Author Doug Waller

Author Doug Waller

William Donovan was born into a poor, Irish Catholic family in Buffalo, New York. He worked his way through Columbia Law School and married into a wealthy Protestant family. In World War I, he earned the nickname ‘Wild Bill’ for his style of leadership, and the medal of honor for his heroism. He made millions as a Republican lawyer on Wall Street, until FDR, a Democrat, asked him to form the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. Revered by his secret agents, he also made powerful political enemies who worked against him. A new biography offers a nuanced picture of the man known as the father of American espionage.


  • Douglas Waller A former correspondent for Newsweek and Time. He’s the author of five previous books on the military or foreign policy, including “The Commandos,” “Big Red” and “A Question of Loyalty.”

Read an Excerpt

Author Extra: Doug Waller Answers Questions

Mr. Waller stayed after the show to answer a few more questions.####

Q: Does the author have any knowledge of Donovan’s role in creating the American Friends of Vietnam, a lobby group that was instrumental in getting us heavily committed to the Vietnam War? – From Terry Berl via email

A: Donovan was heavily involved with the American Friends of Vietnam, which became a lobbying organization for Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem was appointed prime minister after Dien Bien Phu. Donovan, who had served as ambassador to Thailand after World War II, believed Diem was the leader to keep Vietnam from falling to the Viet Minh—a misjudgment on his part.

Q: Can you tell me about Donovan’s work in Vietnam and whether he was present when Ho Chi Minh praised the US Declaration of Independence?

A: Toward the end of World War II, the OSS had brief contact with Ho Chi Minh. Donovan never met Ho. Early on, he thought Ho had the potential to be an ally like Tito was during the war. But by the time he became ambassador to Thailand in 1953, Donovan had changed his mind about Ho and didn’t want to see him move in as the French moved out of Indochina.

Q: What did Wild Bill think of Walter Bedell Smith (Ike’s chief of staff, ambassador to Russia, and head of the CIA in the 40s and 50s)?

A: During the war, Donovan had a high opinion of General Walter Bedell Smith. Gen. Smith always thought Donovan was somewhat of a political schemer. After the war, Donovan thought “Beetle” Smith had done a poor job of running the early CIA and he wanted Eisenhower to name him CIA director as Smith’s replacement.

Q: The Dulles brothers had ties to the bank that financed Hitler, didn’t they?

A: I don’t know of ties the Dulles brothers had to banks that financed Hitler. There are a number of good biographies of Allen and John Foster Dulles that could answer that question. A number of Donovan critics, particularly in the press, accused Dulles and other senior OSS officers of trying to protect old German industrial clients after the war.

Q: My father was in the CIC during WWII where does it fit into the spy game. He said they called it Christ I’m Confused?

A: The Army Counterintelligence Corps ran a number of operations against the Axis spy services, overseas and in the U.S. CIC and the OSS worked together to a degree during the war, but Donovan’s relationship with Army intelligence overall—particularly with it senior leaders—was always strained.

Q: Hollywood’s own Sterling Hayden has some fascinating stories about his time in the OSS (under an assumed name). They are all laid out in his book “Wanderer”. Any idea how true they are?

A: Sterling Hayden was one of a number of Hollywood people who worked for Donovan. Director John Ford did a lot of propaganda films and combat filming for Donovan. I didn’t use Hayden’s book in my research but I ran across his work in the Middle East for the OSS, which was impressive.

A question that came up during the show that was answered by listener Gary Thompson:

In re: recruitment of Moe Berg to the OSS — Berg attended Columbia Law School and Donovan was a student there.


  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. William Donovan is a mythic figure in the history of American espionage, but his legacy remains under debate. In World War I, here in the Medal of Honor, as well as the nickname Wild Bill. During World War II, he founded and led the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Former CIA director James Woolsey says, a new biography of Donovan provides the definitive portrait of the fascinating, creative, disorganized, brave man who created our modern capacity for human intelligence and covert operations. The book is titled simply, "Wild Bill Donovan."

  • 11:07:58

    MS. DIANE REHMAuthor Douglas Waller joins me in the studio. It is all about, "The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage." Whatever you might think of modern American espionage, give us a call, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to, feel free to join us Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you.

  • 11:08:41

    MR. DOUGLAS WALLERGood morning.

  • 11:08:42

    REHMYou know, there've been a number of books about Wild Bill. How come another?

  • 11:08:48

    WALLERThere hasn't been a biography on him in a little over 27 years. In that time, a lot of material's been declassified, finally made public. All the OSS records are now public, which number in the millions of pages. There was a lot of myths about this guy.

  • 11:09:12

    REHMSuch as.

  • 11:09:13

    WALLERWell, a lot of people speculated on where he was in different spy operations and one of the things I tried to do was separate the fact from fiction and based on the documents, get to the real person. Because the real story's exciting enough, you don't need to spice it up with a lot of hype and -- you know, and bravado.

