Room 3603

Title:                  Room 3603

Author:                H. Montgomery Hyde

Hyde, H. Montgomery (1962). Room 3603: The Incredible True Story of Secret Intelligence Operations During World War II. Guilford, DE: The Lyons Press (republished 2002)

LCCN:    2001271449



  • Originally published: The Quiet Canadian. [London : Quality Book Club, 1962]

D810.S8 S8 2001

Date Updated:  October 10, 2016

Walking by 630 Fifth Avenue today one does not get the impression that this building was of vital importance during World War II. When I was in New York in July of 2010 I made a point of looking at the building. I could only imagine the amount of closely-held activity that went on there in the 1940s.

Room 3603 at 630 Fifth Avenue in New York was the headquarters of the organization known as the British Security Coordination, or B.S.C. This organization was the keystone of the successful Anglo-American partnership in the field of secret intelligence, counterespionage, and “special operations.” The man chosen by Winston Churchill to set up and direct this crucial effort was Sir William Stephenson, known to the world of espionage as the “Man Called Intrepid.” According to Nigel West, however, Stephenson never had the code name INTREPID.

General Bill Donovan, director of the Office of Strategic Services, said of him: “Bill Stephenson taught us all we ever knew about foreign intelligence.” Sir William Stephenson put all his papers and much other relevant material at the disposal of H. Montgomery Hyde, a member of his wartime organization who knew him intimately. The result is Room 3603, a unique portrait of the British Secret Service in action, and of the remarkable exploits of its brilliant but personally unobtrusive chief in the United States.

This 1962 book has a foreword by Ian Fleming (“James Bond is not in fact a hero, but an efficient and not very attractive blunt instrument in the hands of government … a highly romanticized version of the true spy”) who first met William Stephenson (“A Man Called Intrepid”) when he was on a mission to Washington in 1941. Stephenson was sent to New York in 1940 to protect British shipping of war material (and to gather information on enemy activities for appropriate counter-measures), and to promote public opinion in favor of American intervention on the side of Britain. Any offensive actions would have to remain secret. This was part of economic warfare.

Chapter 2 documents the important political decisions made at the time by President Roosevelt and others in 1940. Fifty coal burning destroyers were sent to Britain at a critical time. The Sperry bomb-sight was leased after they learned the Germans had the plans. Chapter 3 tells of the propaganda campaign to discredit isolationists and Nazi supporters, and the methods used to cripple or harass German officials. Censorship of the mails was used to track down spies and saboteurs. Chapter 4 tells of the intrigues with the Vichy French government. The personal secretary of the Vichy ambassador was recruited into a business to gain knowledge of his affairs. This was used to discredit the Embassy. A British agent was placed in close contact with the Embassy to gain information from her male friends.

Chapter 5 tells of the Special Operations of economic warfare: to manufacture evidence of the facts believed to be true but which could not otherwise be proved! They had a laboratory to fabricate letters and other documents. The imprint of any typewrite on earth could be reproduced faultlessly. It tells how letters were created to condemn a Czech collaborator! Another game was to subject Fascist sympathizers to petty persecution to waste time in confusion, and get them into trouble. It tells how a forged letter was created to cause the cancellation of the Italian airline franchise, an important Axis channel of communication. Brazil then broke with the Axis. Chapter 6 tells of the OSS during WW2. Stephenson did everything to help Donovan get the position. The new organization faced two bureaucratic rivals: the FBI, and the military intelligence departments. It was mainly through the assistance of BSC that they survived. Intelligence and other trained experts were put at Donovan’s disposal. It explains how a short-wave station in Boston was used to broadcast propaganda.

Chapter 7 repeats various anecdotes from the war. They used astrological predictions for propaganda. The description of techniques for using polling to control voting and win elections was written in 1943 by David Ogilvy. Since then the US Government has used these techniques both overtly and covertly. It tells how stories were given to principal journalists and feature writers, and how columnist Drew Pearson acquired information. Chapter 8 tells how President Roosevelt sent a message to Stephenson on November 27: “Japanese negotiations off. Services expect action within two weeks”. How this happened is a matter of history. There is a discussion on the use and value of double agents. He tells of the training given to secret agents at Oshawa. Sabotage to French locomotives alone nearly equaled the number disabled by air action. The information from a Soviet code clerk in Canada exposed their spy system. The final tribute was that the BSC helped to reduce the number of American casualties.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

The work of Sir William Stephenson and the British Security Coordination (BSC), the British intelligence organization for the Western Hemisphere that he headed-in World War II, is one of the fascinating intelligence stories of that war. Hyde was on Stephenson’s staff and had the additional advantage of access to Stephenson and his files after the war. For these reasons, he has produced what amounts to the best book so far on BSC and Stephenson. At the time of its publication in England, questions were raised in the British Parliament as to whether Hyde had violated the Official Secrets Act. Charles Ellis, Stephenson’s deputy, in the foreword to Stevenson’s A Man Called Intrepid [2]on the same subject, explains that Hyde’s book was a “partial leak” about the BSC and confirms that it had the approval and concurrence of British intelligence officials as a counter to the threat posed to British and U.S. intelligence cooperation by Kim Philby’s defection to the Soviet Union.

