AUTHORS ON THE RECORD
Your latest book tells the story o William “Wild Bill” Donovan, who ounded the national intelligence agency known as the Ofceo Strategic Services. What prompted you to ocus on the lie o this unusual character?
I am attracted to controversial historical gures or biographies. My previous biography, “A Question o Loyalty,” was on Gen. Billy Mitchell,the World War I hero and ather o the Air Force, who demonstrated thatplanes could sink a battleship. People either loved or hated Billy Mitchell.No one was neutral on the guy. During the 1920s, Mitchell was court-martialed or insubordination in advocating air power. His Washingtontrial was a media spectacular in its day. Tousands o pages o his trialrecords are stored at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, where I spent many months reviewing them. Interestingly, Wild BillDonovan, who was an assistant attorney general in the Coolidgeadministration at the time, attended Mitchell’s trial. Donovan, likeMitchell, also was someone people revered or hated—a very controversialcharacter whom I ound ideal or a biography.Te previous biographies o Donovan were almost 30 years old.Practically all o the OSS documents have been declassied sincethen and are stored at the Archives’ Maryland acility. A historicalbiographer quickly learns that the archivist is his best riend—particularly with a collection as huge as OSS records, which numberin the millions o pages. I spent about a year at the National Archives wading through OSS records and through documents rom othergovernment agencies. Larry McDonald, an Archives expert on theOSS records, along with eight other archivists or other collections, were a godsend or my research.
In researching Donovan’s lie, you went to three o the 13presidential libraries: Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower. Had you done any research at the presidential libraries beore? Were you able to access all the documents you requested, or were somestill classied?
Tis was the rst time I had visited the Roosevelt, ruman, andEisenhower libraries, and it was a rewarding experience. Robert Clark,the archivist at the FDR Library, unearthed a lot o gems or merom the Roosevelt papers, all o which are declassied. Liz Safey, asshe had done or countless authors, took me under her wing in thereading room o the ruman Library. She and archivist Randy Sowelldug up hundreds o Donovan—and OSS-related—papers rom theruman collections, many o them not seen by previous biographers.David Haight, an archivist at the Eisenhower Library, helped metrack down Donovan records rom Ike’s presidency and his days asSupreme Allied Commander in Europe. A ew o that library’s records were still classied, but I got them declassied.
Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower were very dierent men intheir experiences and background. Did the documents in thelibraries reveal an equally dierent attitude toward Donovan? Were there any unexpected nds?
Te presidential library documents reveal markedly dierentattitudes by their Presidents toward Donovan. Donovan had acomplicated relationship with Roosevelt, who signed the orders settingup the OSS and protected him rom bureaucratic rivals who wantedto shut him down. Te FDR Library papers reveal that Roosevelt was
creating the modern spy
How “Wild Bill” Donovan Ran the OSS and Put America in the Espionage Business
by hilary parkinson
D o u g l a s W a l l e r
Beore World War II, intelligence gathering was not institutionalized in the U.S. government as it is today.But President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a keen interest in what his “spies” around the world could ndout or him as war clouds began to orm in the late 1930s. Ater Pearl Harbor, FDR created an intelligenceagency, the Oce o Strategic Services (OSS), the orerunner o today’s CIA.o run it, he chose William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, who had won a Medal o Honor or his service in World War I and become rich as a Republican lawyer in New York. In running the OSS, Donovan directedhis agents to do things legal and not-so-legal to scoop up intelligence or FDR and his commanders. At thesame time, Donovan himsel engaged in the kind o exploits that are today more commonly associated with James Bond; he could be a loose cannon but usually got the job done.In his new book on Donovan, veteran journalist Douglas Waller takes a close, detailed look at Donovan’scareer, drawing in part on documents rom the National Archives never beore mined. Waller, a ormercorrespondent or
is the author o ve previous books, including best-sellers
as well as a biography o Gen. Billy Mitchell,
A Question of Loyalty.