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Desperate Deception: British Convert Operations in the United States, 1939-1944 [Paperback]

Thomas E. Mahl , Roy Godson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 1999
The acclaimed book that exposed the faked documents, seduced Senators, planted press stories, rigged opinion polls and changed the course of World War II.

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From Kirkus Reviews

A fascinating study of the efforts of British intelligence to push America out of its isolationist stance and into the Allied camp during the early days of WW II. Freelance writer Mahl has convincingly drawn on a variety of sources--including recently declassified FBI and government files, memoirs, personal papers, and little-known official reports--to weave together a portrait of extraordinary schemes and activities. He argues that such conventional sources as the official British history of the war are misleading and inadequate. Britain, lacking the resources to fight Nazi Germany alone, needed the immense production capacities and vast manpower of the US to save itself. But the British government was deeply concerned about American intentions: The nation seemed both unpredictable and unreliable in its support of Britain. To gain American allegiance, Britain launched a sizable propaganda campaign and a number of intelligence actions, many carried out or managed by William Stevenson (``Intrepid''), Britain's spy extraordinaire. Mahl asserts that British agents had willing accomplices in FDR's White House, filled with an anglophile elite that identified deeply with Britain. His research reveals that foreign money was poured into some congressional elections to defeat isolationist politicians, that British agents spent money freely to ease the passage of the Lend- Lease Act, that they planted pro-British articles in interventionist newspapers and magazines, and that some national opinion polls were rigged to reflect a deeper and stronger pro- British sentiment than existed. British agents set up Bill Donovan's Office of Stragetic Services and helped run it, and they established or influenced a number of organizations pushing for American intervention. Their efforts were ingenious and effective. They were also either dubious or downright illegal, but Mahl argues that, given the desperate situation in Europe, Britain had little choice. A carefully researched, engrossing addition to WW II history and the history of covert operations. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Where Mahl Goes Wrong Dec 16 2003
Format:Paperback
Thomas Mahl's Desperate Deception includes a lot of information about British-sponsored efforts to influence America away from isolation and toward helping Britain against Nazi Germany. However his understanding of the public opinion polls of that period is extremely flawed. He claims (and some reviewers repeat) that the Gallup, Cantril, and Roper polls were "rigged" by British intelligence to produce a false picture of American public opinion. This is simply untrue. These pollsters used a wide variety of question wordings and posed a variety of alternatives to assess public opinion, and they all came up with the conclusion that - at least after the fall of France in 1940 - the great majority of the public favored "all aid to Britain short of war," even if giving such aid risked actually getting into the war. They did not, however, favor immediately declaring war against Germany and sending troops to Europe. That didn't win majority support until Pearl Harbor. (Hadley Cantril's Gauging Public Opinion (1944) gives many details of the pollsters' testing the limits of American willingness to become involved as do his subsequent articles in Public Opinion Quarterly.) As to the "British agent" in the Gallup organization, Mahl simply has it wrong. David Ogilvy, later a famous advertising man, worked for Gallup in studies of what audiences wanted in Hollywood movies; he resigned and went to work for British intelligence on Latin America. He had nothing to do with Gallup's questions on aid to Britain. See my article in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Summer, 2003. Mahl claims that a poll sponsored by an anti-interventionist group produced very different findings from the Gallup and other published polls - it did not, rather finding very similar results. Mahl's information on the polls and the pollsters is very inaccurate, because he is trying to fit everything into his general thesis.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating information, but a tedious read Aug. 6 2002
Format:Paperback
Mahl does an excellent job unearthing data that the British secret services sorely wish had remained secret. With copious footnotes, Mahl shows how Britain manipulated public opinion, lied to the American people, and subverted the democratic process. Mahl also demonstrates how Britain could not have pulled this off without the complicity of American Anglophile elites with stronger devotion to a foreign power than to their own country.
While the information is interesting and well-supported, I found the writing style of this book to be tedious. Despite the fascinating material, this book is not written in a way that grabs your attention for a sustained read. Still, it's history, not a novel, so at least some of this is to be expected. If you have any interest in the intelligence field, and particularly the effect of covert operations on politics, policy and civil society, I recommend this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Churchill and FDR -- the Two-Headed Monster July 1 2002
Format:Paperback
The book's thesis is that British and U.S. "elites" maneuvered us into WWII to serve the interests of the State. The corrupt Churchill and FDR and their respective intelligence agencies blindfolded the American public into believing that U.S. entrance into the war was justifiable on moral and political grounds.
As usual, the docile masses were swept away in all the rhetoric. Every attempt was made to smear the isolationists as Hitleresque and un-American. More often than not, with such media rhetoricians as Walter Lippman, the attempts were successful. Even today, the uneducated public is convinced that the Old Right anti-interventionist movement was Communist!
Mahl covers some old ground--for those who are familiar with the FDR-Churchill deception--but he writes a compelling story.
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