other qualities. She was widely travelled and understood well the psychology of Europeans. She had a keen, incisive brain and was an accurate reporter. She was extremely courageous, often being willing and anxious to run risks which her mentors could not allow. Her security was irreproachable and her loyalty to her employers complete. She was not greedy for money but greedy only to serve a cause in which she believed. In fact she was paid a small salary which represented little more than her living expenses, although the value of her work to Britain could be assessed, if at all, in millions. For convenience sake she will be given a name - Cynthia.
In May 1941, Cynthia was ordered to concentrate her attention upon the Vichy Embassy in Washington. Posing as a newspaperwoman and accompanied by a female assistant, she called at the Embassy to keep an appointment which she had made for a press interview with the Ambassador. The two ladies sat first for a while with Charles Brousse, the Press Attache, who talked with them while they awaited Henry-Haye. Brousse had been an important newspaper proprietor in France, and now in Washington he was doing an effective propaganda job for the German-Vichy regime.
For nearly an hour he talked with the two girls, and by the end of the interview, Cynthia had achieved her first objective. As Brousse escorted them up to the Ambassador's office, he expressed a desire to see her again.
The two newspaperwomen had a long off-the-record discussion with the Ambassador. He was an excitable man in the best of circumstances, but seemed especially overwrought on this day, for he had previously had a rather unpleasant interview with Secretary of State Cordell Hull. To his discreet and appreciative audience he told of the very difficult mission with which he had been entrusted. He spoke frankly on the subject of relations between France and Germany. "France's future", he maintained, "requires cooperation with Germany. If your car is in the ditch, you turn to the person who can help you put it on the road again. That is why we will work with Germany."
There were many frank replies to a number of penetrating questions. The Ambassador was neither reticent nor particularly cautious. An interview with two newspaperwomen seemed to him to be an opportunity to impress upon the American public the anti-British line he had charted earlier at his first staff meeting. Moreover, he seemed in no hurry to finish the conference - doubtless as a result of Cynthia's soothing influence. When at last he showed her to the door, he told her that he would be glad to see her again at any time she cared to visit the Embassy.
Both the Ambassador and his Press Attache saw her again. The Ambassador saw less of her than he would have liked. The Press Attache saw more of her than was good for him. Very soon Charles Brousse was completely infatuated and under her control.
Brousse was married, but was at an age, perhaps, when the chance of a new conquest seemed particularly alluring. He was an emotional man in every respect. He felt strongly and bitterly about both the British and the Americans. He enjoyed the confidence of the Ambassador, perhaps more than any other member of the Embassy staff. He nevertheless despised Henry-Haye as a parvenu and a bourgeois, and thought that he himself, with his superior culture, would have made a better and more suitable Ambassador.
Like most Frenchmen, Brousse expressed a hatred of Laval, and in so doing gave Cynthia an opportunity of which she made good use. Gradually, under BSC's guidance, she stimulated his dislike of Laval, and as her personal influence upon him grew, persuaded him to talk more and more of Vichy affairs. Soon he was answering prepared questions and giving valuable information about Vichy underground activities in the United States.
In the late winter of 1940, WS was advised by SIS/London that the Admiralty urgently required the Italian naval cypher, a copy of which was known to be in the possession of the Italian Naval Attache in Washington. Accordingly Cynthia's services were enlisted. She had been recruited only recently and this was her first major assignment.
She secured an introduction to Admiral Lais, the Italian Naval Attache, and began to cultivate him systematically. He reacted to her charms violently and soon, for within a few weeks of their first meeting he supposed himself deeply in love with her and she was able to do with him virtually as she pleased. In retrospect, it seems almost incredible that a man of his experience and seniority, who was, by instinct, training and conviction, a patriotic officer, should have been so enfeebled by passion as to have been willing to work against the interests of his own country to win a lady's favour. But that is what happened.
As soon as she was sure of her ground, Cynthia came directly to the point. She informed the Admiral of her desire to obtain copies of the naval cypher, and he, without any apparent demur, agreed to assist her. He put her in touch with his own cypher clerk, who produced the cyphers after a suitable financial agreement had been reached. They were photostatted in Washington, and the photostats were sent to London immediately.
At that time Britain was still alone, and the Royal Navy was spread thinly over the seven seas. In the Mediterranean the forces available might well have proved insufficient to meet the demands of the situation had they been challenged by the Italian Navy in strength. Yet it is a matter of history that they never were so challenged, and that the Italian Navy was virtually neutralized and failed to win a single battle. This may have been largely due to the fact that the British had knowledge of the Italian naval cypher, which provided means of learning the enemy's intentions in advance and thus enabled the Commander in Chief, Mediterranean, to dispose his meagre forces to such effective purpose that the Italians were constantly deceived concerning the numbers and strength of British units and did not dare to risk a major engagement.
