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William Donovan, the son of Timothy P. Donovan and Anna Lennon Donovan, was born in Buffalo, United States, on 1st January, 1883. He attended St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute and Niagara University before starring on the football team at Columbia University. It was his style of play that got him the nickname, "Wild Bill".
After graduating from Columbia Law School and became an influential Wall Street lawyer. In 1912, Donovan formed and led a troop of cavalry of the New York State Militia and served on the United States-Mexico border during the American government's campaign against Pancho Villa.
During the First World War Donovan organized and led the 1st battalion of the 165th Regiment of the 42nd Division. He served on the Western Front and in October, 1918 he received the Medal of Honor. The citation read: "Lt. Col. Donovan personally led the assaulting wave in an attack upon a very strongly organized position, and when our troops were suffering heavy casualties he encouraged all near him by his example, moving among his men in exposed positions, reorganizing decimated platoons, and accompanying them forward in attacks. When he was wounded in the leg by machine-gun bullets, he refused to be evacuated and continued with his unit until it withdrew to a less exposed position." By the end of the war he had been promoted to the rank of colonel. In 1919 he visited Russia and spent time with Alexander Kolchak and the White Army.
Donovan was an active member of the Republican Party and after meeting Herbert Hoover he worked as his political adviser, speech writer and campaign manager. Donovan ran unsuccessfully as lieutenant governor in 1922 but was appointed by President Calvin Coolidge as his assistant attorney general. In 1928, Donovan had been acting attorney general in the Coolidge administration. When he became president in 1929, it was assumed that Hoover would appoint Donovan as attorney general. Hoover did not do so because, it was rumored, powerful Republicans did not want a Catholic in the cabinet.
By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932 Donovan was a millionaire Wall Street lawyer. He was a strong opponent of Roosevelt's New Deal but became a close advisor to the administration. Ernest Cuneo, who also worked for Roosevelt, claimed that Donovan was the leader of "Franklin's brain trust". It appears that Donovan shared the president's concern about political developments in Nazi Germany.
During the First World War Donovan became friends with William Stephenson. When Winston Churchill became prime minister in May 1940 he appointed Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC) that was based in New York City. Churchill told Stephenson: "You know what you must do at once. We have discussed it most fully, and there is a complete fusion of minds between us. You are to be my personal representative in the United States. I will ensure that you have the full support of all the resources at my command. I know that you will have success, and the good Lord will guide your efforts as He will ours." Charles Howard Ellis said that he selected Stephenson because: "Firstly, he was Canadian. Secondly, he had very good American connections... he had a sort of fox terrier character, and if he undertook something, he would carry it through."
As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase (British Security Coordination) is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention." An office was opened in the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan with the agreement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI.
In July, 1940, Roosevelt appointed Frank Knox as Secretary of the Navy. The two men discussed the possibility of appointing Donovan as Secretary of War. Knox told Roosevelt: "Frankly, if your proposal contemplated Donovan for the War Department and myself for the Navy, I think the appointments could be put solely upon the basis of a nonpartisan nonpolitical measure of putting our national defense departments in such a state of preparedness as to protect the United States against any danger to our security." Roosevelt replied "Bill Donovan is also an old friend of mine - we were in law school together and frankly, I should like to have him in the Cabinet, not only for his own ability, but also to repair in a sense the very great injustice done him by President Hoover in the winter of 1929."
Eventually, Roosevelt decided to appoint fellow Republican, Henry Stimson, as Secretary of War. Jean Edward Smith, the author of FDR (2008) has argued that Roosevelt was determined to get the timing of the decision right: "It was important to stress the bipartisan nature of the defense effort, he told Knox. Even more important, if the GOP nominated an isolationist candidate, Knox and Stimson would be deemed guilty of bad sportsmanship in joining FDR's team afterward." Knox was allowed to bring in James V. Forrestal, an investment banker, as his undersecretary.
In the summer of 1940 Winston Churchill had a serious problem. Joseph P. Kennedy was the United States Ambassador to Britain. He soon came to the conclusion that the island was a lost cause and he considered aid to Britain fruitless. Kennedy, an isolationist, consistently warned Roosevelt "against holding the bag in a war in which the Allies expect to be beaten." Neville Chamberlain wrote in his diary in July 1940: "Saw Joe Kennedy who says everyone in the USA thinks we shall be beaten before the end of the month." Averell Harriman later explained the thinking of Kennedy and other isolationists: "After World War I, there was a surge of isolationism, a feeling there was no reason for getting involved in another war... We made a mistake and there were a lot of debts owed by European countries. The country went isolationist.