Hyde has not only revealed much about the BSC’s security and counterintelligence work and cooperation with the United States in these fields even before Pearl Harbor and the aid given to create OSS; he has been frank about certain special operations that fell under one category of their instructions-to mobilize U.S. public opinion in favor of aid to the Allies. Stephenson created a covert propaganda organization in the United States that Hyde called “one of the most powerful weapons Stephenson had.” It is wise to assume there is more than what we are told here. In a U.S. television program on the BSC in the late 1970s, in which Hyde was interviewed, the conclusion was drawn that many BSC activities had yet to see the light of day, especially those designed to induce the United States to enter the war and to discredit opponents of the Allies.

Hyde admits such activity before Pearl Harbor when he writes, “Stephenson’s organizations spread covert propaganda designed to strengthen the interventionist groups throughout the country and discredit the isolationists.” He brings to light British cryptanalytical successes long before Ultra was revealed: the breaking of German agent, military, and submarine ciphers. For further details and corrections of what he writes the following should be consulted: the author’s Cynthia[3] for the identity of that agent and an expanded account of her work: Johns’ Within Two Cloaks[4] for clarification of BSC’s place in the British intelligence structure; Kahn’s The Codebreakers [5]on the reason for the operation to acquire Vichy France’s ciphers; Montagu’s Beyond Top Secret Ultra[6] for the correct version of the timing and purpose of Montagu’s trip to the U.S.; and Ogilvy’s Blood, Brains and Beer[7]. See also Sweet-Escott’s Baker Street Irregular[8] for SOE’s liaison under BSC in Washington and Pincher’s Their Trade Is Treachery[9] for allegations about Ellis as a Soviet agent.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[10]

An anecdotal account of British secret intelligence operations in the United States and the Western Hemisphere during World War II by a member of the staff of Sir William Stephenson, the war-time Director of British Security Coordination in the United States. The book describes this organization’s relationships with the FBI, the support it gave to General Donovan in establishing the OSS, and many BSC operations in intelligence collection, counterintelligence and covert action throughout the Western Hemisphere. (See also Stevenson, A Man Called Intrepid, note 2 below).

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[11]

This ls the story of the Canadian Sir William Stephenson who established and directed the British Security Coordination (BSC) in New York as an agency to operate British intelligence, counterintelligence, and special operations in the Western Hemisphere before and following U.S. entry into World War II. Hyde has written or coauthored more than twenty-five other works. However, in the case of this book, because he was on the staff of the BSC and a friend of the chief, he was able to draw on the personal archives of Stephenson for material. The book emphasizes counterintelligence activities and describes some of the successes of the British system of censorship and passport control for detection of espionage. BSC worked closely with the FBI in the United States as well as in South and Central America in counterintelligence activities and operations. Authoritative, with a brief bibliography and good index.

Additional review by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[12]

Biography of Sir William Stephenson, director of British Security Coordination (BSC) based in New York City during World War II. SSC was the center for Anglo-American partnership in the field of espionage, counterespionage and special operations in the Western Hemisphere. Stephenson was a sponsor to the fledgling OSS and it was he who opened the doors of British intelligence to General Donovan, head of OSS. An authentic view into British intelligence activities in the United States and Latin America.

[1] George C. Constantinides in Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press (1983), pp. 250-251

[2] Stevenson, William (1976). A Man Called Intrepid. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

[3] Hyde, H. Montgomery (1965). Cynthia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

[4] Johns, Philip (1979). Within Two Cloaks: Missions With SIS and SOE. London: William Kimber

[5] Kahn, David (1967). The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing. New York: Macmillan

[6] Calvocoressi, Peter (1980, 2001). Top Secret Ultra. Kidderminster, England: M. & M. Baldwin

[7] Ogilvy, David (1978). Blood, Brains And Beer: The Autobiography of David Ogilvy. New York: Atheneum

[8] Sweet-Escott, Bickham (1965). Baker Street Irregular. London: Methuen

[9] Pincher, Chapman (1981). Their Trade is Treachery. London: Sidgwick & Jackson

[10] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 33

[11] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 77

[12] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 156


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7 Responses to Room 3603

  1. Pingback: British Security Coordination | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: The Atom Bomb Spies | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  3. Pingback: Cynthia | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  4. Pingback: Blood, Brains And Beer | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  5. Pingback: The Road to Safety | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  6. Pingback: A Man Called Intrepid | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  7. Pingback: Espionage and Counterespionage, Chapter 14 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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