British Security Coordination


BSC Insignia
BSC Badge.

This was the badge of British Security Coordination (BSC). It is worn by members of The Intrepid Society today to commemorate the BSC organization, Sir William Stephenson, and what they accomplished during WW 2.

BSC began life as a counterespionage and intelligence agency for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in North America.  William Stephenson, a Canadian originally from Winnipeg, was appointed by Winston Churchill to head up the BSC organization in New York. On the surface, his title was Passport Control Officer, but his actual role was substantially larger.

There has been some confusion over the number of employees of the BSC and the number of graduates of Camp X. In a CBC interview post-war, Stephenson was asked how many agents there were in his organization. While the interviewer meant the question to pertain to Camp X, Stephenson took it to mean the entire North/Central/South American BSC operations for which he had over 2,000 agents performing all kinds of duties. The number of Camp X trained agents (graduates) was approximately 500

Stephenson’s initial tasks with the BSC were to:

  • represent British intelligence interests in North America,
  • serve as liaison between Britain and USA,
  • influence the USA away from isolationism to internationalism,
  • provide valuable advice and training to the fledging American intelligence community, and
  • facilitate a lend-lease program from the USA to Britain.

As the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) gradually took over intelligence functions, the BSC’s role increasingly became the channel through which intelligence was passed between the FBI, the OSS and London.

The BSC initially occupied the 35th and 36th floors of the Rockefeller Center in New York. It grew to occupy three floors and utilized over 1,000 Canadian, mostly female, staff at its peak who were involved in confidential administrative, secretarial and communications work. With that many employees, it is surprising it continued to maintain its cover that it was only a passport control office.

Rockefeller Centre, New York
Rockefeller Centre, New York.

As indicated, an important part of Stephenson’s job was to sell the British war effort, to sway American public opinion and to cultivate pro-British Americans. The USA was quite isolationist at that time, it was subject to the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s, and there was a large segment of the population that was anti-British, although not necessarily pro-German, in its sentiment.

Stephenson collaborated with Col (later General) Bill (Wild Bill) Donovan whom he had known and admired since the First World War. They worked together to arrange Donovan’s visit to Britain in 1940 to study the war situation there and to determine how critical America’s support for the war effort was.

Col Bill Donovan, OSS
Col Bill Donovan, OSS.

Donovan was known as “Big Bill” and Stephenson was known as “Little Bill” because there was a several inch difference in their sizes. Donovan was appointed Coordinator of Information by President Roosevelt in 1941. The COI concentrated initially on propaganda activities overseas and on the collection and analysis of strategic information. However, Donovan saw the need to extend the COI’s mandate to include espionage and special operations for which he turned to Stephenson for advice.

Stephenson helped with the formation and development of the COI, which evolved into the OSS–the forerunner to the CIA. The CIA was established in 1947. Donovan was reputed to have said “We learned all we ever knew about foreign intelligence from Bill Stephenson.”


The BSC utilized a mixture of techniques to accomplish its goals including:

  • Propaganda
  • Poll fixing
  • Mail interception
  • Seduction
  • Influence activities
  • Ship Observation
  • Spy training


The BSC propaganda initiative was largely to counteract isolationist elements in America that wanted to keep America out of the war. Churchill realized Britain could not hope to win the war without America’s involvement.

The BSC’s tasks were:

  • seek out all existing pro-British interventionist organizations in USA to subsidize them, where necessary,and to assist them,
  • start pro-British and anti-isolationist organizations,
  • undermine the propaganda of the isolationist America First Committee, and
  • utilize a network of journalists, editors and publishers.

As an example of BSC’s subterfuge, a bogus Hungarian astrologer, Louis de Wohl, was despatched from Britain to the US on a lecture tour, telling audiences the stars predicted Hitler was to die. Hitler believed in astrology and would have heard of de Wohl’s prediction. The astrologer was actually a British Army Captain.

A special department was set up as a ‘rumour factory’. For example, a rumour was originated stating the British had developed a devastating submarine depth charge with a new, incredibly powerful explosive. The intention was to worry U-boat crews. This story was picked up by the US press who printed it as a genuine story.

Walter Winchell
Walter Winchell.

