Office of Strategic Services

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Office of Strategic Services
OSS shoulder insignia
Agency overview
FormedJune 13, 1942
DissolvedSeptember 20, 1945
Superseding agencyCentral Intelligence Agency
Employees13,000 estimated[1]
Agency executivesMajor General William Joseph Donovan, Co-ordinator of Information
Brigadier General John Magruder, Director for Intelligence
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Office of Strategic Services
OSS shoulder insignia
Agency overview
FormedJune 13, 1942
DissolvedSeptember 20, 1945
Superseding agencyCentral Intelligence Agency
Employees13,000 estimated[1]
Agency executivesMajor General William Joseph Donovan, Co-ordinator of Information
Brigadier General John Magruder, Director for Intelligence

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The OSS was formed in order to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines for the branches of the United States Armed Forces.

Origins and activities[edit]

Prior to the formation of the OSS, American intelligence had been conducted on an ad-hoc basis by the various departments of the executive branch, including the State, Treasury, Navy, and War Departments. It had no overall direction, coordination, or control. The US Army and US Navy had separate code-breaking departments: Signals Intelligence Service and OP-20-G. (A previous code-breaking operation of the State Department, MI-8, run by Herbert Yardley, had been shut down in 1929 by Secretary of State Henry Stimson, deeming it an inappropriate function for the diplomatic arm, because "gentlemen don't read each other's mail".[2]) The FBI was responsible for domestic security and anti-espionage operations.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned about American intelligence deficiencies. On the suggestion of William Stephenson, the senior British intelligence officer in the western hemisphere, Roosevelt requested that William J. Donovan draft a plan for an intelligence service based on the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and Special Operations Executive. Colonel Donovan was employed to evaluate the global military position in order to offer suggestions concerning American intelligence requirements because the U.S. did not have a central intelligence agency. After submitting his work, "Memorandum of Establishment of Service of Strategic Information," Colonel Donovan was appointed as the "Co-ordinator of Information" (COI) on 11 July 1941. Thereafter the organization was developed with the assistance of the British; Donovan had responsibilities but no actual powers and the existing US agencies were sceptical if not hostile. Until some months after Pearl Harbor, the bulk of OSS intelligence came from the UK. The first OSS agents were trained by British Security Coordination (BSC) in Canada, until training stations were set up in the US with guidance from BSC instructors, who also provided information on how the SOE was arranged and managed. The British immediately made available their short-wave broadcasting capabilities to Europe, Africa and the Far East and provided equipment for agents until American production was established.[3]

General William J. Donovan reviews Operational Group members in Bethesda, Maryland prior to their departure for China in 1945

The Office of Strategic Services was established by a Presidential military order issued by President Roosevelt on June 13, 1942, to collect and analyze strategic information required by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to conduct special operations not assigned to other agencies. During the War, the OSS supplied policy makers with facts and estimates, but the OSS never had jurisdiction over all foreign intelligence activities. The FBI was responsible for intelligence work in Latin America, and the Army and Navy guarded their areas of responsibility.

From 1943–1945, the OSS played a major role in training Kuomintang troops in China and Burma, and recruited Kachin, and other indigenous irregular forces for sabotage as well as guides for Allied forces in Burma fighting the Japanese Army. Among other activities, the OSS helped arm, train and supply resistance movements, including Mao Zedong's Red Army in China and the Viet Minh in French Indochina, in areas occupied by the Axis powers during World War II. OSS officer Archimedes Patti played a central role in OSS operations in French Indochina and met frequently with Ho Chi Minh in 1945.[4]

The OSS also recruited and ran one of the war's most important spies, the German diplomat Fritz Kolbe. Other functions of the OSS included the use of propaganda, espionage, subversion, and post-war planning.

The OSS purchased Soviet code and cipher material (or Finnish information on them) from émigré Finnish army officers in late 1944. Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, Jr., protested that this violated an agreement President Roosevelt made with the Soviet Union not to interfere with Soviet cipher traffic from the United States. General Donovan might have copied the papers before returning them the following January, but there is no record of Arlington Hall's receiving them, and CIA and NSA archives have no surviving copies. This codebook was in fact used as part of the Venona decryption effort, which helped uncover large-scale Soviet espionage in North America.[5]

A former Japanese POW now a JPEL member in a Eighth Route Army uniform. They were the subject of the U.S' study of psychological warfare against the Empire of Japan.

