Office of Strategic Services
Definition/Scope: The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency and was the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Prior to the formation of the OSS (the counterpart of the British Secret Intelligence Service and Special Operations Executive), 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 (Signals 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, MI-8, run by Herbert Yardley, had been shut down in 1929 by Secretary of State Henry Stimson, deeming it an inappropriate function for the diplomatic arm, because "gentlemen don't read each other's mail". President Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned about American intelligence deficiencies. On the suggestion of Canadian spymaster William Stephenson, the senior representative of British intelligence in the western hemisphere, Roosevelt requested William J. Donovan, a World War I veteran, Medal of Honor recipient, New York lawyer, and former Republican candidate for Governor of New York, to draft a plan for an intelligence service. Donovan was employed to evaluate the global military position in order to offer suggestions concerning American intelligence requirements because the US did not have a central intelligence agency. After submitting his work, "Memorandum of Establishment of Service of Strategic Information," Gen. Donovan was appointed as the "Co-ordinator of Information" in July, 1941. The Office of Strategic Services was established by a presidential military order issued by Roosevelt on June 13, 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 guarded their areas of responsibility.
Narrower Terms:US Army Special Forces Command (Airborne)
Related Terms:Bureau of Intelligence and Research