As a journalist and broadcaster, Walter Winchell had a huge following in the USA. His newspaper column was syndicated in 2,000 newspapers and read by over 50 million people daily from the 1920s to early 1960s. Winchell’s Sunday radio broadcasts were heard by about 20 million people from 1930 to the late 1950s.

He was vehemently anti-Nazi and anti-communist and willing to promote the BSC objective to get America into the war. He also attacked the isolationist America First Committee which was fronted by Charles Lindbergh, the aviator. By 1941, the America First Committee had over 700 chapters and one million members. At one point, approximately 80% of Americans were in favour of not getting involved in the European conflict. The BSC focused on counteracting this and other isolationist movements.

Winchell, who befriended J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI Director, was also known as the “Godfather of Gossip” and could ruin careers. Ultimately, his own career was damaged when he supported Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy who attacked suspected communists in the US government in the early 1950s. Eventually, the US government and public became tired of McCarthy’s attacks.

As part of the anti-isolationist initiative, the League of Human Rights, Freedom and Democracy; The American Labor Committee to Aid British Labor; The Ring of Freedom, an association led by the publicist Dorothy Thompson; the Council for Democracy; the American Defenders of Freedom, and other such societies were all formed and supported to hold anti-isolationist meetings which branded all isolationists as Nazi-lovers.

The BSC secretly operated its own powerful shortwave radio station, call letters WRUL. It seemed a bona fide US station, but it disseminated a constant barrage of pro-British, anti-isolationist news items.

Ernest Cuneo
Ernest Cuneo.

Ernest Cuneowas an advisor to Roosevelt and also an attorney to journalists Walter Winchell (New York Daily Mirror and radio broadcasts) and Drew Pearson (Washington Post).  He became a liaison between the BSC and several departments of the US government and was given the BSC code name Crusader.

Cuneo fed select British intelligence items to friendly journalists and worked closely with editors and publishers who supported America’s intervention in 2WW including the New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, New York Post, Baltimore Sun, Time and Life magazine, Louisville Courier-Journal, and Picture Magazine.

Station M (for Magic) in Toronto, a phony document and gadgets production factory for the BSC, produced an apparently genuine German map of South America showing its division into sectors. 

Station M South America map
Station M South America map.

There are three stories:

  • a German diplomat was in an accident in Buenos Aires where a map was taken by BSC agents and passed to J. Edgar Hoover who handed the map over to Bill Donovan, who ensured it got to Roosevelt. (a)
  • Stephenson arranged for the FBI to find the map in a German safe house in Cuba.
  • it was a genuine map and there were only two copies, one of which was in Hitler’s possession. This story raises the question of why a relatively minor German diplomat in Argentina would have the only other copy of the map and how the only other copy just happened to fall into the BSC’s hands.

Poll Fixing

The BSC:

  • established “Market Analysts Incorporated” to carry out polls for anti-isolationists,
  • utilized polls as political weapons to inform the views of the doubtful, weaken the commitment of opponents, and strengthen the conviction of supporters, and
  • targeted the political views of leading politicians opposed to lend-lease.

The BSC objective with this activity was to use the results of the polls, taken among their constituents, to convince on-the-fence Congressmen and Senators they should favor more aid to Britain. Initially, 80% of those polled were in favour of staying out of the war.

Great care was taken beforehand to make certain the poll results would turn out as desired. The questions steered opinion toward the support of Britain and the war. Public Opinion was manipulated through what seemed an objective poll.

Polls could be rigged and proving they were rigged was difficult. Pollsters kept data under lock and key. Pollsters could also control the sequence and context within which questions were asked, allocate undecided voters, throw out certain interviews on the grounds they were non-voters, and manipulate data.

Mail Interception

The BSC:

  • established a postal, telegraph and radio processing facility in Bermuda,
  • read microdot messages sent by German spies,
  • extracted letters from mail sent by German spies and resealed the envelopes undetected,
  • employed mail readers in the basements of several Bermuda hotels, and
  • served as an outstation for British agents operating the South American network.

Bermuda processed as many as 200,000 letters daily, mailed to enemy-occupied territories through the Imperial Postal and Telegraph Censorship stations in Bermuda, Trinidad and Jamaica. Over 15,000 could be subjected to clinical tests.

