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British Intelligence in New York City

You will see very little of British intelligence in Fire on the Hill. However, I do make some passing references to Captain Guy Gaunt and Sir William Wiseman who ran British counter intelligence in New York City during the period in the novel. In my novel I focused mainly on the fictional character of Inspector MacNutt, the head of Dominion Police’s Secret Service.

During the war British intelligence operations were mainly focused on combating the efforts of German and Austrian agents in attacking vital Allied shipments of food and war supplies. Prior to the war, the British had limited intelligence activities in the United States. Those they did have were focused on Irish and Sikh nationalists.

Just before the war began, Captain Guy Gaunt, an Australian-born Royal Naval officer, was appointed British Naval attaché to the United States. It was an open secret that he was the senior British intelligence officer who reported directly to Reginald “Blinker” Hall, the head of British Naval Intelligence. He was kept busy countering various German schemes.

In the fall of 1915, Sir William Wiseman, an impoverished baronet, arrived in New York. He was tasked to set-up an intelligence station, Section V, for British Military Intelligence Ml1c, the forerunner of MI6. The Section was also tasked to fight Irish and Sikh nationalists as well.

Gaunt was not pleased to see Ml1c, as he felt he had things well in hand. There was an on-going rivalry between the two British intelligence services. One advantage Wiseman had was that he had been a businessman with investments in various businesses in New York, Mexico, and Canada. His knowledge and contacts served him well in his counter-intelligence work. Eventually, Section V would emerge as one of the key British intelligence units in New York.

What complicated British efforts was the American government’s sensitively concerning foreign powers meddling in their backyard. The British had a delicate and difficult task fighting a secret war without offending the Americans, especially the U.S. government, which, while sympathetic, was sensitive to foreign governments meddling in its affairs. The key for the British was developing closed ties with American intelligence and counterintelligence services to share information.

When the war ended the Americans began to take a rather dim view of British Intelligence in New York. They were wondering what they were up and made efforts to curtail British intelligence activities as much as possible.

Sources and further reading


Sir William Wiseman, 10th Baronet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Sir William Wiseman, 10th Baronet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Guy Gaunt - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Spence, Richard. “Englishmen in New York: The SIS Station in New York 1915-21”. Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 19, Iss. 3, 2004