Cover Image: Agents of Influence

Agents of Influence

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Member Reviews

AUTHOR

The author of Agents of Influence is Henry Hemming. You can find more information about him and his other publications here.

WHO IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE?

I recommend this monograph to those with a general interest in military history and anyone with a particular interest in the asymmetric warfare of World War II.

SYNOPSIS

Agents of Influence is the true story of a British Intelligence team tasked with swaying a reluctant United States of America (USA) to join with Great Britain against the Axis Powers in WWII.

The central character, William (Bill) Stevenson is drawn into the murky world of undercover intelligence operations or a “war by other means.” He was assigned by the British Military Intelligence Agency (MI6) with the task of organizing a hand picked elite team of operatives to work behind the scenes influencing the U.S. populations opinions surrounding their role in the war. To this day His operation is considered to have been the most successful covert action ever to have taken place on U.S. soil. Spectacular in its scope, eye waveringly expensive in terms of cost and promethean in its use of an intelligence campaign, William’s enterprise is one of the greatest examples of mass population influence in modern history.

Hemming has us accompany Stevenson during the dark days of the 1940s following the tragedy of the evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk. In June of 1940 the U.S. population had no interest in becoming embroiled in the war across the “pond.” Through William and his teams influence, the national opinion slowly changed. Within a year and half, the attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the U.S. into World War II.

Hemming’s Agents of Influence unrolls the characters and the methods, including “fake news,” that changed the history of the world and the ultimate outcome of the war. He explains the British motivation behind the occult actions employed. He takes us on the ship with Stephenson and the wealth of a nation from across the Atlantic. From there he describes how Bill Stephenson uses his considerable talents to assemble an effective team, integrates them into U.S. society and begins his influence operations behind the scenes. That is just the beginning.

CONCLUSION

Agents of Influence is so outrageous that it seems too unbelievable to be true, and yet it happened. Put simply, it is one of those manuscripts that you find yourself carrying around so that you don’t miss an opportunity to read what happens next. I have just discovered a new favorite author. The next step is to get my hands on one or two of the five other works that Hemming has written. This is a superb read; but don’t take my word for it, go out and get a copy and discover for yourself the pleasure of a Henry Hemming volume. This is the first 5 star review of the year.

Written with academic prowess, scholarly skill, intensively researched, extensively referenced and reads as a compelling novel, Hemming has created a genuine winner
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This book describes the propaganda campaign by the British (sometimes with the cooperation of Americans) to influence American public opinion about pursuing a war with Germany. Bill Stephenson was a Canadian who went to work for MI6 and was sent to New York to become part of an influence and misinformation campaign. At times he worked with both J. Edgar Hoover and Bill Donovan, with the knowledge of President Roosevelt. Roosevelt knew that America had to get into the war, he just needed more public support for the inevitable. Part of Stephenson’s work involved countering the influence of Charles Lindbergh and other isolationists. The Nazis had their own influence campaign. Germans passed misinformation to Lindbergh. Also, German propaganda was inserted into the Congressional record with the cooperation of a congressman and then sent out to US citizens chosen by the German embassy as an official government record. However, the British influence was much more involved. 

There were fake horoscopes predicting Hitler’s death. Counterfeit letters and maps were created “proving” that Germany was threatening Latin America. Fake news was disseminated. The epilogue draws parallels between the Russian influence during the 2016 election and the British influence campaign during WWII. The author somewhat disingenuously differentiates the two operations, but it all depends upon whose side you are on. In each case, US public opinion was manipulated. The book was interesting and well written. The author’s narration of the audio book was very good. I found the whole “end justifies the means” thing very disturbing though. “Heroism” is truly in the eye of the beholder. You really can’t believe anything. 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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I was given an ARC from NetGalley. 

