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DCI Remarks at OSS Memorial Service

Remarks by the Director of Central Intelligence
George J. Tenet at the OSS Memorial Service

June 6, 2002

This evening, at this memorial wall, we gather to remember both the sacrifice and the success of the men and women of the Office of Strategic Services. For in the difficult undertakings of nations, sacrifice and success are closely linked, the first making possible the second.


True of war and true of espionage, it is clearly true of wartime espionage, the mission shouldered with such courage and skill by OSS. And so, as we recall those who gave so fully of themselves, we recall as well the reasons behind their sacrifice and the results it brought to the world.

We could meet at no better time. One week from today, we will mark the 60th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s order establishing OSS. And this day, the sixth of June, is itself a date of inspiration for free peoples everywhere.

Fifty-eight years ago, under several flags and a shared commitment to liberty, the allies came ashore at Normandy. In the air, they had shown the enemy’s “Fortress Europe” to be a fortress without a roof. And now, by land and sea, they would show that its walls could be breached and broken as well.

Massive in scale, operations like these were no less massive in their human cost. Decisive in effect, they carried a decisive message for humanity—one that holds true today, in a new century and a new conflict. For long ago, the soldiers of freedom proved, as no words ever can, that seemingly ordinary men and women will do the extraordinary to defend what they hold dear.

They will work and create. Suffer and die. Fight and endure.

From that defining fact of life rose the response of the many to the tyranny of the few. And within that response among the millions of Americans mobilized for global war, there rose the OSS.

For the United States, faced with a new and deadly challenge, OSS proved to be a new and important tool. And it was in large part the vision of a single man, in whose shadow we stand today, and every day.

Like the agency he led, William Donovan was both soldier and scholar. In him were the qualities that would distinguish OSS as a whole—curiosity, energy, and bravery. By force of will and power of persuasion, he built the intelligence service that his country had never had, yet desperately needed.

One that drew on a vast array of sources, from the freely available to the clandestinely acquired. One that combined the core functions of collection and analysis. One with the capacity both to report on conditions in hostile territory and, at times, to change those conditions through military means.

Revolutionary in its day, it is the blueprint that has guided American intelligence ever since. Creating an organization like that from scratch would be at any time a daunting assignment. Donovan did it in time of war, against determined enemies who had years to prepare their defenses.

The first battles were, as usual, fought in downtown Washington – imagine that. The opposition—cautious, jealous, or both—was deeply entrenched.

With patience and persistence, Donovan and his team moved ahead, handling everything from squabbles over turf to the very brilliant suggestion that intelligence officers carry government passports identifying them as OSS – imagine that.

Though indebted to the British for initial training and tradecraft, OSS was proudly and uniquely American. To amass the tremendous range of knowledge and skills it required, Donovan tapped our most powerful national resource: the experience and creativity of the most diverse population on earth.

From every corner of the United States came the raw material of victory. The bankers and brokers. The academics, athletes, and artists. The lawyers and laborers. The students, soldiers, and scientists. The immigrants and their children.

So very different from each other on the surface, the men and women of OSS shared something far deeper and far greater—the ability and the will to give something back to the country that had given so much to all of them.

With the talent flowing, Donovan was determined to make the most of it. To help win the war, he sought the unorthodox and welcomed the unconventional. As one OSS veteran put it: “No scheme was too wild to be considered.”

As Director of OSS, Donovan excelled not as an organizer or administrator—he was neither—but as an authorizer and a leader. Someone who brought out the best in others, and instilled in them a spirit of risk, daring, and purpose.

What he prized in his people was the capacity to get things done, precedent and bureaucracy aside. One story—one of the many we could tell together—makes the point exceptionally well.

OSS recruits were given a set period to assemble something that looked like a big tinker toy. They were also given a helper or two, but—unbeknownst to the victim—the assistants were actually there to sabotage the project. The goal was to see how well you worked under stress.