The mail interception operation employed about 1,200 people who operated from the basement of the Hamilton Princess Hotel and several other hotels in Hamilton, Bermuda.

Bermuda was a refuelling port for air and sea transport. It allowed mail interceptors to look into the mail and diplomatic pouches bound for so-called neutral countries without being detected. Stephenson passed along relevant information to the FBI which ensured continual collaboration.

Bermuda Hotel
Hamilton Bermuda Hotel.

As one example, uncovered correspondence between Reinhard Heydrich, who had a cover name of Lothar Frederick, and Joe K. in the US revealed Heydrich had his own intelligence operation. The persistence of one of the Bermuda readers identified these letters were using invisible ink. These letters detailed American aircraft and types supplied to Britain, a precise plan of US defenses at Pearl Harbour, shipping reports, convoy systems from Halifax, British troops in Iceland, etc.

The Bermuda station confiscated art treasures stolen by the Nazis in France to be sold in New York to fund Hitler’s war machine. Commercial transatlantic passenger traffic was delayed while the planes re-fueled and the cargo was covertly examined. Mail examiners were mostly female, some of whom had come from Britain.

Microdot messages, which could shrink a letter to the size of a period, required a 200-power microscope as these “period” and related punctuation marks were sprinkled throughout the cover letter. The examinations were not done at random but based on previously identified correspondence.

Stephenson spent his retirement years in Bermuda and died there in 1989. His daughter, Elizabeth, still lives there.


Amy Elizabeth Thorpe (Betty) Pack, code-named Cynthia.

Amy Elizabeth Thorpe (Betty) Pack, code-named Cynthia, was the daughter of an American military officer. She worked for the BSC during the 2WW and later for the OSS. She used her feminine wiles for sexual and romantic seduction of high-level diplomats.

She successfully obtained some intelligence on the German Enigma (an encryption machine to transmit coded messages), obtained the cipher books of fascist Italy, and stole the Vichy French naval codes out of a locked safe within an embassy. In an article published before her death she wrote, “…in the dangerous years of Nazi aggression I looked upon myself as a soldier serving my country. No sacrifice was too great for the soldiers. I felt that, in my own way, I could do no less than they.”

Her Time magazine obituary quoted Stephenson saying she was “the greatest unsung heroine of the war.”

There is a Canadian connection.Marion de Chastelain obtained work with Stephenson at BSC as a cipher clerk and became the courier/translator for Betty Pack.  De Chastelain described Cynthia as “the type who reveled in espionage. She really loved it. She had entrée to all the embassies and places. She was tall, a dark blond…beautiful figure. She appealed to the males.”

In November 1941 a BSC agent recorded a conversation by Japanese Special Envoy Suburu Kurusu. On 27 November Stephenson telegramed the British Government “Japanese negotiations off. Expect action within two weeks.” De Chastelain was one of those translating the conversations.

On 7 December, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. DeChastelain said, “It was hard to see how they missed it.” She believes they [the Americans] did know, but the Admiral and General in Pearl Harbour took the blame. De Chastelain moved to London in 1943 and worked for MI6.

Her son, General John de Chastelain, later became Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Influence Activities

The BSC:

  • established a document creation and gadgets “factory” at Station M, Toronto,
  • undertook a letter-writing campaign to cause alarm and despondency among axis powers,
  • subjected Fascists and Fascist sympathizers in neutral countries to continual petty persecution, and
  • produced a phony “secret” map to convince Roosevelt of Germany’s South America intentions.
Casa Loma
Casa Loma.

Station M, located in Casa Loma, acquired special inks and paper that would make official “fake” documents indistinguishable from real ones. Specialists forged fake papers required in European occupied territories so agents could move relatively freely among the population. They could also forge letterhead stationery and adjust typewriter keys to make letters appear to be genuine documents.

Station M’s letter campaign included subversive material which revealed a lack of faith in the axis cause but were not obviously defeatist so it did not look like propaganda, knowing that German censors would read the letters.

Station M fed anti-Nazi fake information to Winchell knowing he would write about it or broadcast it. It also provided a document that hinted at a German-backed coup in Bolivia. This led the Bolivian government to arrest several pro-Nazi sympathizers, suspend four anti-British and anti-American newspapers, and remove the pro-Nazi Bolivian military attache in Berlin.

