Prior to World War II, the United States had no centralized intelligence collection, analysis and production structure. The State Department was involved in the overt and some minor ad hoc covert collection of intelligence. The FBI was active collecting information in Latin America in what were essentially criminal law enforcement activities. The military had its tactical military collection imperatives, and there was a small unit, the Signals Intelligence Service of the U.S. Army, collecting signals intelligence. All of these activities were minor, unconnected, and uncoordinated.
During the Second World War, the requirements for intelligence and intelligence-related activity rose sharply. This hot war on foreign soil brought with it U.S. support of anti-Nazi and anti-Japanese guerrilla operations in Europe and East Asia. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was formed in 1942 to deal with those realities and soon went into business full bore, conducting resistance operations, which were essentially covert action (CA) operations that were not assigned to other agencies.
Numerous guerrilla groups had sprung up spontaneously in occupied Europe, China, and French Indochina. In Europe, France, Holland, Belgium, and the occupied Scandinavian countries all had their movements. The British, who had long had their own intelligence organizations, were in touch with many of those resistance movements. They were also very much involved in getting the OSS off the ground and properly trained. Ultimately, OSS established contact with a number of resistance groups, and as the war progressed toward the Allied invasion of Europe, the OSS got more involved in coordinating and leading some of those groups in demolition operations and in harassing German occupation troops. The late CIA Director William Colby parachuted into both France and Norway to lead resistance activities against the Germans.
-That was the primary OSS activity--contacting, supporting, and leading these resistance groups by parachuting personnel into occupied Europe. In effect, the birth of OSS was a hot war reality that demanded extraordinary heroism from its personnel. It also signaled the onset of CA operations, including resistance operations, on behalf of the U.S. government. It was a really high-risk business that attracted heroic and adventurous people who did their jobs well.
OSS was disbanded at the end of the war in l945. The State Department took over the research and analysis function. To preserve OSS' clandestine intelligence capability, the War Department took over secret foreign intelligence (FI) and counter-espionage (CE) activities under the aegis of the newly formed Strategic Services Unit. This unit was then transferred to the Central Intelligence Group in 1946 and became the Office of Special Operations (OSO) when the CIA was created under the National Security Act of 1947. In 1948, the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was created to oversee all psychological and covert action (CA) operations. It was absorbed in 1952 into OSO. Thus, the hot war covert action capability of the OSS, most emphatically including many of its personnel, was preserved in the new CIA.
CIA was created at the beginning of the Cold War in response to the ongoing Soviet geographic expansion into Eastern Europe as well as Soviet attempts to expand into Western Europe. CIA's job was to stop Soviet expansion and, in the minds of the wishful...