Operation ICEBERG: Transitioning into CIA: The Strategic Services Unit in Indonesia

Operation ICEBERG: Transitioning into CIA: The Strategic Services Unit in Indonesia

William J. Rust

The end of World War II in Europe and the Pacific in 1945 refocused the missions of virtually all US entities then posted abroad. Purely military units could begin the process of returning home, but US intelligence around the world, in particular Office of Strategic Services (OSS) units, entered a peculiarly ambiguous zone in which the fog of war gave way to a kind of fog of peace. OSS members suddenly found themselves unclear about their post-war futures: Would they go home or not? Did they have futures in intelligence? What work were they obliged to do while riding through the uncertainty? The an­swers were debated and gradually answered in Washington. OSS would be abolished and an interim organization housed in the War Department, the Strategic Services Unit (SSU), would hold some OSS operational equities and capabilities, and car­ry on the foreign intelligence and counterintelligence functions of the OSS. Eventually the centralization of civilian, national-level (strategic) intelligence that OSS chief William Donovan had wanted appeared with the creation of the Central Intelli­gence Agency (CIA) in 1947.

While most intelligence histories of this period focus on high-level institution-building, the following account looks in detail at the chal­lenges personnel, mostly of the OSS, faced in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), from the time of Japan’s surrender in August 1945 to the formal dissolution in October 1946 of the SSU, the organization into which most had been absorbed. The short-lived entity’s field stations in the colonial world—NEI, Vietnam, India, and Egypt, among others, took on the unfamiliar: POW repatriation; dealing with suspicious, sometimes hostile, colonial hosts; and connect­ing with and assessing and reporting on revolutionary leaders and their movements. In short, SSUs continued the business of intelligence in new environments, but in ways that very much looked like the work of intelli­gence in the field today.

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Posted: Mar 29, 2016 07:17 PM
Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016 07:17 PM