Finest Hour 115, Summer 2002
By Warren F. Kimball
Spies and Saboteurs: Anglo-American Collaboration and Rivalry in Human Intelligence Collection and Special Operations, 1940-1945, by Jay Jakub. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
Despite the title, this book is not the place to find exciting madefor-Hollywood stories of derring-do, with a Mata Hari, a James Bond, or even an Allen Dulles seducing secrets out of diplomats, blowing up bridges, or subverting governments. Rather this is a careful, detailed, tightly focused study of the administrative relationship between British and American intelligence agencies during the Second World War. It is, at times, a blow by blow description of turf battles fought by and amongst all those various agencies: Brits versus Yanks, Brits versus Brits, and OSS versus the Washington bureaucracy and J. Edgar Hoover. The author has given us neat introductions and summaries of each chapter, allowing us to pick and choose the details we decide to examine. Operations in the field to collect intelligence or support this or that politician are left largely to other histories.
Much of the story and the perspective is familiar. The British, wily and experienced, begin in 1940 by manipulating (“mentoring” is the author’s gentler word) the Americans to get them to create an intelligence agency that would be professional and would cooperate with Britain. (British manipulation of the Americans is only hinted at, but for some overwrought hints see the confused and exaggerated study of British intelligence operations inside the United States by Thomas E. Mahl, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-1944, Washington and London: Brassey’s, 1998.) “Big” Bill Donovan, “little” Bill Stevenson (“Intrepid”), and the rest of the usual suspects appear. Whatever Jakub’s admiration for the British, his message is clear. There is no gratitude in international relations. There is not and should not be any reliance on trust in intelligence relations. National self-interest is the rule.
How does this book add to either our knowledge or understanding? However gratified the author was to be inducted into the Special Forces Club in London, there is little indication that those same wily and experienced British who kept the ULTRA secret for some thirty years disclosed any significant new information or perspectives. But then British intelligence records are carefully culled out of whatever records the British release through their thirty year rule.
OSS records are, on the other hand, now open for research. A few remain closed in part because the foreign government (including the UK) that “owns” information will not release it. Some others remain closed because they contain personal (private) information or personnel information that could reveal the names of still secret agents. (The CIA, which now controls classified OSS records, claims that it would betray a trust to reveal the names of foreign agents and contacts—no matter how long ago and dead they are.)
Some records that pertain to intelligence work done by accused Nazi war criminals will, presumably, be opened through the work of the Nazi War Criminals (Holtzman) Commission. But whatever the importance of those limited exceptions, the huge collection of opened OSS records has not been properly exploited by scholars. This book may help remedy that failing, for in its examination of the administrative and personal relationships that set the structure for Anglo-American cooperation, Jakub provides a useful road map through important portions of OSS files. His footnotes will often lead researchers to the information on operations that can illuminate policy.
The “key findings,” which contain some self-evident categories of intelligence dependence/cooperation independence, include the claim that “the transatlantic ‘partners’…finished the war more as rivals in much of the world” (185). Compared to what?
Dr. Kimball is Treat Professor of History at Rutgers University, visiting professor at The Citadel, author of several books on Roosevelt and Churchill, editor of their Correspondence, and a CC academic adviser.