tv Book Discussion on The Irregulars CSPAN February 14, 2015 4:01pm-4:36pm EST
abandoned the force in the northwest. british canada was actively conspiring with vermont for vermont to join canada. they were eyeing the different parts to break it back up. before then we would not have had an interest in stronger national government, for sure. we do have an incredible record of virtually everything that was sent out and sent back. that has been compiled over the years. max behrendt did an amazing job. since there have been more collections. truly, the foreign diplomats did not know what was going on. they were clueless of what was being pulled off. they knew something big was afoot, but they did not know. washington was sending letters to jefferson regularly. they were close at this time.
other people were sending letters, the letters are crafted in a way that they don't give away anything you would call covered by the secrecy. they speak in general terms, except for a few of the letters by some members, never by washington, to their children. there is no indication that they were then released. what is so impressive about the secrecy is that several members of the convention were aghast at what happened, such as the delegates from new york. lanston and gates were furious. they stormed off and left in the middle of the convention leaving new york no longer represented. yet even they did not report what was happening. they felt bound. that was a sense of honor that prevailed in that day, but even they -- when the convention was over they told the governor clinton everything, but even they didn't spill the beans. that really speaks to the honor and commitment to their words
that americans had back then. after reading through this thing, i have enormous respect for both sides, the way they dealt with this. we will see in the next session of how these bitter opponents -- because washington insisted the ratification process be fair and open, and a fair debate, that even opponents recognized that this document had been fairly adopted, and we should give it a fair try. that was a wonderful tribute to this generation. thank you. i am told we are at an end. [applause] >> history bookshelf features
popular american history writers and airs on american history tv every weekend at this time. best known for his children's books, including "charlie and the chocolate factory" and "matilda," he was enlisted by the british government in 1942 to write propaganda in an attempt to draw the u.s. into world war ii. an author recounts his intelligence work in a spy group called the baker street irregulars. borders bookstore hosted this event in 2008. it's about 30 minutes. [applause] >> thank you for coming, this is sort of a hometown book for you washingtonians. i should begin i suppose by saying that writing about spies is a tricky business.
the history of any great espionage operation is by definition a secret undertaking so it is full of shadowy characters in markey doings but making matters much worse in the case of the story is a plan that almost all of the pre-existing accounts or full of hopelessly muddled stories muddled by exaggeration, model by misdirection and lies in both official and unofficial. and that made it tracking the truth is very slippery business. the history of the british spies working in america that is to say the history of our allies and spying on our allies, france -- friends spying on friends, is a story that a lot of people wanted to forget both wanted to suppress so it is a particularly tangled mess. in working on this book i was frequently reminded of a line from one of my favorite westerns, the man who shot liberty valance. in the movie that jimmy stewart character asks the newspaper editor if the truth of what
happened will ever really come out. and a newspaper editor says no sir, this is the west, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. with intelligence reports is that they're pretty much the same. a certain false glamour adheres to a lot of wartime exploits and a certain glossy version sanctified version if you want emerges and that the disorder remains the case in an inconvenient fact are swept under the carpet. in a case of the story of the irregulars which is the history of the british security coordination that's a very clumsy name that edgar hoover the head of the fbi gave to the british spy operation in america. they preferred a code name that had its roots in sherlock holmes street urchins, the gifted
amateurs that aided holmes in his inquiries, the baker street irregulars, the british prefer that and refer to themselves as irregulars. the truth of what would they were up to in washington during world war two is also committed is very tricky to write about because you are writing about spies so you're writing about people who are gifted liars' would be a ploy to put it. to say that they were trained in the arts of deception and abdication would be an understatement. as result when it came to the post war memoirs in interviews and they varied widely and meandered often from the truth and was difficult to take anything the senate face value. so on like many were but i couldn't take the transcripts rely on them as ali fadel. that said, the real blame her for much of a obfuscations it lies with the head of the baker
street irregulars, the british security coordination. he was particularly colorful character named william stevenson, a canadian millionaire who was appointed the head of the secret operation in north america by winston churchill and sent to america in 1940. his name william stephenson famous to many of you for his code name intrepid, there were a series of tests sellers and about him, a man called intrepid was one of them and he took a great hand in a bordering his own legend, he was also clever enough at the end of the war to commission official reports so that the history of the regular activities in america on -- unofficial, official, it is very difficult to tell what is what and how much of it was cleaned up in 1945 and 1946 alone later in the '50s and '60s