William Stephenson later commented: "The procurement of certain supplies for Britain was high on my priority list and it was the burning urgency of this requirement that made me instinctively concentrate on the single individual who could help me. I turned to Bill Donovan." Donovan arranged meetings with Henry Stimson (Secretary of War), Cordell Hull (Secretary of State) and Frank Knox (Secretary of the Navy). The main topic was Britain's lack of destroyers and the possibility of finding a formula for transfer of fifty "over-age" destroyers to the Royal Navy without a legal breach of U.S. neutrality legislation.
It was decided to send Donovan and Edgar Ansel Mowrer to Britain on a fact-finding mission. They left on 14th July, 1940. When he heard the news, Joseph P. Kennedy complained: "Our staff, I think is getting all the information that possibility can be gathered, and to send a new man here at this time is to me the height of nonsense and a definite blow to good organization." He added that the trip would "simply result in causing confusion and misunderstanding on the part of the British". Andrew Lycett has argued: "Nothing was held back from the big American. British planners had decided to take him completely into their confidence and share their most prized military secrets in the hope that he would return home even more convinced of their resourcefulness and determination to win the war."
William Donovan arrived back in the United States in early August, 1940. In his report to President Franklin D. Roosevelt he argued: "(1) That the British would fight to the last ditch. (2) They could not hope to hold to hold the last ditch unless they got supplies at least from America. (3) That supplies were of no avail unless they were delivered to the fighting front - in short, that protecting the lines of communication was a sine qua non. (4) That Fifth Column activity was an important factor." Donovan also urged that the government should sack Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, who was predicting a German victory. Donovan also wrote a series of articles arguing that Nazi Germany posed a serious threat to the United States.
In July 1941, Roosevelt appointed Donovan as his Coordinator of Information. The following year Donovan became head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), an organization that was given the responsible for espionage and for helping the resistance movement in Europe. Donovan published a secret document where he outlined his objectives: "Espionage is not a nice thing, nor are the methods employed exemplary. Neither are demolition bombs nor poison gas, but our country is a nice thing and our independence is indispensable. We face an enemy who believes one of his chief weapons is that none but he will employ terror. But we will turn terror against him - or we will cease to exist."
Over the next few years William Stephenson worked closely with Donovan. Gill Bennett, the author of Churchill's Man of Mystery (2009), has argued: "Each is a figure about whom much myth has been woven, by themselves and others, and the full extent of their activities and contacts retains an element of mystery. Both were influential: Stephenson as head of British Security Coordination (BSC), the organisation he created in New York at Menzies's request and Donovan, working with Stephenson as intermediary between Roosevelt and Churchill, persuading the former to supply clandestine military supplies to the UK before the USA entered the war, and from June 1941 head of the COI and thus one of the architects of the US Intelligence establishment."
Ray S. Cline was one of Donovan's agents: "Wild Bill deserves his sobriquet mainly for two reasons. First, he permitted the wildest, loosest kind of administrative and procedural chaos to develop while he concentrated on recruiting talent wherever he could find it - in universities, businesses, law firms, in the armed services, at Georgetown cocktail parties, in fact, anywhere he happened to meet or hear about bright and eager men and women who wanted to help. His immediate lieutenants and their assistants were all at work on the same task, and it was a long time before any systematic method of structuring the polyglot staff complement was worked out. Donovan really did not care. He counted on some able young men from his law firm in New York to straighten out the worst administrative messes, arguing that the record would justify his agency if it was good and excuse all waste and confusion. If the agency was a failure, the United States would probably lose the war and the bookkeeping would not matter. In this approach he was probably right."
