INTREPID'S LAST CASE by William Stevenson


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Rumbles within the Intelligence community--from a partisan source. ""A shadow fell over the eighty-seventh birthday celebration of the man called Intrepid, Sir William Stephenson,"" writes his best-known biographer and self-styled ""legs."" Once again Stephenson's wartime aide in British Security Coordination (BSC), Dick Ellis, was charged (in a New York Times book review) with being a super-mole who in 1945 had suppressed Russian defector Igor Gouzenko's evidence of high-placed British double agents. Stephenson and Stevenson contend that the charges against Ellis (who died in 1975), as well as reports unfavorable to Gouzenko (d. 1982), ""are pure disinformation by the KGB,"" in which Kim Philby had a hand. The ultimate purpose: ""to kill the spirit of creative eccentricity"" in espionage, exemplified by Canadian ""amateur"" Stephenson and Australian outsider Ellis. So Stevenson retells the story of Gouzenko's defection, familiar from H. Montgomery Hyde's The Atom Bomb Spies, and his subsequent history under wraps--supplying one new piece of information: Gouzenko could not identify Ellis or anyone else (conceivably, the also-suspect Six Roger Hollis) as his anonymous traitor-interrogator because he had gone blind. There is also a recital of Ellis' interwar espionage career--in Russia, France, and Germany--to explain the origin of the charges against him; and there is a review of an allegedly doctored document whereby ""Stephenson himself became a target not only of the KGB but also of the Western mandarins who used secrecy to squelch whatever they disapproved."" None of this is presented straightforwardly. A prime example: the reader is left wondering for 300 pages why Gouzenko wasn't shown a picture of Ellis before learning that he had gone blind. It is also entangled in old quarrels and resentments involving Stephenson's postwar efforts to preserve BSC and his wartime collaborator Bill Donovan's postwar attempts to save OSS. (Anthony Cave Brown's 1982 Donovan bio occasioned that New York Times book review.) Some non-partisan wrinkles turn up--like the strictures on McCarthyite witch hunts for making ""it difficult to convince decent Americans. . . that there were nonetheless sound reasons for action against Soviet subversion."" Factually, however, there is little advance: Stephenson's role in the Gouzenko case is already on record, and so are defenses of Ellis by impartial others, including Hyde. Except as Stephenson's last hurrah, this is a tenuous, murky affair.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1983
Publisher: Villard/Random House