and '70s as america and england rustled over that history. all that said, i don't think that the actual spy's themselves in this case on a particular colorful trio roald dahl, in flubbing in node you as the author of the james bond books and david ogilvy he went on to become a founder of the advertising giant ogilvy and mather. it didn't really go out of their way to a exaggerate or mislead people about their own spying careers. i think it was more a case of the fact that reality failed sadly short fiction. i think that it is no coincidence that all three of those men made their posts career famous as fabulous as a storyteller's of one sort or another and i think because of james bond's outsize fame there on the exploits during the war
sort of pale by comparison. they're not like fleming's a daring creations, they did not drop behind enemy lines and sort of slip the not the officers wrote in the dark. there were desk jockeys, they were the traditional kind of intelligence officers rather than frontline operatives, there were behind the scenes intelligence gatherers charged with the more pedestrian but extremely important in this case and very effective task of finding out intelligence entered on american politicians and officials and foreign in the back to their superiors in england. -- forwarding it back to their superiors in england. all this was done throughout the war from 1940 to 1945 and had a great influence not only on the course of america's involvement in the war but also in determining postwar policy and the formation of the cia or what was the oss which became the cia. it is important i think remember why this happened in the first
case. many people say why did we have our allies spying on us, why did the british need to spy on us. most americans forget that in 1940 when churchill first ascent -- sent stephenson's over here to start building up a secret network the war was extremely unpopular in america. it was still called the european conflict and american newspapers well over 90 percent of the country adamantly opposed to becoming involved in the war. something called a land lease bill was been heatedly debated in congress and to look like a pass. roosevelt who is firmly with churchill who wanted to help churchill and wanted to send a -- aid to england could not be seen as lifting any hint to help england without losing his chances of reelection. the british desperately needed america's health, heather by now have marched across europe, he was only two or three months
away by most people's estimations of invading england -- literally their only hope was that america would choose to intervene and churchill could not let that fall to chance. he had two do everything he could to push america into the war. so he did something, took a great risk and decided to send in a group of operatives to private they're reluctant ally into action. -- prod their reluctant ally into action. of a rigorous the most regular of them all was dahl, not someone who set out to be a spy. in fact, the only landed in washington because as a very young and inexperienced pilot he managed to get lost in crashes plan. it is a miracle he survived, he was badly injured and burned and he was in the lead of the war in -- invalided out of the war at 25. he wanted to do something and his friends were all still fighting and he found himself offered a post in washington.
as a sort of goodwill ambassador he was very good looking, he was 6'6", handsome and very charming in well spoken inarticulate absolutely breathtakingly smashing in his raf uniforms and gold braid and he was a poster boy for the british war hero. he was supposed to come here and state politicians hanscom a kiss their wives and raise money for the war back home. he was a morale booster, a fi waiver as you well. while dahl felt this humiliating. he found itself trapped in a cocktail of mob in america, he was appalled by the wealthier, but how safe and well fed ever been look. he wanted no part of it and was so rude and so insulting and and recently by the behavior that he got fired and was about to be sent home when william stevenson decided to hire him and recruit him as a spy. susan had become aware of his antics but decided to take a chance on doll, once remarked that one reason he decided to
hire doll was because he thought nobody that badly behaved would be suspected of being a spy. stevenson also cannot afford to be too choosy. remember by 1940 europe have been at war for several years and the trained, seasoned secret service types were already working in europe, there were working on breaking the enigma code and working on troop maneuvers. there were already in europe to import work and this was a kind of a risky black book operation. it was a counter espionage operation, propaganda operation and he was expected to find his people where he could. and because he himself was not a trained spy, he was a self-made millionaire and someone who had worked with churchill and when churchill was out of power as an industrialist and someone with holdings in steel and airplanes. he had reported on the third reich business activities and given a lot of economic intelligence to churchill's group and had a press them and
-- impressed them with his cleverness. and so he in turn look for people like himself. he looked for academics, he looked for industrialists were well connected for businessmen. he hired journalists, he also hired actors and artists. as a result you got people like ian fleming, a former journalist who had begun working in naval intelligence, ogilvy who worked in advertising and working for the gallup poll organization in america. he was british, the british decided to infiltrate the gallup poll organization which then my today did election results and turn ogilvy into first is bought -- first a spy at a gallop and then hire him out right to manipulate public opinion in america. they also hired a playwright and entertainer because he traveled from country to country and that many heads of state, acted as a courier. leslie howard, one of the stars of gone with the wind also worked for the regular. -- irregulars. in fact, he was shot down by germans when he was carrying a document for the irregulars.
