William Stephenson’s Role on the Devil’s Chessboard

I’ve just recently started reading David Talbot’s 2015 book The Devil’s Chessboard, his narrative of the shadowy CIA Director Allen W. Dulles. I’ve only just got through the first chapter, but as I understand it from the reviews that were written when the book was first published, Talbot builds a thesis that Dulles was the man behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

While I’m deeply skeptical of that theory (I’m fully aware that Dulles was up to all sorts of dark and twisted skullduggery in his long and murky career, but that doesn’t mean he was responsible for one of the most notorious events of 20th century American history), Talbot offers some very educational information so far.

For example, I knew virtually nothing of the Canadian agent for British intelligence, Sir William Stephenson. Stephenson was the man who was code named “Intrepid” by his friend Winston Churchill. He was also the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond character. Fleming worked with Stephenson during his stint in British naval intelligence.

What’s interesting, and what I just never knew, was that, at least according to Talbot, Churchill, not long after the British evacuation at Dunkirk, dispatched Stephenson to the United States in 1940 for the express purpose of swaying a wary and isolationist American public to support U.S. entry into the war in support of the British cause, with President Franklin Roosevelt’s full support. Stephenson’s “British Security Coordination,” which was headquartered at Rockefeller Center, eventually  employed as many as 3,000 people.

“It was a remarkably ambitious covert enterprise,” notes Talbot, “particularly considering that England was operating on friendly soil.”

But then here’s what’s really interesting: Talbot claims that Stephenson was authorized to kill (“licensed to kill,” just like the fictional hero for whom he was supposedly the inspiration), not only German intelligence agents and members of a network of Nazi spies, but also “pro-Hitler American businessmen” as well. Stephenson had British assassination teams at his disposal to accomplish this. At one point Stephenson considered killing Dulles’ German business associate Gerhard Wetrick because of his activities lobbying for Hitler’s regime in the U.S., though Wetrick was eventually deported instead.

Talbot cites as his source an interview he conducted of John Loftus, who investigated Nazi war crimes for the U.S. Justice Department. Loftus also supposedly cites Stephenson’s authorization to kill in his 2010 book, America’s Nazi Secret.