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The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was a United Statesmarker intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Origins and activities

Prior to the formation of the OSS (the counterpart of the British Secret Intelligence Servicemarker and Special Operations Executive), American intelligence had been conducted on an ad-hoc basis by the various departments of the executive branch, including the Statemarker, Treasurymarker, Navy, and War Departments. They 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). Also, the original code-breaking operation of the State Departmentmarker, 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". President Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned about American intelligence deficiencies. On the suggestion of Canadian spymaster William Stephenson, the senior representative of British intelligence in the western hemisphere, Roosevelt requested that William J. Donovan draft a plan for an intelligence service. Gen. Donovan was employed to evaluate the global military position in order to offer suggestions concerning American intelligence requirements because the US did not have a central intelligence agency. After submitting his work, "Memorandum of Establishment of Service of Strategic Information," Gen. Donovan was appointed as the "Co-ordinator of Information" in July 1941.

The Office of Strategic Services was established by a Presidential military order issued by President Roosevelt on 13 June 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 FBImarker 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 Nationalist Chinese 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 Chinamarker and the Viet Minh in French Indochina, in areas occupied by the Axis powers during the Second World War. 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 the émigré Finnishmarker 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 USmarker Gen. Donovan might have copied the papers before returning them the following January, but there is no record of Arlington Hallmarker'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.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the OSS during World War II was its penetration of 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.

In 1943, during the Second World War, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) set up operations in Istanbul. Turkey, as a neutral country during the Second World War, was a place where both the Axis and Allied powers sought to set up networks of spies. The railroads connecting central Asia with the West 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.

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. Macfarland hired Alfred Schwarz who was a Czechoslovakian engineer and businessman who came to be known as “Dogwood” and ended up establishing the notorious Dogwood information chain. Dogwood in turn hired as a personal assistant named Walter Arndt and established himself as an employee of the Istanbul Western Electrik Kompani. Through Schwartz and Arndt the OSS was able to infiltrate Anti-Nazi 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 Nazi regime. 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. 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 OSS, British Intelligence, Cairo and Washington the entire “Dogwood-chain” was found to be unreliable and dangerous. 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.

Transformation into the CIA

One month after the war was won in the Pacific Theater of Operations, on September 20, 1945, the 33rd U.S. President Harry S Truman signed an Executive Order which came into effect as of October 1 of 1945. Thus in the following days from September 20, 1945 the functions of the OSS were split between the Department of Statemarker and the Department of War.

The State Department received the Research and Analysis Branch of OSS which was renamed the Interim Research and Intelligence Service or (IRIS) and headed by U.S. Army Colonel Alfred McCormack.

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.

Yet (??) 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 Special Activities Division of the CIA.


  • Secret Intelligence
  • Research and Analysis
  • Special Operations
  • X-2 (counterespionage)
  • Research & Development
  • Morale Operations
  • Maritime Units
  • Operational Groups
  • Communications
  • Medical Services



Prince William Forest Parkmarker (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 Parkmarker, now the location of Camp Davidmarker, was the site of OSS training Area "B." Congressional Country Clubmarker (Area F) in Bethesdamarker, MD was the primary OSS training facility.

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.

US Army units attached to the OSS


The names of all OSS personnel and documents of their OSS service, previously a closely guarded secret, were released by the US National Archivesmarker on August 14, 2008. Among the 24,000 names were those of Julia Child, Arthur Goldberg, Moe Berg, Saul K. Padover, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Bruce Sundlun, and John Ford. 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.

In popular culture

  • The 1946 Paramount film O.S.S., starring Alan Ladd and Geraldine Fitzgerald, showed agents training and on a dangerous mission. Commander John Shaheen acted as technical advisor.

  • The 1946 film 13 Rue Madeleine stars James Cagney as an OSS agent who must find a mole in French partisan operations. Peter Ortiz acted as technical advisor.

  • The 1947 film Cloak and Dagger stars Gary Cooper as a scientist recruited to OSS to exfiltrate a German scientist defecting to the allies with the help of a woman guerrilla and her partisans. E. Michael Burke acted as technical advisor.

  • Most games in the Medal of Honor video game franchise feature a fictional OSS agent as the main character.

  • The 2001 Video Game Return to Castle Wolfenstein and the 2009 sequel Wolfenstein portray a secret government department known as the OSA which is a reference to the OSS as they handle top secret missions.

  • In the Spy Kids films, the fictional organization that the Cortez family work for is called the OSS, derived from the above mentioned organization.

