William Stephenson

Spy / Industrialist

Born: 11 January 1896
Died: 31 January 1989
Birthplace: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Best known as: The Canadian spymaster behind A Man Called Intrepid

Name at birth: William Samuel Clouston Stanger

Sir William Stephenson was a Canadian industrialist who helped create American and British intelligence organizations at the outset of World War II. Raised by foster parents, he joined the Winnipeg Light Infantry in 1916 and ended up in England during World War I. There he joined British forces and flew a Sopwith Camel fighter plane, until he was shot down and captured by the Germans in 1918. After the war, he became a successful industrialist and inventor, with business contacts in several European cities. Stephenson had aviation contacts in Germany, and he began warning British officials about the ambitions of Adolf Hitler as early as 1936. Assigned to head the British Security Co-ordination Service in 1940 by Winston Churchill, William Stephenson became Churchill's personal messenger to President Franklin D. Roosevelt -- with the code name "Intrepid." Stephenson has often been credited with helping convince Americans to help Britain in the fight against Hitler's Germany, and with helping William "Wild Bill" Donovan to form what became the Central Intelligence Agency. For his efforts in setting up training camps and intelligence networks, Stephenson was knighted by the British after World War II, and in the U.S. he was given the Presidential Medal for Merit, the highest civilian award at the time. His tale of secrecy was told in the bestselling 1976 book A Man Called Intrepid (by William Stevenson -- not the same guy). Since the book's publication there have been official documents released and other memoirs published that contradict some of Stephenson's claims, but he remains a central figure in the genesis of intelligence operations in the Western hemisphere.

Extra credit: William Stephensoniwas sometimes referred to as "The Quiet Canadian," to differentiate him from all the famously loud Canadians... Stephenson was the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Military Cross for his service during World War I.

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