  • 11:09:36

    REHMHe made a lot of money as a Republican. How come he acceded to FDR's wishes?

  • 11:09:44

    WALLERWell, it's interesting because he did. He was in the Coolidge -- Calvin Coolidge administration as an assistant attorney general. Herbert Hoover, who followed, did not make him attorney general, which is what Donovan really wanted. But when the Ku Klux Klan found out that Donovan might be named attorney general, they were up in arms and the Klan was a powerful party in the 1920s. Instead, Hoover backed off on his promise to Donovan to be attorney general, so Donovan went to New York City, formed a big law firm there. Became, really, an international law firm, made millions of dollars.

  • 11:10:29

    WALLERRan for governor of New York in 1932 as a Republican candidate. Ran not only against a guy named Herbert Layman, who was Franklin Roosevelt's lieutenant governor, but ran against Roosevelt himself, said some very mean things about Roosevelt on the campaign trail. Roosevelt took his shots back at Donovan, too. He even had Eleanor out there on the trail delivering the hits, too. I mention this because it was really amazing that Roosevelt brought this man into his cabinet, along with a Republican Secretary of War and a Republican Secretary of Navy, but you're looking at 1940 and '41.

  • 11:11:06

    WALLERRoosevelt's preparing the country for war, he's trying to mobilize the nation, mobilize defense. Donovan was part of the Internationalists wing of the Republican Party who believed that we should mobilize for war, we should prepare for a defense. So both men saw value in each other and I think that was the bottom line reason that Roosevelt eventually pointed Donovan his top spymaster.

  • 11:11:28

    REHMAnd that story about Hoover backing away from his promise to Donovan meant that, what, the two remained kind of enemies for the rest of their lives?

  • 11:11:44

    WALLERWell, they did in the case of Herbert Hoover. Donovan's ultimate goal was to be the first Catholic president of the United States. He thought if he could become governor of New York, that was the ideal stepping stone to become president and it was back then. So he was a political creature and Roosevelt knew he was a political creature.

  • 11:12:02

    WALLERAnd in fact, there were people in Roosevelt's cabinet that said, well, we've got a Republican Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, we've got a Republican Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, and then we're bringing in a Republican spymaster here. What are we doing here, running a farm team for future Republican candidates? So some of his senior aides, even Eleanor worried, you know, where are Donovan's political loyalties? And that comes into play much later as politics seems to take over, you know, the political intrigue that eventually sinks his organization.

  • 11:12:38

    REHMBut before politics, there was interest in the priesthood.

  • 11:12:43

    WALLERWell, there was. At one point, he thought he wanted to become a priest. And by tradition, in every Irish/Catholic family, there was always thought that one boy would become a priest and Donovan thought he was going to be it. He went to Niagara University to study to be a priest, realized eventually that he wasn't really cut out for the cloth. And in fact, the ministers, the priests there said, you might want to think about being in law, because he was good in oratory. You know, he had the windpipes to be a lawyer. And so instead, he went to Columbia University, was a quarterback, the football team at Columbia, went to Columbia Law School. Interestingly, Franklin Roosevelt was a classmate, although the two never mingled or socialized because Roosevelt was on a much higher social strata than Donovan was.

  • 11:13:31

    REHMCourse, he had lots of women who were interested in him.

  • 11:13:38

    WALLERDonovan was -- he was rakishly handsome as a young man.

  • 11:13:42

    REHMHow tall?

  • 11:13:45

    WALLERActually, he wasn't that tall. He was about 5'9", he had bright blue eyes that women found captivating. He was somewhat of a feminist in his -- for his era. He hired women into his organization, usually paid them more than the received in normal government jobs, although there was still a glass ceiling. As an attorney, he took on a lot of divorce cases, particularly of famous women or wealthy women, and he had a way of empathizing with women and speaking to them as equals, which back then, made him even more attractive. He also had his share of mistresses, too, so he played around a little bit. And his wife knew about it.

  • 11:14:31

    REHMHis wife knew about it? How long were they married?

  • 11:14:32

    WALLERThey were married, oh, Geez, 40, 50 years. Basically, Ruth Donovan, who comes out as a heroin in the book, was pretty long suffering and at one point, the considered divorce, after one very steamy affair. But her view was a marriage was like a business contract and you don't break a contract. And back in that day, you suffered in silence. And basically, toward the end of their lives, they led separate lives.

  • 11:15:10

    REHMDouglas Waller is the author of a new biography, it's titled, "Wild Bill Donovan, The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Where did he get the name Wild Bill and why?

