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What was the OSS?


When the United States entered World War II on December 7, 1941, an intelligence department which would answer directly to the president did not exist.

Rather, the Army and the Navy, as well as the FBI, the State and the Treasury Departments reported to the president — sometimes with conflicting information. It was clear that a single, central intelligence agency was necessary.

The Office of Strategic Services, known as the “OSS,” was the United States’ wartime intelligence agency formed during the dark days of World War II, and became the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, the “CIA”.

In June of 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Office of Strategic Services, to collect and analyze strategic information, and to conduct espionage and special operations around the globe — to be proactive on all fronts concerning American interests. Its goal would be to prevent another Pearl Harbor — and attacks on American soil and its allies — before it was too late.

For the first time in United States history, the nation had a single, wholly responsible agency which would report directly to the president, and its branches would engage in all basic secret activities, such as espionage, covert action, propaganda, counterintelligence, R & D, etc.

Much of the agency’s early training and organization came with the help of its ally, Great Britain. Prime Minister Winston Churchill wisely chose Stewart Menzies — head of British Intelligence, or “MI – 6 ” — and William Stephenson — the Canadian spymaster who was known by his code name “Intrepid” — for this purpose. Stephenson, who would become a close advisor to President Roosevelt, suggested that he put his good friend, William J. Donovan in charge of all United States intelligence services.

The rest, as they say, is history. Donovan is best remembered as the “Father of American Intelligence.” A decorated veteran of World War I, Donovan is the only soldier ever to have received the Unites States’ highest awards: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal. Injured in France, he received the Purple Heart and the Silver Star, as well as numerous foreign medals bestowed by grateful nations around the world.

The OSS became unequaled among the Axis and Allied powers, and it was said that Donovan’s prowess molded the agency into the best intelligence fighting force the world had ever seen, recruiting men and women from all walks of life. He once prided himself on his choice of candidates by describing them as a “Ph.D. who could win a bar fight.”

Honorees to be among those who were recruited by Donovan’s OSS included John Ford, Sterling Hayden, Julia Childs, and Moe Berg, to name just a few. When confronted by other war department officials about the type and character of inductees, Donovan was quoted as saying, “I’d rather have a young lieutenant with enough guts to disobey a direct order than a colonel too regimented to think for himself.”




The OSS Society

The Office of Strategic Services