be in knoxville tennessee. ..for another day. so thank you very, very much for coming. my name is marie arana, i am a writer-at-large for "the washington post". i was the books editor for many, many years, and i am now a very happy member of the board of directors of this festival. and "the washington post" is very, very proud to be a charter sponsor of the festival for so many years. .. >> as far as i'm concerned, the thinking persons amusement park, whether you're 4 or 24 or 54 or 104, there's something for you here at the book festival.
first, in our lineup of great authors today is douglas waller, a veteran magazine cor spot and the author of numerous books about the american military as well as american intelligence operations. in almost two decades as a washington journalist, doug has covered the pentagon, congress, the state department, the white house, and the cia. from 1994 to 2007, he served in "time" magazine's washington bureau first as a correspondent, then as a senior correspondent. he's also served as diplomatic correspondent traveling throughout europe, asia, and the middle east as well as the persian gulf in pursuit of stories. he has carry the out extensive coverage of the middle east peace negotiations and the wars in iraq. before coming to "time"
magazine, he was a correspondent for "newsweek" reporting on the gulf war. he was born in norfolk, virginia, studied at wake forest university, and did graduate work in urban affair at the university at north carolina at char lot. before joining news week, hefuls a legislative assistant on the staffs of senator william proxmyer and representative. he's now a defense analyst for bloomberg government. among the many, many books, a number of them best sellers are "the commandos" "air warriors mpt the inside story of the making of a navy pilot." "big red: the voyage of a nuclear submarine."
his new book is a biography of an outsized american character, general william wild bill don von, founder and directer of the office of strategic services, the precursor of the modern cia. in this superb biography, at once a cliff hanger and a work of deep scholarship, doug wallers tells the story of a man who built a far flong intelligence organization out of absolutely nothing in one of the middle of the most brutal wars of our time. an ambitious young lawyer with political aspirations, william donovan had written to president frankly d. roosevelt in 1942 saying what the country really needed as it hunkered down for war was a good spy operation. roosevelt, debt -- desperate for information, gave him the task. donovan was fearless, wreckless,
always itching to be the center of attention, and the story told is full of action on the ground and in the corridors as power. as david weiss, who wrote extensively about the cia, wrote in the "washington post," william b. don von is the first carefully researched biography of the legendary world war ii spy master. for anyone interested in the history of american intelligence, it is required reading. ladies and gentlemen, please welcome a terrific writer and journalist, douglas waller. [applause] i'm sorry, before i bring him on -- doug, welcome. sorry, before i give him the microphone, we expect you to ask questions after he speaks, but i must warn you that your image,
if you come to the microphone, which we hope you do, will be filmed and buried in the tombs of the library of congress forever, so be careful. [laughter] >> thanks, marie. it's great to be here. actually, we're actually sitting in a very appropriate spot for this discussion because just a few blocks from here is where his spy agency was headquartered up on navy hill next to the state department. his staff called it the kremlin, his headquarters. it was an abandoned public health service building. in fact, they have been doing syphilis research there. when donovan's men moved in, there were still animals in cages in the top floor not carted out. hitler's propaganda minister had
a lot of fun with that little morsel sending out propaganda broadcast that his new home was for 50 professors, 12 goats, and a sheep, which was not far from the truth. wild bill donovan is three stories in one. it's a compelling biography of a heroic figure with tragedy in his life. it's also a spy story, an exciting spy story about world world war ii, and it's a story about political intrigue at the highest levels of washington, the part that really intrigued me the most because i'm a journalist. i said in some talk i would have loved to be a reporter covering wild bill donovan in the 40s, and i probably would have. donovan liked reporters and liked leaking to the press. he had reporters on his staff as propagandas and spy, and before heading up the oss, office of
strategic services, he went out overseas on missions for the government or for his own private industry posing as a cor spot and filing to different news agencies. he was not a particularly tall man, five-foot-nine. one of his agents thought when he ran the oss, he looked penguin-shaped. she told him that, and he didn't appreciate it. another said he looked like a kuppy doll. i don't know what that looks like, but that's what he looked like. he slept five hours a night, would speed read three books a week, an excellent ballroom dancer, and loved to sing irish songs, and he would learn the latest musical tunes. he didn't smoke, rarely drank, enjoyed fine dining which added
