Superagent

A Man Called Intrepid: The Secret War

by William Stevenson
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 486 pp., $12.95

Sir William Stephenson is a man with a very distinguished past. A Canadian of great courage and resourcefulness, he fought gallantly in the First World War. Then he went into business and soon became a millionaire by his own exertions. But he never lost his taste for adventure, or his patriotism, which he showed in various ways. He became a friend and ally of Winston Churchill, and during the Second World War he was the principal agent of the British Secret Service in America. His chosen code name was “Intrepid,” which he still keeps—see Who’s Who—as his telegraphic address. We knew him, more impersonally (if I remember aright), as “38,000.”

During the early part of the war, he did invaluable work as liaison officer, in intelligence matters, between Churchill and Roosevelt. His organization in New York was known as British Security Coordination, or BSC, for it coordinated the work of MI-5, MI-6, and SOE. After Pearl Harbor and the entry of America into the war, a separate US secret service, OSS, was set up, and learned some of its early lessons from him. Thereafter, the liaison between the British and American secret services inevitably moved to Britain; but Stephenson continued to do good work in America, for which he was afterward decorated by both governments. He is now eighty years old and enjoys his retirement in Bermuda.

At the close of his active life, Sir William evidently decided that a little publicity, after so many years of discretion, would do no harm. He therefore commissioned a biography. As its author, he chose Mr. H. Montgomery Hyde, who is well known as an able, scholarly, and prolific historical writer, and had himself worked in BSC. Mr. Hyde has written a number of excellent biographies, and Sir William did well to choose him. The result was a book entitled—since Sir William was known for his modesty—The Quiet Canadian. In America its title is Room 3603. It was published in 1962, with a preface by Mr. David Bruce, US ambassador to Britain, formerly head of OSS in Britain. Evidently Sir William was pleased with the book, for he cites it in Who’s Who, as giving further light on his career.

However, with the passage of time, the urge for even greater publicity has overcome this quiet, modest Canadian. This time he has found a different biographer, Mr. William Stevenson, who is also a former colleague and, like himself, Canadian. In order to avoid confusion between these similar names, I propose hereafter to refer to Sir William Stephenson as “the Hero” and to Mr. William Stevenson as “the Biographer.” The Biographer is also a prolific writer, but his books are less historical than those of Mr. Hyde. He writes about secret activities, revolutions, romantic escapades, under such titles as The Yellow Wind, Birds’ Nests in Their Beards, The Bushbabies, The Bormann Brotherhood, etc. I have looked at the last of these books: the less said about it …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.