No one had much luck until—as the story goes—a huge Texan turned up. After watching his helpers undo what he had done, he landed a few well-aimed punches and, alone among the conscious, finished putting together his tinker toy, in peace and on time.

I cannot hope here today to capture the full contributions of OSS, let alone the individual acts of strength and valor that are such a rich and moving part of its legacy. But even the briefest, most incomplete review is enough to show OSS as it was: a remarkable organization of clarity and conviction, of resolve and results.

  • In Europe and Asia, OSS units reached out to resistance movements, providing them equipment, leadership, and the vital reassurance that in their fight against oppression, they were neither forgotten nor alone.
  • From sources of every description, OSS analysts created products of every description: from maps and guidebooks for the invasions of North Africa, Italy, and France to estimates of German and Japanese industrial production, casualties, and strategic intentions.
  • OSS officers ran agents in neutral countries, occupied Europe, and Germany itself, giving the United States unique windows into enemy strengths and weaknesses.
  • And OSS engineers, artists, and scientists devised and delivered the essential tools of espionage—the weapons, documents, clothing, and disguises that often meant the difference between success and failure, life or death.

Donovan understood what made OSS effective in helping shorten a terrible war—in confounding and harassing the enemy, and in giving our fighting forces a key advantage in the critical field of information. In his final address to the men and women of OSS, he said and I quote:

“This could not have been done if you had not been willing to fuse yourselves into a team—a team that was made up not only of scholars and research experts of the active units in operations and intelligence who engaged the enemy in direct encounter, but also of the great numbers of our organization who drove our motor vehicles, carried our mail, kept our records and documents and performed those other innumerable duties of administrative services without which no organization can succeed….”

In those words, spoken at the end of what General Donovan called the “unusual experiment” of OSS, you find his greatest gift to CIA. It is not only that we conduct many of the missions pioneered by OSS. It is that we share in the spirit created by OSS.

The spirit of boldness, action, and teamwork.

Like OSS, we need Americans of many backgrounds and skills, each imbued with a spirit of cohesion and dedication. Like OSS, we must sustain a spirit of innovation, urgency, and pride.

Enriched for years by the service of OSS giants like Allen Dulles, Dick Helms – who is with us today – Bill Colby and Bill Casey, and their colleagues—CIA is enriched forever by their wisdom, gallantry, and example.

To those of OSS here today, I say that the men and women of American intelligence—indeed every American—owes you and those who worked with you an immense, unpayable debt.

From that modest collection of buildings in Foggy Bottom—bounded by a skating rink, a gas works, and a brewery—from stations of duty around the globe, you showed us not only what intelligence was, but what it could do in service to freedom.

With the war machines of our enemies at their peak, with vast stretches of the world plunged into darkness of dictatorship, William Donovan talked prophetically of “a moral force that, in the long run, is stronger than any machine.”

It was the force of liberty. The force that defeated fascism and communism. The force that will overcome the menace of terror and other wounds and challenges to human dignity and opportunity.

For the second time in our lives, you have witnessed an attack on American soil. We have, I am proud to say, replied to the outrage of September 11th as you did to the outrage of December 7th. With complete focus and with total determination.

As one member of Donovan’s staff recalled on hearing the news of Pearl Harbor: “None of us needed to be told that thenceforth all efforts on our part would have to be redoubled.”

What was true then is true now. It is your path that we follow, and it is your result—victory—that we must achieve.

Here, in this agency devoted to the enduring values that you embraced in your youth and serve to this day, we together pay tribute to America’s OSS.

We do so in your home. The place where your contributions live. In the artifacts, exhibits, and memories that teach, inspire, and—most of all—in the hearts of those who continue the work that you began.

As long as a single American stands fast in the face of oppression or applies the tools of intelligence in the cause of justice, OSS will be right there. We will never, ever forget you.

Thank you, and may God bless you and your families.

Historical Document
Posted: Apr 03, 2007 08:59 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:33 AM