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Creating the Modern Spy - Spring 2011

Creating the Modern Spy - Spring 2011

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Published by Prologue Magazine
Author Douglas Waller tracked down OSS Director "Wild Bill" Donovan in Archives records.
Author Douglas Waller tracked down OSS Director "Wild Bill" Donovan in Archives records.

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Published by: Prologue Magazine on Apr 25, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 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 lie 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 declassied 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 lie, you went to three o the 13presidential libraries: Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower. Had  you done any research at the presidential libraries beore? Were you able to access all the documents you requested, or were somestill classied?
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 merom the Roosevelt papers, all o which are declassied. 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 classied, but I got them declassied.
Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower were very dierent men intheir experiences and background. Did the documents in thelibraries reveal an equally dierent attitude toward Donovan? Were there any unexpected nds?
Te presidential library documents reveal markedly dierentattitudes 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
Beore 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. Ater Pearl Harbor, FDR created an intelligenceagency, the Oce 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 Donovanscareer, drawing in part on documents rom the National Archives never beore mined. Waller, a ormercorrespondent or
is the author o ve previous books, including best-sellers
Te Commandos 
as well as a biography o Gen. Billy Mitchell,
 A Question of Loyalty.
Spring 2011

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