Donovan was given the rank of major general and during the war he built up a team of 16,000 agents working behind enemy lines. He later recalled: "Intelligence service that counts isn't the kind you read about in spy books. Women agents are less often the sultry blonde or the dazzling duchess than they are girls like the young American with an artificial leg who stayed on in France to operate a clandestine radio station; girls like the thirty-seven who worked for us in China, daughters of missionaries and of businessmen, who had grown up there. I hope that the story of the women in OSS will soon be written. Our men agents didn't fit the traditional types in spy stories any more than the women we used. Do you know that one of our most notable achievements was the extent to which we found we could use labor unions? Our informer in this war was less often a slick little man with a black moustache than a transport worker, a truck driver, or a freight train conductor."
Ray S. Cline admitted: "Donovan did manage during the war to create a legend about his work and that of OSS that conveyed overtones of glamour, innovation, and daring. This infuriated the regular bureaucrats but created a cult of romanticism about intelligence that persisted and helped win popular support for continuation of an intelligence organization." One of those who was "infuriated" with Donovan was John Edgar Hoover who saw the OSS as a rival to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Richard Deacon, the author of Spyclopaedia: The Comprehensive Handbook of Espionage (1987), has pointed out: "Hoover constantly worked against Donovan... and OSS activities had to be confined mainly to Europe and North Africa. Increasingly, towards the end of the war, Donovan felt that the Americans and the British were giving away too much intelligence to the Russians, and fearing that Russia would be the prime enemy afterwards, he pressed for the creation of a permanent Secret Service for the USA, based on the OSS."
As soon as the Second World War ended President Harry S. Truman ordered the OSS to be closed down. However, it provided a model for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established in September 1947. Others have suggested that it was the British Security Coordination (BSC) that was really the important organisation. According to Joseph C. Goulden several of the "old boys" who were around for the founding of the CIA like repeating a mantra, “The Brits taught us everything we know - but by no means did they teach us everything that they know.”
Donovan returned to his law practice but later set up the British-American-Canadian-Corporation (later called the World Commerce Corporation) with William Donovan. It was a secret service front company which specialized in trading goods with developing countries. William Torbitt has claimed that it was "originally designed to fill the void left by the break-up of the big German cartels which Stephenson himself had done much to destroy."
William Donovan died at the age of 76 from complications of vascular dementia on 8th February, 1959, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The Columbia Law School class of 1907 comprised only twenty-one members. Yet, for all FDR's avowal of friendship, Donovan always denied that he and Roosevelt had been close there. And despite his response to Knox, FDR evinced no further enthusiasm for Donovan as his secretary of war. "I fear that to put two Republicans in charge of the armed forces might be misunderstood in both parties," he explained. The only close personal exchange between himself and Donovan occurred on April 9, 1940, when Roosevelt sent a telegram of condolence on the death in an automobile accident of Donovan's adored twenty-two-year-old daughter, Patricia. Donovan wrote back the next day: "That you took the time from many and pressing duties makes me doubly grateful."
Soon after his conversation with Knox the President did exactly what he said he would not do. He named another Republican to a defense portfolio in his cabinet, Stimson, not Bill Donovan, as secretary of war. Still, Knox was not finished with promoting his friend. On July 9, at the White House, he agreed with what the President had been saying all along that the swift collapse of France, the Low Countries, and Norway could be explained only by fifth column subversives operating from within. The Navy secretary proposed having a correspondent from his Chicago Daily News, Edgar Mowrer, already in Britain, Study methods for detecting fifth columnists that the United States might adopt. And he wanted someone else to join Mowrer, Bill Donovan.
To the President, the possibility of internal subversion appeared only too credible. Over a quarter-million residents in America were, like Hermann Lang, who had stolen the Norden bombsight, German-born. In 1939 the FBI received sixteen hundred reports of alleged sabotage. But on a single day in May 1940, with Hitler's forces overrunning Europe and with Churchill rounding up suspected subversives in droves, the FBI received over twenty-nine hundred reports of suspected sabotage. FDR not only seized on Knox's idea, but took it a step further. Why not also have Donovan form a judgment of Britain's capacity to stand up to Germany? Could the British stop the Germans in the air? Could they withstand an invasion? There was no point in pouring aid down a rathole, the President believed.
The next day Knox asked Lord Lothian to smooth the path for Donovan in Britain. Nothing could have pleased Lothian more. He had earlier described to London the American mood as "a wave of pessimism passing over this country to the effect that Great Britain must inevitably be defeated, and that there is no use in the United States doing anything more to help it and thereby getting entangled in Europe.... There is some evidence that it is beginning to affect the President..." Donovan's findings might reverse that pessimism.
