Book Review Editors Note
The great Lincoln scholar, Richard N. Current, defined history as "a narrative." Thathe said"is its beauty." Patrick K. ODonnells "first substantial agent-level history of OSS" attempts to tell "The Unknown Story" of Americas covert soldiers during World War II. His riveting, action-packed narrative is largely based on declassified OSS documentsmany "only recently . . . declassified" and more than 300 interviews with veterans from the secret war against Hitler. According to ODonnell, "many" of these aging survivors "told me their stories for the first time, breaking vows of silence and revealing secrets held for nearly 60 years." Those "stories" ("carefully cross-checked with supporting documentation," yet lacking in adequate historical context) proveaccording to the authorthat despite a difficult relationship with British intelligence and opposition from the U. S. military and its intelligence bodies, the OSS was instrumental in the defeat of the Axis powers. ODonnell concludes that the "OSS may have made its greatest contribution, not to winning World War II, but to winning the Cold War" because it "put an end to the shibboleths of gentlemanly intelligence that had reigned in the United States" for most of its history . Its democratic values notwithstanding, the U. S. "had to fight fire with fire and turn totalitarian weapons against the totalitarians."
While it is true that Americas intelligence services have historically been "inferior" to those in Britain and in Europe, the author seems to have forgotten that Americas isolationism and the presence of the Royal Navy in the Atlantic made unnecessary a permanent, centralized intelligence service. Furthermore, pre-World War II U. S. presidentsbeginning with Washingtondid employ ruthless secret agents during times of war and peace to further American interests via covert means.
Certainly the evidence demonstrates that the OSS made valuable contributions to the successful invasions of North Africa, Normandy (especially Operation Sussex), and southern France. The OSSs Bern station chief, Allen Dulles, nego-tiated the surrender of German forces in northern Italy just before the end of the war. While these and other examples ODonnell provides support his contention that the "OSS shortened the war . . . and saved the lives of thousands of Allied combat soldiers," he exaggerates and misrepresents some of the OSSs achievements (e.g. the Special Liaison Units [SLUs] handling of ULTRA intelligence) and its role in defeating Nazi Germany.
While little of ODonnells "Unknown Story" is actually new to historians familiar with the OSS archival collections and the seminal works on the organization, his oral history-based, operations-focused, "agent-level" account largely succeeds in bringing to life the daring exploits and heroism of those "shadow warriors" who "played a key role in the Allied victory."
The talented German historian, Christof Mauchs recent contribution to OSS historiographybased on declassified OSS records and new interviews with OSS veteransconstitutes the most authoritative single volume on the subject. In his comprehensive, scholarly, and exhaustively-documented analysis of Americas first centralized intelligence agency, Mauch brilliantly integrates both the research/analytical as well as operational histories of the OSS.
One of Mauchs many convincing arguments correctly emphasizes how FDRs fear of a Nazi "fifth column" "played a central role in establishing the secret intelligence service in 1941." Hardly the law-abiding liberal icon of civil liberties, Roosevelt set up a secret intelligence service in the White House run by the journalist John Franklin Carter and employed Hitlers former foreign press secretary, Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl as one of his personal agents. Mauchs treatment of the ideological struggles within the OSS, Donovans recruitment of Communists, the Nazi Alpine redoubt hoax, and OSS contacts with elite anti-Nazi elements make for fascinating reading.
Contrary to ODonnell, Mauch gives much less credit to the OSS for defeating Hitler. While Operation Sunrise was a success and the overall efforts of the OSS shortened the war by several weeks, its contributions, he argued, "had hardly any impact on the outcome of the Second World War." In fact, much of the OSSs successes were derived from its non-lethal operational activities (e. g. the very productive Research and Analysis division and the Morale Operations Branch that exploited weaknesses in German society).
While ODonnells narrative over-emphasizes the OSSs contributions to the Allied victoryMauchs analysis to the contraryboth authors exaggerate Americas historical, "innate aversion to spying" and credit the OSS with laying the foundation for its successorthe CIAto employ the tactics of Americas totalitarian adversariesespecially during the Cold War. And while they correctly describe U. S. intelligence on the eve of World War II as grossly inadequate and unprepared, they demonstrate a lack of understanding as to why that was so. Overall, both of these excellent volumes contribute significantly to our understanding of the "shadow war" against Hitler and testify to the dramatic growth in intelligence studies during the past generation.