  • 11:15:30

    WALLERIt was in World War I. Actually, before he went into combat in World War I. He was a very rigorous, almost brutal trainer for his men. He put them through grueling exercises because he knew that they were going into a very brutal war. They were going into meat grinders in Europe. So after one particularly long day of marching them all over the place and running them and running them through obstacle courses, his men all collapsed to the ground and he got up in front of them and he said, you know, what the heck's the matter with you? I'm 35 years old, I'm carrying a pack and I'm not out of breath. You don't see me sitting here panting and falling down.

  • 11:16:17

    WALLERAnd from the back of his battalion, he never knew who it was, somebody shouted out, but we're not as wild as you are, Bill. From that day on, Wild Bill stuck. He claimed that he didn't really like the nickname because it ran counter to his kind of cool, quiet, professional spy image, but his wife, Ruth, knew that he really did like it.

  • 11:16:40

    REHMWhat was she like?

  • 11:16:41

    WALLERShe came from a very wealthy family in Buffalo, N.Y., one of the wealthiest. She was, you know, very smart, was a good horse woman, could shoot a rifle, could hunt like any man. When she married Donovan, she thought this would be a traditional marriage and she would be...

  • 11:17:07

    REHMCourse he was an attorney at the time.

  • 11:17:09

    WALLEROh, he was. He was a very young handsome attorney in Buffalo and she was totally captivated by him and he was totally captivated by her, but they spent little time together in the early part of the marriage. He was off to Europe in World War I. She desperately wanted to go to Paris to accompany him, but he wouldn't hear of that.

  • 11:17:30

    REHMYou write that in the first eight years of marriage, he had been home only 18 uninterrupted months.

  • 11:17:39

    WALLERYeah, and Ruth soon learned that this was not going to be a traditional marriage, that her husband was going to be in and out, she would have to raise the children. Gradually, over the years, she became more independent. She took her own trips abroad. She sailed on a schooner, the Yankee, around the world by herself, crewed on it. She went overseas by herself. She eventually developed her own separate life from Donovan.

  • 11:18:11

    REHMAll of which might not have happened had he turned into the husband she actually expected to have.

  • 11:18:16

    WALLEROh, most likely not. Donovan, I mean, he was very, very ambitious. He was a -- you know, a very energetic Type A personality. He slept five hours or less a night, would speed read probably three books or more a during a week. Constantly on the go.

  • 11:18:38

    REHMAnd we're talking about Wild Bill Donovan with the author of a new biography, Douglas Waller. Do join us, 800-433-8850.

  • 11:20:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. Douglas Waller is with me, he's just written a new biography of, "Wild Bill Donovan, The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage." We do invite your calls, 800-433-8850. We have an e-mail here from Tony who says, "There is an interesting book series by W.E.B. Griffin that while fictional, seems to provide an interesting angle on Donovan. The Hoover dynamic is quite interesting. It seems FDR played them off against each other."

  • 11:20:56

    WALLERWell, he did, Roosevelt did and that was -- Roosevelt did that with all his aides and his cabinet officers. He -- no one cabinet officer knew everything that Roosevelt was thinking, including his most senior aide, Harry Hopkins. And Roosevelt, you know, liked J. Edgar Hoover. He encouraged him to spy in the U.S. And Hoover ran a very active counter espionage program in the United States, very successful, too. I mean, it rounded up most every German agent that was out there, along with communists, dissidents, socialists and, you know, what have you.

  • 11:21:31

    WALLERBut Hoover thought Donovan and his OSS were a band of amateurs, which in the beginning, they actually were. Hoover mounted spy operations on OSS and on Donovan personally until the day he died. Donovan, in turn, kept tabs on Hoover's organization. He had his own moles in that organization, too. I've kinda joked sometimes, I wondered how they all had time to spy against the Nazis. They were -- seemed to be snooping on each other all the (word?).

  • 11:21:58

    REHMAnd that's what I wanted to talk to you about because it was during his trips that Donovan became concerned about Hitler and that's when it began, isn't it?

  • 11:22:15

    WALLERIt is. I mean, going back to 1940, '41, Roosevelt's building up the country for war. He's also making major foreign policy decisions overseas on how much to supply the British Lend-Lease, how active to get into this conflict in Europe. And he's doing it largely blind. He has no foreign intelligence service. The Army and Navy had small foreign intelligence units, but they were largely dumping grounds for poor performing officers.

  • 11:22:47

    WALLERSo Roosevelt, at some points, got so worried about what he didn't know overseas that it would make him physically ill. So he sent Donovan to Europe in 1940 and '41 on two trips. The first time to assess whether Great Britain would survive the Nazi attack and Donovan came back and said, yes, they would. The second time he sent him over there -- and these were all his unofficial informal visits -- he toured the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the Middle East to deliver a private message to all the leaders there that Franklin Roosevelt did not intend to let Britain lose this war and so you better decide to be on the winning side.

