Tuesday, December 30, 2008

January 1, 1883: Father of the CIA

Who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal and Medal of Honor- our nation’s three top military honors – as well as the National Security Medal– our nation’s top civilian honor?
Who was was knighted by the British for his activities during World War II?
Who began his intelligence work while on his honeymoon?
And the give-away question: who is credited as the founding father of the CIA?

The Donovan’s welcomed in the New Year in 1883 with the birth of their son William. William J. Donovan was born on January 1, 1883 in Buffalo, N.Y. He graduated from Columbia University – where he was the quarterback and star of the football team - in 1905 with a BA and went on to graduate in 1908 with a law degree. .

After his graduation, Donovan began a law practice in Buffalo. Five years later – in 1912 - he was instrumental in founding a cavalry troop of the New York National Guard in his hometown. When the cavalry was called out for operations along the Mexican border, Donovan left his law books. By the outbreak of World War I, he was a Major.

Donovan earned the nickname “Wild Bill” in France as a battalion commander and later as regimental C.O. of the 165th Infantry--popularly then known as the "Fighting 69th New York." He was wounded three times, and received a number of combat decorations including the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action at Landre-et St. Georges during the Meuse Argonne offensive.

The Medal of Honor Citation:
Lt. Col. Donovan personally led the assaulting wave in an attack upon a very strongly organized position, and when our troops were suffering heavy casualties he encouraged all near him by his example, moving among his men in exposed positions, reorganizing decimated platoons, and accompanying them forward in attacks. When he was wounded in the leg by machine-gun bullets, he refused to be evacuated and continued with his unit until it withdrew to a less exposed position.
Donovan’s spy career began in 1919 when Assistant Secretary of the Navy (and former Columbia University friend and classmate) Franklin D. Roosevelt asked him to go to Siberia and report on anti-Bolshevik operations and Japanese activity in the area during the Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution. Donovan went, reported back, and then went on to become a successful Wall Street lawyer.
"The door for intelligence work opened for me when I undertook my first secret mission while on my honeymoon in Japan in 1919. The United States Government asked me to take a two-month trip to Siberia to report on the anti-Bolshevik movement in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Well, it wasn't your usual honeymoon, but Mrs. Donovan was very understanding. The mission was successful and opened doors to many more missions for the government. I was heading down the intelligence path and I was loving it."
Despite Donovan’s difference in political views – he was a Republican – and his outspoken opposition to the New Deal, he and Roosevelt remained close friends, in no small part to their shared international view on the dangers of Germany and Tokyo during the 1930’s.

While Donovan officially remained a Republican Wall Street lawyer, he led a double life cloaked in secrecy. Roosevelt sent Donovan to Ethiopia in 1935-1936 during the Italian invasion of that country. He was also sent to Spain during the Spanish Civil War, to Britain in 1940 as the Phony War turned real, working closely with the British Secret Intelligence Service, and to various parts of Europe and the Middle East in 1941 to personally observe conditions and report back to the President.

In 1941 Donovan returned to the US to be appointed civilian head of the Office of Coordinator of Information (COI) the purpose of this organization was to coordinate the various intelligence efforts of America’s various intelligence organizations – including such organizations as the FBI, Naval Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Department of State, and other groups. Intense jurisdictional battles would follow as each organization was resistant to yield any of its power or any of the intelligence it gathered. As the US entered World War II, the need for a combined intelligence gathering organization under military leadership led to the dissolving of the COI and the foundation of the OSS. The following year – 1942 – he was recalled to active duty as a colonel and appointed to head the military Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He used his contacts – especially the British - gained from his years of visits to Europe to establish an ever-increasingly effective intelligence organization that operated in Africa, Asia, and Europe. During this time Donovan was promoted to brigadier, then major, general, and would head the OSS during its brief – but successful – tenure. The OSS was dissolved in October 1945.

Donovan reverted back to his occupation as lawyer when he was appointed to be the special assistant to chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.

During the war Donovan became convinced of the need of a post-war civilian intelligence organization – resulting in the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1947 by President Truman.
"Espionage is not a nice thing, nor are the methods employed exemplary. Neither are demolition bombs nor poison gas.... We face an enemy who believes one of his chief weapons is that none but he will employ terror. But we will turn terror against him...."
Donovan would not be appointed to head the new organization. Instead, he was appointed Ambassador to Thailand by President Eisenhower in 1954. Later poor health would force him to resign. He died on February 8, 1959.

As an article in Columbia University’s Columbians notes:
But, for better or worse, his legacy as the founding figure of the CIA has had enormous influence over the conduct of U.S. foreign and national-security policy over the past fifty years. His statue in the main entrance to the CIA building attests to his perpetual presence as the guiding spirit of the organization.

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