The British Security Coordination (BSC)
The British Security Coordination (BSC) was set up in May 1940 in New York and was designed to protect British interests in the western hemisphere. Its focus was to investigate enemy activities, prevent sabotage against British interests, and mobilise pro-British opinion in the Americas.
By the end of 1941, the latter of these activities had led the organisation to take part in news manipulation, black propaganda and smearing pro-Nazi or isolationist organisations in the United States, most notably ‘America First’. At its height the BSC had just under 1000 members with people discretely working for them in major newspapers, polling organisations and radio stations across America.
Multiple members of the Intelligence Corp were part of the BSC, including Eric Maschwitz. Maschwitz was the head of ‘Station M’, a forgery factory in Toronto which created fake documents designed to incriminate Nazi Germany and its supporters. You can learn more about Maschwitz and Station M by clicking here.
The head of the organisation was Canadian William Stephenson, who worked out of the head office in the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan. Stephenson has become a figure of legend and misunderstanding. He was the subject of the book ‘A man called Intrepid’ although this was a historically inaccurate and error ridden. Stephenson has often been cited as an inspiration for Ian Fleming James Bond. Fleming was a naval liaison officer and worked with the BSC and knew Stephenson. Whilst he may have inspired the famous ‘shaken not stirred’ line, Stephenson was far from a 007 agent. Stephenson had been a fighter pilot during the First World War and had become a successful business man with international connections during the Interwar period. Stephenson began supplying Winston Churchill MP with confidential information on German rearmament during the 1930s. This relationship most likely led to Churchill appointing Stephenson to the leadership role.
Cap badges were made for the organisation; however, Stephenson refused for them to be worn as he didn’t want the BSC being formally recognised as a unit. Therefore, BSC cap badges have become rare to find, here we have a reproduction of a cap badge in our collection.
Over time, the BSC generated ‘fake news’ stories which would quickly be disseminated widely across the United States. One way they did this was by sending the stories to a press agency called the ‘Oversee News Agency’ (ONA), who the BSC were paying a monthly subscription too. The ONA would then send these stories from their offices in neutral countries such as Switzerland to Newspaper editors in America, thereby disguising their provenance. The BSC had its own radio station which would also report the stories as facts. They would then be picked up by legitimate radio stations and newspapers and relayed across the country.
This example of a BSC fake news story made it all the way to the front page of the Aberdeen Press and Journal. It describes Nazi Germany denying they had produced a map outlining intentions to invade South America, a story created by the BSC. Its release had made international headlines and was used by President Roosevelt in a Navy Day address that was listened to by millions of Americans.
Image used by kind permission of DC Thomson & Co Ltd
The BSC also worked to undermine isolationist organisations in America in any way they could. It had been estimated that there were 700 chapters and nearly a million members of isolationist groups in 1941, with America First being the largest. Leading members were monitored, targeted, harassed and discredited by the BSC and its media machine. They also helped fund pro-intervention organisations and placed agents in those groups to steer them toward being more helpful to the British cause. The BSC even printed booklets which described up to 500 ways of harassing and annoying Nazi sympathisers, and these were distributed amongst pro-British groups.
Flyer for an America First rally in 1941
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, the United States declared war on Japan and, four days later, went to war with Nazi Germany following its declaration of war on the United States. It did so with American public opinion firmly in favour. For William Stephenson and the BSC, this was mission accomplished.