Anthony Cave Brown, a British writer with espionage interests (Bodyguard of Lies), has recently heroicized OSS chief William...


THE SHADOW WARRIORS: O.S.S. and the Origins of the C.I.A.

Anthony Cave Brown, a British writer with espionage interests (Bodyguard of Lies), has recently heroicized OSS chief William Donovan for propelling the US into shadow warfare, while dismissing most OSS operations as futile or worse; Bradley Smith, an American historian with policy interests (Judgment at Nuremberg), credits the OSS with accomplishments in support of the military, but considers shadow warfare dangerously overvalued. The two works operate on different levels, however--Cave Brown deals with episodes (like most OSS chroniclers), Smith with phenomena--and therefore differ also in content. Smith first undertakes to demolish the ""myth"" of a German fifth column--and show how the British, in response, set up a fifth-column organization of their own. The US, also seized with ""fifth column panic,"" was receptive to British propagandizing; and both William Donovan and FDR--""activists, enthusiasts, doers"" (in the TR tradition)--lent a ready eat to cagey William Stephenson. On a 1940 visit to Britain, Donovan was sold on both British needs and British will to resist, and ""hooked on the great game of secret missions, high policy, and international intrigue."" His 1941 tour of the Middle East and the Balkans, also under British auspices, confirmed those inclinations and enhanced his prestige. (Smith scores the disastrous British interventions--a harbinger of his stress on the wrongness of ""political intelligence dabbling"" without military back-up.) With the formation, in July 1941, of the Coordinator of Information office (COI)--precursor of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)--Smith's focus becomes Donovan's lack of a coherent, integrated intelligence plan (contra Cave Brown and the Donovan claque); then, the piecemeal, pragmatic way COI-OSS developed; next, the kinds of operations in which it was effective (what services it could perform for whom); finally, the way OSS stalwarts promoted the idea of a grand, integrated Donovan scheme, and OSS wartime prowess, to institutionalize OSS procedures in the CIA. And with the US demobilized, it was tempting to believe ""that shadow warfare could serve in lieu of regular forces."" There are no villains in the story as Smith tells it--virtually month by month, and document by document. Donovan was an ""expansionist,"" but also had a ""nimble mind."" The British gulled everyone--for their own, proper interests. Everybody made mistakes--the OSS was not alone. The book is thus humanly interesting at the same time that it addresses the very largest moral and military questions.

Pub Date: May 27, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983