June 14, 2021 — On this date in 1942, a 39-year-old German named George Dasch called the FBI to set up an appointment to talk to J. Edgar Hoover. The night before, a German submarine had put Dasch and three Nazi terrorists ashore on Long Island, where they buried their uniforms and explosives. Four others came ashore at Jacksonville, FL; they were to join forces in the Midwest on July 4.

It was the first organized terrorism attempt by an outside force inside the U.S. Hitler wanted to destroy key manufacturing plants and to cripple bridges, railroad installations and water supplies. His men were also to destroy department stores, especially those that were Jewish-owned.

George Dasch’s flawless English was a result of having spent 19 years in America monitoring news broadcasts for the Germans. By the time the operation was put into action, however, he had become disillusioned with Nazism and planned to reveal the plot to authorities once he reached New York.

After contacting the FBI on the 14th, Dasch traveled to Washington and, on the 19th, he phoned the FBI again. Amazingly, nobody took him seriously, even though the Coast Guard had by this time found the German uniforms and explosives Dasch and the others had buried.

Finally, Dasch was put through to a special agent named Duane Traynor. Devils Lake native had gotten his law degree at UND and worked for a Minneapolis law firm before joining the FBI in 1937. When World War II broke out, the Bureau had put Traynor in charge of a special sabotage unit – which is why he eventually got Dasch’s telephone call.

Unlike his fellow agents, Traynor took Dasch seriously and immediately sent a car for him. After Dasch told him his story, Traynor and another agent snapped into action. Traynor stayed with Dasch in a hotel room that night; there, Dasch showed him $86,000 of the original $100,000 the Germans were using to carry out the operation. Of more importance to Traynor, however, were the identities of the other saboteurs, and Dasch produced what looked like a clean handkerchief.

He exposed it to ammonium hydroxide fumes, and text written with indelible ink became visible.

A week later, all seven of Dasch’s co-conspirators had been rounded up. Hoover stepped forward to announce the arrests but didn’t mention the FBI at first didn’t take Dasch seriously. Nor did he mention what the Coast Guard had found in Long Island a week earlier.

Traynor knew Dasch had to look guilty, or his parents in Germany would be put in danger. So, he planned with Hoover to have Dasch spend a few months in prison and then be pardoned.

Meanwhile, the government decided it wanted neither a civil trial, which would be too lenient, nor a military court martial, which would be too difficult. Instead, they came up with the idea of a military tribunal – which set the precedent for empowering President Bush to create military tribunals for accused foreign terrorists and their collaborators in November 2001.

The trial took place in absolute secrecy, and all eight men were found guilty. Six were immediately executed and buried in unmarked graves. Dasch and another man were sent to jail. Traynor soon learned that Hoover was reneging their deal, and Dasch was going to be imprisoned indefinitely. When the war ended in 1946, Traynor renewed his efforts to have Dasch released, but Hoover told him, “Your personal opinions...(are), to say the least, ill-advised.”

Soon after, Traynor resigned from the FBI. It wasn’t until 1948 – six years after he prevented Hitler’s terrorist attack on America – that Dasch was finally released. He was quickly and quietly deported back to Germany.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.

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