Six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Office of Strategic Services to collect and analyze intelligence and conduct special operations. Its formal existence lasted just three years. But more than 70 years on, the U.S. organizations charged with these missions today remain indelibly influenced by the OSS and its remarkable chief.
Wild Bill Donovan’s admirers and critics still argue over his legacy, but on one point they agree: His World War II Office of Strategic Service (OSS) became the Petri dish for the spies who later ran the CIA as well as the special operators who conduct some of the most daring raids the world has ever seen.
Four CIA directors — Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, William Colby and William Casey — learned the craft of clandestine warfare as operatives for Donovan’s OSS. Indeed, the daring, the risk-taking, the unconventional thinking, and the élan and esprit de corps of the OSS permeated the new agency.
So would the OSS’s failings: the delusions that covert operations, like magic bullets, could produce spectacular results, or that legal or ethical corners could be cut for a higher cause. Dulles launched the calamitous operation to land CIA-trained, anti-Castro guerrillas at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. Helms was convicted of lying to Congress about the CIA’s effort to oust President Salvador Allende in Chile. Colby would become a pariah among the agency’s old hands for releasing to Congress what became known as the “Family Jewels” report on CIA misdeeds during the 1950s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s. Casey would nearly bring down the CIA — and Ronald Reagan’s presidency — from the scheme to secretly supply Nicaragua’s Contras with money raked off from the sale of arms to Iran in exchange for American hostages in Beirut.
Read he Remainder at War on he Rocks