During the Second World War the American Office for Strategic Services, the OSS, coordinated American’s clandestine espionage operations. Douglas Waller’s new book Disciples looks at four officers that served in the OSS during the war, who would go on to become Directors of the CIA. Each would play a very different role during the war, each with a thrilling story.
At the outbreak of war in Europe, America rapidly started to re-arm and expand her military capabilities. Each branch of the US military had its own intelligence service, yet there was no structured cooperation. Roosevelt appreciated, wether America went to war or not, it needed a foreign intelligence service and asked Bill Donovan draw up plans to create an organisation that would co-ordinate, plan and interpret incoming intelligence.
Donovan had won the Medal of Honor in the First World War, during the interwar period he had become a successful attorney and toured Europe widely. In 1940/41 Roosevelt sent him on a series of fact finding missions to Europe. Donovan concluded with American aid Britain would hold out, and proposed that the United States needed a foreign intelligence service.
By a vaguely worded Executive order Donovan was given the job Head of Coordinator of Information, this would become the OSS the following year.
Around him he gather some of the brightest and capable people America had to offer.
Douglas Waller’s new book Disciples: The World War II Missions of the CIA Directors Who Fought for Wild Bill Donovan, tells the story of the OSS through four future CIA Directors who served during the war.
Allen Dulles was born into what was to become diplomatic atistocracy. His maternal Grandfather was Secretary of State, under Benjamin Harris, his uncle under Woodrow Wilson and his brother John Foster Dulles under Roosevelt!
Dulles during the First World War was in the diplomatic service, posted to Europe where he first dipped his toe into intelligence gathering. During the interwar years, in both public service and private practice, he was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Hitler, Mussolini as well as British and French politicians.
Donovan co-opted him into the OSS where he was dispatched to Switzerland, taking a train through Vichy France as the Americans landed in North Africa. He would be one of the last Americans to legally to cross the Swiss border from France, until that country’s liberation two years later.
Neutral Switzerland was rife with spying activities from all countries. Given remarkable freedom to run his operation he had spies operating within Nazi Germany, and was aware of Operation Valkyrie before Von Stauffenberg’s bomb went off.
Of the other future CIA Directors William Casey would be key to the OSS operation in London, Richard Helms would organise agents to penetrate Germany ahead of the Allied assault and William Colby was part of the Jedburgh teams parachuted into occupied France before D-Day to help the French Resistance.
Few people are aware of the story of the OSS, its a tale of amateurs in 1942 growing from a position of what Donovan called a “minus zero” starting point, the point being at least the Army when it expanded had tanks, and the Navy had ships. The OSS grew into a huge intelligence gathering and spying agency before it was disbanded in 1945.
By focusing on the four men we get a, fast paced, very personal tale, rather that what otherwise might have been a rather dry narrative of the OSS.
Disciples: The World War II Missions of the CIA Directors Who Fought for Wild Bill Donovan by Douglas Waller is available 6th October 2015. Published by Simon & Schuster.