  • In the 2006 film The Good Shepherd Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) plays a Skull & Bones recruit who joins the OSS shortly after to help with a mission in London. He quickly gains rank as the head of the newly formed CIA's Counterintelligence service.

  • The 2009 film Julie and Julia was about famed French chef and OSS veteran Julia Child.

  • A french pulpe fiction series "OSS 117", by author Jean Bruce, follows the adventure of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, alias OSS 117, a French operative working for the OSS. The original series (4 or 5 books a year) lasted from 1949 to 1963, until the death of Jean Bruce, and was continued by his wife and children until 1992. Numerous movies were made in the 1960s, and in 2006 a nostalgic comedy was made. celebrating the spy movie genre, Cairo, Nest of Spies. with Jean Dujardin playing OSS 117.

The 2008 film "Flash of Genius" is about famed American inventor and OSS veteran, Robert Kearns.



Select Historical Bibliography

  • Pierre Moulin U.S. Samurais in Bruyeres. OSS Agent Max-Henri Moulin was awarded the legion of Merit of America by William J. Donovan himself for his work for one of the ten most important battle in the US Military history. (CPL Editions: Luxembourg 1993)

  • Richard J. Aldrich, Intelligence and the War Against Japan: Britain, America and the Politics of Secret Service (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)

  • Stewart Alsop and Thomas Braden, Sub Rosa: The OSS and American Espionage (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1946)

  • Aaron Bank, From OSS to Green Berets: The Birth of Special Forces (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1986)

  • Dixee R. Bartholomew-Feis, The OSS and Ho Chi Minh : unexpected allies in the war against Japan (Lawrence : University Press of Kansas, 2006)

  • Anthony Cave Brown, The Last Hero: Wild Bill Donovan (New York: Times Books, 1982)

  • William J. Casey, The Secret War Against Hitler (Washington: Regnery Gateway, 1988)

  • George C. Chalou, editor, The Secrets War: The Office of Strategic Services in World War II (Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1991)

  • Allen Dulles, The Secret Surrender (New York: Harper & Row, 1966)

  • Richard Dunlop, Donovan: America’s Master Spy (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1982)

  • Corey Ford, Donovan of OSS (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970)

  • Peter Grose, Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994)

  • Jay Jakub, Spies and Saboteurs: Anglo-American Collaboration and Rivalry in Human Intelligence Collection and Special Operations, 1940-45 (New York: St. Martin's, 1999)

  • Barry M. Katz, Foreign Intelligence: Research and Analysis in the Office of Strategic Services, 1942-1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989)

  • Sherman Kent, Strategic Intelligence for American Foreign Policy (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1965 [1949])

  • Stanley P. Lovell, Of Spies and Stratagems (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1963)

  • Elizabeth P. McIntosh, Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998)

  • H. Keith Melton, OSS Special Weapons and Equipment: Spy Devices of World War II (New York: Sterling Publishing, 1991)

  • Joseph E. Persico, Piercing the Reich: The Penetration of Nazi Germany by American Secret Agents During World War II (New York: Viking, 1979)

  • Neal H. Petersen, editor, From Hitler’s Doorstep: The Wartime Intelligence Reports of Allen Dulles, 1942-1945 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996)

  • Daniel C. Pinck, Geoffrey M.T. Jones, and Charles T. Pinck, editors, Stalking the History of the Office of Strategic Services: An OSS Bibliography (Boston: OSS/Donovan Press, 2000)

  • Kermit Roosevelt, editor, War Report of the OSS, two volumes (New York: Walker, 1976)

  • David F. Rudgers, Creating the Secret State: The Origins of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1943-1947 (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2000)

  • Bradley F. Smith and Elena Agarossi, Operation Sunrise: The Secret Surrender (New York: Basic Books, 1979)

  • Bradley F. Smith, The Shadow Warriors: OSS and the Origins of the CIA (New York: Basic, 1983)

  • Richard Harris Smith, OSS: The Secret History of America’s First Central Intelligence Agency (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972; Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2005)

  • Donald P. Steury, The Intelligence War (New York: Metrobooks, 2000)

  • Thomas F. Troy, Donovan and the CIA: A History of the Establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1981)

  • Thomas F. Troy, Wild Bill & Intrepid (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996)

  • John H. Waller, The Unseen War in Europe: Espionage and Conspiracy in the Second World War (New York: Random House, 1996)

  • Maochun Yu, OSS in China: Prelude to Cold War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996)

  • Michael Warner. The Office of Strategic Services : America’s First Intelligence Agency(Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, [2001])

  • Dan C. Pinck, Journey to Peking: A Secret Agent in Wartime China (Naval Institute Press, 2003)

External links

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