On Friday, April 29, author Douglas Waller discussed his new book, Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage. In addition, Gen. Donovan’s former assistant, Fisher Howe, amplified Mr. Waller’s comments and helped give the audience a clearer picture of what it was like to work for him during the Second World War.
After being introduced by IWP Professor S. John Tsagronis, Mr. Waller described the making of his biography of Gen. Donovan and how the legendary leader gained his nickname “Wild.” Mr. Waller also elaborated on Gen. Donovan’s feisty campaign for governor in New York , and his subsequent selection by President Franklin Roosevelt to be the country’s chief spymaster.
Mr. Waller illustrated several of Wild Bill’s early intelligence-gathering missions, including a trip to England to learn if that nation had the capability to withstand the Nazis. In June 1941, through an executive order, Roosevelt set up a “coordinator of information,” a position which later evolved into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). This organization started with one man – Wild Bill – who was ordered to collect information of national security importance and do other unspecified things.
“Wild Bill” embraced his position enthusiastically, and launched a profusion of intelligence-gathering activities and special operations. He developed a relationship with the Eastman Kodak company to obtain photographs from abroad, and would carry around $2,000 in his pocket at any given time in order to pay for information if necessary. He also used gadgets, truth drugs, and even bats to try to accomplish his intelligence goals.
Mr. Waller explained that “Wild Bill” is also the father of modern information warfare. He would sow disinformation through leaflets and rumors – for instance, he planted rumors that the Nazi leaders were fleeing Germany , and dropped leaflets to the Nazis that said that their wives were cheating on them.
Eventually, “Wild Bill” Donovan built a force of over 10,000 spies and analysts who were scattered all over the world.
Mr. Howe, who knew Bill Donovan personally, and served as his assistant for many years, shared many of his memories and experiences with Gen. Donovan to the group at IWP. He described Donovan as a superb model for leadership.
The event concluded with remarks from Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society, about the mission of the OSS Society to inspire current generations about special operations and related research and to make sure that the spirit of General Donovan’s work lives on in intelligence professionals and scholars.