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Moving Up to the Big Leagues, 1946

On July 11,1946 the new Central Intelligence Group formally created its first operational unit, the Office of Special Operations. Formed from the remnants of William Donovan's wartime Office of Strategic Services — the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency — OSO marked a bold departure from the human intelligence strategy previously practiced by the United States. Simply put, OSO was designed to be a national asset, running liaison relationships and collecting intelligence on behalf of the nation's highest decisionmakers. The capability would one day become a key part of the Clandestine Service of the Central Intelligence Agency.


Salvage and Liquidation

In 1945 the Truman administration dismantled the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), sending most of its elements to the War Department for "salvage and liquidation." The War Department named two of these elements the "Strategic Services Unit" (SSU) and kept them busy running the former OSS missions in London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Cairo, Chungking, Calcutta, New Delhi, and Rangoon, as well as various smaller posts.

Early the next year, Administration officials decided to give the stations, personnel, and assets preserved in SSU to the newly created Central Intelligence Group (CIG) to form the nucleus of a permanent foreign intelligence capability.


SSU Finds a New Home

Sidney Souers — the first Director of Central Intelligence — was responsible for carrying out the integration of SSU into CIG. Souers appointed a team to meet with SSU's chief, Brig. Gen. John Magruder, whose aides admitted that the old OSS had been hastily constructed and had allowed its energies to be divided across a variety of tasks.

The fragility of human source intelligence — its rarity and potentially great value — suggested to Magruder and his lieutenants that espionage should be tightly controlled and used only for the most important requirements. A new human intelligence organization would have to be highly proficient and report first and foremost to Washington, rather than to locally based diplomats and commanders.


The Creation of OSO

The Truman Administration soon authorized Souers to arrange something like what Magruder had envisioned. In July 1946, CIG created a new entity called the Office of Special Operations (OSO). It was intended to become the new clandestine foreign intelligence service. Key personnel in SSU were given joint appointments in OSO, allowing them to work for both organizations simultaneously.

OSO screened all SSU employees and offered positions to the best of them; the rest were demobilized by SSU. In October 1946, OSO effectively rehired the remaining personnel of SSU. Six months later OSO took over SSU's last headquarters elements in Washington and SSU ceased to exist.

Not long afterward, one OSO officer recorded his feelings about the progress that the Office was making:

"Without question," he noted, "we are preparing to enter the big leagues in the intelligence business....Professionalism in the American intelligence service is a sine qua non if we are to be accepted on anything approaching an equal basis by other professional services with longer histories."

The high goals of the early OSO were perhaps too ambitious for the brand new CIG (which became the Central Intelligence Agency in September 1947), but considering that the United States had begun practicing the discipline of human intelligence by modern methods only after Pearl Harbor, it is impressive that CIA had a worldwide espionage capability at all by 1950.


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Posted: Jul 08, 2010 01:54 PM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:38 PM