to the weight. he spent lavishly. he had no con cement for -- concept for a dollar. an aid would be with him with quarters and dollar bills because he was a moocher. he was witty, but never told a dirty joke or laughed out loud and never showed anger. he was rakishly handsome. he had bright blue eyes women found captivating. his life, however, had a lot of tragedy in it. his daughter died in college in an automobile accident. his other daughter died from a drug overdose, and one of his grandchildren died when she swallowed finger polish. i gave a book talk in buffalo during this and discovered all this time i had been saying
donovan's name wrong. i mean, if you are from buffalo's first word you pronounce it donovan, not how i was saying it. he thought he was a priest, and every family assumed that one of the sons would be a priest. donovan realized he was not cut out for that, and so he went to columbia university, a star quarterback his senior year until a cheap tackle from a princeton lineman hobbled him the rest of the season. he attended law school after columbia. frankly roosevelt was a law student with him. in fact, roosevelt like to say they were old pals in law school, and donovan said that was a bunch of bull. roosevelt had nothing to do with someone as low a social straight as donovanfuls. he returned to buffalo, set up a very lucrative law practice marrying one of the wealthiest
women in buffalo, and then world war i comes. he goes off to war, commands the battalion in the famous 69th italian regimen, a famous new york regimen. he was awarded the congressional medal of honor for heroic actions. his priest in the 69th regimen, father francis duffy said don von was one of the few men he met who enjoyed combat. he did. he wrote to his wife, ruth, that going out on combat was like trick or treating at night. that in world war i is where he earned the nickname "wild bill," and he was a brutal trainer of his men because they realized in this war they would be going into a meat grinder, which they were. before action in france, he had them one day running over hills and under barbed wire and whatever, and finally they
collapsed in front of him. he said, what the heck's the matter with you? i'm 35 years old carrying what you are. i'm not out of breath. from somewhere in the back, a soldier shouted out, he never figured out who it was, but we're not as wild as you are bill, okay? from that day on, wild bill donovan stuck. he claimed he didn't like that nickname because it ran counter to the cool, calm, collective spy image he wanted to project, but his wife, ruth, said he really liked being called wild bill. he returned to new york a hero, eventually became an assistant attorney general in the coolidge administration in the roaring 20s. his goal was to be attorney general of the united states, and he thought herbert hoover who succeeded coo coolidge made that promise to him, which he had, but the ku klux klan, a
political movement then, was up in arms about a catholic being attorney general. there was a share of enemies in washington, and democrats vowed to block his nomination. hoover backed out on the promise, and thl -- until he died, he never forgave him for backing out. he set up a prominent law firm in new york city, made millions as a wall street lawyer. in 1932, he ran for governor of new york on the republican ticket. his goal then was to be the nation's first irish-catholic president, and new york was the ideal steppingstone for achieving that. franklin roosevelt, 1932 was running for his first term as president. donovan ended up running as much against roosevelt as he did lieutenant governor herbert
leiman, the lieu tend governor running for governor. he said nasty things about roosevelt on the trail. he accused him of being "crafty," and back then, that's fighting words, mild today, but another time he accused him of being a "hyde park faker" because he claimed he was a simple farmer from hyde park, and donovan said that was not true. roosevelt took shots at donovan, had surrogates do it. in fact, elenor was on the trail criticizing him during the election. donovan lost that election. turned out he was a horrible campaigner. if he was here talking to you in a small group, he could turn on that io riesh charm and have you wrapped into what he was saying before a large group, though, he was a wooden stick figure, just terrible as a campaigner. in fact, his lieutenant
governor, a gay named davidson thought he should be lieutenant governor because he was lousy on the stump. the reason i mention this stuff in the background is because it's amazing that roosevelt made donovan his top spy master in the administration considering all the nasty things these two guys said about each other in new york, but fast forward to 1940-41, roosevelt's building the country up, building the defenses up, preparing the nation for war. donovan, a conservative republican, thought the new deal was a communist plot to take over america. nemples, he was a member of the internationalist wing of the republican party. he, too, believed that the nation needed to build itself up for war and the country needed to prepare for this down the road. in the summer of 1940, roosevelt sends donovan on an informal