Espionage is not a nice thing, nor are the methods employed exemplary. But we will turn terror against him - or we will cease to exist.
Espionage is mentioned in the Bible and was employed by the Greeks and Romans. In 1870 thirty thousand German spies operated in France and the machinations of the espion in the World War are well known. But the League of Nations hoped to diminish secret intelligence by the simple expedient of publishing the military and naval strength of the forces of all nations so that all people would know about each other. Here we fell into the traps by which the honest man usually is trapped. The League knew the strength and intentions of the decent powers; the others kept theirs hidden.
Today our unpreparedness, born of the evangelical idealist's desire to see things the way he wishes them to be, and encouraged by clever secret foreign agents, also abridged our secret gathering of essential intelligence. We are, then, faced with the almost impossible task in time of war of creating a system of secret intelligence that could only have been efficiently established by painstaking preparation over long years of peace. The task would be hopeless except that we have scores of thousands of willing helpers, who, not deceived, maintained their intelligence services.
The Eastern European theatre is at once one of the most promising of all the scenes of future military action but also is a disjointed empire peopled by 100,000,000 aggressive willing friends and corruptible Axis dupes. By employment of the one and the seduction of the other, by cross-checking with the professional operators of our Allies, we can and must make up for lost time, speedily obtain the fullest intelligence and encourage the 'silent peoples' whose courage gained for us time while losing their own freedom and their lives.
On the one hand we must freely use stratagem and on the other, we must be frugal in civilized scruple. We are in a nasty business, facing a nastier enemy.
On August 9, FDR left the White House for a vacation in New England. He invited Donovan along, as he told reporters, "so he can tell me what he found on the other side when he went over." Donovan caught up with the presidential party at the Hyde Park railroad station, and accompanied FDR for a two-and-a-half-day swing through the New England countryside, their most intimate association thus far. Since his return, Donovan had run into increasing pessimism in the administration over Britain's fate. Joe Kennedy, he told friends, could take much credit for this defeatism. The President wanted to know, could England hold out against an invasion? Donovan described what British leaders had shown him well-organized air defenses, airfields wisely dispersed and cunningly camouflaged, and planes safely sheltered. He painted a picture of the English coast bristling with barbed wire and machine guns, just the first line of a deep defensive deployment. The British still stood in mortal peril, Donovan told the President, but with America's backing, they could make it. They needed immediately a hundred Flying Fortresses and a million rifles for the Home Guard to stave off an invasion.
During the two days that Donovan had the President's ear, they pursued FDR's favored pastimes, long drives through glorious foliage and frequent stops for roadside picnics. Donovan continued to tell the President what he wanted to hear, reversing the gloom and doom prophecies of Kennedy. He had a recommendation as well: that the United States start collaborating with British intelligence by creating its own centralized espionage service.
Intelligence service that counts isn't the kind you read about in spy books. I hope that the story of the women in OSS will soon be written.
Our men agents didn't fit the traditional types in spy stories any more than the women we used. Do you know that one of our most notable achievements was the extent to which we found we could use labor unions? Our informer in this war was less often a slick little man with a black moustache than a transport worker, a truck driver, or a freight train conductor.
In war you've got to get two things - your long-range information and your immediate operational information. We did this kind of thing - from bases in Sweden, Spain, Turkey, and Switzerland, we sent agents into the interior of enemy and enemy-occupied territory. We got a man into the German Foreign Office. He had access to cables coming in from the commanding generals in the field and from German ambassadors all over the world. Then we had a man in the Gestapo itself, in a leading position. We even had one of our own men in a Gestapo training school. By such means we were able to get the first information on the V-l and V-2 weapons, and the use of the island of Peenemunde as a testing area.
