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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / November 19, 2001

Page 6 of 11

Continued from page 5

According to the OSS files, Cuneo and Hopps approached Allen Dulles, a Wall Street lawyer running the OSS in New York, about forming a group that not only could exploit the detailed intelligence contained in fire, casualty, aviation, and marine insurance, but also expand the US share of the global insurance market.

Hopps, an adviser and director of the Rhode Island Insurance Co., which owned a controlling interest in the William Penn Insurance Co., was quickly bounced from the unit when other top executives were recruited. According to minutes of the meetings held to create the unit, Hopps was considered untrustworthy. He responded by tipping the FBI that the OSS was going to conduct counter-intelligence in Latin America, which was then under FBI jurisdiction. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover demanded that the fledgling spy unit stay out of the area.

But it was clear to members of the Insurance Intelligence Unit that Latin America had become an important part of the Axis war machine. Beginning in 1942, the unit diagrammed labyrinthine connections between insurance companies around the world, a network that included not just every other form of financial institution, but virtually every type of business.

Most insurers pooled their risks to protect themselves from a catastrophic payout. The unit made clear how entwined the lucrative risk business really was, from Hartford to Hamburg to Hong Kong. US citizens were paying premiums that German companies theoretically were using to cover losses to London businesses battered by Luftwaffe bombs.

By sharing risk, they also shared details of the things they insured -- from Naval shipyards in Baltimore to chemical companies in Bremen, to bridges built on the River Kwai. The United States blacklisted enemy companies. But a 1943 OSS analysis of Nazi infiltration dismissed the list as useless because: ''a) The firms not blacklisted are full of Germans. b) The blacklisted firms can't be prevented from reinsuring in Swiss or Swedish pools, both of which are Axis.''

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