My latest book was reviewed by Hayden Peake in the December 2014 issue of Studies in Intelligence, a CIA publication:
Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies: FBI Counterespionage during World War II, by Raymond J. Batvinis (University Press of Kansas, 2014), 334 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, maps, index.
During the 1930s, Nazi Germany recruited a number of spies in the United States. By 1940, the FBI had established a domestic counterintelligence capability and a limited foreign intelligence role focused on that threat. Former FBI special agent Ray Batvinis told that story in his first book, The Origins of FBI Counterintelligence. That book did not consider the FBI’s intelligence contribution to WW II, but Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies deals with it at length. In Batvinis’s view, his book is “not a story of international competition,” but it comes close. (3)
For the 18 months preceding 7 December 1941, the FBI’s relationship with British intelligence in America—designated British Security Coordination (BSC)—was fruitfully cooperative. Headed by William Stevenson, the BSC included members of MI6, MI5, and the Special Operations Executive. But as William Donovan worked—with support from Stevenson—to create an independent foreign intelligence service, “a complicated (and poisonous) relationship between Hoover and William Stevenson” developed. One complication was the Bureau’s view that the BSC had begun running unilateral operations in the United States; this was Hoover’s domain, and he reacted aggressively—with mixed results—to limit the BSC to liaison status. (3-4) But once the United States became belligerent, the British recognized “improved sharing relationships with the FBI” (43) would be essential, and Hoover likewise took steps to make the FBI an operational player. Batvinis tells how Hoover did it.
Taking advantage of the FBI’s foreign intelligence responsibilities in Latin America and its domestic counterintelligence mission, Hoover demanded that the British work through the Bureau when their agents entered North or South America. The TRICYCLE double agent case is a good example. When the BSC proved less than responsive to Bureau requests, Hoover sent “legal attachés” to London for direct liaison with MI5, MI6, and Bletchley Park. As a result, “valuable information concerning espionage, sabotage, controlled enemy agents, [and] Double Cross techniques…began flowing to Washington.” (90)
Batvinis covers each of these topics in varying detail. He gives detailed attention to the FBI handling of its own German double agents as part of the British Double Cross deception system and the anticipated operations against Japan. The Bureau had to manage acquisition of the planted information and its communication to the Abwehr. Of equal interest is how the FBI arranged to receive Bletchley Park decrypts—code-named OSTRICH—that mentioned anything in the Western Hemisphere.
Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies adds a new dimension of operational detail to the FBI’s role in WW II, but he does not cover Soviet espionage in wartime America. That will be the subject of Batvinis’s next study.