Former Newsweek and Time correspondent Waller expands on his earlier biography of the Office of Strategic Services founder (Wild Bill Donovan, 2011, etc.) with a history of the four men who worked for Donovan in the European theater.
What Allen Dulles, Bill Casey, Bill Colby, and Richard Helms had in common were the shared characteristics of the men of the OSS. They came from old American families, excelled at school, mastered at least one foreign language, and, with the exception of Colby, came from wealth. Each also eventually headed the CIA. The author shies away from painting the OSS as something of an old boys’ network, but it certainly attracted officers from the best families. Dulles’ time with the State Department in Vienna taught him never to ignore a potential informer, as he unfortunately did with Vladimir Lenin in 1917. He ended up running the Bern office of the OSS and gathered a most successful haul of espionage of World War II from Fritz Kolbe of the German Foreign Office, who supplied him with information about the Third Reich. Colby trained the Jedburgh commandos, who parachuted into France to lead the resistance, and Colby himself even jumped into Norway on bridge-blowing missions. Casey, with his business experience at the Research Institute of America, was “fixer” for diplomat David Bruce’s London Station and managed covert-ops teams sent into German territory. Journalist Helms finally arrived in London in 1945 to join and organize the OSS mission Dulles would lead in Germany after the surrender. These men were in the thick of America’s spy game for decades, and Waller’s broad knowledge of their work could easily have been four separate books. His analysis of their effectiveness is eye-opening, as is his short history of their time at the CIA—but that’s for another book. Especially helpful for readers is the cast of characters at the beginning.
Waller keeps the interest high and the pages turning in one of the more interesting spy books this year.