“James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy.
The real thing is … William Stephenson.”
– Ian Fleming
“Inventor, businessman, master spy.”
– The Canadian Encyclopedia
Born in Winnipeg in 1897, Stephenson served as a pilot in WWI and earned medals for bravery. He invented the wirephoto and made his fortune in London in the 1920s, developing the market with newspapers. He “served on a royal commission in the 1930s to plan the development of India’s natural resources.”
Huh? India’s natural resources? Hang tough, it gets even stranger.
“At the beginning of WWII, Stephenson was placed in charge of British Security Co-ordination (counterespionage) in the Western Hemisphere, with headquarters in New York C (where the telegraphic address was INTREPID – later popularized as Stephenson’s code name). His organization’s activities ranged from censoring transatlantic mail, breaking letter codes (which exposed at least one German spy in the US) and forging diplomatic documents, to obtaining Vichy French and Italian military codes, protecting against sabotage of American factories producing munitions for Britain, and training (at CAMP X, near Oshawa, Ont) allied agents for surreptitious entry into Nazi-occupied Europe.” – The Canadian Encyclopedia
Although the Encyclopedia entry goes on to say that professional historians have treated reports of his wartime activities “with reserve,” he was knighted by King George VI and awarded the US Medal for Merit:
For his extraordinary service to the war effort, he was made a knight bachelor by King George VI in the 1945 New Year Honours. In recommending Stephenson for the knighthood, Winston Churchill wrote: “This one is dear to my heart.”
In November 1946 Stephenson received the Medal for Merit from President Harry S. Truman, at that time the highest U.S. civilian award. He was the first non-American to be so honoured. General “Wild Bill” Donovan presented the medal. The citation paid tribute to Stephenson’s “valuable assistance to America in the fields of intelligence and special operations.” – Wikipedia
Or you could check out what the CIA site has to say. Just don’t tell them I sent you.
Thanks to Marilyn Smith for suggesting William Stephenson for this list.