the germans knew that he was a spy and thought that his death would be bad for british morale. so the regular swear a rather romantic bunch and i thought of themselves that way. -- irregulars were a rather romantic bunch and i thought of themselves that way. they took their cover or they could find it, they had jobs in the embassy, roald dahl cover was he was supposed to be raising morale in america. all his stories were outright propaganda. the waytheir purpose was to arouse
american sympathies. the blitz had taken a huge toll in england. cities were being bombed nightly. they needed america's help. they were fighting for every airplane, every ship, every submarine. they did everything they could to turn american sympathies towards the british and keep americans focused on britain. dahl's daily jobs were to seduce and manipulate the press and politicians. he was very effective. he was charming. he got here when he was 26 and within a few moments was playing
poker with harry truman, going to parties at evalyn walsh mclean's mentioned in georgetown, dining with henry morgan thal, he became best friends with henry wallace, and in a very short time, he was sleeping with claire booth luce who was married to a fervent anti-new dealer. he was very outspoken in his criticism of the british. "time" and "life" kept running a tirade against the british their activities in india. churchill hated luce. when claire booth luce made a pass at dahl, dahl's superior said go for it. he was supposed to report back on his pillow talk, and he did. he ungraciously complained later to friends that luce was 13 years older than him.
the line, close your eyes and think of england. now other main activity was to befriend and woo american journalists. he became friends with walter winchell. they were among the most powerful and influential asset columnist during the day and he would meet regularly and trade items with them. this was an unscrupulous line of work but very effective. there were charles lindbergh and many others who were supportive of germany. he might give them items that would smear those individuals. the same would go with senators and congressmen. they would investigate whether the gentleman would have mistresses.
these are desperate measures but they were desperate times. the british would take these people out one by one. there are also many us corporations doing business with the third reich. if you are an oil company or a chemical company and you fully expected the third reich would march into england in three months and you would be doing business with them because they would be a major controller of european oil and economy, you continue to do business with them. they would expose these companies and do stories about they would expose these companies and do stories about how standard oil executives would support the nazis. these would need to congressional investigations and embarrassment. -- lead to congressional investigations and embarrassment. at the same time, the american gossip columnist would get a lot of juicy items in their own blackmail material. dahl details how he met with drew pearson and how he exchanged these items and
bragged he became so close to drew pearson and in particular he became regarded as one of the family. he was very effective in that regard. in his role as a propagandist, now unexpectedly started to make a name for himself in washington. his short stories started making in a claim as a young writer. a young people he wrote for children was about the little gremlins that tinkered with pilots planes and it was meant to appeal to mothers and arouse sympathy for the british raf pilots. it appealed to eleanor roosevelt who read the story to her grandchildren. young dahl was invited to the white house and eleanor roosevelt was charmed and started getting asked back and started to go to hyde park on
weekends with the roosevelt family. he was filing detailed reports. the british were obsessed with roosevelt's health. remember, 1940, roosevelt ran for an unprecedented third term. in 1944 he had run for an equally unprecedented fourth term. while the american newspapers did not report too much on his appearance in effect he was growing weaker, british were obsessed that he might not be live through his fourth term. they were terrified henry wallace will become president. henry wallace was extremely left wing. he was anti-empire. he was at the top of the british enemies list. the british did not want him on the ticket. he had been vice president during roosevelt third term.
they could not risk henry wallace becoming president if anything should happen to fdr. the british maneuvered endlessly to wallace's name and leaked every bit of dirt about him. and bring in the papers. he had all kinds of strange religious beliefs. he had dabbled in a mystical cult, they dug all this up here and henry wallace was booted from the democratic ticket in a controversial republican convention in 1944 in the british congratulated them selves for having anchored with -- tinkered with the american political process in their favor. needless to say, this was a very effective counter espionage propaganda operation. arguably one of the most effective in the history of espionage. by the end of 1945 over 2000 british agents working in north
america and they very much altered the course of american foreign policy. ian fleming who came over to smooth the way between american and british intelligence, wrote many influential memos that were used to help america establish a foreign intelligence operation in the image of the irregulars. he suggested the men they should hire. how they should train them. who should head this operation. when donovan which became the oss which would morph into the cia. all of this waged war within this country breaking in some sense every law of the land to fight for england by means of sabotage, propaganda and political subversion. had congress or the american public known at the time that roosevelt had invited the spies in, had instructed hoover to
look the other way, he certainly would have opened himself up to impeachment proceedings. as we know, history proved him right. we look back on this as a just war, and we should have entered and we look back on roosevelt and on the british irregulars despite their underhanded means on the side of the angels. it's a case of doing wrong for the right reasons. what it is a very broad piece of history as a result. one of my favorite lines about this. he was a pivotal figure. he ghost wrote many of winchell's time columns and was basically build the -- go between between the british intelligence and roosevelt brain trust. he said it was well known that the british were in america to
trick america into the war and he said, of course the british were trying to push us into the war but if that were so we were indeed a pushover. it reminds me of a line of chaucer, he fell upon her and would have raped her but for her ready acquiescence. what about this book, many people say the righties book with an eye to the relevance of current history? history has an awful habit of repeating itself. you cannot look at this period of espionage and not look at our own weakness in the intelligence we had in entering the war that we find ourselves embroiled in now and also our need, i suppose, for greater vigilance and necessity of paying close attention to the role of our own
media's vulnerability to propaganda and the superlobbyist would conspire to get us into wars and keep us there. thank you for coming. [applause] are there any questions? >> there was a bio that implied he was anti-semitic and a racist. in your research, did you find that to be true? >> i read that book. that book took into account his full life. he fought with other writers. he did utter some anti-semitic comments. he had a reputation over all. as not a very nice older men.
