Donovan's Original Marching Orders

Coordinator of Information (COI), 1942, establishment of,
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and fall of 1941, wanted answered definitely. That was, in effect, the question, as will be seen-that prompted the Director of the Bureau of the Budget twice in the first seven months of Donovan's official existence to recommend to the President that COI's area of activity be newly defined. That question, indeed, also caused Donovan himself, three months after taking office, to tell the President that their original decision to put nothing in writing was wrong. That question, in fact, has never really been answered; and it is the purpose of this inquiry to make an attempt to do so.
The answer will be sought in reconstructing three episodes in roughly the first six months of COI's history: (1) Donovan's meeting with the President on 18 June 1941 when FDR gave the go-ahead sign on COI; (2) the drafting of the order which made COI official on 11 July; and (3) the next few months when that order was implemented.
The Roosevelt-Donovan Meeting, 18 June 1941
Contrary to a common misconception, Bill Donovan was not a close friend of the President. They had been at Columbia Law School at the same time but had not known one another. They were from opposite sides of the State of New York: Donovan from Buffalo, and FDR from the Hudson River Valley. They were also from opposite sides of the socio-economic tracks; Donovan was an Irish Catholic, the grandson of immigrants, the son of a railroad yards superintendent, while FDR, the squire of Hyde Park, was a WASP before the acronym was common coin. Also, and more importantly perhaps, they were from opposite sides of the political fence; Donovan was as much a life-long Republican as FDR was Mr. Democrat. Their paths had only occasionally crossed as when, for example, Donovan unsuccessfully ran for the governorship of New York when Roosevelt was elected President in 1932. It was not, then, until 1940 that Donovan, in his fifty-seventh year, and FDR, one year older, were brought together on the same side of the tracks.
What accomplished this was Adolf Hitler and the European War he launched in September 1939. There is no need here to do more than state the common revulsion and alarm felt by both men at the prospect of Nazi hegemony in Europe and abroad. Donovan, probably because he was a private citizen, was way out ahead of the President, however, in urging all-out aid to Britain as an essential element in the defense of the Western Hemisphere. Because of this attitude, because of his prominence in Republican and national affairs, because of his recent travels in Germany, Ethiopia, and Spain, and probably on the recommendation of his good friend, the new Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, Colonel Donovan was sent by President Roosevelt to England in the summer of 1940 to report on Britain's chances against the expected Nazi assault. Six months later the President again sent him abroad, this time on a three-months tour of Britain, the Balkans, the Middle East, Spain, and Ireland.3
After both trips, Donovan, the President's representative who talked day after day with heads of state and their chief advisors, reported to the President at least on 9 August 1940 and 19 March 1941. There are no good records of these conversations, but it is safe to say that Donovan, whose mind ranged over
3 See this writer's "COI and British Intelligence: An Essay on Origins," (CIA, 1970), esp. Chs. II and III. Hereafter referred to as "COL"

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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:38 AM
Last Updated: Aug 05, 2011 02:30 PM