  • 11:23:26

    WALLERThe State Department was privately outraged over Donovan going on this private diplomatic mission. In fact, they debated internally on whether he should be charged with violating the Logan Act, which makes it a crime for private U.S. citizens to negotiate for the U.S. government overseas. Roosevelt, though, was happy to have this freelancer out there collecting secrets for him. And when Donovan comes back from those trips, that's when our spy story really begins and Roosevelt agrees to set up the spy organization, the OSS.

  • 11:23:59

    REHMAnd who does he recruit to be part of this spy organization?

  • 11:24:06

    WALLERDonovan -- first he started out with one person in the organization...

  • 11:24:10


  • 11:24:10

    WALLER...which was Wild Bill Donovan.

  • 11:24:11


  • 11:24:13

    WALLERAnd he liked to say he started from minus zero. He was like a basketball player in a pickup game looking for agents and operations anywhere he could find them. So for example, the Philips Lamp Company had sales agents overseas that were selling lamps in countries that Hitler occupied. The salesmen on the side would supply Donovan with intelligence. The Eastman Kodak Camera Company had camera clubs all over the United States, thousands of them. They supplied him photos that tourists took overseas of militarily relevant sites. Donovan recruited the best and brightest from American society.

  • 11:24:53

    REHMLots of bankers.

  • 11:24:54

    WALLERWall Street bankers, college presidents, academics. His view was, bring a person in from a good family, you know, bright and everything and we can teach him the dark arts of covert warfare and espionage. Now, on the same side, he also brought in some safe crackers, some burglars, a few Mafia thugs overseas.

  • 11:25:19

    REHMBut why would a successful banker, other than Donovan, who had that kind of ambition for himself -- why would a successful banker on Wall Street, in Washington, wherever want to do the kind of work that Donovan wanted?

  • 11:25:40

    WALLERSeveral reasons. Number one, action and adventure. This was a secret organization, OSS. Some people thought it was a society organization. In fact, one of the nicknames around Washington, it was called Oh So Social. So there was a chance here to do something unusual, unconventional.

  • 11:26:02

    WALLERThere were also a number of people that went into his organization who were physically unfit for the Army, overweight, had bad eyes. In fact, his headquarters began to be known as the bad eyes brigade 'cause so many people wore glasses. There were other people who wanted to avoid the draft. Rich society boys that, you know, wanted to wear a uniform, but didn't wanna go overseas. But there were also others that became not only espionage agents, but commandos overseas that were (word?) sabotage.

  • 11:26:34

    REHMAnd what could he pay them?

  • 11:26:38

    WALLERHe paid them actually pretty well. In fact, the Pentagon grumbled that he paid them too much more than regular military officers did. Because he would recruit from the Army, his organization became eventually very heavily military. So he would go to the army and say, you know, give me all the Italian-Americans you have 'cause I need them to infiltrate into Italy or give me all the Yugoslav-Americans you have because I need them to come in and work with Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia.

  • 11:27:10

    WALLERAnd the army would eventually supply them to him. Most times, the military didn't know anything about what this -- all this talk about covert operations and espionage were and they were happy to unload it on Donovan 'cause they didn't think that was a proper role for a person in uniform.

  • 11:27:21

    REHMOne piece of new information you found was regarding plans to assassinate Hitler.

  • 11:27:30

    WALLERYeah, it was interesting. Donovan, throughout the war, was obsessed with Adolph Hitler. He was constantly looking at schemes to try and topple Hitler and trying to develop sources or infiltrate people in to topple the government. He was never really successful and probably had no hope of being successful. He ordered psychologists to draft a large psychological study of Hitler, which was actually fairly good.

  • 11:27:57

    WALLERToward the end of the war, he toyed with the idea of sending out death squads into Germany to try and capture or kill Hitler, Goring and all the other top Nazis. He eventually begged off on the idea because the optics of it didn't really look good sending out, you know, these killer teams. And he thought it would be much better to have Hitler, Goring, the other top Nazis captured and put on trial than to be assassinated, so he called off the operation at the end.

  • 11:28:31

    REHMBut do you think, in the overall picture, that the OSS affected the outcome of World War II?

  • 11:28:41

    WALLERThe bottom line is, no. Did it shorten the war? Probably not. Did it contribute to the war? Yes, just like the sailor in the pacific, the soldier at the front line in Europe, Rosie the Riveter in Los Angeles. There were broader forces that won World War II. Basically, brute force did. The fact that the allies, particularly the United States, could -- and the Soviet Union could pump more men and hardware to destroy the axis power, the atomic bomb. But he played a part. Probably the most important part he played was the OSS became the petri dish for future officers who would lead the CIA, people like Bill Casey, William Colby, Richard Helms, all future CIA directors all cut their teeth under Donovan as OSS officers.

