Did British Spies Stage a Terrorist Attack and Use Fake News to Get US into WWII?
July 19, 2017 Marc Wortman / The Daily Beast
Sir William Stephenson -- the original model for Ian Fleming's fictional James Bond – was a flamboyant British spy who infiltrated the US in a successful attempt to prod America into entering WWII to prevent the collapse of Great Britain. To fulfill his mission, Stephenson created a bogus news agency in the US that spread "fake news" stories designed to demonize Germany and incite Americans to join the Allied fight against the Reich.
Stephenson with the wireless photo transmitter he invited in 1922
Did Brits Kill New York City Cops to Get US into WWII? For 77 years the culprits behind a July 4, 1940,
terror bombing at the New York World's Fair
have never been found. Is this the answer? Marc Wortman / The Daily Beast
(July 16, 2017) -- The sequence of events appears to tell a damning story: On June 4, 1940, Nazi Germany shoved the last British troop off the Continent at Dunkirk. Adolf Hitler moved his forces into position for a final cross-Channel invasion and occupation of England.
That same month, the new British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, dispatched a shadowy figure, Sir William Stephenson -- later most famous as the original of Ian Fleming's James Bond, Agent 007 -- to set up a spy shop for Britain's MI6 in Midtown Manhattan.
A hero of World War One and self-made multi-millionaire, Stephenson was on neutral ground in America, but he and Churchill shared the conviction that nothing was more important to their nation's chances for survival than winning American support for the war against Hitler. Then, on July 4, 1940, with throngs of holiday visitors at the New York World's Fair, a time bomb planted in the British Pavilion exploded, instantly killing two New York City policemen and badly mauling five others.
Was Stephenson behind the blast in an attempt to frame Nazis and their American sympathizers? Were these officers sacrificed to win American sympathy and draw a reluctant United States into the Second World War?
This past Independence Day marked the seventy-seventh anniversary of the unsolved crime. "It's a cold case, but still an open case," New York City Police Lieutenant Bernard Whalen tells me. He has scrutinized the original bombing case files while researching two books he wrote on the history of the NYPD. "There was a massive investigation at the time. The FBI was involved." No effort was spared -- except to get at those he believes were likeliest to have knowledge of the bomb, the security staff of the British Pavilion itself.
Although the United States was officially neutral, in the midst of a world at war, it was fast becoming a shadowy battlefield. New York teemed with spies, political agitators, and foreign agents, many with violence in mind for their enemies, some desperate enough to go to any length to sway American public opinion.
While Whalen won't pin blame on any single possible culprit, he says after his own studies of the case, "You could draw the conclusion that it was an inside job." At one point the NYPD suspected as much, but were stopped from getting to the bottom of the case.
Certainly, there was no better target at the time for a terror attack designed to cause large numbers of casualties and draw national public attention than the British Pavilion at the World's Fair. It was in some respects the World Trade Center of its moment.
Beginning in the spring and summer of 1939 and again in 1940, a total of 44,000,000 visitors -- at a time when the population of the entire country was just 120,000,000 people -- flocked to the New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Three years in the making and spread across 1,216 acres of what had previously been an open-air garbage dump -- the ash heap of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby -- the biggest exposition ever held cost $160 million to complete (equivalent to $2.3 billion today), not including a specially constructed elevated subway line and other new infrastructure, a phenomenal expenditure during the Great Depression.
World's Fair visitors saw "The World of Tomorrow," the fair's theme, including early television, self-driving cars, and robots, and strolled fairgrounds and pavilions dominated by futuristic icons and symbols, the Trylon and Perisphere, a 700-foot spire and an orb as wide as a city block through which visitors on a moving stairs viewed a model of the city of the future.
Sixty nations built national halls or set up exhibitions. Great Britain was there, with an original of the Magna Carta and the Crown Jewels on display; the Netherlands planted a million tulip bulbs and sent Vermeer's ethereal "The Milkmaid" to the US for the first time; and the Jewish Palestine pavilion stood as the first international structure of the proposed Jewish nation.
