Sub Rosa
116 pages

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Sub Rosa


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116 pages

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A thrilling history of the Office of Strategic Services, America’s precursor to the CIA, and its secret operations behind enemy lines during World War II.
Born in the fires of the Second World War, the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, was the brainchild of legendary US Maj. Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, designed to provide covert aid to resistance fighters in European nations occupied by Germany’s Nazi aggressors. Paratroopers Stewart Alsop and Thomas Braden—both of whom would become important political columnists in postwar years—became part of Wild Bill’s able collection of soldiers, spies, and covert operatives. Sub Rosa is an enthralling insider’s history of the remarkable intelligence operation that gave birth to the CIA.
In Sub Rosa, Alsop and Braden take readers on a breathtaking journey through the birth and development of the top secret wartime espionage organization and detail many of the extraordinary OSS missions in France, Germany, Dakar and Casablanca in North Africa, and in the jungles of Burma that helped to hasten the end of the Japanese Empire and the fall of Adolf Hitler’s powerful Reich.
As exciting as any international thriller written by Eric Ambler or Graham Greene, Alsop and Braden’s Sub Rosa is an indispensable addition to the literary history of American espionage and intelligence.



Publié par
Date de parution 07 juin 2016
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781480446014
Langue English

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Sub Rosa
The O. S. S. and American Espionage
Stewart Alsop and Thomas Braden
About the Authors
The late Office of Strategic Services was a vast and chaotic organization of more than 12,000 people who did many different things. While a professor in Washington was studying the transportation system in France, an ex-Hollywood cameraman was making movies of war crimes for the benefit of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a sergeant in Washington was drawing a chart for the use of generals in Kandy, an Italian-speaking American was parachuting into the area of the Brenner Pass, and a major in London was cabling home in secret code, asking about his promotion.
Some day the complete history of all that those 12,000 people did may be written. This is certainly not such a history.
We were parachutists in OSS. Perhaps that fact has influenced our point of view. Nevertheless we believe that the most important work accomplished by OSS was in the fields of resistance and intelligence. We have told about that work-not about all of it, for all of it would fill volumes-but we have told what security and our own information will permit us to tell, and we have tried to show the kind of thing which OSS did in those fields.
Major General William J. Donovan, who headed OSS, once said that the credit for his organization should go to the men who volunteered for duty with the express understanding that they would never get any credit. They were the men who did the work behind the lines in intelligence and resistance, who fought in the secret war. Theirs is the story we have tried to tell.
On the night of June 5, 1944, the powerful transmitters of the BBC, beaming the nightly news broadcast to France, seemed to be sending out gibberish. A queer sentence was interspersed throughout the usual news, and when it came, the announcer s voice took on an unusual high-pitched strain: Ecoutez, coutez, le vin est rouge . More news; then there it was again: Listen; listen, the wine is red. Gibberish, even in English.
On that same night of June 5, a German panzer division, fully equipped and up to strength, left Bordeaux in the south of France to make the three-day run to Normandy. There was talk of an invasion; nobody knew when or where it was coming. Perhaps, the German commander thought, this move had something to do with it. He ordered full speed.
Exactly three weeks later, one third, 3,500 out of the 10,000 men in the panzer division, straggled on foot into the fighting in Normandy. They had no tanks, and no artillery: their armor and equipment had been capsized in ditches, immobilized by road blocks and pits; most of their comrades had been killed.
As a military machine, that panzer division had been totally destroyed. The gibberish had made sense to the men of the French maquis.
At about the same time in another, more populous section of France, a man struggled up the steps of a railway station, a battered suitcase in either hand. He was an anonymous little man, respectably but not smartly dressed. His suit had the peaked lapels, the broad herringbone pattern of the country; he wore the universal crushed black felt hat.
Fussily he searched for his ticket, handed it to the collector, and walked toward the train. Someone tapped him on the back, and he turned, slowly, casually. The Gestapo man gestured toward the suitcases.
The little man put the two suitcases on the platform, and opened one; soiled clothes, a razor, a toothbrush, a piece of gritty war soap, a cheap novel. The other? He was desolated, but the patron had the key. He believed it contained the personal belongings of the patron. He was desolated. He could find the patron and return within the hour. Such an innocuous little man. The Gestapo man shrugged, and gestured him on.
A few hours later and the little man was in a room of a shabby little hotel in the outskirts of another town. The suitcase of the patron was open, lying on the bed, revealing the dials and the key of a portable transmitter. The antenna was attached to the bidet in the corner. Expertly the little man tapped on the key, dot-dash, dash-dash, dot-dot-dash, dash-dot.
In London a sergeant, headphones clamped over his ears, took down the meaningless jumble of letters- AMUNK LSTPH KRUCK LMBST . Not far from the little man in the capital city of the d partement , another sergeant, in another uniform, listened into his headphones, took down the same letters. The German radio direction-finders were going to work, triangulating, searching for the new transmitter, trying to get a fix.
It was not easy. There were so many thousands of transmitters all over the country and the Germans were short of equipment. Nevertheless, sooner or later, perhaps tonight, perhaps next week, the anonymous little man would have to move. In the meantime, dot-dash, dash-dash, dot dot dash: SEVEN THCOR PSHQA TJUNCT IONNE XTTOW NPERI OTXXX .
Two days later, the answer to the message was reported in a small story in the English newspapers: A road junction near the town of Periot, thought to house the German Seventh Corps Headquarters, was severely strafed yesterday by a flight of American fighter-bombers.
These two facts, the rising of the maquis, and the mysterious movements of a secret agent, are related in more ways than one. They are peculiar to France. Yet with minor variations in time and scene, they took place again and again in Yugoslavia, in Greece, in Italy, in the Lowlands, and in the Far East.