  • 11:29:36

    REHMWhen did the OSS then merge or develop or evolve into the CIA?

  • 11:29:45

    WALLERWell, it first was disbanded by Harry Truman. Truman and Donovan, there was bad chemistry between these two guys. I mean, on one side, Donovan, you have a wealthy Wall Street Republican lawyer. On the other side, you have a failed Missouri haberdasher who was a dyed in the wool Democrat, so these guys were never going to get along. Truman realized that he needed a postwar intelligence agency like a CIA, he just didn't want Donovan or his OSS to have any part of it. So in September 1945, he signed an order disbanding the OSS and parceling out its functions to the State Department and the Pentagon.

  • 11:30:30

    WALLERTruman was also getting a lot of reports from Donovan's enemies bad mouthing his organization. One of the reports he got was a 59-page hatchet job that was engineered by the U.S. Army Intelligence. They had an Army officer on the White House staff that managed to get that report to Truman's desk. It accused Donovan's organization of all kinds of misdeeds, failed operations. It even accused the organization of staging a sex orgy in India at one point. When Truman read that and other reports that J. Edgar Hoover supplied to him, particularly about Donovan's sex life, that just piled it on and Truman didn't want to have a part of it. Ironically, in 1947, two years after the OSS was disbanded, Truman finally formed a Central Intelligence Agency modeled after the vision that Donovan had for that organization.

  • 11:31:31

    REHMInteresting. And what did Donovan do after the OSS was disbanded?

  • 11:31:37

    WALLERThe immediate thing he did was go to Nuremberg and he was the Deputy Prosecutor for Justice Robert Jackson, who was the lead prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials. One of the good things the OSS did was it collected a good bit of war crimes information against the axis. Donovan, though, eventually had a falling out with Justice Jackson. Everything this guy did was controversial. Donovan wanted to put Hermann Goring on the stand and cross examine him and have Goering cop a plea bargain deal with the allies, where he would rat out on the other top Nazis in exchange for dying before a firing squad instead of being hung.

  • 11:32:19

    WALLERDonovan had 10 private meetings with Goring, to try and hatch this plea bargain deal. Robert Jackson, who believed that you should present your case by piling up documents of Nazi misdeeds, wanted no part of Goring being involved in any type of plea bargain arrangement. He didn't trust Goring. And the two men, I'm talking Donovan and Jackson, had a bitter fight over it and Donovan eventually left in disgust.

  • 11:32:43

    REHMWe're talking about, "Wild Bill Donovan, The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage." Douglas Waller has a new biography and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And it's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Chicago, Ill. Good morning, David.

  • 11:33:14

    DAVIDHello. My question...

  • 11:33:15


  • 11:33:16

    DAVIDMy question is, did Donovan try to outmaneuver Hoover and the FBI or fight hard Truman's decision to dissolve the OSS in September of 1945?

  • 11:33:27

    WALLEROh, absolutely. He fought it tooth and nail. Donovan was always trying to outmaneuver Hoover, too. He would send poison pen memos to FDR on Hoover, claiming in one, for example, that all of Hoover's counterespionage operations in the U.S., where he rounded up agents, were mainly helped out by the British and that Hoover really couldn't operate it on his own. Donovan had his own plan to set up a postwar Central Intelligence Agency. He lobbied the White House heavily for it, lobbied Roosevelt, lobbied Truman. Unfortunately, the plan got leaked in a Washington newspaper, part of the McCormick-Patterson chain, which hated Roosevelt, and it blew the plan out of the water when Roosevelt was still president.

  • 11:34:16

    WALLERDoes that answer it, David?

  • 11:34:20


  • 11:34:20

    REHMOkay. Thanks for calling. Let's go to Fayetteville, N.Y. Good morning, Suzanne.

  • 11:34:27

    SUZANNEGood morning. I have a question for Douglas Waller. Does he happen to know of the people who worked closely with Bill Donovan? I have been told by someone who was in the OSS, who I would rather not mention his name, told me that my father was with the OSS and I grew up in Argentina. He would take trips. He was a banker. He was president of a Wall Street bank, my dad. And he was -- in the very beginning, in the early '40s, when I was about three years old, he would go to Long Island for a week or two and just say he was learning how to pick locks for the OSS, but I was told my dad made his country proud and that's all I have to know. And to this day, I am not 100 percent sure if he was with the OSS and the CIA. Does Douglas Waller have a list of people who worked closely with Bill Donovan?

  • 11:35:23

    WALLERI don't have the list, but the National Archives in Maryland has the list. In fact, you can go online to look at the 11,000 officers, analysts, commandos who were part of the OSS and you can actually look up your dad's name there and see if he was in it.

  • 11:35:40

    REHMGive me that website.