I really really enjoyed this well-written account of the manipulation of public opinion by the British relative to American involvement in WWII. Obviously well researched. This was the first work I have read by this author and it won't be the last! Definitely recommended for any WWII history buffs.
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A fascinating and intriguing account of Britain’s successful efforts to infiltrate and influence the U.S. in the years leading up to the U.S. entering World War II. The majority of the American public was not in favor of getting involved and President Roosevelt, despite his conviction that it was the right course of action, was loathe to go against the popular tide, knowing he couldn’t make the case. But the war was not going the way of the Allies and Britain was getting desperate but to no avail. Then came Bill Stephenson to the rescue. Canadian by birth, Stephenson emerges in the U.K. at MI6, and is tasked with heading to the U.S. to change the hearts and minds of the American population. So begins the web of conspiracy, secrecy, planted information, and daring - all the trappings of a spy novel - but in this case nonfiction. And, the rest is history. This is an amazing, well researched, and sobering book - it’s a world that is very real and we would be kidding ourselves if we think that this type of espionage, intrigue, and deliberate strategies has not existed from time immemorial, is happening today, and will continue well into the future. Superbly written, Henry Hemming does a brilliant job keeping the reader engaged with historical details, twists and turns, and a cast of characters that could fill the world’s stage. Yet, I didn’t get lost or mired but was engaged throughout the book due to the author’s flow of language, clarity of style, and the impressive ability to tell a great true story. I highly recommend this amazing read. I hope many will enjoy and learn much from it. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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I fully enjoyed this book. In the wake of the 2016 Russian influence and all the fake news out there it’s both comforting and scary to see that this isn’t the first time it’s happened. This books is great whether you want to know about the United States side up to the Second World War starting along with learning about fake news and influence campaigns before the internet.
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The following review has been posted on Goodreads.

Hemming has written a highly readable account of the efforts of the U.K. to get the U.S. to enter WWII as its ally, and of Germany to keep the U.S. out of the war. The book focusses on Bill Stephenson, the Canadian businessman who became MI6's Head of Station in the U.S., his relationships with top U.S. business and political leaders, and his somewhat unorthodox but highly important efforts to secure U.S. assistance for the UK during the early day of WWII up to and including the U.S.'s entry into the war. The Stephenson angle is tied to a relationship between the author's ancestors and Stephenson.

Hemming also describes the corresponding efforts of Germany to work with isolationists within the U.S., including Charles Lindbergh, to keep us out of the war. The focus on personal relationships between Stephenson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the British Ambassadors to the U.S., "Wild" Bill Donovan, the American businessman and first head of the OSS (precursor to the CIA), Stephenson's superiors in London, and many notable American business and media leaders who supported U.S. action against Hitler, make the book particularly compelling. And his chronological approach to the information presented makes it easier to follow. The book is well footnoted and the footnotes indicate the wide range of sources used by the author.

The heart of the story is really how what the British and Germans did to influence U.S. public opinion during WWII was not very different, other than technologically, from what the Russians did to meddle in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Hemming makes this point. 

Having read other accounts of the founding of the OSS, and the key players, I found Agents of Influence very objective, displaying foreign activity in the U.S. during the period 1940-1941 with the clear indication that President Roosevelt was acting beyond the scope of Presidential authority, potentially in a manner that could expose him to impeachment, yet with what the President and his closest advisors viewed as the best of intentions. We are left with the need to reach our own conclusions as to whether some of the things done by the Roosevelt Administration during this period were inappropriate. And as is perhaps usual we are also left with the impression that politics is a dirty business.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the early days of WWII from an American or British perspective, the role of foreign spies in efforts to affect American public opinion about WWII, the founding of the U.S. intelligence agency, FDR and the other key players during this period. Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, Perseus Books and Public Affairs, for providing a review copy.
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This is a correction, not a review.
I am halfway through the book and enjoying it very much. I love history and find the subject and individuals fascinating. But I noticed a small error that should be easy to correct.

About 15% into the book, Walter Wanger is referred to as a film director. In act, he was a producer, not a director. Check his listing under IMBD for confirmation.

Thanks and can’t wait to finish the book. 
Dennis Humphries
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Riveting book! Agents of Influence: A British Campaign, A Canadian Spy, and the Secret Plot to Bring America into World War II had me at page one!  Author Henry Hemming begins this tale with memories of hearing about the Canadian born man that saved his father’s life in a pond in Britain. Depending on who recounted the story, the small details would change but the big details, the meat and bones of the story, never wavered.  The fate of his father’s life was determined in one moment by one single man who chose to save him. Years later, during WW II, this very man would be working for Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, crossing a much bigger pond to North America in a covert effort to save more lives in the war effort. Once again, depending on who told the story, the details would change, but never the meat and bones of what took place. Newly declassified British records tell the true story of his undercover operation. If you are interested in WW II history or learning more about the man Ian Fleming credited as an inspiration for his James Bond character, this book is for you!
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