The Soviet Union's national pavilion, the fairground's most grandiose, was dominated by a red marble tower, shorter only than the Trylon and topped by "The New Soviet Citizen," a seventy-nine-foot-high gleaming steel statue of the ideal worker holding a red star. Despite their wars in Europe and Asia, Fascist Italy and the Empire of Japan were there. Among the major powers, only Germany stayed away.
Nobody let the Old World's problems dampen the excitement about the future on Opening Day, April 30, 1939. President Roosevelt spoke in the grand Court of Peace before more than two hundred thousand people and millions more listening over the radio. America, he said, had "hitched her wagon to a star of good will."
Amid the utopian landscape, he declared, "Yes, our wagon is still hitched to a star. But it is a star of friendship, a star of progress for mankind, a star of greater happiness and less hardship, a star of international good will, and, above all, a star of peace."
That star shined only on small regions of the globe. Even before the fair opened, two independent nations represented there had been wiped off the map, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Anticipating war with Germany, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made the first visit to the United States by British royals ever, making sure to stop at the World's Fair.
Before the first season ended, World War II had indeed begun and before the fair's second season got underway, Poland, Lithuania, and Finland were gone, and before it ended, so too were France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. With the second season's opening day approaching, Stalin's Soviet Union, allied in a marriage of convenience with Hitler's Germany for now, shut and razed its pavilion.
World's Fair goers nonetheless remained undaunted by the headlines emanating from a distant war. On the July 4, 1940, holiday, a huge crowd of close to 160,000 visitors circulated through the fairgrounds. In the afternoon at high tea time, some fifteen hundred people moved about inside the British Pavilion. An electrician noticed a small bag in an electrical control room on the upper floor. He could hear ticking coming from inside it.
Tensions overseas were boiling up in New York City streets and halls -- sometimes leading to noisy protests and bloody fights. Many different groups and organizations carried out demonstrations, held rallies, and battled each other in the media and on the streets, on behalf and sometimes supported by Europe's warring nations.
Among various foreign agents and organizations, Stephenson's new British Security Coordination alone enjoyed a protected status. Headquartered in offices labeled Passport Control at Rockefeller Center, his operation worked, illegally, with a sympathetic Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House to bolster American support for the British and also to attack German agents operating in the Western Hemisphere.
One of Stephenson's US agents, Ian Fleming, later modeled his James Bond character on Stephenson, a man he described as "very tough, very rich, single-minded, patriotic, and a man of few words." He had no hesitation about killing for his country's survival, having done so as a fighter pilot in the First World War and having volunteered to assassinate Hitler in an eventually aborted plot before coming to America.
Many groups vied for popular support from Americans. Among them was the Hitlerite German American Bund, which maintained a bucolic, Nazi-inspired family camp on Long Island where attendees picnicked, learned to shoot, and studied racist biology.
In New York City, Jewish toughs broke in and attacked Bund meetings. Christian rightwing extremists demonstrated, sold anti-Semitic newspapers and followed the popular radio priest, Father Charles Coughlin, who only thinly veiled his support for Hitler. Mainstream anti-interventionist organizations, with aviation hero Charles Lindbergh headlining, sponsored massive rallies with crowds that filled Madison Square Garden and spilled out into the surrounding avenues.
New York City police struggled to keep up with the battling groups that were at each other's throats. Today Whalen says, "All these competing entities were in close confines of each other in New York. The most naïve of all was us, the New York Police Department."
Bombs and bomb scares were recurrent events. In the two weeks before July 4, 1940, bombs had gone off at the German Library of Information, a Nazi propaganda service in the German Consulate building in the Battery, and at the offices of The Daily Worker newspaper, organ of the Communist Party, in its East 12th Street building. In the days just prior to the July 4th holiday, a threat had been phoned into the British Pavilion switchboard operator, warning her to "get out of the building. We're going to blow it up."
Security thus was extra tight on Independence Day. However, according to Whalen, the Pavilion's guard "wasn't run-of-the-mill security." All security staff were British staffers who had present or past British military affiliations, he says. City policemen remained outside.