the only thing i would say in his defense is he saw an awful lot of death as a very young man. he came out of the war badly injured. he had something like eight or nine spinal surgeries when they were not a pretty thing. i think he took an awful lot of painkillers and self medicated from the 40s to the end of his life with booze and it can make you a mean drunk and regrettable statements. but, yes, he did say some unfortunate things. >> you mention briefly that fdr asked hoover to look the other way. could you enlarge on that a bit? how much did the americans look the other way and care not to know, or actively knew and took part in assisting the irregulars? >> it is incredibly complicated.
there is a 50-foot shelf of books on the oss, cia and british secret service and from different perspectives. certainly, when they were invited in, in 1940 it was with a wink and nod and very few people knew and hoover was asked to look the other way. in short order, by the end of 41 there were so many british spies in washington that senior state department officials knew and one of the assistant secretaries adolph burley was completely up in arms about it and a lot of senior military aides were up in arms about it and there was constant memos all the way through the war years saying he british have what amounts to a secret army in this country, it is in violation of the monroe doctrine. this comes out, heads are going to roll. it's going to look horrendous. we've got to do something. these memos go on and on.
stevenson was such a slick political operator between the support roosevelt had that churchill had the need the british had -- they need the americans have because we didn't have our own foreign intelligence yet meant the irregulars managed to stay but they were on the edge of being kicked out. they passed various bills. they would put them up. roosevelt would undercut them in the spy state. the minute the war came to an end they were booted out of this country and they purged the oss of spies there was a huge turning against the british in a newly formed cia. >> how much training did these people have -- have?
they were idiosyncratic and not very trainable. >> i don't think they were very trainable. they were clever and charming and hired because of the built in cover. they were already well fixed and well-connected socially. another was married to walter whitman's sister. he was charming and good-looking he was sort of in place. a lot more hired because of their social connections and background. they have very little training. as a result, stevenson built himself something he called camp x. in canada. it was a quick flight right outside of toronto and it was a finishing school for spies and ogilvy and fleming and a lot would go there for six weeks. and learn about code, forgery, safecracking.
very little that they ever used but they got a crash course in spies and ogilvy is very humorous and his recollections about learning to kill a man with a newspaper. nothing ogilvy was going to be able to do. they did have this sabotage school and the canadian wilderness and it's got myth and legend attached to it called camp x. >> maybe you want to tell the audience about your own grandfather and his role during the manhattan project. >> fbi files. it is probably what led me to this. my grandfather was one of the two men charged with creating and administering a manhattan project. he was the president of harvard. he took off five years to do this and did it with the
conjunction of the head of m.i.t. they had oversight over the weapons laboratories. my grandfathers area was the atom bomb. the atom bomb spies was something they were paranoid and vigilant about. it's one reason los alamos was in the sticks in the new mexico desert. my grandfather was obsessed with spies throughout the war. they were worried the germans would find out about the bomb. they should've been worried, because while the fbi was following oppenheimer, the germans had access -- and the russians to our nuclear secrets not only the atom bomb with the hydrogen bomb and those records are slowly coming out and i think we will learn more about how damaging that espionage was. growing in that environment, it was a constant topic of conversation. in the 60's as my grandfather became interested in his own fbi
file, because he too was followed and he used the freedom of information act to get a hold of his own fbi filed. it was a constant topic of conversation and i became fascinated with the whle period and that led me to be interested in this topic. >> are you talking about factories? >> the sabotage area would have related to the shipping. one of their early mandates was to come in and protect british cargoes and shipping. they did very much to report. -- patrol the ports. some of the early complaints about the irregulars were stevenson's boys were beating up nazis on the docks with no due process.
hoover was sort of cleaning up the mess. that would have been the main area of sabotage. their original mandate was to come in here and identify nazi sympathizers and german organizations in this country. they vastly overstep that and did all kinds of spying on our politicians and meddling in our own political process before they were done. that is what happens when you invite your allies in. >> i found a copy of the official history of british intelligence in north america, how reliable is it? >> it was commissioned by william stephenson in the latter months of the war. when you commission your own official history, you are