Legendary Military Units: The Office Of Strategic Services - Wartime Intelligence Agency

 February 9, 2022

Spies have been an important part of military efforts dating all the way back to the American Revolutionary War. However, as the United States moved into the twentieth century, the Army, Navy, and State Department all had their own spies gathering intelligence, but they did not communicate with one another.

Spy Organizations

Instead, there was a bit of competition between the three groups. In 1909, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was created focusing on counterespionage, adding to the mess as the U.S. went into World War I.

President Roosevelt saw that coordination was needed to keep information flowing at the beginning of World War II. General William "Wild Bill" Donovan was chosen to lead the newly formed Office of the Coordinator of Information.

Donovan was a war hero from WWI who had many medals, including the Medal of Honor. In 1941, he had a thriving law practice as a government service lawyer.

Not Soon Enough

Unfortunately, the office was created too late and failed to gather intelligence that could have likely prevented the Pearl Harbor attacks. Donovan had the name changed to the Office of Strategic Services on June 13, 1942, and the division now reported to the Joint Chiefs of Staff instead of the White House.

During WWII, the division grew to have multiple branches and departments, including "Intelligence Services" and "Strategic Services Operations." They had X-2, Secret Intelligence, and Research Analysis offices.

SI recruited foreign agents, X-2 focused on counterespionage, and R&A worked through the information brought in. Many departments and processes were modeled after Britain's SIS and SOE.

Department Rivalries

The OSS was not free of interagency rivalries. However, the biggest rivalry was between the FBI and the OSS. The FBI could operate in South America, but the OSS did not have jurisdiction, despite growing Nazi sympathy.

But the FBI was not very successful with its operations, and Hoover focused more on arrests than creating useful double agents.

The Army and Navy also kept OSS out of certain areas, especially General MacArthur, who restricted them from areas he commanded. But not all of the military was against the OSS. Generals Eisenhower and Patton saw the usefulness of the organization.

The OSS and the SIS often worked together, but SI often outbid SIS for information which led to issues. After the OSS was disbanded in 1947, the CIA was created.


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6 comments on “Legendary Military Units: The Office Of Strategic Services - Wartime Intelligence Agency”

  1. References to President Roosevelt are made all the time. At one point though it was said that he was warned about the attack on Pearl Harbor a week before it happened and said ..nothing.

  2. With the different "services" having intelligence gathering there seems to be several duplications and overlaps, so, some can be disabled.

  3. My uncle, Joe Matthews, was in pilot training somewhere in the Carolinas when he was pulled out and recruited into the OSS and was sent to China during WWII. He had previous experience in insurance investigations and at some point transitioned into the FBI, but I'm not sure of the exact timing of these events. He never spoke a word about what he did in China during WWII, so he was strictly true to his oath of secrecy. He had straight black hair so he might have been taken for Chinese at a distance, but had Irish ethnic roots.

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