REVIEW: The Nazi Spy Ring in America – Hitler’s Agents, The FBI & The Case That Stirred The Nation

Publisher’s Summary: In the mid-1930s, just as the United States was embarking on a policy of neutrality, Nazi Germany launched a program of espionage against the unwary nation. “The Nazi Spy Ring in America” tells the story of Hitler’s attempts to interfere in American affairs by spreading anti-Semitic propaganda, stealing military technology and mapping U.S. defenses.

Using recently declassified documents, prize-winning historian Rhoda Jeffreys-Jones narrates this little-known chapter in U.S. History. He shows how Germany’s foreign intelligence service, The Abwehr, was able to steal top-secret U.S. technology from a prototype codebreaking machine to data about the latest fighter planes – – and how the FBI exposed them. At the center of the story is Leon Turrou, the RBI agent who helps bring down the Nazi spy rings in cases that at the height of World War II in the homefront transformed into national sensations.

The fast-paced history provides essential insight into the role of espionage in shaping American perceptions of Germany in the years leading up to the entry of the United States in World War II.   

Reviewed by Don DeNevi

 “The Nazi Spy Ring in America – – Hitler’s Agents, The FBI & The Case That Stirred The Nation” (Georgetown University Press, 2020), lucidly written and perfectly organized, relates how a totalitarian Germany tried to subvert democracy in the United States, inflaming public opinion to the detriment of that country’s cause.

Readers thankfully acknowledge that in January of 2013, under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, author Jeffreys-Jones applied to access FBI documents related to the more infamous Nazi espionage cases of the late 1930s. The task of accumulating them was monumental. For example, spy Jessi Jordan’s case required almost 15,000 alone. The FBI Information Management Division labored over two years to supply the requests. In London, M15 files were also meticulously researched.

Unlike its Allies and enemies during the late 1930s, the United States enjoyed a blissful isolation and paradisiacal peace while swelling its prosperity. As of yet, Americans did not envenom the Japanese, abhor odious Adolph Hitler and his Nazi war machine, or ridicule Benito Mussolini.

Although most Americans desired neutrality before the guns opened up in Europe on September 1 of 1939, they were perplexed and uncertain upon learning that as early as 1937, German special agents had been at work spying on U.S. interests with German Americans in Bunds who sympathized with the new Nazi government in Berlin.

Slowly, the mood of the nation began to change as Allied intelligence presented disquieting news that Hitler authorized though his Abteilung Geheimedienst the classical wartime use of spies and saboteurs against America by employing aircraft to deliver them. By February of 1937, brazen, impudent special agents began surfacing on the shores of the Eastern seaboard. As the Hollywood feature length movie “They Came to Blow Up America”, released by 20th Century Fox, pointed out in 1943, “German Naval Intelligence, through its AG, developed in the mid-1930s the best school for spies and saboteurs the world has ever known and is now aimed directly at America.”  

In short, the reasons why Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones’ book is so exceptional are numerous: Its probing survey of FBI Agent Leon Turrou’s controversial espionage investigation of the Guenther Rumrich Case in 1938; its first full account of Nazi spies in the 1930s America and how they were exposed; its author’s incontestable knowledge and research erudition; and its well-prepared prose to attract and hold the attention of both scholars and non-scholars.

“The Nazi Spy Ring in America” is also special because of author Jeffrey-Jones’ unbiased perspective that frees him to reevaluate objectively not only how Germany’s foreign intelligence services, the AG and Abwehr, attempted to interfere in American affairs by spreading anti-Semitic propaganda, but also to offer invaluable insights into the role of cloak-and-dagger undercover work in conditioning American perceptions and attitudes toward Nazi Germans in the years leading up to Hitler’s declaration of war against the United States on December 11, 1941, four days after Pearl Harbor.

Analyzing the FBI’s newly declassified resources, prize-winning intelligence historian, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, emeritus professor of history at the University of Edinburgh, revived the long-forgotten Guenther Rumrich case, German codename “Crown”. During the early summer of 1941, it culminated in the stunning arrests of 33 espionage agents, severely crippling the Abwehr efforts in the U.S. Equally elating were the arrests a year later of eight novice saboteurs conveyed by German submarines, U-202 on June 12, 1942 to Amagansett Beach, Long Island and U-584 on June 16, 1942 to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Rhodri Jeffreys, who also penned 15 books, including “The FBI: A History”, “In Spies We Trust: The Story of Western Intelligence”, and “The CIA and American Democracy”, writes, “The exposure in 1938 of a Nazi spy ring operating in the United States basically changed the opinion of the American people on the subject of neutrality in the event of a Second World War. Leon Turrou, the controversial special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was instrumental in securing that exposure and launching a campaign to warn the American people about the Nazi menace.”

Rating – – 4.5 stars

Historical accuracy – – 5 stars

Details – – 4.5 stars

Overall rating – – 4.5 stars

Overall % rating – – 4.5 stars

Don DeNevi, author and co-author of more than 35 non-fiction books, has been writing book reviews for nearly 40 years. Most of those years were devoted to writing for the USMC “Leatherneck Magazine”.  In addition to continuing his enjoyment of reviewing, he has begun writing historical fiction of World War II (the Nocturne Series, 4 volumes) and the American West in the 19th century (the Ol Shep Saga, 10 volumes).  Currently, he has 17 novels listed on Amazon.