  • 11:35:42

    WALLERIt's on -- I think it's nara N-A-R-A dotgov, I believe so. But if you go to the National Archives website...

  • 11:35:52

    SUZANNEAll right.

  • 11:35:52

    WALLER...and Google it, you can get it. But you're like a lot of relatives I've talked to who didn't know that Dad worked in the OSS or Granddad did and find out about it when they go into the attic and look up some old letters or old records.

  • 11:36:06

    SUZANNEI was told he knew Bill Donovan very well and we got little bits and pieces of information over the years as I was growing up, but I'd like a definite answer.

  • 11:36:16

    REHMSure. Well...

  • 11:36:17

    SUZANNEYou know...

  • 11:36:18 sounds as though you can get one. Again, that website is And where does she go from there?

  • 11:36:30

    WALLERIf you go there to the OSS, and the chances are your dad probably did know Donovan. He met -- tried to personally meet most of the agents, officers he sent overseas, particularly the commandos. He would have lunch for them at one of the nicer hotels in Washington before they headed to Europe.

  • 11:36:48

    SUZANNEAnd there was a building on Long Island, I understand, where everybody went and I know my dad went there.

  • 11:36:55

    REHMDo you know about such a building?

  • 11:36:58

    WALLERIn Long -- there were several -- well, of course, there were training facilities here in Washington. In Long Island, they had a couple front companies there that they set up. There could've been training areas up there, too, but in New York City, they had a number of front companies they used to launch covert operations.

  • 11:37:19

    REHMSo Suzanne, you have your work cut out for you. Thanks for calling. And my guest this hour is Douglas Waller, his new book is all about the founder of the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, Wild Bill Donovan.

  • 11:40:05

    REHMAnd here's an e-mail regarding Wild Bill Donovan. "Could you please comment on the effectiveness of the OSS? It's my understanding it's considered to be mostly inept with its fame due mostly to the prominent role of Ivy Leaguer's and as you mentioned, others gave it its nickname, Oh So Social." So how effective was it?

  • 11:40:36

    WALLERIt became effective and became is the operative verb here. It took Donovan probably about two years to build up his organization, get it trained and really get it into the fight. Now, you have to look at that in the context of, for example, the entire U.S. Army, which took -- it took the Army about a year and a half to two years to really get into the fight.

  • 11:40:57

    WALLERAnd some of the initial operations the Army conducted were not poorly run. A lot of generals were fired, a lot of admirals were fired. So the entire U.S. military was building up to this fight. As the war progressed, Donovan's organization had successful operations. It had intelligence failures, too, but it had operations in Sicily and Italy. Italy was a place where they had a lot of problems for the OSS, but Mark Clark's 5th Army had a lot of problems in that war.

  • 11:41:32

    WALLERIn Europe, in northern France, Donovan's people parachuted in ahead of the Normandy invasion to hook up with the French resistance. A lot of commandos there did good work. In Asia, they were limited to fighting the Japanese in Burma and China. Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Chester Nimitz didn't want any part of Donovan's organization.

  • 11:41:55


  • 11:41:56

    WALLERDidn't think they were worth anything.

  • 11:41:58

    REHMBy the way, the link for the national archives and records administration is now up on our website and you can get to that by going to Let's go now to Ontario, Canada. Good morning, Dave, thanks for joining us.

  • 11:42:24

    DAVENo problem. How you doing?

  • 11:42:25


  • 11:42:25

    DAVEI'm visiting my parents. They live in (word?) Ontario. Matter of fact, I'm just driving through this park here. It's called Camp X and it's been named now Intrepid Park and I was told that Wild Bill Donovan did a lot of his training here for his covert operations, to learn how to do covert operations. I just wanted you to comment and tell me, you know, if this is true and what part this camp, in this little town about 30 miles east of Toronto, played in the life of Bill Donovan. Thank you.

  • 11:43:07

    WALLERWell, you're right. Donovan actually sent a lot of his officers, his espionage officers and commandos, to Canada to be trained by the British. They -- and the British really were integral to helping Donovan build up his force and get it organized and the British sent a lot of trainers, not only to Canada, but also to the Washington area to train Donovan's men in a lot of, you know, arts of espionage and sabotage.

  • 11:43:36

    WALLERI mean, to teach them how to silently kill another person in -- you know, in the field and to, you know, teach them a different type of sabotage techniques. So -- and a lot of the officers did go to Canada for training courses. When the officers went over to Europe, particularly to England, before the Normandy invasion, they would go through what they called finishing school there. Which were British training camps and a lot of them washed out. A lot of Donovan's men washed out from that very, very rigorous training, so the, you know, British role here was considerable.

  • 11:44:13

    REHMInteresting. To Milford, Conn. Good morning Chris.