They are facts which have had little attention in an America proud to be extolling the virtues of its conquering armies. Yet two of the leaders of those armies have been outspoken on these subjects.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower has said: I consider that the disruption of enemy rail communication, the harassing of German road moves, and the continual and increasing strain placed on the German war economy and internal services throughout occupied Europe by the organized forces of the resistance played a very considerable part in our victory. And Lieutenant General A. M. Patch has said, During the planning phase for our landing in southern France we were constantly kept informed of the enemy s strength and activities by American agents behind the lines.
They are strange facts. Strange that in countries subjugated by an army, which up to June 6, 1944, was still, despite serious defeats, among the most powerful in the world, thousands of armed men could come out of hiding in their woods and homes to fight and run and fight again. Strange also that in a country where an estimated 26 German divisions were devoting themselves solely to guard duty, men with radios could travel from place to place by public conveyance, reporting everything they saw to a faraway invasion headquarters.
Yet the men who came out of the woods to fight that night were not a motley mob. They did not rise disorganized, as candidates for slaughter. They had direction. They were told where to strike, and when. They had arms and ammunition. They had huge stocks of food and clothing. Often they had with them Allied soldiers in uniform, parachuted to them behind the enemy lines, to direct or to aid their efforts.
The little man with the radio was just as well prepared. He knew by heart the country over which he traveled, the dangerous areas and the relatively safe ones. He knew where to find friends. He carried in his pocket enough false identification to satisfy anything but the most searching examination.
These are minor similarities but they point to the common source. The most important relationship between the men of the resistance and the secret agent with the radio is that both were directed and supported by the outgrowth of an idea which was as new to the American mind before 1942 as the atomic bomb, and which, like the bomb, was seldom mentioned outside the covers of ten-cent thrillers. The men of the maquis in France, the partisans in the rest of Europe and in Burma, Siam, and China were armed, supplied, and generally directed by a joint British-American effort in secret intelligence and resistance. The secret agents in Europe owed their presence behind the lines to the same effort. Both the partisans and the secret agents looked for their American orders and their American aid to a vast, secret, sprawling organization in Washington with the boondogglelike name, Office of Strategic Services.
OSS, as America abbreviated the title, has, in fact, been called a boondoggle. It has also been called, Oh So Social, in reference to some of the men who were in it, Oh So Secret, in reference to the armed guards and the I m-terribly-important-but-I-can t-say-why atmosphere with which its Washington buildings were surrounded, and Oh So Silly, in reference to what some people-not all of them wrong-minded-thought of it.
A case could be made for all these titles, and probably will be. That they were coined at all, however, is significant evidence that OSS throughout the war did at least one job thoroughly well, namely the job of not letting anybody know very much about what OSS was doing.
The fact is that OSS did two main jobs. One was tying the resistance effort of the occupied countries to the military effort of the Allied powers. The other was ferreting out and accumulating in one vast central organization all the intelligence about enemy countries, enemy people, and enemy plans which America had or could discover.
Both these jobs involved tremendous study and research. Both also required that soldiers and civilians in OSS risk torture and worse by going behind enemy lines on missions which came to be known in the polite understatement of official phraseology as hazardous. Both required the expenditure of large sums of money. Both required that America, contrary to the instincts of Americans, lean heavily on the experience of her British ally.
Most important of all, both these jobs required learning from the beginning, for neither of them had ever been done by Americans before.
OSS (it was originally called COI, or Co-ordinator of Information, but to avoid confusion its later title will be used from now on) began as an agency for collecting information, and for disseminating propaganda. Its staff consisted in the main of scholarly experts who collected information-principally about enemy or occupied countries-from the Library of Congress and other sources; and publicists who sent out propaganda,-although there was a good deal of confusion in the beginning as to just where the propaganda was to go.
As a sort of sideline effort to this work, there was a division which took movies, and one which made charts of the war effort. As the years went by, it became more and more difficult to explain the presence of these last two in an intelligence organization, but in the beginning they seemed quite logical, since not even Major General Donovan was quite certain what it was supposed to do.
How OSS, with those beginnings, got into the field of resistance and intelligence is a story of amoebic growth which probably could not have happened outside of the United States. Donovan says that, like Topsy, OSS just growed. It would be more accurate to say that it oozed.
Mr. Atherton Richards, one of Donovan s early department chiefs, is reported to have defined this oozing quality about as follows: Bill Donovan s method of running an organization is like pouring molasses from a barrel onto the floor. It will ooze in every direction, but eventually he ll make it into some sort of pattern. It was precisely so.
In the early days of OSS (when it was still COI) there came to Washington an historian and scholar from Harvard University. He came to Washington because he had been asked to head the Research Section of the Division of Special Information within OSS.
When he arrived at his office, he found another man and he learned that the other man was already the head of the Research Section of the Division of Special Information within OSS.
He was perplexed, and a little annoyed. Eventually he took his problem to the top office where he explained his position and asked for a clarification.
Oh I see, well, we ll settle that, came the decision. He can be the Director, and you can be the Chief.
The only man in Washington who could say that sort of thing and make it stick is an ebullient Irishman with an expansive personality, a ready wit, a tremendous drive, and a penchant for doing the things which not only need doing, but which nobody else would ever think of doing. His name is William J. Donovan.
Donovan is a short man with mild blue eyes, and a soft Irish voice. His enormous energy is concealed beneath an easy slow-going manner which gives the impression that he has nothing in particular to do, and would like nothing better than to sit back and listen for an hour or so to whoever happens to be next on the list of callers for the day. This manner is extremely effective, and it is not altogether deceitful. Even for the lowliest private in OSS, it was always surprisingly easy to get an interview with General Donovan, and almost as easy to get a favor granted or a promise made. His subordinates in OSS were often at pains to correct mistakes which the General had made because he found it so hard to say no.