We had to know about German tank production. How would you find out about it? Well, we sent some of our young scholar economists in the OSS out on patrols. They examined captured German tanks. Each tank had a factory serial number. We knew that these numbers were consecutive and didn't vary - because we already knew that was the German system. We did the same thing with airplanes. And when we had looked at a sufficient number, we could estimate what production was. When the war was over, we checked. And we found we were only about 4 percent off. How were German casualties running? That was important to know, not merely to tell us about the forces that could be put into the field but also about available manpower for their internal economy. The names of German dead weren't published in the press. But in every little town we found that the local paper carried obituaries of German officers who had been killed. By various means we got the local papers from all the little towns and villages in Germany. We read these obituaries. As in all armies, we knew that there was a rather fixed proportion of men to officers. We knew that there was also a certain ratio between enlisted men and officers killed. So, in that way, our research men skilled in such techniques were able to make an estimate of the strength of the German Army in 1943 that was found to be curiously exact.
Besides obtaining information this way, we also had to fight for it. We did this by sending in small units to seize radio stations or to work with resistance groups. As far as we were able, we went to the minority groups of different nationalities in this country and trained volunteers for hazardous work. Most of these were American citizens of the racial origin and of the language of the country which we were seeking to liberate. Thus we had units going to Greece, Yugoslavia, France, Italy, China, Indochina, and Siam.
In the prewar and early war period in Roosevelt's Washington, agencies were proliferating wildly in response to an awareness that the nation was appallingly unprepared for the challenges ahead. It was easy enough for Roosevelt to provide a charter and authorize Donovan to start an agency and spend several millions of largely unvouchered dollars. Still, it was not easy for Donovan to acquire the staff he needed, find office space for them, get them paid either as civil or military personnel, and impart some sense of specific duties to his fledgling outfit. Army and Navy intelligence, the FBI, and the State Department inevitably resisted what they viewed as encroachment on their domains, and the Bureau of the Budget watchdogs were reluctant to release funds under the rather vague description of duties in the Donovan charter.
"Wild Bill" deserves his sobriquet mainly for two reasons. First, he permitted the "wildest," loosest kind of administrative and procedural chaos to develop while he concentrated on recruiting talent wherever he could find it - in universities, businesses, law firms, in the armed services, at Georgetown cocktail parties, in fact, anywhere he happened to meet or hear about bright and eager men and women who wanted to help. In this approach he was probably right.
In any case, Donovan did manage during the war to create a legend about his work and that of OSS that conveyed overtones of glamour, innovation, and daring. This infuriated the regular bureaucrats but created a cult of romanticism about intelligence that persisted and helped win popular support for continuation of an intelligence organization. It also, of course, created the myths about intelligence-the cloak-and-dagger exploits-that have made it so hard to persuade the aficionados of spy fiction that the heart of intelligence work consists of properly evaluated information from all sources, however collected.
The second way in which Donovan deserved the term "Wild' was his own personal fascination with bravery and derring-do. He empathized most with the men behind enemy lines. He was constantly traveling to faraway theaters of war to be as near them as possible, and he left to his subordinates the more humdrum business of processing secret intelligence reports in Washington and preparing analytical studies for the President or the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
Fortunately Donovan had good sense about choosing subordinates. Some were undoubtedly freaks, but the quotient of talent was high and for the most part it rose to the top of the agency. One of Donovan's greatest achievements was setting in motion a train of events that drew to him and to intelligence work a host of able men and women who imparted to intellectual life in the foreign field some of the verve and drive that New Deal lawyers and political scientists had given to domestic affairs under Roosevelt in the 1930s.
Thomas G. (Tommy) Corcoran, Washington's durable political lawyer and an early New Deal "brain-truster" from Harvard Law School, says that his greatest contribution to government in his long career was helping infiltrate smart young Harvard Law School products into every agency of government. He felt the United States needed to develop a highly educated, highly motivated public service corps that had not existed before Roosevelt's time. Donovan did much the same for career experts in international affairs by collecting in one place a galaxy of experience and ability the likes of which even the State Department had never seen. Many of these later drifted away, but a core remained to create a tradition and eventually to take key jobs in a mature intelligence system of the kind the United States required for coping with twentieth century problems.
The story of the development of the Anglo-American Intelligence relationship, and in particular of British influence on the establishment in July 1941 of the US Coordinator of Information (COI), precursor of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) established in June 1942 and of the post-war Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), remains the subject of research and some speculation. At the centre of the story and of the literature are two men who in the view of many (especially themselves) came to symbolise the Anglo-American Intelligence relationship, "Little Bill", later Sir William Stephenson, and Major-General William "Wild Bill" Donovan. Each is a figure about whom much myth has been woven, by themselves and others, and the full extent of their activities and contacts retains an element of mystery. Both were influential: Stephenson as head of British Security Coordination (BSC), the organisation he created in New York at Menzies's request and Donovan, working with Stephenson as intermediary between Roosevelt and Churchill, persuading the former to supply clandestine military supplies to the UK before the USA entered the war, and from June 1941 head of the COI and thus one of the architects of the US Intelligence establishment.
