OSS 75th Anniversary: Why You Should Care

OSS 75th Anniversary

Director Pompeo Delivers Remarks at OSS 75th Anniversary Ceremony

Remarks by CIA Director Mike Pompeo at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) 75th Anniversary Ceremony

June 16, 2017


On the night of 13 August, 1944, a three-man team of highly trained Allied commandos known as “Jedburghs” parachuted into the French countryside southeast of Paris. The group, codenamed Team Bruce, soon realized that they had been dropped far from where the Resistance had been waiting for them, but getting a bearing on their position proved difficult.

Heavy thunderstorms set in shortly after they landed, and the fields were a muddy morass. It was so impenetrably dark that the men tied their pistol lanyards together so they wouldn’t get separated and lost.

After hours of slogging along a compass course and not making much headway, a lightning flash revealed a lone farmhouse. They took a chance by knocking at the door, and it paid off—they’d stumbled into a radio post for the French Resistance. London was notified of their position, and the next day they were driven the remaining fifteen miles to their intended drop zone.

The team linked up with the Resistance and began to channel weapons and ammunition to their networks by arranging airdrops. They’d know when to expect them by listening for the coded messages that followed the “Victory” theme from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which played on the nightly BBC news broadcast to France.

With arms pouring in and the Allies advancing from their Normandy beachheads, the uprising that Team Bruce sought to kindle was well underway. The Jedburgh slogan—“Surprise, Kill, Vanish”—was put to action as the team and their French partners ambushed patrols, attacked convoys, blew up supply depots, and then vanished.

As General Patton’s Third Army quickly advanced just to their north toward Germany, Team Bruce recognized that his right flank was open to counterattacks. The Jedburghs took on the job of protecting it by directing Resistance forces to occupy towns along its path, blowing up bridges, and doubling harassment of German units in the area.

By the second week of September, 1944, Team Bruce’s section of France was completely liberated. They went to Paris for a gathering of the surviving Jedburghs, and the team’s American officer met up with an old college friend who also had signed up with the OSS. His friend had “liberated” the black Cadillac owned by the head of the Vichy government.

Team Bruce’s American officer was Captain William Colby of the Office of Strategic Services, who would become the eighth Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Despite his successful mission in France, the war was far from over for Captain Colby. He would go on to volunteer for a treacherous assignment in Nazi-occupied Norway—one that nearly got him killed just as the war in Europe was ending.

This week, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the OSS, we not only commemorate the founding of America’s first intelligence agency and its successors at the State Department, DoD-Special Operations, and CIA. We pay tribute to an exceptionally talented, courageous, and resourceful group of Americans who rose to the challenge of the greatest conflict in history.

OSS officers like William Colby took on the toughest, most dangerous assignments, and carried them out with a rarefied level of excellence, valor, and skill. And just as we at CIA and our brothers and sisters in the Special Operations Community have inherited the missions and attributes of the OSS, the OSS in turn took on the traits of its founder—the soldier, statesman, and Medal of Honor recipient General William “Wild Bill” Donovan.

Fearless, smart, creative, determined, and decisive, General Donovan knew exactly what he wanted in every OSS recruit. As he once said, “This is no place for a guy bound by the law of averages.”

The General cast his net wide across the great American talent pool. In the words of his biographer, the OSS recruited safecrackers, college boys, steel-mill workers, economists, the heirs of old-line American families, and recent immigrants from Europe. As General Donovan said, “Every man or woman who can hurt the Hun is okay with me.”

They included officers like:

Frederick Mayer, a German Jew who fled to the United States before the war and was recruited as a Special Intelligence Branch spy. Masquerading as a German officer in Austria, he obtained construction details of command bunkers beneath Berlin and provided targeting information on military supplies flowing through the Brenner Pass. Caught by the Gestapo and tortured, he never talked, and was awarded the Legion of Merit by Allen Dulles.

Frederick was well-known to many here today, and he passed away last year at 94. His motto, reflecting the essence of the OSS, and what I hope still applies at CIA, was “If you don’t risk, you don’t win.”

Dr. Archie Chun-Ming, a medical doctor and demolition specialist who, when asked if he wanted to join the legendary Detachment 101 in Burma, answered “Heavens no—what happened to the other 100 detachments?” He did go to Burma, of course, and contributed mightily to OSS operations there, which inflicted heavy losses on Japanese forces in the region.

Dr. Ralph Bunche, the brilliant African-American diplomat, civil rights leader, and Nobel Prize winner, served as the top Africa specialist for the OSS. He foresaw the end of colonial power on the continent and the wave of nationalism that would dominate African politics for decades.

And Virginia Hall, a former State Department officer who, despite losing a leg in a hunting accident, volunteered for wartime service with the British Special Operations Executive and then the OSS. Operating deep behind enemy lines in France, Virginia was the only female civilian to receive the Distinguished Service Cross during the war, and she would become one of the first women to serve as an operations officer at CIA.

The stunning achievements of the men and women of the OSS, from the mountains of Norway to the jungles of Burma, set the standards for our CIA officers who are taking on the national security challenges of the 21st century—and who are writing some history of their own on the counterterrorism battlefields of the Middle East and South Asia and all across the world.

The CIA and Special Ops officers of today confront a very different world than that of our OSS predecessors, but Pearl Harbor and 9/11 made kindred spirits of us all. The patriots of 1941 and 2001 were summoned by the same clarion call, and responded with the same gallantry, resolve, and sacrifice.

Only 15 days after the September 11th attacks, CIA teams were the first Americans on Afghan soil. Like the Jedburghs before them, they made common cause with local forces and took the fight directly to the enemy.

The targets have changed over the years, but that expeditionary campaign continues, wherever our mission leads us. And General Donovan’s playbook remains very much in effect.

We aggressively steal our adversaries’ secrets. We rely on our agility and light footprint to operate in hard and dangerous places, regardless of whether a Station or Base is present. We apply the most advanced technology to our mission. And we rigorously produce the most accurate, timely, and insightful intelligence for our President.

Last month, we added eight stars to our Memorial Wall, which stands in our Headquarters lobby directly across from a statue of General Donovan. There are now 125 stars under his watch, representing CIA officers who lost their lives in the line of duty.

Having served in two World Wars—and having lost so many close friends in both conflicts—General Donovan saw more than his share of tragedy during his lifetime. In drawing up plans for a central intelligence agency, he envisioned a service that would help prevent another world war, and that would contribute directly to the security of our citizens.

At CIA, we are all under General Donovan’s watch. We seek to do justice to his vision every day. We will always endeavor to live up to the magnificent example he set, and to be worthy successors to the men and women of OSS that he so ably led.

Thank you all very much. God speed.

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