Donovan of OSS

Title:                  Donovan of OSS

Author:                 Corey Ford

Ford, Corey (1970). Donovan of OSS. New York: Little, Brown

LCCN:    70092332

D810.S8 D55


Date Updated:  February 20, 2017

This is the first of three major biographies of Donovan. It was written too close to the actual events to have proper perspective and is filled with anecdotes that are interesting but are not supported by facts.

In his introduction author Cory Ford informs the readers that this book is not a history of the O.S.S.—Office of Strategic Services—but a story about William J. (“Wild Bill”) Donovan.

Ford was a colonel in the Air Force and served under Donovan at the O.S.S. The reader is left to surmise how objective the author will be concerning his subject. Donovan is primarily known as the “Father of American Intelligence” and the “Father of Central Intelligence.” This book does not provide any critical insights into the murky history of intelligence. Another factor to consider is that this book was written in 1969 and many archives were unavailable to authors doing research.

We are left with an interesting story about a remarkable man that was able to marshal and direct the efforts of many individuals to create from the ground up an effective intelligence service under the intense pressures of wartime.

The aspect of this book that interested me was the details of Donovan’s service during World War I. He organized and led a battalion on New York Volunteers, the “Fighting 69th”. For his service in France he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Ford brings to life the battles and heroism of that tragic, unnecessary war.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Despite Donovan’s prominence, the dimensions of his personality, and the innovative nature of his intelligence organization, Ford’s biography was the first attempt in twenty-five years. The author relied in large part on Donovan’s files, letters, and personal diary, most of which are made public here for the first time. The author did not claim that this was a complete history of OSS; however, he believed he was imparting essentially the whole story on Donovan. Critics felt that Ford’s treatment did not accomplish that purpose. Too much of the book was devoted to describing at length particular OSS operations that were extraneous to the central purpose of the biography. Too, Ford’s admiration for his subject dulled his critical capacities and led to an incomplete portrayal of the man, as did his reliance largely on Donovan’s own records. His interviews, principally with persons considered members of the Donovan team, increased the dangers of not giving a fulI portrait of Donovan’s life in intelligence. Donovan’s role and contribution to national policy and to the foundation of U.S. intelligence are still subjects in search of the right authors. Troy’s Donovan and the CIA[2] is a new and auspicious start, setting new and higher standards of scholarship on Donovan.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[3]

Ford has written this combination biography of William J. Mild Bill”) Donovan and history of the OSS in a popular, uncritical, and anecdotal manner. Friend and colleague of Donovan, Ford had access to material from his family and his private papers for use in the preparation of this book. The book covers Donovan from his childhood to his death in 1959, but the important parts of his efforts to establish first the Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) and then the OSS are retold in interesting detail. President Roosevelt wanted a COI to bring together all the intelligence gathered by all the agencies. However, Donovan envisioned something additional—an independent agency that not only did the intelligence clearinghouse job, but also acted as an offensive weapon, complementing the armed forces by fighting through sabotage, resistance, subversion, and propaganda. Donovan established the Research and Analysis (RBA) branch made up of historians, economists, geographers, psychologists, and scholars to do the intelligence analysis mission. It is in the area of unorthodox warfare that Donovan spent his time and in relating Donovan’s efforts; there the author combines personal characterizations of Donovan and anecdotes of the 0SS. See also the annotation in chapter 14, section C.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[4]

This book is both a biography of Donovan and a history of the OSS which he headed. Based in part on some of Donovan’s own private papers, it sheds much light on the leader of U. S. WWII intelligence and of the predecessor organization to CIA. However, many sources were not exploited, and the definitive biography of Donovan is yet to be written.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[5]

An excellent, carefully researched biography of William J. Donovan, the late head of the wartime Office of Strategic Services and influential architect of postwar U.S. intelligence. The work is based both on open sources and on Donovan’s private papers made available for the first time to the author. See also the annotation for this book in chapter 18, section B.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 194-195

[2] Troy, Thomas F. (1981). Donovan and the CIA: A History of the Establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency. Frederick, MD: Aletheia Books

[3] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 205

[4] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, D.C. : Defense Intelligence School, p. 26

[5] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 147


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2 Responses to Donovan of OSS

  1. Pingback: Espionage and Counterespionage, Chapter 14 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: OSS—The U.S. Office of Strategic Service, Chapter 18 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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