One of Donovan s parachuting officers, a man known for his wild ideas, who had done an astoundingly brave job in France, once came to him with an idea for a combination rocket, bomb, and parachute, with pedals. As the officer described it, he would sit astride the rocket-bomb, steering with his feet until it neared enemy territory; then he would aim it at the enemy and press a pedal which would catapult him toward the ground, and open his parachute at the same time. The bomb would go on, presumably to land upon the enemy, and I d be safe enough, the officer explained, because I d land outside the perimeter of the enemy defenses.
As it turned out, the war ended before the officer could persuade anybody to let him try it, but the one man who was enthusiastic was Donovan.
An expansive enthusiasm has been the hallmark of Wild Bill Donovan s career. Donovan was born in a lace-curtain Irish home in Buffalo. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor while leading the famous Fighting 69th in World War I, and afterwards rose to such prominence as a lawyer that he was the Republican nominee for Governor of New York in 1933. Throughout his career he had a shrewd penchant for first names, for meeting the right people, and for expanding generously in every direction. OSS was a direct reflection of Donovan s character. He was its spark plug, the moving force behind it. In a sense it can be said that Donovan was OSS.
Nobody knows for sure just when Donovan got the double-barreled idea of doing something specific about the underground movement in Europe, and also doing something specific about American intelligence. Apparently he had it vaguely in mind when he came back from Europe in the fall of 1940 after a trip as a special observer for President Roosevelt. To the President, Donovan s support had appeared as an enormous windfall. Here was a man who was an Irish Catholic, a war hero, a Republican, and an interventionist. There were not many men in the United States in the summer of 1940 of whom the same could have been said.
But if Donovan s stock was high with the President when he left for Europe in the summer of 1940, it was still higher a few months after he got back.
For when Donovan returned to America in August of 1940, there was a strong body of opinion among the President s Washington advisors which held that the British would not be able to hold the British Isles. Dunkirk was history. Hitler s Luftwaffe had already begun to pound the channel airfields. The RAF had retreated inland. Even Lord Lothian, the British Ambassador to the United States, was pessimistic. He flirted with the idea that the best solution was to move the government, the King and Queen, to Canada, pull the British fleet to western bases, and abandon England for the time being to the inevitable conquest.
Our own G-2, the Intelligence Section of the War Department, reported to the President their considered opinion that within nine days of the anticipated assault of the Luftwaffe, the RAF would be driven to bases in Scotland and Ireland. Amazingly enough, after that prediction, G-2 also estimated that nevertheless, the British would be able to hold their islands against an invasion, though how they were to do this without air support, and with only one fully equipped division, G-2 did not say.
Into this atmosphere of deepest gloom, Donovan moved like a spring breeze. Certainly, he proclaimed, the British would hold. Certainly, he predicted, there would be no invasion. The RAF, he said, would beat the Luftwaffe out of the skies.
It was a startling prediction, but Donovan knew the facts upon which it was based. He had heard from the British about the new invention called radar. He had seen the performance of the Spitfire, and had been shown proof of its ability to knock down anything the Germans had. He had been let in on the secret of England s coastal defenses, the fires of burning oil.
One month later came the Battle of Britain. Day by day and night by night, as Washington read its newspapers, Donovan s importance grew. More and more the President turned to Bill Donovan. After all he-it was almost he, alone-had been right.
Apparently also both he and Roosevelt had the resistance-intelligence idea in mind behind the vague and innocuous announcement of July, 1941, which authorized COI, and in which the President said, Mr. Donovan will collect and assemble information and data bearing on national security and will analyze and collate such materials for the use of the President. By that time he and Roosevelt had already discussed another idea Donovan had borrowed from the British. The idea was a new type of military unit, which, Donovan said, would do even more unconventional fighting than the British commandos.
Two things are certain about Donovan s idea for combining intelligence and resistance leadership. One is that the idea was already largely explored and the work begun by the time of Pearl Harbor. Various Roosevelt directives, enlarging on the functions of COI long before the United States was at war, were summed up in the Presidential Order of June 13, 1942, which revoked the name COI, and instituted OSS to collect and analyze strategic information and to plan and operate special services. The words were purposely made empty for publication, but Donovan and Roosevelt knew that among other responsibilities, OSS was to have charge of resistance, intelligence, and sabotage, and so did the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under whose direction it was placed.
The other certainty is that the idea of directing the resistance and centralizing intelligence, partly through resistance, bore the double impress of the Donovan trade mark: it was a big job which needed doing and nobody in America had ever successfully done it before.
Outside of America, the idea, or at least one part of it, is as old as history. Britain, Germany, all European countries, have maintained some form of espionage system for centuries. Codes, fake documents, agents in the inner circle of foreign governments, plans for secret weapons sewn in the leaves of a book and smuggled out by men who didn t know what they carried, double agents, who worked for two countries, agents whose business was to watch other agents: all this is an old story to Europe.
So also is the combining of all the information that those agents uncover with all the information that scholars can deduce from the study of a country s newspapers and statistics, and with all the information which slips out in an ordinary way and becomes the property of various agencies of government who may or may not have anything to do with intelligence.
But in America, this was not an old story. It was new. America did not like spies outside of spy stories. Furthermore, America does not like centralizing itself, and even the agencies and departments of American government treasure their own particular functions and duties, and will fight to keep them whether they duplicate the functions and duties of other agencies or not.
The Navy, the Army Air Forces, the Army, the FBI, the State Department, the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, the Board of Economic Warfare, all had intelligence units and all would have liked to use them to operate undercover abroad. The virtues of the Donovan plan were obvious. There would be one intelligence organization rather than eight.
