Office of Strategic Services

Office of Strategic Services

OSS insignia[1][2]
Agency overview
Formed June 13, 1942
Preceding agency
Dissolved September 20, 1945
Superseding agency
Employees 13,000 estimated[3]
Agency executives

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was a wartime intelligence agency of the United States during World War II, and a predecessor of the modern Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The OSS was formed as an agency of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)[4] to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines for all branches of the United States Armed Forces. Other OSS functions included the use of propaganda, subversion, and post-war planning.


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: Signal Intelligence Service and OP-20-G. (A previous code-breaking operation of the State Department, the 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".[5]) 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 (SOE). Colonel Donovan was employed to evaluate the global military position 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 "coordinator of information" on July 11, 1941 heading the new organization known as the office of the Coordinator of Information (COI). Thereafter the organization was developed with British assistance; Donovan had responsibilities but no actual powers and the existing US agencies were skeptical if not hostile. Until some months after Pearl Harbor, the bulk of OSS intelligence came from the UK. British Security Coordination (BSC) trained the first OSS agents 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.[6]

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 policymakers with facts and estimates, but the OSS never had jurisdiction over all foreign intelligence activities. The FBI was left responsible for intelligence work in Latin America, and the Army and Navy continued to develop and rely on their own sources of intelligence.


General William J. Donovan reviews Operational Group members in Bethesda, Maryland prior to their departure for China in 1945.
OSS missions and bases in East Asia

For the duration of World War II, the Office of Strategic Services was conducting multiple activities and missions, including collecting intelligence by spying, performing acts of sabotage, waging propaganda war, organizing and coordinating anti-Nazi resistance groups in Europe, providing military training for anti-Japanese guerrilla movement in Asia, among other things.[7] At the height of its influence during World War II, the OSS employed almost 24,000 people.[8]

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.[9]

In the "40th Bomb Group Association Memories Issue # 14 March 1987 Date of event: Summer of 1944 to early Spring, 1945 Date written: September, 1986 Written by: Louis Jones": The Dixie Mission in China was composed of approximately 20 people, including two OSS officers.[10]

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. The OSS also recruited and ran one of the war's most important spies, the German diplomat Fritz Kolbe.

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

In 1943, the Office of Strategic Services set up operations in Istanbul.[11] 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.[11]

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.[12] Macfarland hired Alfred Schwarz, a Czechoslovakian engineer and businessman who came to be known as "Dogwood" and ended up establishing the Dogwood information chain.[13] Dogwood in turn hired a personal assistant named Walter Arndt and established himself as an employee of the Istanbul Western Electrik Kompani.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

Weapons and gadgets

OSS T13 Beano Grenade and compass hidden in a button, CIA Museum

The OSS espionage and sabotage operations produced a steady demand for highly specialized equipment.[7] After realizing that, General Donovan invited experts, organized workshops and funded labs that formed a core of the later established Research & Development Branch. Boston chemist Stanley P. Lovell became its first head, and Donovan humorously called him—"his Professor Moriarty".[18]:101 Throughout the war years, the OSS Research & Development was successfully adapting Allied weapons and espionage equipment, and producing its own line of novel spy tools and gadgets, including: silenced pistols, lightweight sub-machine guns, "Beano" grenades that exploded upon impact, explosives disguised as lumps of coal ("Black Joe") or bags of Chinese flour ("Aunt Jemima"), acetone time delay fuses for limpet mines, compasses hidden in uniform buttons, playing cards that concealed maps, a 16mm Kodak camera in the shape of a matchbox, tasteless poison tablets ("K" and "L" pills), and cigarettes laced with tetrahydrocannabinol acetate (an extract of Indian hemp) to induce uncontrollable chattiness, among others.[18][19] In addition, innovative communication equipment was developed, such as wiretap gadgets, electronic beacons for locating agents, and the "Joan-Eleanor" portable radio system that made possible for operatives on the ground to establish secure contact with a plane that was preparing to land or drop cargo. The OSS Research & Development also printed fake German and Japanese-issued identification cards, various passes, ration cards and counterfeit money.[20]

