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William Stevenson, Who Wrote About Espionage, Dies at 89

Douglas Caddy

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December 1, 2013

William Stevenson, Who Wrote About Espionage, Dies at 89


The New York Times

William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, “A Man Called Intrepid” and “90 Minutes at Entebbe,” which he dashed off in a room at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, died on Nov. 26 in Toronto. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by his son, Andrew.

Mr. Stevenson, who was born in London and whose father worked at Bletchley Park, the British headquarters for code breakers during World War II, spent much of his career straddling the worlds of espionage and journalism. Some saw a conflict. He called both pursuits “spycraft.”

“A Man Called Intrepid,” published in 1976, was an admiring portrait of Sir William Stephenson, the masterly Canadian-born intelligence operative who had deep connections to Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II and continued providing information to both Britain and the United States for many years afterward. The author and his subject had similar names and similar interests, and the book grew out of the unusual relationship they developed.

Mr. Stevenson, a pilot who flew for the British during World War II, fashioned himself into a foreign correspondent for The Toronto Star after the war. But he never really stopped serving the British government. While in Canada, he met Mr. Stephenson the spy, who at times suggested world hot spots where Mr. Stevenson the writer might cover a story and also forward him intelligence via telegrams.

“He would then through his own transmission systems send them on to London with his own observations,” the writer recalled this year in a Canadian radio interview.

By the 1960s, Mr. Stevenson was working for the Near and Far East News Group, a propaganda arm of the British government, and becoming increasingly connected in the world of espionage. He also helped produce documentaries for Canadian television and the BBC, sometimes from inside Communist countries or dictatorships, including China.

Among the places where he held posts or reported were Hong Kong, New Delhi, Beijing, Kenya and Uganda. In the summer of 1976, many years after he had returned to Canada and a few months after “A Man Called Intrepid” had risen to the top of best-seller lists, he received a telegram from an informant from the old days.

“Big Daddy is in for a big surprise” read the message, as he recalled in his 2012 memoir, “Past to Present: A Reporter’s Story of War, Spies, People, and Politics.”

“Big Daddy” was a reference to Idi Amin, the president of Uganda, where more than 100 Israelis were being held hostage at the airport at Entebbe after a militant Palestinian group hijacked a plane in late June. Israeli forces were about to conduct a raid to free the hostages. Given advance notice, Mr. Stevenson flew to Israel, where he was given rare access to Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as well as commandos and some hostages who had been released before the raid.

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