OSS operatives also came into contact with Japanese resistance groups in China for the purpose of studying there psychological warfare programs against the Empire of Japan. The Dixie Mission, which was composed of 20 people, including two OSS agents, made contact with Sanzo Nosaka, and his Japanese People's Emancipation League, a Japanese Communist resistance group made up of Japanese POWs re-educated by Sanzo. [6] The OSS also showed an interest to Kaji Wataru, and his Japanese People's Anti-War Alliance, which was made of Japanese POWs re-educated by Kaji, and other leaders of the JPAA. Kaji would be interviewed by Nisei soldiers Koji Ariyoshi, of the Dixie Mission and Karl Yoneda, of the MIS.[7]

One of the greatest accomplishments of the OSS during World War II was its penetration of Nazi Germany by OSS operatives. The OSS was responsible for training German and Austrian individuals for missions inside Germany. Some of these agents included exiled communists and Socialist party members, labor activists, anti-Nazi prisoners-of-war, and German and Jewish refugees. At the height of its influence during World War II, the OSS employed almost 24,000 people.[8]

OSS 1st Lieutenant George Musulin behind enemy lines in German-occupied Serbia, as Chetnik, during his first mission on November 1943. His second mission was Halyard

In 1943, the Office of Strategic Services set up operations in Istanbul.[9] Turkey, as a neutral country during the Second World War, was a place where both the Axis and Allied powers had spy networks. The railroads connecting central Asia with Europe as well as Turkey's close proximity to the Balkan states placed it at a crossroads of intelligence gathering. The goal of the OSS Istanbul operation called Project Net-1 was to infiltrate and extenuate subversive action in the old Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires.[9]

Head of operations at OSS Istanbul was a banker from Chicago named Lanning "Packy" Macfarland who maintained the cover story as a banker for the American lend-lease program.[10] Macfarland hired Alfred Schwarz, a Czechoslovakian engineer and businessman who came to be known as "Dogwood" and ended up establishing the Dogwood information chain.[11] Dogwood in turn hired a personal assistant named Walter Arndt and established himself as an employee of the Istanbul Western Electrik Kompani.[11] Through Schwartz and Arndt the OSS was able to infiltrate anti-fascist groups in Austria, Hungary and Germany. Schwartz was able to convince Romanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Swiss diplomatic couriers to smuggle American intelligence information into these territories and establish contact with elements antagonistic to the Nazis and their collaborators.[12] Couriers and agents memorized information and produced analytical reports; when they were not able to memorize effectively they recorded information on microfilm and hid it in their shoes or hollowed pencils.[13] Through this process information about the Nazi regime made its way to Macfarland and the OSS in Istanbul and eventually to Washington.

While the OSS "Dogwood-chain" produced a lot of information, its reliability was increasingly questioned by British intelligence. Eventually by May 1944 through collaboration between the OSS, British intelligence, Cairo and Washington the entire Dogwood-chain was found to be unreliable and dangerous.[13] Planting phony information into the OSS was intended to misdirect the resources of the Allies. Schwartz's Dogwood-chain, which was the largest American intelligence gathering tool in occupied territory, was shortly thereafter shut down.[14]

In 1942, a young physician named Christian J. Lambertsen invented the first device to be called SCUBA and demonstrated it to OSS – after already being rejected by the U.S. Navy – in a pool at a hotel in Washington D.C.[15][16] The OSS not only bought into the concept, they hired Lambertsen to lead the program and build up the dive element of their maritime unit.[16] His responsibilities included training and developing methods of combining self-contained diving and swimmer delivery including the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit for the OSS "Operational Swimmer Group".[15][17]

Dissolution into other agencies[edit]

After victory in Europe in May 1945, the OSS was better able to concentrate on operations in Japan. One month after the war was won in the Pacific Theater of Operations, on September 20, 1945, President Truman signed Executive Order 9621, which came into effect as of October 1, 1945. Thus in the following days from September 20, 1945, the functions of the OSS were split between the Department of State and the Department of War. The State Department received the Research and Analysis Branch of OSS which was renamed the Interim [18] Research and Intelligence Service or (IRIS) and headed by U.S. Army Colonel Alfred McCormack. This was later renamed the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

The War Department took over the Secret Intelligence (SI) and Counter-Espionage (X-2) Branches, which were then housed in a new office created for just this purpose—the Strategic Services Unit (SSU). The Secretary of War appointed Brigadier General John Magruder (formerly Donovan's Deputy Director for Intelligence in OSS) as the director to oversee the liquidation of the OSS, and more importantly, the preservation of the clandestine intelligence capability of the OSS.