On August 28, 1943, Stanley Lovell was asked to make a presentation in front of a not very friendly audience of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, since the U.S. top brass were largely skeptical of all OSS plans beyond collecting military intelligence and were ready to split the OSS between the Army and the Navy.[21]:5–7 While explaining the purpose and mission of his department and introducing various gadgets and tools, he reportedly casually dropped into a waste basket the Hedy, a panic-inducing type of a device in a shape of a firecracker, which shortly produced a loud shrieking sound followed by a deafening boom. The presentation was interrupted and did not resume since everyone in the room fled. In reality, the Hedy, jokingly named after Hollywood movie star Hedy Lamarr for her ability to distract men, saved lives of some trapped OSS operatives.[22]:184–185

Not all projects worked. Some ideas were odd, such as producing pathogenic synthetic goat dung in PROJECT Capricious (1942) to spread anthrax by using flies among German troops in Spanish Morocco to prevent Spain from joining the Axis powers. Donovan was not informed about PROJECT Capricious due to its uttermost secrecy, the Germans eventually evacuated and Operation Capricious was aborted.[23]:150–151 There were also ideas to introduce estrogen into Hitler's food to deprive him of his trademark mustache and—recognizable by all Germans—baritone voice. A more deadly plot included hiding a capsule with mustard gas in flowers to cause blindness among Nazi generals inside the German High Command Headquarters.[23]:149 All in all, Stanley Lovell worked hard to level the playing field for the OSS in the World War II arena of espionage, and was later quoted saying, "It was my policy to consider any method whatever that might aid the war, however unorthodox or untried".[24]

In 1939, a young physician named Christian J. Lambertsen developed an oxygen rebreather set (the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit) and demonstrated it to the OSS—after already being rejected by the U.S. Navy—in a pool at a hotel in Washington D.C. in 1942[25][26] The OSS not only bought into the concept, they hired Lambertsen to lead the program and build up the dive element for the organization.[26] 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".[25][27] Growing involvement of the OSS with coastal infiltration and water-based sabotage eventually led to creation of the OSS Maritime Unit.

Dissolution into other agencies

After victory in Europe in May 1945, the OSS was better able to concentrate on operations in Japan. Soon Japan surrendered, ending the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II.

A month later, on September 20, 1945, President Truman signed Executive Order 9621, terminating the OSS. His Order became effective October 1, 1945. In the days following, 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 (originally created by Edward Mead Earle[28]) which was renamed the Interim Research and Intelligence Service or IRIS,[29] headed by U.S. Army Colonel Alfred McCormack. Later it was renamed the Bureau of Intelligence and Research by the State Department.

The War Department took over the Secret Intelligence (SI) and Counter-Espionage (X-2) Branches, which were then housed in a new unit created for 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 new SSU director. He oversaw the liquidation of the OSS yet, more importantly, he managed the institutional preservation of its clandestine intelligence capability.

In January 1946, President Truman created the Central Intelligence Group (CIG), which was the direct precursor to the CIA. SSU assets, which now constituted a streamlined "nucleus" of clandestine intelligence, were transferred to the CIG in mid-1946 and reconstituted as the Office of Special Operations (OSO). The National Security Act of 1947 established the United States's first permanent peacetime intelligence agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, which then took up OSS functions. The direct descendant of the paramilitary component of the OSS is the CIA Special Activities Division.[30]


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 used 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.[31]


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, Rene Joyeuse and John Ford.[8][32] 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.[33]

Major League Baseball player Moe Berg was recruited by the OSS in 1943 because of his language skills,[34] assigned to the Secret Intelligence branch, and took part in missions in the Caribbean, South America, France, England, Norway, Italy, and the Balkans.[35] Later, Berg was briefed in nuclear physics, and sent to Zürich, Switzerland posing as a Swiss physics student,[36] with the mission of attending a lecture at the Technische Hochschule by Germany's top nuclear scientist, Werner Heisenberg.[37][38] His orders were to kill the scientist if he determined that the Germans were far along in their efforts to build an atomic weapon;[39] he found that the scientist was not a threat.[40] 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.[41] He is the only former Major League Baseball player whose baseball card is displayed at CIA headquarters.[42]

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.[43]

Taro and Mitsu Yashima, both Japanese political dissidents who were imprisoned in Japan for protesting its regime, worked for the OSS in psychological warfare against the Japanese Empire.[44][45]


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


US Army units attached to the OSS





Video games

In "Call of Duty: World at War" (2008), Dr. Peter McCain is an OSS spy.