Earlier that afternoon an electrician spotted what the New York Times described variously as a "buff-colored fiber satchel" and "a small overnight bag," in a top-floor electrical utility room housing controls for the building's rudimentary air conditioning system.
Returning later, he looked more closely. The electrician heard ticking within and alerted security. Security guards carried the satchel past the line of people waiting to see the Magna Carta, then outside through the crowds moving between the neighboring national pavilions. They carried it behind the Polish Pavilion to a spot along a fence next to the Grand Central Parkway.
At home with his family for the holiday, Joseph Lynch of the NYPD's six-man Bomb and Forgery Squad -- as it was then known -- got the call. He picked up his partner, Ferdinand Socha, and drove to the fairgrounds. At the time officers in the bomb squad had no equipment to test remotely for the presence of explosives and wore no protective gear.
Wanting to see what they were dealing with, Lynch pulled out his pocket knife and sliced a hole into the bag. He looked inside at what was later calculated to be twelve sticks of dynamite attached to a timer. He said to Socha, "It's the business." Those were his last words. It exploded, tearing the two detectives apart and wounding five other officers, some of them seeking to hold back bystanders. Two of those policemen were critically injured.
The bomb blew a hole five feet-wide and four feet-deep in the ground and shattered windows in the Polish Pavilion more than one hundred feet away. Metal shards and clothing fragments were found scattered more than 75 yards off according to news reports.
The police spared no man to find the individuals and organization behind the attack. The FBI came in and added federal expertise to the investigation. "New York City turned virtually the full force of its police power . . . on the search for the bomber," wrote the New York Times the next day.
City police raced about town like stirred up hornets, rounding up more than 100 known political agitators. Initially, the focus was on London's enemies. Officers picked up twenty-one "Bundists, Fascists or members of the Christian Front," Father Coughlin's supporters rallying at that same moment in Midtown Manhattan's Columbus Circle.
With Stalin presently in a nonaggression pact with Hitler, The Chicago Tribune wrote that attention focused "on the un-American and alien-minded groups here," primarily Communist Party members, claiming the bombing might have been in retaliation for the earlier bombing.
Some insisted Irish Republican Army nationalists were behind the blast. Others thought French nationals might have sought revenge for a British bombing attack on France's navy intended to keep that country's ships from falling into German hands. The police union immediately put up $1,000 and the City added $25,000 in reward money, equivalent to almost $450,000 today -- money, which remains unclaimed.
Although a German émigré and Bund member discovered in police searches to have illegal guns in his possession was arrested and eventually deported, nothing tied him to the blast. Given that few outside the pavilion would have even been aware of the tucked away utility room, though, police suspicion, says Whalen, soon settled on the electrician who reported the bomb in the first place. "They leaned on him pretty heavily," he says. "If he did it, he'd have broken."
Nobody suspected to be behind the World's Fair bombing was ever arrested. No credible suspects were ever turned up. News coverage died down. Reports instead returned to the fair's glittery events justifying the "World of Tomorrow" theme for millions of visitors. But the war of words over the world war being fought everywhere but the United States had taken a terrifyingly violent turn at home. Americans were now forced to pay attention to the war that they had hoped to ignore.
The failure to turn up even a suspect has led Whalen to question other possible motives individuals and groups might have had for carrying out a bombing. Much like today's terror attacks, he thinks grabbing public attention -- not revenge -- was a likelier primary motive. He says, "If you were going to do something to garner world attention, you couldn't pick a better target."
His suspicions of an "inside job," though not involving the electrician, were aroused by reports he read in the police investigation files with, he says, "indications that police could not speak to security staff without permission, which was not freely granted. If I wanted to solve a crime, I wouldn't impede investigators in any shape or form." He says, "It could have just been the stuffy British attitude, but the authorities at the Pavilion were interfering" with police efforts to interview security staff members, according to the files he read.
Even the US government seems not to have followed up on leads. While he has seen file copies of FBI letterhead material about the investigation, his request to the FBI for files related to the bombing investigation came back empty. The FBI told him they had nothing.
