“There are three major strands to what he does,” Hemming says. One was to persuade the U.S. to establish its first intelligence office and convince William “Wild Bill” Donovan to run it. Both of these events unfolded in July 1941, when President Roosevelt created a new intelligence organization called the Office of the Coordinator of Information, or COI (a predecessor to the CIA), and appointed Donovan—whom Stephenson had been courting as a sympathetic ally—to lead it.
“Most of the material that [the COI is] passing on to the White House…originates with MI6 and British sources, and that givens Stephenson enormous power in terms of what American government officials are reading about the stakes of the war,” he says. “That plays a significant and sometimes overlooked part in helping to precipitate this shift towards the idea that the British are doing alright, that the war in winnable, that Nazi Germany should be taken on.”
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Another part of the covert campaign involved infiltrating U.S. pressure groups that were already trying to get the U.S. to enter the war. MI6 operatives influenced these organizations’ campaign strategies and made sure they had adequate funding.
In April 1941, MI6 operatives helped organize a protest of an America First rally in New York City. When a female protester approached the mostly male ralliers that day, one of the men charged at her and punched her in the face, sparking violent clashes between the groups, Hemming writes. MI6 operatives used the media attention to promote their messages about the war.
“Reports in the next day’s papers focused on the violence, with most articles also listing the different interventionist groups involved in the march and what their spokespeople had to say about Lindbergh and America First,” Hemming writes in his book. “Anyone reading these with a keen eye might have noticed that some of the activists used very similar language. It was almost as if they were reading from the same script: which, as it happened, some of them were.”
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The third part of the campaign involved setting up an office for MI6 operatives to distribute fake news. These were stories like the one about the bogus British raid meant to convince the public that the war against Germany was winnable and the U.S. should join Britain in the fight.
At its peak, the office planted more than 20 stories a week. For one, Stephenson’s office drew a fake map purporting to show Adolf Hitler’s plans to invade South America, and made sure this map ended up on FDR’s desk at the White House.
It did. In October 1941, FDR gave a speech declaring that the map “makes clear the Nazi design not only against South America but against the United States as well.”
“When Hitler hears about this, he’s furious, he’s outraged, because he knows that this map is a fake,” Hemming says. “And when Hitler gives his next public speech, he can talk of almost nothing but this particular map.”
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The map, Hemming argues, not only influenced America’s decision to go to war against Germany. It also influenced Hitler’s decision to declare war on the United States on December 11, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This was something Germany had no obligation to do after the U.S. declared war on Japan.
A few hours after declaring war on the United States, Hitler explained his reasons for doing so in the Reichstag, Nazi Germany’s pseudo-parliament. “A lot of the reasons are about Roosevelt,” Hemming says.
“First he incites war, then falsifies the causes,” Hitler declared on December 11, 1941. “Then odiously wraps himself in a cloak of Christian hypocrisy and slowly but surely leads mankind to war.”
Both the United States and Hitler’s Germany were now primed for the fight.
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