The object of petty persecution, played as a game called Vik which was invented by a Polish Professor who was a sabotage and resistance expert during the First World War,  was to (a) waste Fascists’  time, (b) confuse their affairs, (c) fray their nerves, and (d) get them into trouble with the local population. People who played the game were encouraged to form teams and compete with one another by scoring points for every annoyance and embarrassment caused to the Nazis.

Some examples of petty, but inventive, activities were:

  • telephoning a Nazi or sympathizer late at night and apologizing for a wrong number to disrupt his sleep,
  • letting the air out of his vehicle tires,
  • having large quantities of useless and cumbersome goods delivered with payment on delivery,
  • sending large quantities of letters without stamps so he was constantly having to pay,
  • sending anonymous letters to his girlfriend that he was suffering from an unpleasant disease,
  • suggesting he was keeping a woman and children in another city/community,
  • cabling apparently legitimate instructions requiring him to make long, difficult and expensive journeys,
  • causing his favourite dog to get lost, and
  • hiring street musicians to play “God Save the King” outside his window all night.

Ship Observation

The BSC:

  • recruited observers/agents from all ships flying neutral flags into a “Ships Observer Scheme”,
  • debriefed observers on the ports the ships had visited,
  • looked for information on smuggling activities, Nazi subversives, communist agitation, enemy ship sightings, suspicious radio traffic and potential axis agents.

The Ship Observation Scheme uncovered the Duquesne Spy Ring. Two Nazi spies, Franz Joseph Stigler and Erwin Wilheim Siegler, were members of the SS America crew in 1941. While on the ship, they obtained information about the movement of ships and military defense preparations at the Panama Canal, observed and reported defense preparations in the Canal Zone, and met with other German agents to advise them in their espionage pursuits.

SS America.

They operated as couriers transmitting information between the United States and German agents aboard. The ring was broken up by a double agent who had been blackmailed into spying for Germany and subsequently provided counterespionage assistance to the FBI to help convict more than 14 spies who were sentenced collectively to over 300 years in jail in 1942.

Spy Training – Camp X

Camp X.

This is an aerial view of Camp X near Whitby, Ontario which conducted training under the auspices of the BSC. Over 500 agents were trained there by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to be dropped behind enemy lines to perform sabotage and espionage in conjunction with the local resistance.

Camp X (Special Training School – #103) was a basic training spy school. It provided para-military training with some advanced courses (SOE, OSS, FBI). The spy finishing schools were mostly in Britain. Contrary to popular opinion, no females were trained at Camp X.

Camp X was the only Special Operations Executive (SOE) training camp in the western hemisphere when it was established. Courses were rigourous and those who did not have the required skills were weaned out. This secret site also provided initial covert training for both FBI and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agents. The OSS went on to establish its own training sites once America entered the war.

Camp X also provided a communications link between Great Britain and the United States because it had a powerful transmitter/receiver identified as Hydra. A Canadian Electrical engineer, Pat Bayly, invented a cipher machine called Rockex that enhanced the speed of communications significantly. Hydra operated after the war as a Canadian military signals station. Rockex was improved, reproduced, and served operationally in British embassies and consulates until 1973.

Approximately 100 Canadian Yugoslavs, both naturalized and non-citizens, were recruited from across Canada from such occupations as logging and mining operations to undertake agent training at Camp X. About 40 actually took the training after the initial group was culled.

These Yugoslav agents were mostly parachuted into Croatia where they joined up with partisans headed by Josip Broz Tito, who following the war became the President of Yugoslavia from 1953 until his death in 1980.

Canadian Yugoslav Trainees at Camp X.

Information Sources – Camp X and BSC

  • Hodgson, Lynn-Philip and Alan Paul Longfield, Camp X: The Final Battle
  • Hyde, H. Montgomery, The Quiet Canadian: The Secret Service Story of Sir William Stephenson
  • Macdonald, Bill, The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents
  • Stafford, David, Camp X: OSS, “Intrepid,” and the Allies’ North American Training Camp for Secret Agents, 1941-45
  • Stevenson, William, A Man Called Intrepid: The Secret War
  • Stevenson, William, Intrepid’s Last Case
  • Numerous websites