The Early OSS

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The Early OSS

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With the war going badly in Europe in 1941, President Roosevelt formed the Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) and named his longtime friend, William J. Donovan, answerable only to the President, as its first director on July 11, 1941. Less than a year later, the COI was transformed into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – an arm of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with collecting and analyzing strategic information and performing covert military operations.

Before the formation of the OSS, America’s military intelligence gathering had been conducted by several departments of the executive branch, including the State, Treasury, Navy, and War Departments. There was no centralized organization responsible for American intelligence gathering and very little cooperation between the existing US agencies.

With the aid of the British Intelligence Service, Donovan began developing the OSS, but until shortly after Pearl Harbor most of the OSS intelligence came directly from the United Kingdom. It is also probable that COI may not have survived to become the OSS without the British intelligence Donovan funneled to President Roosevelt. Mostly because the COI had not yet developed its own system for collecting foreign intelligence, thus almost all of the material it provided to the White House came from British sources: the British Intelligence Service, the Special Operations Executive, and the COI British Embassy liaison in London.

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