WHEN YOU HAVE written books about everybody else, you might as well write about yourself. That is H. Montgomery Hyde's situation. He has written at least a score of biographies, including one of his old chief, Sir William S. Stephenson, the near legendary "man called Intrepid," who ran British intelligence in the United States from 1940 to 1945. Hyde has also written about one of Stephenson's more romanticized agents, "Cynthia," who found sexual promiscuity a handy cover for stealing Italian and French ciphers in Washington. Now Hyde has written of his own wartime service with Stephenson in Bermuda, New York, and Latin America in Secret Intelligence Agent.
Not the most informative of Hyde's books, this thin, anecdotal volume contains two important offerings. One is a detailed revelation of the successful American reining in in March 1942 of the free-wheeling British intelligence service in this country.
Of course, the Englishman Hyde does not cast the event in quite those terms, but he is an able and honest, as well as prolific, writer, and his text requires only slight altering to bring it into line with that American perspective.
What he narrates is the confrontation in which top American officials, prodded by Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle, Jr. and the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover, told the British ambassador that President Roosevelt and his Cabinet were "unhappy" with such illegal British shenanigans ("activities" in Hyde's language) as tapping wires and shanghaiing sailors and that they wanted British activity in America restricted to liaison.
So it was agreed to limit the British to liaison, but, as Hyde candidly admits, British "covert activities continued as before, though more discreetly . . ."! Even so, for Berle and Hoover, who had long complained of Stephenson's organization, it was vindication. It was also a conscious enunciation, probably the first in American history, of a cardinal principle of any sensible national intelligence policy, namely, that no foreign intelligence service, however friendly and nobly motivated, will be allowed to operate illegally in this country.
The other important element of Hyde's memoir is the appendix, written not by the author but by Sir William himself, alive and alert in Bermuda. Acutally, it was dictated by him in about 1960. The substance of it--The British role in creating OSS--has already been embodied in Hyde's Stephenson biography, Room 3603, in William Stevenson's A Man Called Intrepid, and in this reviewer's Donovan and the CIA. Now it is published in its entirety for the first time. As such, it is an important contribution to intelligence history. More pertinently, it is helpful in demonstrating a fundamental factual error in the central thesis of The Shadow Warriors by Bradley F. Smith.
Smith, who teaches history at Cabrillo College in California, has produced a substantial, provocative, and readable contribution to the growing literature on OSS. His book is a coherent and comprehensive narrative of the American institutionalization of what he calls "shadow warfare," i.e. such irregular warfare as sabotage, guerrilla attacks, and secret intelligence. He has written, in particular, an organizational history of the rise, development, and activities of William J. ("Wild Bill") Donovan's Coordinator of Information (COI) and its successor, the Office of Strategic Services, and he relates their history to the establishment in 1947 of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Lest the reader think that "organizational history" implies dullness, let him be disabused. Smith writes well, forcefully, albeit too glibly at times. More importantly, he has spiced up his narrative with a provocative central thesis which sets him at odds, as he sees it, with all others who have written about OSS.
Smith maintains that "Donovan enthusiasts," among whom he fairly includes this reviewer, are simply wrong in holding "the view that the C.O.I.-O.S.S.-C.I.A. evolution can be understood best as the development of a clearly delineated Donovan plan that attained supreme fulfillment in the C.I.A. charter." In other words, what Congress established in 1947 was not what Donovan had in mind in 1941, says Smith.
He maintains instead that Donovan's COI was originally conceived as only "a propaganda and information coordinating agency," that OSS went through--thanks to Donovan's personality and wartime exigencies-- numerous functional twists and turns, and that OSS publicists, lamenting Truman's abolition of OSS in 1945 but glorying in exaggerated ideas of their accomplishments, exploited the post-war situation in order to set up CIA as a "shadow warfare" agency.
For one who dwells much on the orginal idea of COI, Smith has missed many indications of what Donovan had in mind, and he has done so because of undue concentration on the discreetly written June 10, 1941 "Memorandum of Establishment of Service of Strategic Information." He seems to assume that an activity not mentioned in that memorandum was not on Donovan's mind.
Hence he has missed the significance of Donovan's letter of April 26 to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on setting up an American intelligence agency to work abroad. Therein Donovan noted that intelligence broadly construed included interception of mail and cables, interception of radio communications, propaganda behind enemy lines, and "subversive operations in enemy countries."
Consequently, it is no surprise that Smith has missed the whole point of Stephenson's 1940-41 cultivation of Donovan in the successful effort to have COI established as a multi-faceted "shadow warfare" system which could serve as the American counterpart to his own British Security Coordination, which included representatives of a dozen secret organizations. Stephenson, as the Hyde appendix shows, had more in mind than propaganda and information coordination, and so did Donovan.
Smith has also missed the significance of Donovan's July 3 memorandum on the British commandos. Written shortly after the earlier memorandum and only days before Donovan was officially in business as COI, the memo reflected the knowledge he gained on his extensive travels under British intelligence auspices in 1940- 41. It also presaged his interest in paramilitary activity as a COI function.
Then, only five days after he became Coordinator of Information, Donovan discussed with Budget Bureau people his needs for a "secret division" which would engage in counter-espionage, sabotage, and related activities.
Coupling these plans with his June 10 memorandum's stress on radio propaganda and information coordination, one must conclude that Donovan had in mind a much more complex organization than was put down on paper and than Smith admits.
On the ending of OSS and the establishement of CIA, Smith rightly faults Donovan for failing, on behalf of OSS's postwar aspirations, to win friends and influence people in high places. However, he gives altogether too much credit to the OSS zealots, whom he pictures as the era's greatest promoters surpassed only by Donovan, the greatest promoter of them all, for the 1947 establishment of CIA. Indeed, he fails totally to study the long complicated process by which the U.S. military, once it had bested Donovan in the battles over his 1944 plan for a postwar central intelligence agency, substantially took over that plan, modified it, and then successfully pushed it with Truman and the Congress. The OSS zealots were but a chrous in the background.
Of course the CIA is not a carbon copy of COI, and the line of development from one to the other has not been razor sharp and undeviating--and Smith has done well in chronicling and assessiupng the wartime zigs and zags. Nevertheless, CIA as a civilian, central, independent, coordinating, evaluating, and operating agency corresponds nicely in conception with, and descends historically from, that independent civilian "central enemy intelligence organization" which Donovan proposed to FDR on June 10, 1941 and which within weeks of establishment was wrestling not only with propaganda and information coordination but also with secret intelligence, special operations, commandos, and counter- espionage--to list some of the items on Donovan's agenda.