  • 11:44:19

    CHRISYes, good morning. I just wanted to ask your speaker, in his research about Donovan, did he come across a person whose name was Moe Berg? This person was a baseball catcher for the Red Sox and he was also a spy. Did he ever hear about that name?

  • 11:44:46

    WALLERI sure have. Moe Berg was a professional baseball player and a valuable officer for Donovan. One of Moe Berg's missions was to go into Europe, Italy and the occupied countries in particular to try and check out how much the Italians and the Germans were progressing in nuclear research. Donovan had been approached by General Leslie Groves, who was head of the Manhattan project, the military officer in charge of the Manhattan project. He was never told about the U.S. atomic device but Groves asked him to send his agents out to find out anything they could in Europe to see how far the Nazis were in making an atomic weapon and Moe Berg was part of that effort.

  • 11:45:33

    REHMHow could that be? How can you recruit a baseball player to do that kind of work?

  • 11:45:40

    WALLEROh, Donovan did that all the time. His view was to say, get me the best and the brightest and smart people and I will train them to do that. And in Moe Berg's case, he was very, very energetic young man, very, very resourceful. Was a good ball player, too, and did some excellent work in Italy, rounding up Italian scientists. Actually, in the end, came back with the conclusion that the Axis was a long way off from being able to acquire a nuclear weapon, which reassured the U.S. government, the folks that were involved in the Manhattan project.

  • 11:46:21

    REHMNow, why or how would he have gotten involved with Moe Berg to begin with?

  • 11:46:28

    WALLERExactly how he was recruited, I've forgotten. I know Moe Berg, at one point, you know, took a big financial hit because he was getting...

  • 11:46:36

    REHMTo go...

  • 11:46:36

    WALLERHe was getting paid a lot more playing baseball than he was with Donovan, but a lot of it, the people Donovan recruited were for family connections. Somebody knew somebody who knew of his organization and wanted to join. There were also a lot of folks who had friends, relatives who couldn't get into the regular army that they wanted to pawn off on Donovan. General Black Jack Pershing had a friend he pawned off on Donovan. Even Ellener (sp?) had friends that he put on Donovan's organization.

  • 11:47:09

    REHMInteresting. All right, to Harold, who's here in Washington, D.C. Thanks for waiting.

  • 11:47:17

    HAROLDYeah, I have a question. I can't remember the author's, name but there's a book about the CIA called, "The Legacy Of Ashes," where the author says in section that because so much of Wild Bill Donovan's corporate culture, if you will, from the OSS transferred to the modern CIA, this country never really got to professional intelligence analysis, professional intelligence gathering organization should have gotten. I think he's making a comparison with British MI6 or something. And I just wondered if Mr. Waller will comment on that?

  • 11:47:50

    WALLERYeah, you're talking about Tim Whiner's book, "Legacy Of Ashes." I think, you know, a good bit of the spirit, the elan, the espre de corp that was in the OSS definitely transferred over to the CIA. The research and analysis branch that had been in the OSS, which had some of the top minds of the country, that whole culture, bringing in the best and the brightest certainly was carried over to the CIA, too. Now, there were negative aspects that got transferred over to the CIA, too. The belief that covert warfare, espionage, can, you know, win wars or accomplish amazing things or corners can be cut either ethically or legally to promote a higher cause and, you know, you saw the same intelligence failures in the OSS that you saw in the CIA. But it's a mixed bag of a legacy there, but it's definitely is a legacy.

  • 11:48:58

    REHMThanks for calling Harold. To Paul in Hollywood, Fla. You're on the air.

  • 11:49:05

    PAULYes, I would like to ask a quick question. Bill Donovan, since there was a decision not to redo assassinations in Germany, but yet OSS has collaborated in Langley, in Great Britain, the time with Colonel Stephenson. And the services in England, as they were training the OSS operatives, they were actually putting some of the teams into Czechoslovakia for assassination of Heydrich. And since then, I think, because of repercussion that whole was burned down as an answer from Germans on this then people in London actually instructed through Stephenson not to do that anymore anywhere, the assassinations. What does he know about Stephenson and what -- how does he attribute anything to that assassination of Heydrich?

  • 11:50:08

    WALLERWell, first Bill Stephenson, who Winston Churchill had sent to New York with the sole purpose of doing counter espionage in the united states to make sure that equipment that was being shipped to England would not be sabotaged by the Nazis. That was one of his jobs. He also controlled British intelligence operations in Latin America and his other big job before America went into the war, was to get America into the war and to lobby for that.

  • 11:50:42

    WALLERAnd to also spy on any isolationists groups in the United States that were opposing American entry into the war. He formed a very, very close collaboration with Donovan and provided a lot of help and a lot of material and expertise to build up Donovan's organization. In Czechoslovakia, the Heydrich case, I didn't run across any research and I didn't go into it too deeply in terms of any type of outside Allied role in it.

