William J. Donovan

64

William J. Donovan : biography

January 1, 1883 – February 8, 1959

OSS

On July 11, 1941, Donovan was named Coordinator of Information (COI). America’s foreign intelligence organizations at the time were fragmented and isolated from each other. The Army, Navy, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Department of State, and other interests each ran their own intelligence operations, the results of which they were reluctant to share with the other departments. Donovan was the nominal director of this unwieldy system, but was plagued over the course of the next year with jurisdictional battles. Few of the leaders in the intelligence community were willing to part with any of the power that the current ad hoc system granted them. The FBI, for example, under the control of Donovan’s rival J. Edgar Hoover, insisted on retaining its autonomy in South America.

Nevertheless, Donovan began to lay the groundwork for a centralized intelligence program. It was he who organized the COI’s New York headquarters in Room 3603 of Rockefeller Center in October, 1941 and asked Allen Dulles to head it; the offices Dulles took over had been the location of the operations of Britain’s MI6.

In 1942, the COI became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Donovan was returned to active duty in his World War I rank of colonel (by war’s end, he would be promoted to major general). Under his leadership the OSS would eventually conduct successful espionage and sabotage operations in Europe and parts of Asia, but continued to be kept out of South America as a result of Hoover’s hostility to Donovan. In addition, the OSS was blocked from the Philippines by the antipathy of General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater.

For many years the operations of the OSS remained secret, but in the 1970s and 1980s, significant parts of the OSS history were declassified and became public record.

As World War II began to wind to a close in early 1945, Donovan began to focus on preserving the OSS beyond the end of the war. After President Roosevelt’s death in April, however, Donovan’s political position, which had thrived because of his personal relationship to the President, was substantially weakened. Although he argued forcefully for the OSS’s retention, he found himself opposed by numerous opponents, including President Harry S. Truman, who personally disliked Donovan, as well as J. Edgar Hoover, who viewed the OSS as competition for his goal to expand the FBI’s investigative operations internationally. Public opinion turned against Donovan’s efforts when conservative critics rallied against the intelligence service that they called an ‘American Gestapo.’ After Truman disbanded the OSS in September 1945, Donovan returned to civilian life. Various departments of the OSS survived the agency’s dissolution, however, and less than two years later the Central Intelligence Agency was founded, a realization of Donovan’s hopes for a centralized peacetime intelligence agency.

Role in formation of the CIA

Donovan did not have an official role in the newly formed CIA but with his protégé Allen Dulles and others, he was instrumental in its formation. Having led the OSS during World War II, Donovan’s opinion was especially influential as to what kind of intelligence organization was needed as a bi-polar post-war world began to take shape. Although he was a force to be reckoned with, his idea for consolidating intelligence met with strong opposition from the State, War and Navy Departments and J. Edgar Hoover. President Truman was inclined to create an organization that would gather and disseminate foreign intelligence; Donovan argued that the new agency should also be able to conduct covert action. Truman was unenthusiastic about this additional authority, but Donovan’s arguments prevailed and were reflected in the National Security Act of 1947 and the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949. In 1946, Truman appointed Rear Admiral Sidney Souers, USNR, as the first Director of Central Intelligence. This was an important first step but the actual creation of the CIA required another persuasive voice, that of Hoyt Vandenberg. In 1947 Rear Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter was appointed as the first Director of the CIA.Clifford, Clark, Counsel To The President, A Memoir, New York: Random House, 1991, 165-66.