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World War II and the Rise of American Intelligence

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, October 13, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1L0490
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$20 - Member
$25 - Non-Member
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In the United States, a highly organized intelligence system did not exist before World War II. Our geographic isolation, coupled with Puritan-inherited notions that we were above such behavior, meant spying on our enemies—or our allies—was a relatively rare, often haphazard undertaking. But, as New York Times bestselling author and long-time intelligence officer Nicholas Reynolds details in his new book Need to Know, that national restraint gave way during the war to an extraordinarily intricate web of spying which, postwar, would grow into our modern intelligence machine.

Britain, with its own strong tradition of intelligence—and its back against the wall after the fall of France in 1940—would launch a full-frontal intelligence-based campaign in the U.S. in hopes of quelling isolationist sentiments (with no less than future James Bond creator Ian Fleming playing a seminal role). Sympathetic Americans such as the prominent New York lawyer William J. Donovan used their influence to try to persuade FDR of the importance of intelligence for fighting the European enemy.

Donovan would go on to be appointed Coordinator of Information between the often-counteracting military and civilian intelligence branches, before heading up the OSS, the wartime precursor of the CIA. Meanwhile, seasoned cryptographers William F. Friedman and Laurance Safford headed up the efforts to break Japanese codes, while U.S. Navy intelligence officers in underground bunkers in the Pacific spent countless hours trying to predict the Imperial Japanese Navy’s next move—all ultimately paying a personal price for their devotion to duty.

Join Reynolds as he discusses the full story of the wartime birth of American intelligence, as well as the larger-than-life leaders and spies who would shape wartime intelligence and beyond.

Copies of Need to Know: World War II and the Rise of American Intelligence (Mariner Books) are available for purchase.

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