Its defects, unfortunately, were equally obvious. Here, as the men in the established organizations were able to point out, was an amateur if scholarly group charged with collecting the deepest secrets of the United States government. Here, in the same organization, was another group whose function was propaganda, and which consisted of men whose every instinct and training as newspapermen was to publish whatever facts they could learn.
The argument was a cogent one and Donovan had to step carefully past it, and through the maze of jealousies and the American reluctance to use agents abroad, until Roosevelt, after a full cabinet meeting, gave him the go-ahead signal in the late fall of 1941.
The manner in which Donovan accomplished his task of swinging the bulk of the existing or projected overseas intelligence functions of the government into his organization is typical, not only of Donovan himself, but of American politics.
The chief opponents to the Donovan plan were the Army, the Navy, and the FBI. But the Army, the Navy, and the FBI were fully conscious of Donovan s close friendship with Roosevelt. They knew that if it came to a showdown, the back door of the White House was always open to William J. Donovan and a special plea. Consequently it never came to a showdown. At a series of meetings between Donovan and the chiefs of Army and Navy intelligence-J. Edgar Hoover of FBI sulked conspicuously by refusing to attend-Donovan did not need to play his trump card, nor to mention the fact that he had it. He could discuss his proposition coolly, and solely on the basis of its undeniable assets. He could move slowly, and make as few enemies as possible by keeping up the pleasant if unrealistic pretense that all of the players around the table held equal cards.
His methods were not entirely successful. Donovan s occasional antagonists during the war years to come were from the Army and the Navy. It is probable that General Douglas MacArthur s persistent refusal to allow OSS to function under his command, despite its outstanding successes in other theaters of war, sprang from the hostility which resulted among old Army staff men when Donovan s organization was given intelligence functions. The FBI was not satisfied either. Roosevelt later made it clear that OSS was to function in all countries outside the western hemisphere. The western hemisphere was to be the sole domain of the FBI. To the FBI that did not seem a large enough domain.
Donovan, of course, knew of these antagonisms. James T. Murphy, his former law clerk, and his assistant in the days when Donovan was an Assistant Attorney General, once remarked that the General had brought him into OSS to keep the knives out of his back. But his new enemies were only by-products of the Donovan method. By October, 1941, it was clear that his chief purpose had been accomplished.
In that month, Wallace D. Phillips, who had been hired as Special Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence for the express purpose of developing a secret intelligence service for the Navy, shifted himself and his task to the Donovan organization. That same month, Donovan wrote to Roosevelt, telling the President about the meetings which had been held and of the decision which had been reached. He cited the advantages of a civilian organization, and of one intelligence head rather than three, and he ended with a statement which like the rest of his letter, must have been more of a reminder to Roosevelt than a declaration: the new organization, Donovan said, was now getting to work on North Africa.
The note came back to Donovan, bearing a familiar scrawl on the margin: O.K., it said, but get approval of State-F.D.R. Thus America s first foreign espionage and central intelligence agency was born.
Donovan moved more slowly on organizing sabotage and guerrilla warfare behind the lines. The President had liked the idea he brought home from England. In fact Roosevelt suggested a permanent force of American commandos-an idea which eventually brought forth the famous Ranger Battalions. But until Pearl Harbor, the only thing Donovan could do about his idea of using the resistance to help win the war was to ask the British, who were already doing it, how it was done.
From the beginning, the British gave him full co-operation. They told him how they trained their men, what weapons they had, and how they communicated with the resistance. Breaking the precedent of centuries, they even sent a man over to sit down with Donovan and explain the workings of British espionage. The British were not motivated to these unprecedented disclosures from sheer altruism. In the fall of 1941, Lend Lease was an issue on which England might survive or fall. By generously baring to Donovan their most sacred secrets, the British were certain they were gaining a direct pipeline to the White House.
When he had started on the work of getting intelligence from behind the lines, Donovan deliberately set out to do what it had taken Britain centuries to do. Donovan is, after all, what some people call an empire builder. He personally built OSS into an organization of 12,000 people, including military and civilian personnel. Occasionally, he would get lost in its vastness himself. At such times he would wistfully remark that he wished he had been able to keep the entire staff down to 35!
The remark may have been Donovan s way of admitting that he was not a first-rate administrator, a fact which everyone in OSS knew. Before Donovan hit upon intelligence and resistance leadership as the principal roles for his organization, there was some doubt among the people in OSS as to just what they were supposed to do. One department began collecting pictures, and advertising in national publications for citizens to send in any pictures taken on foreign soil. They came by the thousands, most of them of the variety which OSS knew as Aunt Minnie. There was Aunt Minnie in front of the Taj Mahal, Aunt Minnie on a camel, Aunt Minnie on the steps of Shepheard s in Cairo. It took a large staff of workers to sort them and put them away-where they remain to this day.
Again, there was a million-dollar division which had as its head a man who found it extremely difficult to be interested in anything except the theater. He particularly enjoyed first nights. First nights, in Washington, are rare and inferior, and so Donovan woke up one morning to the fact that the entire division of 900 people had sometime since been moved to New York, where its chief was thoroughly enjoying the new season.
What happened was that Donovan was busy having ideas.
When he was told to handle propaganda to foreign countries, he decided to ask playwright Robert Sherwood to help him. Sherwood was a spokesman for the democratic idea; he was an old fighting man of World War I, and he was famous. All of these things appealed to the General. Sherwood set up the propaganda branch of the organization, which eventually split off from OSS to become OWI, and of course Sherwood began hiring people to help him.
When he was told to analyze information, Donovan thought of Archibald MacLeish in the Library of Congress, and together they thought of scholars like W. L. Langer and Edward S. Mason of Harvard, of G. T. Robinson of Columbia and Preston E. James of Michigan. MacLeish suggested using the Library of Congress, where a vast amount of information was to be had for the searching, and as these men began to work and found that there was a great deal of work to be done, they suggested others and got them.