diplomatic mission to england to answer really just one question, can britain survive the war? donovan's given access to the highest levels of the british government to naval intelligence, military intelligence over there, mi-5, mi-6 and other war agencies. he comes back with bags full the classified documents from great britain, and with an answer to the question that, yes, britain could survive the war, but it would need a considerable amount of u.s. aid to do so. that came eventually in the form of lend-lease. roosevelt sends him on a second trip. at the end of 1940 lasting to the beginning of 1941 going not only to england, but the ball cans, middle east, and western europe. his mission was to not just collect intelligence about those regions, but also to deliver a private message from roosevelt to the bulcan and middle east
leaders. if you are decideing which side to be on which a lot were at this point, keep in mind the allies are the winning side. churchill was delighted with this mission. churchill supplied him a british plane to fly him around the religion and had escorts with him to open doors for him and watch what he was doing and report back to london. one of the escorts was ian fleming, the nosmist who wrote the james bonds novels? the state department was not pleased with this mission. there's an american citizen with no standing in the american government or the british government strong arming bulcan leaders behind closed doors. the state department investigated whether donovan should be prosecuted for
violating the logan act which is illegal for a citizen to negotiate on behalf of the u.s. government. they were happy to have donovan out there freelancing because in 1940, going into 1941, roosevelt has no foreign intelligence service in his government to speak of. you have the army and the navy with small units, but nay were dumping grounds for poor performing officers. roosevelt's making major foreign policy decisions overseas whether how much and how to get lend lease aid to great britain, how to circumvent those controls, he's running for an unprecedented third term, worried he'll lose the election, 5e7b he's making -- and he's making decisions overseas largely blind of what lays ahead of him. sometimes it worried him so much, he became physically ill. when he came back from the
missions, that's what the spy story begins. in july 1941, before pearl harbor, roosevelt signs an executive order assigning donovan the coordinator of operations. in the beginning it was the coordinator of information, just a one-page document vaguely written, saying he'll collect information of national importance for me and do other unspecified things. in fact, the document was so vague that the other cabinet members in roosevelt's administration began scratching their heads saying what in the world is he up to appointing this republican wall street lawyer to do all of these unusual covert things in his administration? donovan liked to say that he began his spy agency, the oss, really from minus 0, which was really the case. he was one guy, and that's just
wild bill donovan. in the beginning, he was like a player and pick up basketball game looking for agenting and operations anywhere he could find it. for example, the phillips land company, they made and sold -- they could be in business today for all i know, but donovan arranged privately with the philip lamp's company to report back to him, particularly an ax us occupied companies what they saw and heard. the kodak camera company, back then, they had thousands of camera clubs around the united states. donovan arranged for the camera clubs to send him the photos that tourists took of militarily important sites around the world. another project he hatched was projects to guard. pan-am airways, and there's a
new show on tv about it now, but back then project cigar, donovan arranged privately that the ticket agents for pan-am in africa reported to him on nazis flying. he cooked up wild schemes open to any crazy idea or willing to consider it. his code number, which you see on the secret oss documents was always 109, just happened to be the room number of his office in the kremlin. he has secretaries had another code name for them calling him sea biscuit because like the racehorse, he was running around all the time, a constant blur. he kept $2,000 in the desk drawer at all times to pay for sources or information when we went prowling around washington. you're not going to find that
today. he a research and development chief, a guy named stanley level who invented all the spy gadgets for him. he was called the professor after the sherlock holmes character. he made things like the miniature cameras that spies use, pistols with silencers, pencil-like devices used as explosives. donovan was very, very interested for example in truth drugs, fascinated by the use of truth drugs in interrogation. stanley level had one of his officers test out the truth drug on a new york mobster, a guy named little oggy, okay? this was a new york city cop working for the oss. he had little oggy up to the apartment for smokes and a chat, and he's puffing away on the