Bill Donovan, perhaps a managerial calamity, was, more importantly, a natural leader, a master of theater, a man who floated above the mundane, much like the President he served. He managed to have Marine Captain Jimmy Roosevelt assigned as his liaison between COI and all federal agencies. When young Roosevelt called, Donovan knew, his calls would be taken. As Life magazine put it, "To get Jimmy Roosevelt into your show is as good as a seat at the White House breakfast table." Donovan also hired Estelle Frankfurter, sister of Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court justice and FDR confidant. Donovan intuitively understood the strategies of success, even if he could not concentrate on an organization chart if someone held a gun to his head. The man's brain was fertile, not orderly...
Not everyone saw the COI as a welcome answer to the gap in America's intelligence defenses. Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana, a New Deal friend but isolationist foe of FDR's, complained one month after the creation of the agency, "Mr. Donovan is now head of the Gestapo in the United States. That is the proper place for him, because he knows how such things should be done..." Wheeler then ticked off a list of senators whose offices had supposedly been raided by Donovan when he was with the Justice Department in the twenties. "So he is a fitting man to head the Gestapo of the United States," the senator concluded.
The Last Hero: William J. Donovan
William Joseph Donovan was one of the very few American soldiers to have received the U.S. Army’s three highest decorations: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal. As an infantry commander in World War I Donovan led his troops from the front and was twice wounded. During World War II he organized and led the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Donovan was born in Buffalo, N.Y., to Irish immigrant parents on New Year’s Day 1883. He acquired his lifelong nickname, “Wild Bill,” as a standout quarterback at Columbia University. He graduated from Columbia Law School in 1907, a classmate of future U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Much of Donovan’s post–World War I career benefited from Roosevelt’s support and friendship.
Donovan enlisted in the New York State Militia in 1911 and within a year was commissioned a captain. Mustered into federal service in 1916, he commanded a cavalry troop on the Mexican border during the punitive expedition against Pancho Villa. He mustered out in March 1917, only to be called up again four months later for service in World War I, promoted to major and assigned as a battalion commander in the New York Army National Guard’s 69th Infantry Regiment, which was federalized as the 165th Infantry, 42nd Division.
The 165th entered the front lines in France in February 1918. In July, Donovan received the Distinguished Service Cross for leading his battalion in the capture of German positions near Villers-sur-Fère. Promoted to lieutenant colonel and placed in command of the regiment, he received the Medal of Honor for actions on October 14 and 15 near Landres-et-Saint-Georges, where he again personally led his unit against an enemy stronghold. Although seriously wounded, he rallied his troops and led them forward to the objective.
Following the Armistice, Donovan served briefly in the Army of Occupation. Before mustering out, he received the Distinguished Service Medal, as well as France’s Légion d’honneur and Croix de guerre. He also earned promotion to full colonel.
As soon as Donovan returned stateside, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt made him a member of the Office of Naval Intelligence. In the interwar years he worked as an attorney for various federal agencies. After Roosevelt became president, he sent Donovan to Ethiopia in 1935, to Spain during the 1936–39 civil war and to Britain in 1940, where he made important contacts with the directors of MI5 and MI6.
In July 1941 Roosevelt appointed Donovan federal Coordinator of Information (COI), tasked with synchronizing the fragmented efforts of the various isolated and often competing American military and civilian intelligence organizations. In 1942 the office of COI became the OSS. More than just an intelligence-gathering organization, the OSS also ran covert operations against the Axis.
President Harry S. Truman disbanded the OSS in September 1945, splitting its functions between the departments of State and War. Donovan returned to private law practice but continued to push for the creation of a permanent national agency to oversee all American intelligence gathering and covert actions. When the CIA was established in 1947 Donovan hoped to head it, but with Roosevelt dead, Donovan no longer had the political backing of the White House. Regardless, most of Donovan’s ideas were realized through the work of his wartime OSS protégé Allan Dulles, who in 1953 became the agency’s first civilian director.
