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George Washington’s Spies — How They Saved the American Revolution

Posted By Paul Schnee On February 4, 2014 @ 12:42 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 7 Comments

“Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail” declared Henry L. Stimson when, as Secretary of State in 1929, he promptly closed the cryptanalysis department of the United States.

Had George Washington been inhibited by such diplomatic niceties, it is likely he would have lost the revolutionary war. This possibility was described by Brian Kilmeade, who cohosts Fox News Channel’s morning show Fox & Friends, when he spoke about his new book “George Washington’s Secret Six-The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution” at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Wednesday Morning Club at the Beverly Hills Hotel on January 16th.

During a riveting presentation, Kilmeade described the activities of Washington’s group of disparate patriots who frequently risked certain death over many years in order to secure victory against Great Britain, the world’s only real superpower at the time. Almost nothing was known of them or their activities until a horde of letters was discovered in 1929 and handed over to Long Island’s premier historian, Morton Pennypacker, for study and analysis.

The letters revealed the identities of the Culper Spy Ring. It included Robert Townsend, a Quaker merchant and reporter; Austin Roe, a tavern keeper; Caleb Brewster, a longshoreman who ferried messages between Connecticut and New York; Abraham Woodhull, a Long Island bachelor with business and family reasons for traveling to Manhattan; James Rivington, the owner of a swanky coffeehouse and print shop where high-ranking British Officers congregated to gossip about secret plans and operations; and Agent 355, a woman whose identity is still unknown but who used her charm to coax information out of British officers.

These formerly unknown warriors were responsible for uncovering Benedict Arnold’s plot to surrender West Point to the British and exposing him as a traitor. They also found out that the British intended to flood the country with counterfeit American money. Washington frustrated this scheme when he issued a proclamation declaring all American currency in circulation up to 1778 would be honored. After that date new American currency was printed. They were also adept at disinformation, making sure that false maps and battle plans fell into the hands of the British. The spy ring also used encryption. New York was 56, George Washington was 711 and the mystery female spy was known as 355. Other secret codes and ciphers were employed. Today, a history of their means and methods is taught to all new recruits at the CIA.

Kilmeade pointed out that these were ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things, not for public adulation or glory but because they believed in their cause, which, as it turned out, became the greatest experiment in freedom the world has ever seen and of which we are the fortunate beneficiaries. It is pleasing to know that with the publication of Kilmeade’s book these selfless patriots have now received the recognition they never sought but richly deserve.

Major George Beckwith, a British Intelligence office from 1782-1783, noted, “Washington did not really outfight the British, he simply outspied us.” By 1940, when he was Secretary of War, Henry Stimson no longer had any qualms about cryptanalysis and came to rely on it in every aspect. Perhaps he had come to realize that in a time of “total war” it was not “gentlemen” that were needed but American patriots willing to risk all and silently put themselves in harm’s way as in the founding years of his country.

Had these brave individuals not taken up that significant task, it may be that the America we know and love would have been very different.

Paul Schnee served as the Western Regional Director of the Zionist Organization of America in 2010 and is now the President of their Los Angeles chapter. His blog is: Paulschnee.com where he comments on current affairs.

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