Intrepid’s Last Case

Title:                      Intrepid’s Last Case

Author:                 William Stevenson

Stevenson, William (1983). Intrepid’s Last Case. New York : Villard Books

LCCN:    83048077

UB271.G72 S77 1983

LC Subjects

Date Updated:  November 2, 2017

Reviewed by James Bamford[1]

On a warm September Thursday in 1945 a tired young man in baggy pants crisscrossed the city of Ottawa with his wife and 2-year-old son. All day and the previous night he had been pounding the streets searching for someone who would take an interest in a shopping bag of papers he carried. First he visited the night editor of The Ottawa Journal who glanced at the pile and said, “No thanks.” Then he trudged over to the Ministry of Justice where a policeman told him to come back the next day. At 8 o’clock the following morning the young man again made his way to the Ministry of Justice and asked to speak to the minister. He was sent to the Parliament building and, after a two-hour wait, was told the minister was too busy to see him. Then it was back to the Journal, once again to the Ministry, and finally to the Crown Attorney’s office. Nobody seemed to care a whiff about his bag of papers.

The young man was Igor Sergeievitch Gouzenko, a slight, 24-year-old Russian attached to the cryptographic section of the Soviet Embassy. And what he was hauling around the Canadian capital were several reams of the Soviet Union’s deepest secrets—including evidence that Moscow had penetrated the Manhattan Project and walked away with key pieces to the puzzle of the atomic bomb.

Mackenzie King, the Canadian Prime Minister, had been informed of the Russian and his bag of secrets within half an hour of Mr. Gouzenko’s first approach to the Ministry of Justice, but delayed taking any action for fear of offending the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Mr. Gouzenko was “a political hot potato, too hot to handle,” King later wrote. Eventually persuaded otherwise, the Prime Minister granted permission for accepting Mr. Gouzenko’s appeal for political asylum.

For protection, the Gouzenko family was hidden at Camp X, a secret, wartime espionage training center bordering Lake Ontario. There, during long interrogations, Mr. Gouzenko told of extensive Soviet penetration of the West and named a Russian agent in Canada with the code name ELLI. Later identified as Kathleen Willsher, a confidential secretary to the British High Commissioner, she was apprehended and prosecuted. But Mr. Gouzenko was later to suggest there was a second ELLI, a Soviet mole high in British intelligence circles whose cover has never been blown.

Among those initially involved in the Gouzenko affair in 1945 was Sir William Stephenson who, under the wartime code name INTREPID, was in charge of London’s New York-based British Security Coordination office. The B.S.C. was responsible for all clandestine British activities in the Western Hemisphere and for close liaison with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime undercover intelligence operation.

Sir William and the B.S.C. were the subjects of William Stevenson’s earlier best seller, A Man Called Intrepid[2]. So at first glance, one might assume that Intrepid’s Last Case would also concern Intrepid and the B.S.C. But since President Harry S. Truman, following the end of the war in Europe, had served the B.S.C. with an eviction notice four months before Mr. Gouzenko defected, the involvement of INTREPID in the Gouzenko case covers only a few pages. Sir William contributed to some initial decisions made in the case by the Canadian Government and interviewed the defector once at Camp X, but he then returned to New York to close down his B.S.C. office.

Actually, the primary purpose of Intrepid’s Last Case is to clear the late Col. Charles H. Ellis, INTREPID’s wartime aide, of recent allegations that he had been a mole for both Germany and the Soviet Union. The charge is all the more significant in the light of the major role Ellis played in helping to create America’s O.S.S., the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War II.

Among the most serious attacks on Ellis was one in The New York Times Book Review last January [1983]. In a review of The Last Hero by Anthony Cave Brown[3], a book about the late O.S.S. chief William J. Donovan, Edward Jay Epstein said that in 1965 Ellis “broke down and confessed that before World War II began, he had been recruited as a double agent by the Germans and then blackmailed into service by the Soviet Union. Thus the man who really organized American secret intelligence was in a perfect position to expose and compromise every secret agent, operation and modus operandi of the agency.” A similar charge against Ellis had been made earlier by the British author Chapman Pincher in his book Their Trade Is Treachery[4].

But what is the possible connection between Ellis and Mr. Gouzenko? On March 27, 1981, Mr. Gouzenko said in a Canadian television interview that during his interrogations at Camp X in 1945 he had confided his most secret piece of information to a mysterious “gentleman from England.” He said he told this Englishman that he knew of a second Soviet mole, with the identical code name given to Kathleen Willsher, and that this second ELLI was firmly implanted in the upper ranks of British intelligence. He had never told anyone else about the second ELLI, he said, because he was confident the “gentleman from England” would initiate a proper investigation and he was afraid of reprisal if the second ELLI discovered that Mr. Gouzenko had compromised him.

No record exists of who this “gentleman from England” might have been, but Mr. Stevenson is convinced that he was in fact the second ELLI. In Intrepid’s Last Case, INTREPID and Mr. Stevenson set out to discover the true identity of the “gentleman from England” and at the same time clear the reputation of Colonel Ellis. Sir William Stephenson “had the contacts. I had the mobility,” Mr. Stevenson says. “We resumed an old working relationship.”

Poor Ellis. The result of their search is a tedious sermon on Soviet disinformation which, Mr. Stevenson concludes, has been responsible for everything from the expulsion of valuable “creative eccentrics” from Western intelligence organizations to the 1981 allegations that the C.I.A. Director William J. Casey was involved in questionable business and financial activities. It is with little surprise, therefore, that Mr. Stevenson sees Soviet disinformation—and even the British mole Kim Philby who defected to the Soviet Union—behind the allegations against Ellis.

But how confident can Mr. Stevenson be about his own theory? He reports in this book that he interviewed the now-blind Mr. Gouzenko. The Russian asked whether Ellis had ever been married to a Russian or served inside the Soviet Union, or whether he was in Paris with Hitler before World War II. The answer to all those questions was “yes,” prompting Mr. Gouzenko to declare, “Then it’s possible ELLI was Ellis.”

In the end, INTREPID and Mr. Stevenson are no closer to discovering the identity of the mysterious British ELLI than they were more than 300 pages earlier. In a sad and embarrassing final page, a defeated INTREPID punches his stomach. “Look! I can still take it,” he says, and wanders off to a chattering teleprinter. “This time, perhaps,” the book concludes, “he would find the final clue to the true identity of Gouzenko’s ‘gentleman from England.’ “

The issues involving Colonel Ellis are important ones, but Mr. Stevenson and his patron are not the ones to deal with them. Instead of exhaustive research, including plowing through dusty archival records, drafting numerous Freedom of Information Act requests and interviewing a generous number of people on both sides of the issue, Mr. Stevenson simply weaves together a number of tired old spy stories, ties them together with the thread of Soviet disinformation, and quotes pearls of wisdom from the man called INTREPID whom he compares to “the oracle of Delphi.” “The enemy is not only at our door,” Sir William says at one point, “but inside our houses and practically in every room.”

In Intrepid’s Last Case,” the problem is not disinformation, but noninformation.

[1] James Bamford, “On The Trail of a Mole,” The New York Times Books (January 22, 1984). Accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/1984/01/22/books/on-the-trail-of-a-mole.html?pagewanted=all James Bamford is the author of The Puzzle Palace: A Report on NSA, America’s Most Secret Agency.

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

[3] Brown, Anthony Cave (1984). The Last Hero : Wild Bill Donovan: The Biography And Political Experience of Major General William J. Donovan, Founder of The OSS And “Father” of The CIA, From His Personal And Secret Papers And The Diaries of Ruth Donovan. New York: Times Books

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

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