For those who dismiss the idea that a foreign power could decisively influence American policy through the use of covert intelligence operations, propaganda, fake news stories, dirty tricks, a closer look at history would reveal that the British government, which was a friend and ally, unlike present-day Russia, used those kinds of efforts to help propel the United States into supporting the Allied cause fighting the Nazis in World War II.
As noted by Politico, “British intel officers in New York and Washington worked to elect candidates who favored U.S. intervention, defeat those who advocated neutrality, and silence or destroy the reputations of American isolationists they deemed a menace to British security.”
Great Britain’s bulldog of a prime minister, Winston Churchill, was aware that without American intervention, an anticipated German invasion might well prove successful. But isolationists and “America-Firsters” in Congress opposed American intervention in 1940, despite the fact that Germany had been at war with the Nazis since 1939. Churchill also knew the power or American public opinion on representatives in Congress.
Therefore, SIS, the British intelligence agency, went to work, using fake stories, leaking illegal electronic surveillance and targeting candidates who held isolationist views on the war. The links between the SIS and its American collaborators have been revealed because William Stephenson, the Canadian businessman who headed British Security Coordination (BSC), the official front for SIS operations in North and South America from 1941–1945, commissioned a history of the organization’s operation. The history that was revealed showed
British intelligence tapped a telephone call in June 1940 between President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House and Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., the ambassador to Great Britain, who was an isolationist. The phone call revealed the U.S. was making contingency plans in case the Nazis conquered Great Britain.
Churchill trusted Roosevelt, but bettered the chances of America backing intervention by helping Wendell Wilkie win the GOP nomination in 1940 against Thomas Dewey, Robert Taft and Herbert Hoover, all of whom were isolationists.
On example of the BSC’s work included the New York Herald reporting on a poll of convention delegates. It reported that the poll “conducted by Market Analysts, Inc., an independent research organization”—found that three-fifths of GOP delegates supported helping the allies ‘with everything short of war.’”
Market Analysts, Inc.’s chief, Sanford Griffith, was an American who had secretly been working for British intelligence since the 1930s.
Market Analysts’ client group, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, was led by William Allen White, a nationally syndicated columnist, who noted that Wilkie was the best representative of Republicans’ views.
BSC also funded and coordinated the activities and messaging of the Century Group, which worked to get Willkie to eschew criticizing a proposal that allowed Roosevelt to unilaterally authorize the transfer of scores of destroyers to Britain.
The BSC targeted Rep. Hamilton Stuyvesant Fish III, a Republican and leading isolationist. They weakened him considerably, although he won reelection in 1940 and 1942. One BSC agent wrote targeting Fish was designed to “put the fear of God into every isolationist senator and congressman in the country.”
One journalist in charge of BSC’s propaganda efforts said the BSC used “subversive propaganda in the United States for the exposure and destruction of enemy propaganda … [and] countering isolationist and appeasement propaganda which is rapidly taking on the shape of a Fascist movement, conscious or unconscious.”
The British government ‘s planted rumors, called “sibs,” were approved by an organization called the Underground Propaganda Committee (UPC), later issued through the Overseas News Agency, a news service controlled by the BSC. One sib consistently planted revolved around the supposed ill-health of Adolf Hitler; another, appearing in the New York Times, reported on the death of a 130-year-old Bedouin soothsayer, seen in the Middle East as “a sign of a coming defeat for Hitler.”
Most tellingly, in summer 1941, the Roosevelt administration urged and succeeded in getting Congress to amend an emergency military conscription law and extend mandatory service from one year to 2½ years. The measure passed by only one vote in the House. British efforts may have helped, and it mattered; if the measure hadn’t passed, tens of thousands of men would have been sent home, and American forces would have been depleted.