Eventually OSS collected a galaxy of academic stars from leading American universities. There was James P. Baxter of Williams, Wilmarth S. Lewis and Sherman Kent of Yale, Richard Hartshorne of Wisconsin, Burton Fahs of Pomona, Maurice Halperin of Oklahoma, Arthur Robinson of Ohio State, and Conyers Read of Pennsylvania. The complete list would have put the faculty of any one university to shame. The most renowned experts on the history, geography, economics, and politics of all the nations of the world were assembled under one roof and put to work, writing, collecting, and organizing information in their special fields.
Some of these scholars and historians found themselves a trifle befuddled in the face of Washington s wartime hurly-burly. Of one of them it was said that his work for OSS represented the first time in forty years that he had emerged from a period in time which ended sharply in 1648. Nevertheless they proved that it was frequently possible to find out more, for example, about a railroad line between Paris and Bordeaux by consulting the French colonial records and the files of Baldwin Locomotive than by dropping a paratrooper in to look at it. They accumulated a vast amount of information, and eventually the War Department was prevailed upon to use it.
When his staff began to grow, Donovan thought of administration. He called on his old business and World War I friends, Colonel Edwin Buxton, who with Donovan had helped to found the American Legion in 1919, Atherton Richards, president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, Junius P. Morgan, Elmo Roper, who conducts the Fortune surveys, and Russel B. Livermore, World War I hero and lawyer.
As the functions of OSS grew, these men needed help and got it.
It was MacLeish who suggested to Donovan that all the government agencies possessed important facts about the enemy, and that these facts might lie there forever if somebody didn t dig them out and assemble them. But government agencies are touchy about other government agencies. So Donovan hired James Roosevelt to do the job. Roosevelt proved, as might be expected, that he had a better than fair entree to government agencies.
It was all done like that. Donovan would be having breakfast with somebody who would suggest an idea. Donovan would say, Why don t you do it? The man would then go out and hire a staff to do it, and by the time the war started OSS was big and still growing and there were more and more enormous jobs to do.
Somebody came in who knew France; somebody came in who had been in Donovan s regiment in the last war; somebody came in with a British major who threw knives, somebody came in with a pencil which secreted a .22 caliber pistol. If people were going behind the lines, they had to have documents. Somebody thought of an expert forger, an expert printer, an expert on paper. If OSS was going to have bases all over the world, communications were needed. All of the messages would have to be separate and secret from all of the other government messages. So there had to be experts on radio.
And so it grew. It grew so fast that even the expert on charts, Mr. Atherton Richards, who had a profound faith in expressing everything by means of a graph, had difficulty in keeping up. He would walk into Donovan s office with dozens of charts, charts for the budget, charts for the administration, charts for the various divisions, charts which divided everything up neatly and then charted it. Donovan would glance at them, smile at them, approve them with a mild wave of the hand, and then he would have another idea, and he would forget them completely.
The General didn t want things neatly separated. When the organization reached the 5,000 mark, he still visualized everybody working together as they had done when there were 35. And he didn t want to be bothered with details. From July, 1941, until he was made a brigadier general in April of 1943, Donovan drew no salary whatsoever. Roosevelt had told him he could submit an expense account. He did so just once. It was for a thousand dollars, and he withdrew it immediately when the Treasury told him it had to be itemized.
Two months after the war was over, when OSS was about to close up for good, Donovan called one of his secretaries and said he wanted to look at the files.
Which files, sir? the secretary asked.
All of them, said the General. Now that it s all over and I have a little time, I want to read everything.
The secretary called the reports office where all the papers from all the OSS branches and projects and offices overseas had been deposited throughout the years. After four hours of calculated research and analysis, the man at the reports office called back. Working at a steady eight hours a day on a six-day week, he said, the General could complete a cursory inspection of all OSS reports in sixteen and a half years.
I m going to handle this myself, and Leave it all to me. Those were two of the General s favorite phrases, calculated to bewilder the smartest and the most breathless of the smart young lawyers in uniform who strode breathlessly through his administration offices. Obviously, Donovan didn t handle everything himself. But he ran OSS like a country editor, not like a businessman. Donovan would have an idea and get it started. One of his more intuitive secretaries would then wheedle the job away from him in time to leave him free for other ideas. But he would still have a finger in the pie.
The General spread himself, and he expected his men to do the same. Did the question of German power come under the domain of an expert on Germany or an expert on electric power? Let them settle it down below. Did a colonel arriving in England on the General s authority to head the organization there have to take orders from a colonel who was already in England on the same authority? Let them settle it between them. Somebody had just come to Donovan with a new idea, and the General had just said, as he nearly always did, Sure, let s give it a try.
Who was in OSS? Representative Rankin says, Communists. Drew Pearson says, Wall Street bankers. General Donovan used to say, Write me a memorandum saying how you could be of service to this organization, and if I agree with you, you re hired.
It is possible to compile an interesting list: Raymond Guest, ten-goal polo player, and cousin of Winston Churchill; Ren Dussaq, the human fly, and Hollywood stunt man who won the DSC behind the lines in France; James Phinney Baxter III, president of Williams College; Jumping Joe Savoldi, the Notre Dame halfback; T. Ryan, son of the millionaire; Irving Fajans, union organizer at Macy s; Gertie Legendre, African big-game hunter who was captured in Germany joy riding through the lines in a jeep; Bill Dewart, owner of the New York Sun; Milton Wolff, major in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who fought the Germans for three years in Spain, then joined the American Army as a private to spend the same amount of time before he could get commissioned a second lieutenant; Louis Stoddard, gentleman jockey; Tommy Bridges, Detroit Tiger pitcher; A. M. Wilson, Dartmouth history professor; Lou Zelenka, George Washington University halfback; Lucy Starling, Thailand missionary; Prince Serge Obolensky, general in the Russian armies under the Tsar; Paul Mellon, philanthropist heir to the Mellon fortune; George Seabury, Yale tackle; Junius Morgan, another heir to a fortune; John Papajani, All-Pacific center; Virginia Hall, who parachuted with a wooden leg. There was whitehaired Major Edwin Lord, who jumped into France, and who was nearly 50, and there was Henry L. Lassucq, who did the same thing, and even more dangerously, at the age of 63. There were men who did careful scholarly work; men who did sensationally dangerous work; and men who did absolutely nothing except travel around the world on a high priority at government expense.
