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Ian Fleming and American intelligence (Part 3)

By Nicholas Rankin


On 27th June 1941, in Washington D.C., Lt-Commander Ian Fleming RNVR drafted a short ‘Memorandum to Colonel Donovan’ on how to structure and staff the headquarters of his new American intelligence agency, COI, to be set up by Christmas 1941. Fleming suggested taking over a section of the FBI building and liaising closely with the Attorney-General and J. Edgar Hoover; Donovan would need to make friends with both the State Department and the FBI and enlist their full help ‘by cajolery and other means’. As Co-ordinator of Information, Donovan would have to ‘dragoon’ the War and Navy Departments into co-operation and be ‘prepared to take action quickly if they don’t help.’ Fleming recommended that Henry Luce of TIME magazine be asked to run Foreign Intelligence, a good “sapper” or military engineer should run Sabotage (a practical problem where romantics should not be encouraged), and Edgar Hoover should nominate someone to run Counter-espionage.  Ian Fleming, who had a background as a Reuters news agency correspondent, thought Donovan would need a ‘Managing Editor with staff from a news agency foreign desk to receive and disseminate intelligence from a central office at GHQ’. He suggested consulting the head of Associated Press and getting staff from only one news agency to avoid jealousies and friction. There would have to be heads of country sections, liaison officers with other government departments, someone in charge of communications (‘A good Fleet Signals Officer’), someone to run matériel and transport (‘Consult American Express’) and many Field Officers (‘Pool the files of the State Department, Navy and Army, and pick the best. Appoint talent scouts to find more if necessary.’) Whoever recruited personnel should be a ‘thoroughly critical and sceptical man’.  To liaise with the British Secret Service in London, Ian Fleming with his naval background naturally suggested people he knew through the Naval Intelligence Division: Commander Christopher Arnold-Foster and Captain Eddie Hastings. He wanted the closest cooperation between Britain and America: ‘Request CSS [the head of MI6] to allow your men in the field to work closely with ours’, and he advised judicious punishment pour encourager les autres: ‘Make an example of someone at an early date for indiscretion and continue to act ruthlessly where lack of security is concerned.’

Three weeks later, Fleming sent his boss Admiral John Godfrey, now back in London, a MOST SECRET cable about Donovan’s progress to date as Coordinator of Information.

1) Initial grant of ten million dollars placed at his disposal.

2) Washington personnel will be housed in Library of Congress and New York office will be at No. 2, Wall Street.

3) Skeleton staff should be at work by August 15th.

4) Information from Colonel Donovan will go direct to the President.

5) Emphasis has shifted towards strategical, economic and psychological research work and planning.

6) Propaganda in enemy countries will have a considerable role under ROBERT SHERWOOD, dramatist, working with radio corporations and Federal Communications Committee.

7) Geographical sections containing one naval, one military, one flying officer with civilian experts will be created. They will report to a Joint Intelligence Committee which will include Director of Naval Intelligence, Director of Military Intelligence, State Department. Their sources of information will be Service Intelligence departments supplemented by any fields they may be able to develop. These sections will also nominally repeat nominally be charged with Secret Intelligence Service, Special Operations 1  [propaganda] and Special Operations 2 [active operations] work in their territories.

8 ) Recruits to date include EDGAR MOWRER, journalist, WILLIAM SHIRER, radio commentator in Berlin till recently, DOROTHY THOMPSON, columnist, EDMOND TAYLOR, journalist, and others of this type. Also many able men from industry and commerce and various research workers from Universities.

9) D.N.I. and D.M.I. have become willing collaborators now that the nature of Donovan’s plans have become clear.

Fleming commented that President Roosevelt was ‘very enthusiastic’ and supportive of Wild Bill, but warned: ‘the rumour that Donovan is a British nominee and a hireling of British S.I.S. is spreading and should be carefully watched.’

From being Co-ordinator of Information in June 1941, General William Donovan went on to found and run the Office of Strategic Services in June 1942, six months after the USA had joined the world war against fascism. OSS combined the secret intelligence and sabotage elements of SIS and SOE just as Godfrey and Fleming had suggested and was, as Ian Fleming described it twenty years later, ‘the first true American Secret Service’. In 1947 it would be reconstituted and renamed the Central Intelligence Agency. To show his appreciation for Fleming’s help in June 1941, William Donovan gave Ian Fleming a classic law enforcement firearm, a Colt Police Positive .38 revolver, inscribed ‘For Special Services’. Fleming later boasted to Cornelius Ryan that the gun was his reward for ‘writing the blueprint of the CIA’.

Nicholas Rankin spent twenty years broadcasting for BBC World Service where he was Chief Producer, Arts and won two UN awards. He is the acclaimed author of A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars and Ian Fleming’s Commandos: The Story of the Legendary 30 Assault Unit. Click here for part 1 and part 2 of this series.

Recent Comments

  1. [...] William Stephenson’s job as the SIS representative in America was investigating enemy activities in the western hemisphere, protecting British supplies against sabotage, countering German propaganda and encouraging the USA to intervene in the war on Britain’s side. Already, in the summer of 1940, William Stephenson had set up the offices for what would become British Security Co-Ordination at 630, Fifth Avenue, New York City. Because many American patriots were opposed to US involvement in foreign wars, most of BSC’s work was covert. Nicholas Rankin spent twenty years broadcasting for BBC World Service where he was Chief Producer, Arts and won two UN awards. He is the acclaimed author of A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars and Ian Fleming’s Commandos: The Story of the Legendary 30 Assault Unit. Want to read more? Here are part 2 and part 3. [...]

  2. [...] A few days later, the war expanded dramatically in Eurasia. On 22 June 1941, Germany launched Operation BARBAROSSA, attacking Russia with 3.6 million men, 3,600 tanks and over 2,700 aircraft. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin tore up their cynical Nazi-Soviet Pact and turned to rend each other in a monstrous struggle that would cost the lives of millions on the eastern front. The USA, with an army of only 1.9 million men, would stay neutral for another six months, until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  But Ian Fleming, in Washington DC, kept working to help America prepare. Nicholas Rankin spent twenty years broadcasting for BBC World Service where he was Chief Producer, Arts and won two UN awards. He is the acclaimed author of A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars and Ian Fleming’s Commandos: The Story of the Legendary 30 Assault Unit. You can read part 1 of this series here and part 3 here. [...]

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