After she had secured the naval cyphers, Cynthia continued to maintain contact with Admiral Lais and obtained from him a quantity of valuable information concerning Axis plans in the Mediterranean. She was responsible, incidentally, for his eventual downfall, which happened a few months later - in the following way.
In the spring of 1941, there were a number of Italian ships marooned in American ports, ships whose masters did not feel that it was either prudent or possible to run the British blockade to Europe. Lais realized that sooner or later the United States would enter the war and that these vessels would then be taken over by the Allies. Accordingly, he devised a plan to sabotage them. Fortunately he revealed the details of his plan to Cynthia a few hours before they were due to be put into effect. BSC immediately informed the US Office of Naval Intelligence, and thus largely prevented the intended sabotage from taking place. The Italian ships were promptly seized by the US Government, when it was found that wilful damage had already been done to a number of them.
As a result of this incident, the US Government informed the Italian Embassy that Admiral Lais was persona non grata and requested his withdrawal. He never suspected Cynthia. As he was about to board the vessel which was to take him back to Italy, two parties were on the quayside to bid him farewell. One consisted of his wife and children; the other merely of Cynthia, who stood alone, some distance away. The lovesick Admiral spent his final minutes with her and ignored his tearful family entirely.
As the campaign against Fifth Columnists in the US continued, BSC was able, through the Gallup Poll, to see how its progress was affecting American public opinion. The results, as polled by Gallup, were most gratifying. On 11 March, only 49% of the American people thought that Britain was doing her utmost to win the war. On 23 April, this proportion had jumped to 65%, although no important naval or military victory had occurred during this period to influence the public in Britain's favour.
Gallup's assistant, who eventually joined the staff of BSC, was able to ensure a constant flow of intelligence on public opinion in the United States, since he had access not only to the questionnaires sent out by Gallup and Cantril and to the recommendations offered by the latter to the White House, but also to the findings of the Survey Division of the Office of War Information and of the Opinion Research Division of the US Army. The mass of information which BSC collected in this way was obviously of interest to London. But it was most immediately useful in helping the British Information Services, the Embassy and the Consulates throughout the country to plan effective counter-measures against anti-British propaganda in the United States. The BSC reports were described by one Department of the Embassy as "the most reliable index of Anglo-American relations available".
Gallup himself was by no means unreservedly pro-British, but BSC's contact was able to dissuade him from publishing the results of certain polls which would have had a damaging effect on British prestige. It would have been unfortunate, for instance, if Gallup had released to the hundred or more newspapers which published his findings the fact that only 50% of the British people believed that Britain was doing her utmost to win the war and only 54% believed that America was doing hers. Yet these were the results of a poll conducted by Gallup's representative in England in 1942. Nor, again, could it have proved other than harmful had it become generally known that a large number of Americans were in favour of immediate self-government for India and of the formation of a Palestinian army.
In 1937, a young Yugoslav student joined a club for "free" political discussion in Freiburg, where he was finishing his education. The Yugoslav made two speeches to his fellow members, both strongly in favour of democratic government. But the apparent freedom of political thought was by no means as actual as he had supposed and after his second speech he was arrested by the German authorities and thrown into jail. He was released only after official representations had been made by the Yugoslavs to the German Government, and he was then expelled from the Reich. This incident was to serve Allied Intelligence well at a later date, for the young man developed an intense dislike for the Germans as a result of it. He later became known as the double agent "Tricycle".
In 1940, he was approached by the Germans in Belgrade and immediately got in touch with British Intelligence. As a result of careful handling, he was built up as a valuable source in the eyes of the Germans and during 1940 and part of 1941 he operated successfully between London and Lisbon. He was keenly anti-German, undoubtedly clever and loyal to his British employers. His tastes in clothes and entertainment were expensive - but then the Germans were paying largely for them. In fact, all he apparently wanted as a reward from the British was the post-war position of British honorary vice-consul.
After performing valuable service in Europe, he was sent by the Germans to the US in August 1941. The FBI were advised of his arrival and actually assisted in getting him his passage. However, they insisted on taking him over themselves. It was they who set up his wireless station, composed his messages and did his coding. BSC gave advice and supervision whenever possible, but was often deliberately bypassed by the FBI, since they were proud of their recent success with the Sebold/Sawyer case.