They came from everywhere and, in the peculiarly amateur atmosphere of OSS, friends chose friends, had them security-checked and installed them in a Washington office or sent them off overseas. The result of the rush to get people into an expanding, booming agency, which, as soon as the war started, could request military personnel, was that OSS collected more than its share of civilians in uniform whose only qualification for a commission was that they wanted one. In the beginning, it was said, you could get a direct commission or a transfer from the Army or Navy to OSS just by being a good lawyer. During the boom season, all you had to do was to know one.
Many of the civilians who had been in OSS before Pearl Harbor quickly got themselves commissioned and into uniform after December 7. It was embarrassing, terribly embarrassing, one of them reported later. We all turned up at the office one morning in our uniforms and there was poor old John, only a lieutenant commander. In those days of the speeded-up draft and the scrambling for war jobs, OSS was frequently the last refuge of the well-connected.
Did OSS need agents to go behind the enemy lines? The New York membership, lounging at the Racquet Club on week ends from Washington, cast a searching eye over the waiters. If none of them spoke French, well, there was always Armando s. Actually, OSS listed among its foreign-language speaking personnel, a bartender from the Yale Club, a bartender from Armando s, and the chef at the River Club, two of whom were killed, all of whom performed brave deeds behind the lines.
Sometimes getting the right man for the job into an American uniform created unforeseen difficulties. There is the story of the officer from New York s French quarter, who jumped into France long before D-Day. OSS headquarters in London got a message from General Eisenhower saying that upon the officer s return, General Eisenhower wished to decorate him personally. Proudly, headquarters looked up the man s record. It was horrified at what it found. When he returned to England, he was met at the train, rushed off to a hotel room, locked up for two days, and carefully and continually coached until he could repeat correctly, if haltingly:
I am very proud to meet the General.
Will the General please speak in French? He will understand that after so long in France, my English is rusty.
Headquarters had discovered a small point which General Eisenhower might be expected to know: you cannot give a commission in the Army of the United States to a man who cannot speak English at all.
OSS was the last refuge also for men like that one, who wanted to do something worthwhile and who didn t fit the regulations, or for men already in uniform who were stuck at a desk job in an Army post and wanted to go off overseas. Donovan was a veritable godfather to these men. He would refuse none of them. Even within the organization, it was impossible to keep a man at a desk if he didn t want to be at a desk, and if Donovan knew he didn t.
One officer, already in London, approaching 40, and with an injured back which could have kept him out of combat had he chosen to mention it, walked up to the General on one of his inspections of the London office, saluted smartly, told him his name, and said, Sir, I m in the office here and I want to do something. What about going to Greece?
General Donovan looked him squarely in the eye and spoke, as he frequently did, in the manner in which generals of fiction are supposed to speak: My boy, he said, there s a bigger show than Greece coming up, and any man in my organization who wants to be in it, is going to be in it.
After the General had returned to America, OSS headquarters in London received a cable ordering that man to parachute school. Two weeks later came another cable, Has Reeve Schley been assigned to a mission in France? Both cables were signed personally by Donovan.
Going behind enemy lines, according to the rules of warfare, is not a task which one man can command another to do. Perhaps one tenth of the men who were in OSS saw service behind the lines, but all of them who did so volunteered to do so, and the volunteers knew no bounds of money or political belief.
There were, it is true, a high proportion of very rich men in OSS. Donovan made light of it. You know, he once remarked to an audience, those Wall Street bankers and corporation lawyers make wonderful second-story men. The fact is that some of the rich men risked their necks too.
There were Communists in OSS. Four of them had fought the fascists in Spain, and had friends in occupied Italy who had fought with them, and whom they could trust. These men, Irving Goff, Irving Fajans, Milton Wolff, and Vincent Lassowski, established a parachute circuit with their friends, and brought back information daily for the American army. Without a doubt, theirs was the best intelligence work done in that theater.
I understand that Irving Goff is on the honor roll of the Young Communist League, was a charge thrown at Donovan.
I don t know if he s on the Communist honor roll, the General replied, but for the job he did in Africa and Italy, he s on the honor roll of OSS.
And then there were the men from occupied countries, who had made their way to England or Africa in order to fight their way home again. There were the men from New York s East Side, from Jersey City, from San Francisco, from farms in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, who had lived, or whose parents had lived in Yugoslavia, or Greece, or Austria, and who volunteered to go back there by parachute to blow a bridge or get some knowledge for the United States. Some of them were killed, and of those who were killed, a large percentage died by torture. Many of them were among the 831 OSS men decorated for bravery. They took, as Donovan said, some of the gravest personal risks of the war. And they took them, as he also said, on the express understanding that their heroism would have to remain unsung.
The theory of intelligence through the co-operation of a friendly population is far from a new one. Allied soldiers who invaded Sicily and Italy used it instinctively. There was hardly a GI who, two weeks after he had reached the front lines, did not know the meaning of the Italian phrases, Dove mini? , Where are the mines? ; and Dove tedeschi? , Where are the Germans? The answers they got, accompanied by much sign language and posturing, sometimes saved their lives.