See also



    1. The OSS Society
    2. National Archives and Records Administration
    3. Dawidoff, p. 240
    4. Clancey, Patrick. "Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Organization and Functions". HyperWar. Retrieved Nov 10, 2016.
    5. Stimson, Henry L. On Active Service in Peace and War (1948). per Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th ed.
    6. The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-1945, p27-28
    7. 1 2 Smith, R. Harris. OSS: The Secret History of America's First Central Intelligence Agency. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.
    8. 1 2 "Chef Julia Child, others part of WWII spy network" Archived August 22, 2008, at the Wayback Machine., CNN, 2008-08-14
    9. "Interview with Archimedes L. A. Patti". 1981.
    11. 1 2 Hassell and McCrae, p.158
    12. Hassell and MacRae, p.159
    13. 1 2 Hassell and MacRae, p.166
    14. Hassell and MacRae, p.167
    15. 1 2 Rubin, B: Istanbul Intrigues, page 168. Pharos Books, 1992.
    16. Hassell and MacRae, p.184
    17. Andrew, Christopher and Mitrokhin, Vasili, The Mitrokhin Archive, Volume 1: The KGB in Europe and the West, 1999.
    18. 1 2 Waller, Douglas C. Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage. New York: Free Press, 2011.
    19. CIA Library: Weapons & Spy Gear, Historical Document, March 15, 2007.
    20. The Office of Strategic Services America's First Intelligence Agency. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency, 2000, p. 33.
    21. Hogan, David W. U.S. Army Special Operations in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1992.
    22. Breuer, William B. Deceptions of World War II. New York: Wiley, 2002.
    23. 1 2 Lockwood, Jeffrey Alan. Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects As Weapons of War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
    24. Lovell, Stanley P. Of Spies & Stratagems. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963, p. 79.
    25. 1 2 Vann RD (2004). "Lambertsen and O2: beginnings of operational physiology". Undersea Hyperb Med. 31 (1): 21–31. PMID 15233157. Retrieved 2013-04-20.
    26. 1 2 Shapiro, T. Rees. "Christian J. Lambertsen, OSS officer who created early scuba device, dies at 93". Washington Post (February 18, 2011)
    27. 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.
    28. An American Renaissance: Princeton After the War By Ulrich Raulff, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 14, 2015 " Edward Mead Earle, had played another prominent role during the war. Earle had participated in the establishment of the Department of Research and Analysis of the Office of Strategic Services."
    29. "An End and a Beginning". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
    30. Waller, Douglas "CIA's Secret Army", Time (2003)
    31. 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
    32. Blackledge, Brett J. and Herschaft, Randy , "Documents: Julia Child part of WW II-era spy ring", Associated Press
    33. 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
    34. The rock, the curse, and the hub: a random history of Boston sports. Harvard University Press. 2005. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
    35. Baseball's Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players Who Died in Service. McFarland. 2009. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
    36. Playing for their nation: baseball and the American military during World War II. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
    37. Spying: the secret history of history. Black Dog Publishing. 2004. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
    38. Edwin Hubble: mariner of the nebulae. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
    39. Elston, Gene A Stitch in Time: A Baseball Chronology. Houston, Texas: Halcyon, 2001. p.12. ISBN 1-931823-33-2
    40. Hahn, Gilbert, Jr. The Notebook of an Amateur Politician. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2002. p. 86 ISBN 0-7391-0405-5
    41. 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
    42. Smith, W. Thomas.Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency New York: Facts on File, 2003. p.23. ISBN 0-8160-4666-2
    43. "SEAL History: First Airborne Frogmen" on the Navy Seal Museum website/
    44. "Taro Yashima: an unsung beacon for all against 'evil on this Earth' - The Japan Times". The Japan Times.
    45. "An unlikely heroine of World War II". SFGate.
    46. For all branch information: Clancey, Patrick. "Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Organization and Functions". HyperWar. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
    47. O.S.S at the Internet Movie Database


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