cigarette laced in the truth drugs, and he gets a silly grin on his face, starts telling the officer about all the mob hits he's carried out, working for lucky and all the congressmen. the secrets were safe because if he brought him to court, it would expose the truth drugs they were testing. another time there was a button at roosevelt's desk that could be pushed to be in instant communication with every radio in america to warn people in los angeles that the japanese are attacking or people in new york that the germans were attacking on that side. roosevelt ignored the idea, but he was open to every one of donovan's ideas. he actually was a spy buff himself liking intrigue, the whole idea of espionage. prex, one time -- for example, one time donovan's man, stanley level, tested the
idea of fitting bats, you know, the bats that fly in the eves of houses, tie insinned yarr devices around the bats with the idea to fly over japan, drop the bats out, the bats would fly into the paper and wood houses and set the devices off, and it would burn down japanese cities, okay? i'm not making this up. this really happened. terrific idea. elenor roosevelt heard about it who passed it on to frankly who thought it was cool, gave it to donovan, and stanley checked it out. they got a plane, loaded it up with bats with the devices tied around them, flew over somewhere in middle of the desert area, dropped out the bats, and the bats all sank like stones. the idea did not work, but
donovan was willing to try it and other things. one other scheme that he 4 was -- he had was that stanley level had concocted female hormones, okay? if they could find hitlers vegetables, they would inject the hormones into the vegetables to make the mustache fall out and give him a subtle voice. eventually, he build the spy organization into 10,000 operatives, agents, commandos, research analysts, support personnel, scattered in stations all over the world. again, a remarkable achievement considering he started out with one guy, which was wild bill donovan. they mounted oaring'ses in north after -- operations in north africa in november 1942, had extensive operations in italy. they aided the guerrillas with
wide operations there. in asia they were limited to beer ma and china. mcarthur, commander of the southwest pacific theater. ed nothing to do with that theater. admiral chester, commander of the northern pacific forces also didn't think much of donovan and would not let him in there. the most extensive operation came in france, northern france and southern france. they mowbted -- they had a good bit of research into targets in france and germany, the air force appreciated it, and they ill filtrated -- infiltrated in command does during that operation. donovan liked to go in on landings, the beach landings. he went in on the landings in sicily and italy, and it started to worry his staff because they
thought a spy chief, an intelligence chief with the secrets in his head, the last place he should be is in the front where he could be a valuable target or captured. george marshall, the chief of staff of the army, thought donovan was banned from the normandy landing as did eisenhower. they thought they had him prohibited. donovan talked his way aboard a heavy cruiser and landed the second day of the utah beach landing. had a great time. he was on the beach on a jeep, german plane flies over, strikes the beach, he dives into the sand, marchs inland five miles with an aid, pinned down by a german machine gun there, reaches into the pocket of his field jacket to look for a suicide pill because all oss officers carried one, including donovan. realized he had left it at the hotel in london, and he was all worried, had an aid radio back
to the hotel fearing a maid would mistake it for an aspirin. it took two years for donovan to build up his spy organizations. it may seem like a long time during the war, but it took the u.s. army to build up its force to become a credible force in the war, but eventually, it was very, very proficient turning in a lot of good intelligence. like all intelligence agencies, it did suffer from its failures, too. one of the most striking failures was the vessel case. donovan thought he had a silver bullet agent planted inside the vatican, the code name was vessel, who was supplying him with transcripts of private conversations that pias, pope pias, was having with foreign leaders, japanese envoys and his own envoys on peace initiatives, particularly in asia. turned out, vessel was an
italian photographer with a vivid imagination for writing dialogue snooking the staff. this is a story of political intrigue. donovan liked to say that his enemies in washington were as pheers as hitler was in europe, and that was really the case. he had ferocious fights with hoover. hoover thought donovan's organization was the biggest collection of amateurs he'd ever seen, and actually in the beginning, it was a collection of amateurs. hoover had his fbi spy on donovan, collected a lot of information on him. they spied on oss officers. he had moles in donovan's organization. donovan spied on hoover, had moles in hoover's organization when i was doing the research for the book, i wondered when did they have time to spy on the axis when they spied on each other so much? the pentagon, at first,mentedded to part of this oss.