The dove tedeschi of the GI in Italy had obvious and important strategic implications. It was impossible for the Germans or the Japanese to keep their movements secret when those movements took place before some millions of hostile and observant eyes.
An observant eye behind the enemy lines is useless unless what it sees can be told. In all wars of the past, the agent s great problem was not finding out what the enemy was up to, but rather getting the information back. Often when the information did get back, it was dated and useless. With a radio and an unbreakable code, the agent of World War II could have his information at his headquarters in a matter of minutes.
An agent s job is never easy. OSS men, watching their agents move casually through the routine of their training, often wondered what motives, what accidents of experience or birth, thrust them forward from the mass of their countrymen. Those whose duty it was to dispatch them into occupied territory never lost a deep sense of admiration for these men and women, in their nondescript clothes and paper-soled shoes, lying huddled in blankets in the belly of a giant aircraft, a sympathetic contrast to the fur-jacketed, heavy-booted soldiers whose duty it was to open the great door of the bomb bay, look down through the mist onto the target, clap them on the back, and shout, Go.
Sometimes the agents saw their plans of months changed overnight. A long spell of windy weather, a sudden thrust into new territory by one of the Allied armies, would necessitate shifting their targets hundreds of miles. The shifts were made and were cheerfully accepted.
Sometimes these men and women dropped, not to reception committees of welcoming resistance groups, but into territory where there was no resistance, and no single friend on the ground.
In the late winter and early spring of 1945, Germany was a vast and disorganized cauldron. An aerial photographic flight might determine that a certain field was empty and peaceful. The next night that field might be milling with German troops racing to breach a gap in the lines, or digging in for a new stand. No one could be sure. Yet, with very few exceptions, these men and women, priests, former soldiers, retired businessmen, plain housewives-some of whom had never been in an airplane before-leaped into the dark and the unknown.
There was strain, and the self-imposed strain on the imagination was the greatest strain of all. Some of the agents who popped into the light and revealed themselves after occupation of their areas, or after VE-Day, made interesting studies of the effect of this haunting strain on the human character. Their movements were quick and nervous, they talked interminably, they were apt to wear conspicuous clothes, and to delight in making flamboyant speeches before large crowds, in contrast to their former anonymity.
But great as the strain was, and heroic as was the job done by the thousands of agents all over the world, it was an easier job than it might have been. In France, for example, there were only some 500,000 Germans, and there were 40 million Frenchmen, the majority of whom hated the Germans and would do what they could to bring about their defeat.
In Italy too, with a whole army fighting on the front, the Germans were able completely to dominate only the large highways, ports, and cities. The mountain peaks, the hillside caves, the smaller towns and villages: these were the domain of the partisans, and Allied agents-even those in uniform-were able to maintain a precarious existence by knowing the folds and the winding trails.
In Burma, an American, guided by natives who knew the trails, might walk hundreds of miles behind Japanese lines and never see a Jap. In China, the Japanese really held only the major towns and railroads. Whole stretches of country, hundreds of miles in breadth, which appeared on the military maps as Japanese-occupied, were in fact unknown to any Jap.
There were isolated instances, it is true, when the phrase partisan-held, which OSS men delighted to write across their office maps, proved to be something of an exaggeration. Partisans, hell, one lieutenant in Italy reported of the area to which he had been parachuted, those partisans consisted of three old men on a hill trying to keep the Germans from stealing their sheep.
But the fact was that the enemy, even in Germany itself, could not be everywhere. One American agent remarked, An awful lot of those Germans were just dumb necktie salesmen. What he meant was that the Germans were, after all, human beings, and no human being can be always on the alert, always suspicious. Some agents were able to extricate themselves from situations which seemed at the time utterly horrifying, merely by remembering that to the enemy, the situation might seem quite normal.
One agent remembers such a situation in his dreams.
He was returning from Paris to Bordeaux. He had made the initial trip, accomplished his business of setting up a Safe House. The dangers of getting permission to travel and purchase a ticket had been overcome. The only thing that seemed queer and not right to him was that the platform where the train pulled in was deserted. He was on it, but he was alone. The train came, paused, and he got aboard, carrying with him his little suitcase full of radio.
Not until he had taken a seat in the compartment did he realize why the station was deserted, and why the train had paused such a short time. Through the doors of his compartment to a seat directly facing him and his equipment strode the unmistakable figure of Field Marshal Rommel, accompanied by his adjutant.
The agent thought quickly and spoke first. He did not presume to disturb the Herr Field Marshal; he was bound for Bordeaux and had taken the wrong train; these old women who directed one nowadays; it was too absurd; he asked permission to withdraw.
Pas du tout. The Field Marshal spoke excellent French. This train was for German staff officers only, but it was bound for Bordeaux and these days the army must share with civilians when it could.
The Field Marshal was quite talkative. He was making, he said, a tour of the Southern Defenses, and he spoke of the danger of traveling, what with the terror bombers about. Then he and his adjutant rose and departed.
The agent had just relaxed when the door opened again. It was the adjutant, and he was alone. With difficulty the agent remained calm. He did not rise; he restrained a glance at his suitcase. But he knew it was the end.
Then the adjutant spoke. The Field Marshal had wondered if the gentleman would care for some tea.
Though he was never to know it, Field Marshal Rommel was paying high tribute to the caliber of work accomplished by OSS men in the series of complicated and interdependent tasks which are necessary to put into the field a man who could conceivably sit down to tea with an unsuspecting chief of an enemy army.
That series of tasks began on May 15, 1943, in the city of London. The date is a notable one. It marked the first attempt in the history of the United States to erect an intelligence network behind enemy lines in support of a decisive military campaign. On that date, OSS in London received explicit orders from Washington to reopen negotiations with the British Secret Intelligence Service, and to insist that the United States have a full and equal share in the developing of an intelligence system on the European continent.