It did not work out. Tricycle disliked the comparatively un¬sophisticated Americans, and resented their inability to produce strategic information for him to pass on, while they in turn disliked his liberal manner of living. They kept making the impossible request that he should square up his financial affairs and reduce his expenses.
Eight letters were sent off by him in the autumn of 1941. One of these, in spite of BSC's warning, was not passed through Bermuda, but was sent to the Testing Department and fully developed. The others took much longer to arrive than might have been expected.
After some months the Germans sent him on to Rio. There he interviewed the Assistant Naval Attache, Cmdr Bohny, and the German SIS chief, Alfredo Engels, who expressed complete confidence in him and instructed him to build a short-wave radio in New York for communication with Lisbon, Rio and Hamburg.
Throughout the first three months of 1942, the FBI passed out messages for him over his supposed radio, but gave BSC no copies of these, and no details concerning their success or failure. Tricycle was not even taken to see the radio station, with the result that he himself was in danger of being caught by a quick question from a German agent in the US or by a request to send a message on short notice. The Germans were complaining that his reports lacked meat and began to suspect - particularly after the arrest of Engels in Brazil - that Tricycle was working under control. After a protest by WS, Hoover appointed one of his senior and more experienced officers to take charge of the whole case, and set about obtaining a more regular supply of information from the Services.
However, despite his assurances, Hoover retained his original gang-busting ideals. When the Germans planned to send over some money for Tricycle, instead of allowing it to reach him without interference the FBI attempted to draw the courier into a trap, which would of course have notified the Germans that Tricycle was at least under the gravest suspicion. Throughout the middle of 1942, BSC, by making considerable efforts with the Joint Services Committee, elicited enough information to keep Tricycle at work. But in August 1942, the FBI finally decided to have no more to do with him, on the ground that he was a liar and was too expensive to justify his retention. In fact, it was a tacit admission of their incompetence in this particular instance.
Perhaps the most interesting, if not the most successful, double agent employed by BSC was known as "Springbok". This man was a trained German agent whose wife was a well-connected Englishwoman. He himself was of noble descent and monarchical sympathies, his grandfather having been Master of Ceremonies to Wilhelm I, and his monarchist father having been dismissed from a high governmental office at the accession of Hitler in 1933. In 1929, he went out to South Africa, where he built up a career as a fur buyer and miner. At the outbreak of war he lost his job and was nearly interned, but got out by proving to the South African Alien Investigation Department that he had for years had no contact with any German clubs or organizations. Then he tried without success to establish himself in Portuguese East Africa, was expelled, sailed for Europe rather than be interned, was captured by a French ship and was interned in Morocco until July 1940.
After the French Armistice, he was set free. The Germans gave him the option of entering the Army or doing intelligence work abroad. According to his statement, he chose the latter course because he no longer considered Germany his home and wished somehow to get in touch with his wife and children. In June 1941, he went to Brazil by Lati to join the espionage ring run by Alfredo Engels, as a collector of economic intelligence, particularly air information. After some months he was ordered to South Africa. He then approached the British, by the simple method of writing to the Consulate in Sao Paulo and asking for an appointment.
What he wanted was a chance to see his wife and children without being interned; some money, though not overmuch; and British citizenship after the war. In exchange, he gave a considerable amount of good new information and promised to work as a double agent in South Africa or elsewhere. The information he supplied comprised the following:
- a German letter-code, with the permanent key-word;
- the comb-cypher system used by German agents overseas;
- the formula for developing a German secret ink, with the key-word indicating that secret writing would be found in a letter;
- a formula for making secret ink out of phenolphthalein,
- a sketch of the structure of the German Intelligence organizeation in Brazil;
- a long report on the organization of German Intelligence HQ in Germany;
- names of prominent German agents in Brazil, including Alfredo Engels and Herbert Von Heyer (later convicted); - detailed comments on the interrogations of German agents; - the names of several prospective contacts and postboxes in South Africa - including Leibrandt, who he said had orders to assassinate General Smuts and destroy certain strategic bridges (Leibrandt was arrested in December 1941, convicted and executed);
- a report on a possible experimental ground for robot bombs.
Practically all of this was accurate, and some was new and valuable. Although he was anxious to go to South Africa, headquarters preferred him to enter Canada, where he could be more reliably controlled. The South African authorities refused to allow him to return to the Dominion, where his wife was interned as a rabid Nazi. He was instructed to report to Germany that he could not get passage to South Africa, then to suggest North America, and finally to point out that information (for example on convoys) would be easier to obtain in Canada with less danger from the FBI. The Germans agreed.