A Man Called Intrepid

Title:                  A Man Called Intrepid

Author:                William Stevenson

Stevenson, William (1976). A Man Called Intrepid: The Secret War. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

LCCN:    00712424

D810.S8 S85


Date Updated:  October 13, 2016

The book is a fabricated biography of Sir William Stephenson by a Canadian journalist. Even the photographs, supposedly recovered from a secret wartime archive, are faked, and are stills from a movie made after the war! And Stephenson was never codenamed INTREPID.

Nigel West is a author and consultant on counterintelligence matters. I had the privilege of hearing a series of his lectures about the Queen Mary II in the summer of 2010. This book was one of the Ten Worst Books On The Spying Game.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

INTREPID was the code name assigned to Sir William Stephenson, head of the British Security Coordination (BSC) in the United States during World War II; BSC was the British intelligence organization for the Western Hemisphere. Sir William in the foreword informs us the author had access to BSC papers and to himself but selected his own material and drew on many other sources as well. This became a U.S. best-seller and stimulated interest in the role of intelligence in that war. It also gave recognition for the contribution Sir William made to Allied intelligence and to U.S. intelligence’s formative effort. Unfortunately, it does not fully represent a historically correct account of Stephenson’s work and that of the BSC. Ronald Lewin in RUSI was unsparing, calling it “persistently inaccurate, ill-informed and ill written” and also a work with “gross exaggerations.” Lewin also thought its endorsement by Stephenson was a tragedy. Hugh Trevor-Roper in the New York Review of Books regarded it as “utterly worthless” and said that any claims that Sir William was responsible for initiating or controlling strategic deception, cryptography, or special operations in Europe were “impertinent.”[2]

Of the many criticisms levelled at this book, the most serious is its picture of Stephenson as the most important figure or leader of British intelligence and its implication that the BSC was the center of British intelligence efforts worldwide. As Johns pointed out in Within Two Cloaks[3], the BSC was one of many SIS stations, and it was wrong to say that the BSC was unique, not in the chain of command, or over SOE. The errors and exaggeration do not end there. Stevenson’s picture of BSC’s cryptologic part in TORCH is overdrawn, and BSC’s role in the operation to assassinate Heydrich was tiny and inconsequential, not as great as the author shows it. Lewin discovered two photographs with the wrong captions. For a much more reliable work on the BSC and Sir William and for comments on the extent to which BSC activities have yet to be revealed, see this bibliography’s entry on Hyde’s Room 3603 [referenced in the next review.] See also comments on Hyde’s Cynthia[4] for reservations about that agent’s accomplishments as a spy. Attention is directed to the preface to Stevenson’s book by Charles Ellis, the BSC deputy, explaining the reasons for the British disclosures about BSC. See also Pincher’s Their Trade Is Treachery [5]for allegations about Ellis and consult Troy’s Donovan and the CIA[6] for a discussion of the extent of Sir William’s influence on General Donovan.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[7]

This book describes the activities of Sir William Stephenson (codename, .Intrepid, and no relation of the author) as head of British Security Coordination (BSC) in New York during World War II. BSC directed British intelligence activities in the Western Hemisphere. Stephenson was a major intelligence figure during the war. His close personal friendship with William J. Donovan was marked by the assistance Intrepid gave Donovan leading up to the establishment of (and subsequent close collaboration with) the Office of Strategic Services {OSS). This book has been severely attacked by knowledgeable reviewers as inaccurate in many respects, badly documented and grossly inflated. Because of its vulnerability to challenge, it should be approached with caution by the professional intelligence officer. (For a more detailed and balanced account of BSC operations, see Hyde, Room 3603[8]).

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[9]

A detailed revelation of the many activities of Sir William Stephenson, whose code name was “Intrepid.” Canadian-born Stephenson had been in intelligence for years and just before World War II had provided Churchill, who was out of office, with figures on German steel production and on the conversion of industry to the manufacture of arms and munitions. Sent to the United States by Churchill in 1940 as his personal representative in intelligence matters to President Roosevelt, he established the British Security Coordination {BSC) in Rockefeller Center. BSC became, under Stephenson’s aegis, the focal point of all the branches of British intelligence and counterintelligence in the Western Hemisphere before the United States entered World War II. The author, a near-namesake but no relation, obtained approval from INTREPID to write this book, and since the British Official Secrets Act had been loosened by such books as Winterbotham’s The Ultra Secret[10] (see eheprer 11, section A) and Masterman’s The Double-Cross System[11] (see chapter 15, section D), the book contains many interesting revelations not contained in the Hyde book on Stephenson, The Quiet Canadian[12]. Of more than passing interest in this book is the relationship between Stephenson and President Roosevelt before the United States entered World War II. Under Churchill’s direction Stephenson disclosed to Roosevelt the secrets of the British success in breaking the German Enigma code (ULTRA Operation) while it was withheld from the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Also described is the. influence Stephenson had on both Roosevelt and Donovan in the creation and mission of the OSS. Stephenson also briefed Roosevelt on British intelligence holdings at a time when the United States did not have an intelligence system deployed throughout Europe. The book is a valuable source of material on the political aspects of British-U.S, relations using intelligence as the medium of exchange.

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

[2] Hugh Trevor-Roper, “Superagent,” The New York Review of Books (May 13, 1976).

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

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

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

[6] Troy, Thomas F. (1981). Donovan and the CIA: A History of the Establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency. Frederick, MD: Aletheia Books

[7] 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. 59

[8] 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)

[9] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., pp. 157-158

[10] Winterbotham, Frederick William(1974). The Ultra Secret. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson

[11] Masterson, J. C. (2012). The Double-Cross System: The Incredible True Story of How Nazi Spies Were Turned into Double Agents. Guilford, DE: The Lyons Press

[12] 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)


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12 Responses to A Man Called Intrepid

  1. Pingback: Secret Wars | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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