Early in the history of OSS, the British had been more than willing to divulge their plans and secrets. But it is probable that at that time they hoped that secret intelligence in the European Theater would be left to them; that the United States would turn to other fields. At any rate, for more than a year preceding the date when the order was received, OSS in England, asking only to serve as a junior partner to the British, had been kept waiting, hat in hand.
The British attitude is understandable. OSS in London was staffed by a handful of men, none of whom had had the slightest experience with the complicated task of maintaining an agent in the enemy camp. Furthermore, OSS in London, though it had been given full powers in Washington, had run into the snag which so often resulted during the war, when orders or intentions in Washington conflicted with the orders and intentions of the commander of the United States forces in the theater of operations. In this instance, the high command in the European theater had made it clear that it intended to rely solely upon the British for secret intelligence.
Thus the British knew that OSS did not even have the confidence of its own high command.
The British also knew what a difficult task lay ahead. Their organization had been operating alone for centuries, and it seemed logical to them to continue in that fashion. There was something more in the British attitude. They, a powerful nation, were being asked to help an even more powerful nation to build an intelligence network on a continent 21 miles away. The British have never conceived of an intelligence organization as existing solely during war. They must have thought of the days of peace with some trepidation.
But the order of May 15 clinched the argument. The United States insisted on a full and equal share. By implication, if Britain was not prepared to share, the United States, in spite of its handicap of inexperience, would strive to be equal. Undoubtedly, such a program would have led to destructive competition. The British decided to share. The union which began on that day in May flourished into a highly successful partnership, in which both parties gave information and aid to the other, when such aid did not conflict with either nation s security.
The handful of secret intelligence men in London, confident now of their own standing as full-fledged partners of the British, could turn to the work ahead. That work divided itself naturally into five separate tasks: the recruiting of agents, their authentication, training, dispatch into the field, and the communication with them once they got there. If, and only if, all of these steps were carefully and conscientiously carried out could the work end in the accumulation of intelligence and the safe return of the agent.
Considered in its broadest implications, that series of tasks is the whole story of American secret intelligence as it was accomplished by agents in OSS. They were, in sum, the raison d tre of the organization of OSS in its intelligence role. Therefore it is well to take them up one by one.
The first task, that of finding and recruiting the innocuous little men who could fool the Gestapo, was made easier for the United States than it was for Britain, for two reasons. First, many of the agents were to be found in America, among foreign-born citizens or citizens who were second-generation Americans. Some of these could be recruited directly from the Army. Secondly, many of those who came eventually from enemy-occupied territory were encouraged to volunteer because, since childhood, they had believed in the dream of the United States of America. They were escaped prisoners of the Gestapo, prisoners of war who had passed the rigid and searching OSS security tests, or people who were never fond of their German overlords, and saw their chance to help defeat them by helping OSS. The picture of America as the land of the free was, in this war as in the last one, an enormous help to America.
The point can be overemphasized. Like the soldiers in the Allied armies, OSS agents held views ranging from communism to monarchism. One thing they did not share with many Allied soldiers was having no belief at all. But not all of them took the enormous chances of their trade for the sake of a brave new world.
Joe, for example, a young Italian from a well-to-do family, fought the British in the Mediterranean because the tradition of an old Navy family is to fight when and where the commander-in-chief is fighting. When Marshal Badoglio surrendered, Joe saw it as his duty to follow his commander. In slow, straining English, he told about it later:
There is big room, the Germans, he said. A man behind desk is colonel, also German. He say OK. Who is for Badoglio and who is for Italy? If for Italy, we are allies. If for Badoglio, to prison. We go up one by one. I say, Badoglio is commander. So, I am for Badoglio. Joe springs mockingly to attention and laughs, So off to prison.
Joe escaped by falling off the prison train on the way through the Brenner Pass. He reached the sea, got a small rowboat, and somehow, under the hot sun and through four days with neither food nor water, he managed to row south in the Adriatic to land behind the lines of the British Eighth Army.
Four days bad, Joe said, but landing where are Germans-worse. Three months later he went back to the Brenner Pass area by parachute for OSS.
Recruiting men like Joe was the first job, and in the rush of signing up agents, the right men were not always chosen. The most important qualification an agent can possess is a passion for not thinking of himself as an agent. A secret agent s trade is romantic, exciting, dangerous, and cloaked in mystery. The moment the secret agent begins to write or talk or even to think of himself as being romantic or cloaked in mystery, he is well on the way to being no longer secret. OSS made the inevitable mistake of recruiting a good many amateur agents who never learned to be anything but amateurs. They were the people who lived in a dream world of cloaks and masks and daggers and Secret Agent X reporting to his chief, and who usually got themselves into trouble or became utterly useless as agents. In the words of one OSS man, They were constantly tripping on their cloaks, and sticking themselves with their daggers.
OSS had one former advertising executive in a neutral country who so romanticized himself and his trade that every time he entered his favorite restaurant, the orchestra would strike up a local parody called, Boo, Boo, I m a Spy.
It was the amateur also, usually the high-ranking Army officer posing as a spy, who wrote hundreds of pages of reports on his own feats of valor when he got back to headquarters. Some of the reports did credit to little but the man s imagination. The reports of the professional, on the other hand, were more likely to be taciturn and casual. One American woman agent who twice went into France before D-Day, and against her own protests was later awarded the DSC for the enormous quantity of information she obtained, was asked to write a report describing her life with the maquis. Others, asked to do the same, had filled chapters. This girl wrote: My life consisted of taking the cows to pasture, milking them and the goats, and distributing the milk through the village.
The same casualness was reflected by an agent in Italy, a blond, English-speaking Italian, who had come back from the relatively dangerous area of Milan, and was resting and getting a new radio code before jumping back in again.

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