george marshall thought it was a plot by donovan to take over army and navy intelligence, which was what donovan had in mind 23 roosevelt let him do it. he comes to accept the oss, but the senior intelligence officers never did, and, in fact, they fought donovan's organization throughout the war. at one point, towards the middle of the war, the military folks formed their own espionage units behind donovan's back nicknamed the pond with a job to spy behind donovan's back, but to spy on him, spy on his officers. they collected information on the wives of oss officers. donovan -- i mean, in any war, you're going to have generals on the same side fighting among themself. world war world war ii was no
different. the officers were constant battles among them. in donovan's case, though, the fights were more intense because the conventional jnls didn't know what this guy was all about. i mean, he got out there and talked propaganda, espionage operations and little oggy and bats with devices, and others found that disturbing, not the american way of war. donovan also brought a lot a of the problems on himself by his operating style. he had a habit of never taking no phenomenon or answer, -- no for an answer, so if a commander said no, you can't do this, he made an end run around the officer to try to get the decision reversed which does not win you friends in the pentagon. one time, he was at a cocktail party in washington chatting with an admiral, and he had his men burglarize the u office,
steal documents, and bring the documents to the party to show the admiral what his agents could do. there's no record of the reactions, but i have a feeling he was not impressed by it. donovan had a pension for showing up at meetings at the pentagon, usually late, keeping the other admirals and generals waiting. he was eventually made a major general in the army. his uniform would always be carefully tailored, and he came into new york with only the medal of honor ribbon he won sewn on to the uniform as the reminder he had the only medal in the room that actually counted. eventually, hi couldn't overcome the enemies. he drafted a plan for a post war cia, and he wanted to lead it after the war walter, a reporter
for the "washington times he herald," a republican newspaper chain, strongly anti-roosevelt. they despited roosevelt, and roosevelt despised the chain. it was leaked to him, a copy of donovan's secret plan to set up a post-war cia. most likely hoover leaked the document, but it was never proven. anyway, he publishes the article in the papers verbatim the secret order that donovan drafted as well as with a story that accused donovan of wants to set up an american gus tap to in the united states. if you aused anyone of that, you about killed it politically, and it did with roosevelt. he basically shelled the plan.
harry trueman comes into office, okay? hoover has one of his agents plant a particularly nasty rumor with truman's top military aid that donovan was having an affair with his daughter-in-law, okay? they played hardball back then. now, i had to run that rumor to ground, which was not a particularly pleasant chore but discovered it was not true. he was close to his daughter-in-law, but only as a daughter-in-law. even so, he had a number of affairs over the years, a number of mistresses. it was common knowledge in new york, common knowledge in washington among oss circles, military intelligence, and it had no problem getting to the fbi and passed on to truman. that was not really what sunk donovan's organization with truman. what killed it was a 59-page
report that the pawns, remember the secret espionage unit, they managed to get to truman's desk through an army officer in the white house serving as a conduit. that 59-page report accused donovan's agency of all manner of misdeed and malphenes and blown operation and corruption. at one point, it accused oss officers of staging a sex orgy in india which i found no evidence that was the case. truman also didn't like donovan, okay? on the one hand, you had a successful wall street republican lawyer. on the other hand, you had a failed moas who was a die hard democrat. there was never going to be good between these two guys. in october 1945, truman shuts down the oss. he was not naive to the threats out there.
he knew he was facing an impending cold war threat and needed an intelligence service. he just didn't want donovan's organization or the oss having any part of it. donovan -- sorry, truman, in 1947, formed the cia, the central intelligence agency formed after the vision that donovan had. donovan lobbied through surrogates to try and make himself cia director, but truman had no part of that particularly because donovan said nasty things about him on the presidential campaign trail. eisenhower is in off in 1953, donovan thinks he has the best chance to become cia director. ice was a republican, thought a lot of his work in europe, and instead eisenhower makes dulles the director. that makes donovan disappointed thinking dulles would mess it up. he 4 done a terrific job, but
dulles thought donovan had done a lousy job of running the oss and he could run it better. let me end it there. we can talk about his life afterwards or anything else you want to discuss, his legacy, and what you see today in modern cia. [applause] >> i'm max gross. i read quite a few books about the oss and about donovan, and one thing i never understood, and you didn't bring it out yourself -- >> right. >> there's no intelligence oversight committee. i had never known congress' role regarding the oss, and how did you get paid for it? >> good question. the first one whether there was any congressional oversight of his operate, the short answer is no. in fact, at one point harry truman sent over requests to get
