Post Your Opinion
Bills & Spies
by Kildare Dobbs

From Allen W. Dulles to William J. Casey, directors of the CIA have insisted that the U.S. spy agency began with the New York lawyer William J. Donovan. H. Montgomery Hyde's The Quiet Canadian (1962) argued the case that a Canadian business leader had been the prime mover. Now here's a CIA ex-staffer to uphold Hyde in declaring that the founding spirit was a British (Canadian, that is) spymaster called Sir William Stephenson who taught Donovan how to organize and do the dirty work. Sir William is widely known as "Intrepid", following a bestseller that hyped his adventures, A Man Called Intrepid, by a man called (just to complicate the story) William Stevenson, likewise a Canadian.
Some of us knew and liked Bill Stevenson (with a V) and were sorry for him when all the experts from Trevor-Roper on down derided him and his book. He must have cried all the way to the bank, since the attention only boosted sales. Stevenson had interviewed old Stephenson, businessman and spymaster, in what seems to have been his Bermudan dotage or at best an episode of old-timer's disease. Bill the bestseller believed or exaggerated everything he was told.
And now along comes this CIA ex-staffer to set the record straight, not only because of Stevenson's errors but because of others (Canadian historians among them) who have denied the part played by Sir William in inspiring and instructing Wild Bill Donovan in the devious arts of spying, counter-espionage, sabotage, and dirty tricks. With meticulous attention to detail and the record, Thomas Troy uncovers the alliance of the two Bills and the close relationship of Stephenson to Churchill and Roosevelt, reflected in the honours accorded the Canadian by both British and Americans. In Britain he was dubbed Knight Bachelor in the New Year Honours of 1945; in 1946 he became the first foreigner ever to receive the highest American civilian honour, the Medal for Merit. (Troy, by the way, keeps calling Lady Stephenson "Lady Mary Stephenson", which is wrong.) The part played by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI is also explored.
Troy deals carefully with the possibility that Wild Bill Donovan was Whitehall's Man in Washington. Following Stephenson's advice, the Brits gave Donovan almost unlimited access to their war effort, rolling out the red carpet for him during two visits as Roosevelt's confidential representative. (The official rep, Ambassador Joe Kennedy, was untrustworthy, a defeatist not in tune with his president.) And yet Ernest Cuneo, a brother CIA staffer, told Troy, "the British taught us everything we know, but not everything they know." Sir John Colville, Churchill's private secretary, has doubted that his boss ever saw Stephenson. Troy argues plausibly that the prime minister's dealings with the spymaster were so secret that even his personal staff did not know of them. There's evidence that Churchill met with the Canadian in Claridge's, a proper setting for both men. Several witnesses, including Cuneo, an intermediary between Donovan and the Canadian from 1942 on, insists that Stephenson was the only man who enjoyed the confidence of both Churchill and FDR. An independent and rich businessman, he was not the creature of "C" or MI6 but, like Donovan, a leader, a mover and shaker. Troy does not believe that Donovan was a British agent. But there appears to be a sense in which the Brits were justified in thinking of him as "Our Man in Washington", since he was a friendly go-between in Churchill's effort to bring the U.S. into the war. In the end, of course, it was the Japanese who succeeded in doing that. Canada had been in it from the start, including (no thanks to Mackenzie King) the secret war.
The book sets out to set the record straight about Donovan and Stephenson and their relationship, and in the process to show the origins of the OSS and its offspring the CIA. In this it succeeds admirably. Troy does not raise his eyes to look back over the operations and achievements of either body. An old OSS man of my acquaintance, in the war a cryptographer on loan from the U.S. Army, leafed through the volume and complained, "There's nothing about the OSS here!"
It has been suggested that Americans were besotted by British successes in military intelligence, attributing them to the machinations of such agencies as MI5 and MI6, though in reality the honour was due to the code crackers and the ULTRA secret. Like the Germans, as described by Trevor-Roper in The Last Days of Hitler, the Americans seem to have imagined the British playing the Great Game through an immense web of spies including the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, the Missions to Seamen, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and other sinister organizations. Hence the CIA, an immense, self-perpetuating bureaucracy, in deviousness rivalling the Vatican, in cruelty equalling the Borgias, was a huge misguided effort to take up the white man's burden from the Brits (in the spirit of Rudyard Kipling's advice to the Americans when they were conquering the Philippines).
Troy's book is probably the last word on its subject. And for the Christian Right it must be doubly convincing. The study is prefaced with the usual acknowledgements to those who helped the author in his researches, going on to the usual compliment to his wife, the mother of ten. "And finally," Troy concludes, "it would be base ingratitude, indeed, were I not to acknowledge my indebtedness in every endeavor to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." John Donne called the Evangelists "secretaries of the Holy Ghost." Troy ups the ante, invoking two more divine Persons than they, so that his book may be considered better than Gospel.

Kildare Dobbs's most recent book is The Eleventh Hour (Mosaic), his first book of poems.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us