Wild Bill Donovan, 76, died on Feb. 8, 1959, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Although he was never officially a member of the CIA, a life-size bronze statue of Donovan dominates the entrance lobby of the agency’s original headquarters building in Langley, Va. When Donovan died, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed, “We have lost the last hero.”
Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.
OSS: The Predecessor of the CIA
Before 1940, the U.S. State Department, FBI and the different branches of the military all had their own security and counterintelligence operations, which did not easily share information with each other. With another war raging in Europe, however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted greater coordination when it came to gathering and acting on intelligence. In July 1941, he tapped Colonel William J. Donovan, known as “Wild Bill,” for a newly created office, Coordinator of Information (COI).
Donovan, who served as a battalion commander in the 165th Infantry Regiment during World War I, was one of the nation’s most decorated war heroes. As he began laying the groundwork for a coordinated intelligence network, based partially on the example of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the new COI office provoked suspicion and hostility from other U.S. agencies, including J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and the War Department’s Military Intelligence Division, better known as the G-2.
During World War II, Major General William “Wild Bill” Donovan was the head of the Office of Strategic Services. (Credit: CORBIS/Corbis/Getty Images)
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt acted swiftly to improve U.S. intelligence capabilities even further. In June 1942, he issued an executive order establishing the OSS, which replaced the COI and was charged with collecting and analyzing strategic intelligence and running special operations outside the other branches of the U.S. military, under the control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As head of the OSS, Donovan was frustrated when his rival agencies effectively blocked access to intercepted Axis communication, the most vital source of wartime intelligence.
Despite such obstacles, Donovan quickly built up the ranks of his organization, training new recruits in national parks in Maryland and Virginia and establishing full-fledged operations in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. In addition to gathering intelligence, fostering resistance and spreading disinformation behind enemy lines, OSS operatives carried out soldier rescues, guerilla warfare and sabotage, among other missions. The organization also developed its own counterintelligence operation, known as the X-2 branch, which could operate overseas but had no jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere.
View of the audience, seated in rows and listening during a demolition class, in England, 1944. Office of Strategic Services. (Credit: Public Domain)
Before Operation TORCH, the Allied invasion of North Africa in late 1942, a dozen OSS officers traveled to the region and worked as “vice consuls” in several ports, establishing local networks and gathering information that would prove vital to the successful Allied landings. In advance of the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944, paratroopers in the Special Operations (SO) branch of the OSS parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, Belgium and the Netherlands to coordinate air drops of supplies, meet up with local resistance forces and make guerrilla attacks on German troops. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said of the OSS: “If (it) had done nothing else, the intelligence gathered alone before D-Day justified its existence.”
Roosevelt died in April 1945, and his successor Harry S. Truman had no inclination to prolong the existence of the OSS when World War II ended later that year. By executive order, Donovan’s agency was dissolved as of October 1945, but its secret Intelligence (SI) and X-2 branches would become the nucleus of a new peacetime intelligence service, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), created in 1947.
“Wild Bill” Donovan’s Comeuppance
The story that came to be known as the Lisbon affair is one of the most enduring cautionary tales in modern intelligence history. It became a legendary warning of the damage that can be done when overeager amateurs, in their zeal to gather enemy secrets, inadvertently tip off the enemy to critical leaks in their own security. No less a personage than the army’s chief of staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, argued to the president that the ham-handed attempt by agents of the Office of Strategic Services to steal cipher material out of a wastebasket in the Japanese embassy in Lisbon in April 1943 had dealt a fatal blow to American intelligence. Alerted that its codes were now insecure, Marshall insisted, Tokyo had responded by changing the cipher used by its military attachés around the world, and the replacement system had so flummoxed American code breakers that a full year later they remained unable to read these vital messages. Only dumb luck, or the obtuseness of the Japanese, the story went, had prevented an even more sweeping upgrade of Japanese diplomatic ciphers that would have resulted in a total blackout of this critical intelligence source during the war.
The affair reverberated for years afterward in American intelligence circles. It helped convince the Joint Chiefs of Staff to restrict OSS operations and keep its flamboyant director, William “Wild Bill” Donovan, on a short leash. It helped reinforce the popular image of Donovan as a loose cannon and his agents as incompetent amateurs. And ultimately it contributed to the abolition of the OSS at the end of the war.