In January 1946, President Truman created the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) which was the direct precursor to the CIA. The assets of the SSU, which now constituted a streamlined "nucleus" of clandestine intelligence, was transferred to the CIG in mid-1946 and reconstituted as the Office of Special Operations (OSO). Next, the National Security Act of 1947 established the United States's first permanent peacetime intelligence agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, which then took up the functions of the OSS. The direct descendant of the paramilitary component of the OSS is the Special Activities Division of the CIA.[19]


Prince William Forest Park (then known as Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area) was the site of an OSS training camp that operated from 1942 to 1945. Area "C", consisting of approximately 6,000 acres (24 km2), was used extensively for communications training, whereas Area "A" was use for training some of the OGs. Catoctin Mountain Park, now the location of Camp David, was the site of OSS training Area "B." Congressional Country Club (Area F) in Bethesda, MD was the primary OSS training facility.

The London branch of the OSS, its first overseas facility, was at 70 Grosvenor Street, W1.

The Facilities of the Catalina Island Marine Institute at Toyon Bay on Santa Catalina Island, Calif., are composed (in part) of a former OSS survival training camp.

The National Park Service commissioned a study of OSS National Park training facilities by Professor John Chambers of Rutgers University.

At Camp X, at Ajax, near Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, an "assassination and elimination" training program was operated by the British Special Operations Executive such as William E. Fairbairn and Eric A. Sykes. Many members of the US Office of Strategic Services also were trained there. It was dubbed "the school of mayhem and murder" by George Hunter White who trained at the facility in the 1950s.[20]


Major league baseball player Moe Berg of the Boston Red Sox was an OSS agent

The names of all OSS personnel and documents of their OSS service, previously a closely guarded secret, were released by the US National Archives on August 14, 2008. Among the 24,000 names were those of Julia Child, Ralph Bunche, Arthur Goldberg, Saul K. Padover, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Bruce Sundlun, and John Ford.[8][21] The 750,000 pages in the 35,000 personnel files include applications of people who were not recruited or hired, as well as the service records of those who were.[22]

Major League Baseball player Moe Berg was recruited by the OSS in 1943 because of his language skills,[23][24][25][26][27] assigned to the Secret Intelligence branch, and took part in missions in the Caribbean, South America, France, England, Norway, Italy, and the Balkans.[28][29][30][24][27][31][32] Later, Berg was briefed in nuclear physics, and sent to Zurich, Switzerland posing as a Swiss physics student,[33] with the mission of attending a lecture at the Technische Hochschule by Germany's top nuclear scientist, Werner Heisenberg.[34][35] His orders were to kill the scientist if he determined that the Germans were far along in their efforts to build an atomic weapon;[25][27][31][36][37] he found that the scientist was not a threat.[36][38][39] Berg was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but declined to accept it as he was forbidden from saying what he had done to receive the award.[40] He is the only former Major League Baseball player whose baseball card is displayed at CIA headquarters.[41]

One of the forefathers of today's commandos was Navy Lieutenant Jack Taylor. He was sequestered by the OSS early in the war and had a long career behind enemy lines.[42]

The OSS wasn't shy on recruiting Japanese. Taro, and Mitsu Yashima, both Japanese political refugees who were imprisoned in Japan for protesting its regime, worked for the OSS in psychological warfare against the Japanese Empire. [43] [44]


  • Censorship and Documents
  • Field Experimental Unit
  • Foreign Nationalities
  • Maritime Unit
  • Morale Operations Branch
  • Operational Group Command                     


US Army units attached to the OSS

In popular culture[edit]





