AP NEWS
Related topics

William Stephenson, Famous Spymaster, Is Dead

February 2, 1989

HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) _ British spymaster Sir William Samuel Stephenson, the legendary ″man called Intrepid″ whose vast intelligence web snared German spies in the United States during World War II, died at his home. He was 93.

Stephenson operated out of New York during the war and was given his famous code name and a virtual carte blanche to conduct espionage by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He died on Tuesday and was buried the next day.

Sources close to him said he died peacefully at home and had instructed that his death not be announced until after his burial.

Stephenson, the son of a lumber mill owner, was born in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1896 and became an engineer. During World War I, he was a pilot in the Royal Air Force and shot down 26 German planes.

He became a millionaire industrialist by the age of 30, largely as a result of inventing in the 1920s a method of sending pictures by wire. He made a fortune through other business ventures and even found time to win the world amateur light heavyweight boxing championship.

But his most famous exploits came after 1940, when he was tapped by Churchill to put together the most potent intelligence netork of its kind.

He was sent to New York officially to establish an organization to protect British shipping during the war and counter the activities of Nazi spies. But in fact, the operation he set up was later acknowledged to be the hub of all the branches of British intelligence.

He also was reported to be the link between Churchill and Roosevelt in the years before the United States entered the war.

He became Britain’s top operator in the Americas and was responsible for training in Canada a cadre of spies and saboteurs who operated in Nazi-occuped Europe.

He set up shop in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center with the approval of President Roosevelt and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, but without of the official knowledge of the State Department, which was observing neutrality because the United States had not yet entered the war.

Stephenson and his agents secretly killed at least three German operatives in America and ran clandestine operations to discredit U.S. politicians who opposed aid to Britain, according to the popular book on the operation, ″A Man Called Intrepid″ by William Stevenson.

The book chronicled a dazzling series of successes ranging from code- breaking to dropping agents into occupied Europe. He was a severe anti- communist after the war.

He already had retired by the time his exploits became public, mostly through Stevenson’s 1976 book and the author’s subsequent ″Intrepid’s Last Case″ in 1983.

Stephenson stayed out of the public eye until 1987, when Peter Wright’s book Spycatcher became famous because of the British government’s attempts to suppress it.

He went on record as saying that he believed the late Sir Roger Hollis, head of the MI5 British spy agency, was a Soviet double agent.

″Hollis ... was a bad egg if ever there was one,″ he told the Royal Gazette newspaper in Bermuda.

Stephenson was married in 1924 to Mary Simmons, who died in 1978.

AP RADIO
Update hourly