Office of Strategic Services

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The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime (but not direct) precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency.

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 State, Treasury, Navy and War. They had no overall direction, coordination, or control. The Army and the Navy had separate code-breaking departments (Signal Intelligence Service and OP-20-G) that not only competed, but refused to share break-throughs. Also, the original code-breaking operation of the State Department, MI8, run by Herbert Yardley, had been shut down in 1929 by Secretary of State Henry Stimson because "gentlemen don't read each other's mail". President Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned about American intelligence deficiencies. He directed William J. Donovan, a World War I veteran and New York lawyer, to draft a plan for an intelligence service.

The Office of Strategic Services was established in June 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 policy makers with facts and estimates, but the OSS never had jurisdiction over all foreign intelligence activities—the FBI was responsible for intelligence work in Latin America, and the military jealously guarded their areas of responsibility.

The OSS helped arm, train and supply anti-Japanese and anti-German groups in the Second World War, including Mao Tse Tung's Communist Forces in China, and Ho Chi Minh (Nguyen Ai Quoc)'s Viet Minh in French Indochina. The OSS also recruited and ran one of the war's most important spies, the German diplomat Fritz Kolbe.

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.'s protested this violated an agreement President Roosevelt made with the Soviet Union not to interfere with Soviet cipher traffic from the U.S. Donovan might have copied the papers before returning them the following January but there is no record of Arlington Hall receiving them, and CIA and NSA archives have no surviving copies.

In October 1945 the OSS was dissolved and its functions were transferred to the Departments of State and War, its personnel being assigned to the SSU (Strategic Services Unit). In 1947 the National Security Act established America's first permanent peacetime intelligence agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, which took up the functions of the OSS.

OSS Branches

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