Given Stephenson's known willingness to carry out criminal acts on American soil to aid his cause, it's not far-fetched to conclude his British Security Coordination was possibly behind the blast at his nation's own World Fair pavilion. "You'd get a lot more sympathy [for the British cause]," Whalen speculates, "if brave guys were killed." He won't come down on one side or the other without definitive evidence, but says, "It's as good a theory as any."
Today a plaque memorializes officers Lynch and Socha in a garden alongside the Queens Museum, which had served as the New York Pavilion during the World's Fair and which is today the last building remaining from the fair.
According to Whalen, while those with knowledge of the bombing are likely long gone, the police keep a reminder of it, with a photograph of the reconstruction of the satchel made as part of the investigation. It hangs in the hallway outside the Chief of Detectives Office at New York City Police Department headquarters.
The tragic impact of the bombing, though, lingers almost eight decades later. Now 87 years old, Easter Lynch Miles, eldest of Joseph Lynch's five children, recalls that, at age 10, when she learned of her father's death, "I grew up overnight." Her mother, age 30 at the time, was left to raise five children on her own. The surviving members of the NYPD bomb squad contributed money to help feed the family. The British government sent Lynch's wife a silver fruit bowl for her loss engraved with praise for his "gallantry."
America lost, in part, its childhood with the World's Fair bombing as well. If it was Stephenson's British Security Coordination, they may have sacrificed Lynch and Socha to elicit American sympathy for their warring nation's plight. The officers' heroic deaths were among the first the US would suffer before its definitive awakening to the harsh realities of the world war seventeen months later with the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Real 007 Used Fake News to Get the US into World War II The British ran a massive and illegal propaganda
operation on American soil during World War II
-- and the White House helped Marc Wortman / The Daily Beast
(January 29, 2017) -- In the spring of 1940, British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill was certain of one thing for his nation caught up in a fight to the death with Nazi Germany: Without American support his nation might not survive. But the vast majority of Americans -- better than 80 percent by some polls -- opposed joining the fight to stop Hitler. Many were even against sending any munitions, ships or weapons to the United Kingdom at all.
To save his country, Churchill had not only to battle the Nazis in Europe, he had to win the war for public opinion among Americans. He knew just the man for the job.
In May 1940, as defeated British forces were being pushed off the European continent at Dunkirk, Churchill dispatched a soft-spoken, forty-three-year-old Canadian multimillionaire entrepreneur to the United States.
William Stephenson traveled under false diplomatic passport. MI6 -- the British secret intelligence service -- directed Stephenson to establish himself as a liaison to American intelligence. He went to the White House where the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, remained deeply concerned about the fate of Great Britain.
To Stephenson's dismay, he learned that the US government had no coordinated central command for spies and counterintelligence. Stephenson would have to create one on London's behalf in America. Before long, Britain's lone secret agent in the Americas built a vast clandestine propaganda, counterintelligence, and espionage empire.
Few men were ever so well equipped for cloak-and-dagger work. Stephenson's life and lore were right out of a book -- and before long would become one. Short, thickly muscled as befitted a former boxing champion, with cropped graying hair, hooded, penetrating eyes, and forward-thrusting chin, he had dropped out of high school in Canada and eventually joined the Royal Flying Corps in World War I.
An air Ace, he was credited with twelve combat kills. After being shot down, wounded and captured, he made a daring escape from a German prison camp. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he had approached his friend Churchill with the offer to go to Berlin to assassinate Hitler. Before sending him to the US, Churchill codenamed him, "Intrepid."
After World War I, Stephenson had returned to Canada where he made a fortune in the hardware business. He then added to his wealth with a photographic transmission system of his own invention. He grew his fortune further through ownership of a long list of other companies, including London's famous Shepperton Studios, the largest film studio outside Hollywood.
His circle counted political and military leaders as well as entertainment stars, many of them now in the US, such as the producer/director Alexander Korda and his then-wife actress Merle Oberon, playwright Noel Coward, and film starlet Greta Garbo. Other friends included the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Roosevelt speechwriter Robert Sherwood, FDR confidant and heir Vincent Astor, and 1940 Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie.