  • 11:51:16

    WALLERBut Donovan was not adverse to, you know, assassinations or, you know, wet jobs, knocking off people. He was more interested in the political feasibility of it. He had an assassination plan or his people did for, before the Torch invasion, to assassination Nazis agents and representatives in North Africa. Eisenhower eventually put a kibosh on that operation, thought it would be too dangerous and there'd be blowback from it. But -- and within Donovan's own organization, there were a lot of people that discussed the ideas of knocking people during the war and even after the war.

  • 11:51:56

    REHMFinally, to Charles in McLean, Va. You're on the air.

  • 11:52:03

    CHARLESGood morning, Diane. My name is Charles Pinker and I'm president of the OSS society in McLean, which is a charity comprised of OSS veterans and their descendants in numbers of the U.S. Intelligence and Special Operations Forces communities and I wanted to thank Doug for the very important contribution he's made to our understanding of General Donovan and the OSS. And advise any of your listeners who want to learn more about the OSS and the OSS society, visit our website, which is And we spend a lot of time helping the descendants of OSS veterans learn more about their relative's service so we can also assist in that regard.

  • 11:52:38

    REHMNow, do you have a complete list of those who participated with Wild Bill?

  • 11:52:47

    CHARLESWe do. We also have a discussion group on the Internet with over 1300 people and you get all kinds of questions and I'm always amazed at the people out there who have some very arcane knowledge that they're very willing to share. We publish something called the OSS Society Journal and we include these sort of requests from people who know that their parents, you know, served in the OSS but a lot of the people who served in the OSS never spoke about what they did and still don't.

  • 11:53:09

    REHMSure, sure. Well, we'll be sure...

  • 11:53:12

    CHARLESSo we're trying to help veterans.

  • 11:53:14

    REHMWe'll be sure to put a link our website, to yours, Thanks for calling. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Shelly in Sarasota, Fla. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:53:39


  • 11:53:40

    REHMYes, go right ahead, Shelly.

  • 11:53:42


  • 11:53:43

    REHMGo right ahead, sir.

  • 11:53:45

    SHELLYYes, this is Shelly in Sarasota. My father-in-law was a member of the OSS and he was actually one of those who did parachute into France. He was of French and Italian descent and he served in that theatre, but he later served in the Burma-Indo-China Theatre. Hello?

  • 11:54:06

    REHMYes, go right ahead, sir.

  • 11:54:07

    SHELLYAnd my question is -- and we have a book somewhere about that area, but I can't lay my hands on it right now, but it talks a lot about the commandos in the -- who trained the Burmese and other members in Indo-China and also the fact that they found Hochi (sp?) men desperately ill and I think there was one gentleman who really responsible for saving his life. There's not a whole lot about, first of all, the pacific theater that's written. The European theater seems to be more glamorous. I'd like some comment on that because there really was a lot work done by the OSS.

  • 11:54:51

    WALLERYes, and if your father dropping into Europe, he was probably with the OG's, the operational group commanders, that went in or the Jed Bird Commandos. That was named after the training site in Scotland where the OSS officers trained. In Asia, Burma was an important theater for the OSS. It was not a major theater for the overall Asia war, but there was a detachment there that was operating in Burma, Detachment 101 that was supplying guerillas and also was trying to keep supply lines to Chang Hi Check's army in China.

  • 11:55:32

    WALLERDonovan visited the Detachment 101 headquarters several times. In fact, the first time he went he got flown into occupied Burma, occupied by the Japanese, to a secret base site abroad a biplane. It was one of the more foolish things he ever 'cause he could've been shot down and captured by the Japanese and would've been a valuable target. But this was Wild Bill Donovan who loved to be at the front, at the action with his agents.

  • 11:55:58

    REHMIt's interesting. We've had so many calls from people who, in one way or another, were connected to Wild Bill and with this e-mail from Buck in Fort Meyers, Fla., who says, "My father served in the OSS in World War II. He was in the Yugoslavian operations group, stationed in Italy. He played chess with Tito during a mission in Yugoslavia. Later, he served in Korea during the war. I've found a little information on the OSSOG in World War II, but nothing about his service in Korea. Where can I find more information about the field operations?"

  • 11:56:48

    WALLERWell, there are a lot, there have been a number of OSS histories. Actually, the official OSS history that they wrote after the war is quite good and fairly objective. The OSS Society, you had Charlie Pinker just gave you a call. He was actually an important source of mine that can give you a lot of information on the organization.

  • 11:57:04

    REHMThe book is, "Wild Bill Donovan, The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage." Douglas Waller is the author. Congratulations.

  • 11:57:18

    WALLERThank you.

  • 11:57:19

    REHMThanks for being here. And thanks for listening, all, I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 11:57:25

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales.

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