Video games

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Dawidoff, p. 240
  2. ^ Stimson, Henry L. On Active Service in Peace and War (1948). per Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th ed.
  3. ^ The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-1945, p27-28
  4. ^ Interview with Archimedes L. A. Patti, 1981,
  5. ^ Andrew, Christopher and Mitrokhin, Vasili, The Mitrokhin Archive, Volume 1: The KGB in Europe and the West, 1999.
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Thought War: Japanese Imperial Propaganda By Barak Kushner Page 141 - 143
  8. ^ a b "Chef Julia Child, others part of WWII spy network", CNN, 2008-08-14
  9. ^ a b Hassell and McCrae, p.158
  10. ^ Hassell and MacRae, p.159
  11. ^ a b Hassell and MacRae, p.166
  12. ^ Hassell and MacRae, p.167
  13. ^ a b Rubin, B: Istanbul Intrigues, page 168. Pharos Books, 1992.
  14. ^ Hassell and MacRae, p.184
  15. ^ a b Vann RD (2004). "Lambertsen and O2: beginnings of operational physiology". Undersea Hyperb Med 31 (1): 21–31. PMID 15233157. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  16. ^ a b Shapiro, T. Rees. "Christian J. Lambertsen, OSS officer who created early scuba device, dies at 93". Washington Post (February 18, 2011)
  17. ^ Butler FK (2004). "Closed-circuit oxygen diving in the U.S. Navy". Undersea Hyperb Med 31 (1): 3–20. PMID 15233156. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  18. ^ "An End and a Beginning". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 22 March 2012. 
  19. ^ Waller, Douglas "CIA's Secret Army", Time (2003)
  20. ^ Albarelli, H.A. A Terrible Mistake:The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments 2009. p.67 ISBN 0-9777953-7-3
  21. ^ Blackledge, Brett J. and Herschaft, Randy , "Documents: Julia Child part of WW II-era spy ring", Associated Press
  22. ^ Office of Strategic Services Personnel Files from World War II – overview page, search links, digital excerpts; ARC Identifier 1593270: Personnel Files, compiled 1942 - 1945, documenting the period 1941 - 1945, from Record Group 226: Records of the Office of Strategic Services, 1919 - 2002; Personnel database – complete list
  23. ^ The rock, the curse, and the hub: a random history of Boston sports. Harvard University Press. 2005. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  24. ^ a b Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency. Infobase Publishing. 2003. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  25. ^ a b Hahn, Gilbert, Jr. The Notebook of an Amateur Politician. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2002. p. 86 ISBN 0-7391-0405-5
  26. ^ Redmont, Robert. The Red Sox Encyclopedia. Sports Publishing, 2002. p. 144. ISBN 1-58261-244-7
  27. ^ a b c Boxerman, Burton Alan and Boxerman, Benita W. Jews and Baseball: Entering the American mainstream, 1871–1948 Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2006. p. 109 ISBN 978-0-7864-2828-1
  28. ^ Baseball's Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players Who Died in Service. McFarland. 2009. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  29. ^ Dawidoff, pp.153–55
  30. ^ Blessings of freedom: chapters in American Jewish history. 2002. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  31. ^ a b Elston, Gene A Stitch in Time: A Baseball Chronology. Houston, Texas: Halcyon, 2001. p.12. ISBN 1-931823-33-2
  32. ^ A stitch in time: a baseball chronology. Halcyon Press. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  33. ^ Playing for their nation: baseball and the American military during World War II. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  34. ^ Spying: the secret history of history. Black Dog Publishing. 2004. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  35. ^ Edwin Hubble: mariner of the nebulae. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  36. ^ a b Elias, Robert.The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad New York: The New Press, 2009. p. 152 ISBN 978-1-59558-195-2
  37. ^ Chalou, George C. The Secret War: The Office of Strategic Services in World War II. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992. p. 293 ISBN 0-09-133391-6
  38. ^ From nuclear military strategy to a world without war: a history and a proposal. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  39. ^ Teenager on first, geezer at bat, 4-F on deck: major league baseball in 1945. McFarland. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  40. ^ Bloomfield, Gary L. Duty, Honor, Victory: America's Athletes in World War II Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press, 2003. p.65. ISBN 1-59228-067-6
  41. ^ Smith, W. Thomas.Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency New York: Facts on File, 2003. p.23. ISBN 0-8160-4666-2
  42. ^ "SEAL History: First Airborne Frogmen" on the Navy Seal Museum wesbite/
  43. ^,7532964
  44. ^
  45. ^ For all branch information: Clancey, Patrick. "Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Organization and Functions". HyperWar. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  46. ^ O.S.S> at the Internet Movie Database


External links[edit]