information about what the oss was spending its money on, truman was in charge of that government efficiency committee during the war, and marshall talked him out of it and truman backed off. senator harry byrd of virginia at one point tried to find out what the oss officers were getting paid, and actually, they got paid high salaries, and he wanted to cut that back. as far as the funding for the oss, it came initially out of two accounts. roosevelt in the beginning had a private slush fund, a white house secret fund that was called unvoucherred money, which was not accountable to congress, and he could pay out what he wanted. he initially paid the organization out of the private fund. he had his own little secret black intelligence unit run by a washington columnist, a guy name john franklin carter who did domestic espionage work. this was not overseen by
congress. eventually, part of donovan's funds as want budget expanded into the hundreds of millions and mar came from appropriated funds from congress, but even then, congress was not doing a lot of oversite on what he was doing overseaings. he was basically free to operate on his own. >> i wonder if you can say something about the sources you used for this book? for example, are all the oss archives available? where are they? do you think they are complete or do you think that some of them may have been deleted at some point? >> yeah. the good news is that all the oss documents have been declassified, practically all have been declassified. the bad news is that practically all the documents are classified because it runs in the millions and millions of pages. in donovan's own office at the
kremlin, he had something on the order of 170 ,000 documents there under his control which took me about a year to go through. his personal papers from his law office and other sources are at the army military history institute in pennsylvania with over 360 boxes. i also had to go to the three presidential libraries, the fdr, truman, and eisenhower libraries because a good bit of the oss information are in those libraries. they are scattered in archives all over the country are different parts of the oss story. i also had to go to england to the british archives there because the british spend a good amount of time of monitoring the organization: they were integral to setting up the organization, but they had
officers spying on donovan's organization, and they knew he was spying on him, so you can go there for the special operation executive papers that are extensive, some mi-6, and the churchill library had some too. it took about a little over two years to, you know, go through and vacuum up everything. >> thank you. enigma was a successful operation. >> yeah, uh-huh. >> what i learned is that donovan had no relationship whatsoever with it. was he aware of enigma or have control whatsoever? >> yeah. actually, he did. this was the code breaking ability they had for the german codes. donovan was given access to that code breaking capability, and, in fact, he had some of his officers stationed at the park where, you know, involved in the
code breaking, and he was giving the direct take. ironically, though, donovan was not driven direct access to magic, the code breaking ability of the japanese. marshall didn't trust donovan's organization thinking they'd leak it out. throughout the war, he had a closer relationship with the british code breaking capability than he had with his own american code breaking capability. he recognized throughout the war that this was really the, you know, the key intelligence find with the most value, and more valuable than his own organization. >> i just finished the book last week, and i'd like to say it's one of the best bios i've ever read. >> oh, thank you. >> it's wonderfully well done. i wondered if you can explain
the audience what the relationship was with the mr. donovan and the law firm. i know some of the early travels were on behaver of the law firm, and the second question is i finished a book about the cia, and i guess the way i came from the book was this is the gang that couldn't shoot straight. i wonder how the historical aspect of the oss ties into the fiascoes that the cia was involved in. >> right. the donovan leisure law firm was formed after donovan came back to the coolidge administration in the 20s. he formed 2 then, really right got it going in the middle of the depression. it was highly successful. donovan, unfortunately, spent of law firm money along the way with no concept for a dollar using the law firm account to fund his travels overseas. he was ambassador to thailand
from 1953-1954 traveling to the region on the law firm account. he came back after world war ii to the law firm, and after his ambassadorship to thailand basically broke, and the law firm was not doing well at that point. at that point, he was a rainmaker for the firm. he was a good arguer before the supreme court, but he was not really dry parchment lawyer, and so he was good at drawing in business. as far as the legacy of the oss, and as it carries over to the cia, i mean, the question i get asked is what difference did the oss make in the war? did it win the war for the allies? the short answer is no. did it shorten the war for the allies, the oss? again, the answer is no too. you set the bar high when you establish that benchmark because there's broader factors at work,
the fact we can amask more man and machine than the axis could field against us, and, as i say, signals intelligence, magic, and enigma were more valuable than the oss was, and donovan realized that. one of the benefits is it was the pea tree dish for the future cia. the directors like dulles and bill casey, all were officers who served under donovan, cut their teeth there, and then became future cia director. >> [inaudible] >> oh, we don't? okay. sorry. [applause] >> that event, part of the 2011 national book fest call here in washington, d.c.. to find out more visit loc.gov/bookfest.