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The Birth Of The CIA
When and how it got the green light to conduct “subversive operations abroad”
February 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 2
Fourth, the new agency was to have “an independent budget.” Meaning: again, power.
Fifth, the agency was to have “no police or law enforcement functions, either at home or abroad.” Meaning: Donovan intended no such threat to J. Edgar Hoover as the newspaper revelation implied.
Sixth, the new peacetime agency would conduct “subversive operations abroad.” Meaning: just that.
In summary, it was to be the wartime OSS taken from under the jealous eye of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and given the independent power to issue orders to G-2, ONI, the intelligence branch of the Department of State—and to the extent to which J. Edgar Hoover was collecting foreign intelligence in South America, to the FBI.
Trohan had not been far wrong in calling it “all-powerful,” though there was no basis in Donovan’s memorandum for the suggestion that it would conduct espionage at home, supersede the FBI, or enable its employees to live luxuriously.
Still, it was pretty strong stuff. Would Roosevelt have accepted the plan if he had lived? We know only that Donovan thought so. He was in Paris the day Roosevelt died. One of his deputies, Colonel Ned Buxton, talked to him that evening. “What will happen now to OSS?” Buxton asked. “Fm afraid it’s the end,” was Donovan’s reply.
He was, however, to make one more try. Shortly after V-J Day, Naval Commander John Shaheen walked into the general’s office to bid him good-by. “You’re not through yet,” said Donovan, and he ordered Shaheen to stay in uniform for sixty more days. Shaheen sat down in mild shock while Donovan related a story. There had been that sensationalized prewar investigation of the munitions industry, conducted by Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota, in which Donovan had acted as counsel for the Du Pont Company, one of the firms most heavily attacked. “You remember that, John? You know, John, I had to argue, not just the merits but against the whole propaganda campaign and that campaign was Gerald Nye’s Merchants of Death . I tell you John, I learned something. Now let’s see if you can do as well for OSS as Nye did for the isolationists.”
Shaheen rose. “Could your secretary get me a list of writers in OSS who happen to be in Washington?”
For weeks, a series of sensational stories dominated the newspapers and magazines hailing the exploits of OSS’s secret war. As Shaheen and his assistants scoured the files, had the facts declassified, fed them to “writers in OSS who happened to be in Washington,” and as they fed them in turn to eager journalists, OSS parachutists returning from their hitherto secret war and expecting to hear the usual jibes about “Oh So Social” suddenly found themselves figures of glamor. But the new President, Harry Truman, was annoyed. On September 20, 1945, the publicity campaign was cut short. Truman signed Executive Order 9621, “Termination of the Office of Strategic Services and Disposition of Its Functions.”
While the pro-OSS publicity was at its height, Donovan had written a letter announcing his wish to return to private life. “Therefore, in considering the disposition to be made of the assets created by OSS, I speak as a private citizen concerned only with the security of my country.”
Thirty years later, it seems odd that this last plea for his old outfit should have been addressed not to the President of the United States but to Harold B. Smith, Director of the Bureau of the Budget. But it was, at the time, not at all an odd thing to do.
As the war ended and the mind of Harry Truman turned to problems of demobilization and reorganization for peace, Harold B. Smith became for a few weeks a very powerful man. He was the one man to whom Truman could turn who knew where everything was and where it had been before. Moreover, he had a tidy housekeeper’s view about what to do with it now. OSS appalled the neatminded Smith. Here was an agency which was part research, part spies, part propaganda, part paratroopers, part saboteurs and forgers, all mixed up together in such fashion that it was impossible to reduce it to a chart. Smith came at once to a solution:
Put the research professors and analysts under the State Department, he advised Truman; put the spies and propagandists and forgers under the War Department and let the paratroopers and saboteurs go home. For the next four months, the Smith formula of separated functions of State and War became the United States intelligence establishment. Donovan, when he heard about the new formula, called it “absurd.”