7/9/12 - bombs carried by flying bats

In today's excerpt - the shaky beginnings of the CIA, as described by Pulitzer prize winning author Tim Weiner. The predecessor of the CIA was the OSS -- the Office of Strategic Services -- created by President Franklin Roosevelt and commanded by General William J. Donovan. It foreshadowed the much of the subsequent history of the organization:

"On November 18, 1944, General Donovan had written to President Roosevelt proposing that the United States create a peacetime "Central Intelligence Service." ... Donovan told the president that he could learn the 'capabilities, intentions and activities of foreign nations' while running 'subversive operations abroad' against America's enemies. The OSS had never been stronger than thirteen thousand members, smaller than a single army division. But the service Donovan envisioned would be its own army, a force skillfully combating communism, defending America from attack, and serving up secrets for the White House. He urged the president to 'lay the keel of the ship at once,' and he aimed to be its cap­tain. ...

"Donovan and his star officer, Allen W. Dulles, were enthralled by espionage and sabotage, skills at which Americans were amateurs. Donovan depended on British intelligence to school his men in the dark arts. The bravest of the OSS, the ones who inspired legends, were the men who jumped behind enemy lines, running guns, blowing up bridges, plotting against the Nazis with the French and the Balkan resis­tance movements. In the last year of the war, with his forces spread throughout Europe, North Africa, and Asia, Donovan wanted to drop his agents directly into Germany. He did, and they died. Of the twenty-one two-man teams that went in, only one was ever heard from again. These were the kinds of missions General Donovan dreamed up daily -- some daring, some deluded.

" 'His imagination was unlimited,' said his right-hand man, David K. E. Bruce, later the American ambassador to France, Germany, and England. 'Ideas were his plaything. Excitement made him snort like a racehorse. Woe to the officer who turned down a project, because, on its face, it seemed ridiculous, or at least unusual. For painful weeks un­der his command I tested the possibility of using bats taken from con­centrations in Western caves to destroy Tokyo' -- dropping them into the sky with incendiary bombs strapped to their backs. That was the spirit of the OSS.

"President Roosevelt always had his doubts about Donovan. Early in 1945, he had ordered his chief White House military aide, Colonel Richard Park, Jr., to conduct a secret investigation into the wartime op­erations of the OSS. As Park began his work, leaks from the White House created headlines in New York, Chicago, and Washington, warning that Donovan wanted to create an 'American Gestapo.' When the stories broke, the president urged Donovan to shove his plans under the rug. ...

"Park['s report] admitted no important instance in which the OSS had helped to win the war, only mercilessly listing the ways in which it had failed. The training of its officers had been 'crude and loosely organized.' British intelligence commanders regarded American spies as 'putty in their hands.' In China, the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek had manipu­lated the OSS to his own ends. Germany's spies had penetrated OSS operations all over Europe and North Africa. The Japanese embassy in Lisbon had discovered the plans of OSS officers to steal its code books -- and as a consequence the Japanese changed their codes, which 'resulted in a complete blackout of vital military information' in the summer of 1943. One of Park's informants said, 'How many American lives in the Pacific represent the cost of this stupidity on the part of OSS is un­known.' Faulty intelligence provided by the OSS after the fall of Rome in June 1944 led thousands of French troops into a Nazi trap on the is­land of Elba, Park wrote, and 'as a result of these errors and miscalcula­tions of the enemy forces by OSS, some 1,100 French troops were killed.'

"The report personally attacked Donovan. It said the general had lost a briefcase at a cocktail party in Bucharest that was 'turned over to the Gestapo by a Rumanian dancer.'"


Tim Weiner


Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA




Copyright 2007 by Tim Weiner


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