He also enjoyed close ties with many leading figures in the news business, among them influential columnist Walter Lippmann, the Time publishing empire head Henry Luce, and New York Herald Tribune publisher Helen Reid. All proved eager accomplices in the effort to elicit sympathy from reluctant Americans for the British plight.
Thanks to the British sympathies of Nelson Rockefeller and his family, Stephenson opened an office in Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, on the 36th floor of the International Building North, at 636 Fifth Avenue. The sign over Room 3603 read "British Passport Control Office." However, before long the floor-through office within was teeming with British and Canadian citizens, many in the US on false diplomatic passports, and some Americans, all secretly employed by MI6.
Room 3603 housed two operational arms under Stephenson's control. The British Information Service (BIS) ran a so-called "white," or soft, propaganda operation that published magazines and pamphlets, paid for radio broadcasts, including over a New Jersey radio station it controlled, and broadcasted multilingual shortwave programming around the Western Hemisphere aimed at boosting support for the British cause.
Stephenson's operative David Ogilvy, after the war a famed advertising wizard, worked as an assistant director to George Gallup's influential polling organization where he tracked Americans' growing support for the British cause. Ogilvy also skewed survey questions to encourage the belief that their support was growing faster than it was.
Decades before the terms "viral media" and "fake news" were on anybody's tongue, the BIS began subsidizing Overseas News Agency (ONA), a branch of the Jewish Telegraph Agency, to feed manufactured stories, often couched within factual material, about German atrocities, British pluck under the German bomber onslaught, and Hitler's threats against the Americas, to its New Jersey Radio Station, which tagged them with the news agency label.
That enabled friendly American newspapers and radio stations to report them as "news" from a reliable press source. Wire services, other radio stations and newspapers would then pick up the stories, which were soon being broadcasted and reported around the country.
For example, BIS writers supplied stories for its New Jersey radio station based on reports in friendly newspapers that originated with the Overseas News Agency. The gullible American press even reprinted the anti-Hitler predictions of a bogus Hungarian astrologer named Louis de Wohl.
More effective still was a concerted campaign aimed at undermining morale on German U-boats. The ONA put out a story stating that the British had invented a new super-explosive for filling depth charges. The story appeared on the front pages of all the leading American newspapers, which were known to be regularly monitored by the Germans. Nobody suspected they were emanating from Rockefeller Center.
Stephenson also tried to influence American politics, sending rabble-rousers to spark fighting and riots at meetings of isolationist organizations such as the Committee for America First, and providing funds to pro-interventionist organizations and candidates for political office. Newspapers reported on the violence as much as they did on the political speeches.
Those relatively kid glove efforts went on along with a hidden, iron fist with which Stephenson punched at the Germans from deep within Room 3603, as well as out of the British Embassy in Washington and a school for spycraft known as Camp X he set up across the New York State border in Ontario, Canada.
Known as the British Security Coordination (BSC), the clandestine intelligence empire Stephenson spawned battled Germany throughout the Western Hemisphere. He purportedly ran a network of upwards of 3,000 secret agents, counterintelligence operatives, forgers, burglars, codebreakers, and killers.
BSC Camp X taught operatives to forge documents, break into offices, crack safes, wiretap phones, and kill in silence. Stephenson was purportedly a hands-on operative. One of his US agents, Ian Fleming, later modeled his James Bond character on Stephenson, a man he described as "very tough, very rich, single-minded, patriotic, and a man of few words."
Fleming claimed that Stephenson personally tracked down a British sailor selling information about Allied convoy sailings to the Germans -- and killed the traitor with a single blow to the neck.
The murder may have been apocryphal, but Stephenson's handiwork could be deadly effective even without committing acts of violence himself. BSC operatives delivered documents to the White House they had forged showing a coup by businessmen and officers in cahoots with the Nazis was in the works to topple the government of Bolivia.
FDR personally forwarded the information to the Bolivian government. The German Embassy staff was booted from the country, and some 150 Nazi sympathizers named in the document were rounded up, imprisoned, and most were shot.
The full panoply of Stephenson's network went to work when his spies discovered that Gerhard Alois Westrick, a German lawyer representing American corporate interests in occupied Europe, had quietly slipped into the country with his family, settling in Scarsdale, outside New York City, and setting up his office in the posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan.
Westrick cultivated contacts in the US business community, including Sosthenes Behn, founder of telecommunications conglomerate International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT), and Torkild Rieber, CEO of Texaco, the oil and gas giant. Westrick urged American businesses to support isolationism as a way to win business in Europe after German victory.
On the day following France's surrender on June 22, 1940, Rieber sponsored a celebratory dinner for Westrick at the Waldorf-Astoria, with executives on hand from General Motors, Ford, Underwood and other major US corporations. Westrick promised them that businesses friendly to Germany would enjoy golden opportunities after the fall of Great Britain, which he predicted would come within three months.
BSC intermediaries tipped off reporters a Nazi agent was at work undermining American interests and security on the autocratic Germany's behalf. The Herald Tribune ran a series of front-page articles about Westrick -- one scandalized headline declared, "Hitler's Agent Ensconced in Westchester." They were picked up by other newspapers and radio stations around the country.
Time headlined him the "German Tempter." Other pundits including Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson amplified those with claims that Westrick was not just setting up future business ties but plotting a German-administered corporate takeover of America.
Texaco's board soon ousted Rieber while Behn, a colonel in the US Army in World War I, held on, managing to hide his close ties to the Nazi government, including ownership through ITT's German holding division of Focke-Wulf Company, which produced Luftwaffe planes that would bomb American troops when they arrived in Europe.
With reporters and protesters camping outside his house, Westrick slipped away in the night. BSC agents followed him and passed information on his whereabouts to FBI agents, who arrested him for driving with an illegal driver's license. He and his family were forced to return to Germany.
In spring of 1941, the FBI received a map from BSC operatives supposedly stolen from a South American diplomatic pouch and showing a secret Nazi plan to occupy and reorganize South America into five vassal states. After Roosevelt got the map from J. Edgar Hoover, he claimed in a speech on May 27, 1941, that this document proved definitely that Hitler was bent on conquest of the Western Hemisphere. He almost certainly knew that Stephenson's services had forged the map.
Some people in the Roosevelt administration found the presence of the BSC unlawful and dangerous. Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle was in charge of monitoring diplomatic activities in the US. He expressed alarm when he discovered what he called "a full size secret police and intelligence service" on American soil that "regularly employed secret agents and a much larger number of informers, etc . . . . [to collect] information . . . ."
He called its work covering every aspect of American life "and probably military intelligence . . . an obvious breach of diplomatic obligation."
He wrote of his concerns, protesting, "I do not see that any of us can safely take the position that we should grant blanket immunity for any foreign spy system, no matter whose it is." The President told him in so many words to back off. FDR made clear that he was ready to risk a great deal, even impeachment, to keep England afloat.
As the months went on and eventually the US did join the war against the Axis, the federal government created its own foreign intelligence and propaganda services, modeled on the workings of Stephenson's operations in Room 3603 Rockefeller Center.
Stephenson's and FDR's friend William "Wild Bill" Donovan set up what would become the Office of Strategic Services, America's first centralized foreign intelligence service and precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Taking advantage of the BSC's expertise, thousands of agents from the Allied nations including the US trained at Camp X and then infiltrated enemy lands.
As for Stephenson, after the war he was knighted, among other honors. He also received the then-highest US civilian award, the Medal of Merit. Although kept secret for many decades, whispers about his exploits took on a kind of mythical cast, sometimes out-James Bonding 007. Today, the Intrepid Society in Winnepeg, Manitoba, seeks to portray a more realistic view of the man and his achievements.
Stephenson eventually withdrew completely into the shadows, naturally, living the last 20 years of his life in a luxurious suite in a Bermuda hotel, where he died, in 1989, at age 92. He of course lives on in the exploits of the fictional James Bond. However, Ian Fleming admitted himself, "James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is . . . William Stephenson."
Marc Wortman is the author most recently of >1941: Fighting the Shadow War: A Divided America in a World at War. For more, go to marcwortmanbooks.com or follow him on Facebook at marcwortmanbooks
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.