But the actual story behind what happened in Lisbon in the spring of 1943 is a far more Byzantine tale of intrigue, in which the real rivals were not so much the Allies and the Axis but warring spy agencies within the American capital. Many of the facts that Marshall, and later President Harry Truman, firmly believed about the case turned out to be false or exaggerated.
The real truth is that to those in the U.S. Army and the State Department who were out to get Donovan, what began as a trivial incident in Lisbon proved a golden opportunity they were not about to let slip through their hands. And had it not been for an almost bizarre series of spy vs. spy mishaps in which American and Axis code breakers, each reading the other’s diplomatic messages, amplified and distorted the original wastebasket incident, the whole matter would rightly have been relegated to an obscure footnote to the annals of intelligence history. As it was, it shook the highest levels of power in Washington and threatened to upset a delicate and highly secret arrangement between the Americans and British on sharing the greatest intelligence coup of the war, the breaking of the German Enigma cipher machine.
From its creation in June 1942, the Office of Strategic Services had attracted the enmity of other intelligence agencies that considered the new espionage organization a threat to their status and prerogatives. After all, why would the country need a new service unless the old ones weren’t up to the job? And if the old services weren’t up to the job, then why keep them?
Part of the problem was William Donovan himself. A Medal of Honor winner in the First World War and a Wall Street lawyer and sometime Republican office holder between the wars, Wild Bill had been sent to London by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 to evaluate Britain’s prospects for successfully resisting a Germany that was now master of the European continent. Donovan had returned convinced of British resolution and the need for the United States to improve to its own security. Especially impressed by what he was allowed to see of British intelligence services, Donovan had been converted to the belief that a large and centralized intelligence service dedicated to collecting, collating, and disseminating information from around the world was a prerequisite for national security, a position he pushed on Roosevelt at every opportunity.
Like many converts Donovan became a true believer whose passion and purpose irritated skeptics, particularly those in established intelligence organizations such as the army’s Military Intelligence Division, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When, in 1941, the president created a new intelligence office, the Coordinator of Information, and appointed Donovan its director, the older organizations withheld cooperation and sought every opportunity to undermine the interloper. The hostility continued even after Pearl Harbor demonstrated the deficiencies of American intelligence. When Roosevelt established the OSS as a replacement for the COI, and gave the office the chief responsibility for overseas intelligence work, the enmity and jealousy only grew.
In the bureaucratic jungle of wartime Washington, the OSS faced no more dangerous and implacable opponent than Brig. Gen. George V. Strong, the assistant chief of staff for military intelligence. In part it was personal. One of the last serving officers who had actually campaigned in the Indian Wars, Strong was notorious for his volatile temper and combative assertiveness in protecting the reputation and programs of military intelligence. In Washington, he had earned the nickname “King George” for his imperious manner. Jealous of Donovan’s meteoric rise and resentful of his political connections, particularly his direct access to the White House, Strong seized any opportunity to embarrass the OSS director and confound his plans. Strong had earlier fought a knockdown battle to prevent the COI from receiving any intelligence derived from breaking coded messages, arguing that Donovan and his minions were too unreliable to be entrusted with such valuable secrets.
But it was never just about personalities. Strong considered the very existence of the OSS an affront to army intelligence, and would have felt so no matter who was the director. Diligently patrolling the boundaries of his bureaucratic turf, the assistant chief of staff had fought unsuccessfully to block the creation of the new intelligence entity in the spring of 1942, and then worked to undermine its reputation. He dismissed Wild Bill’s crew as dilettantes, misfits, and shirkers. But secretly he feared that a successful, independent competitor would eventually divert attention, resources, and missions from the army’s own intelligence service.
Strong wanted and expected the OSS to fail, and in the spring of 1943 failure was in the air. At that same moment, the OSS was trying to dampen the flames from another embarrassing incident: the American ambassador in Spain had called for an investigation and a curtailment of OSS clandestine activities after the spy agency sent a shipment of pistols to the OSS station there in a crate addressed to the ambassador—and accompanied by a manifest clearly stating its contents. Donovan, called on the carpet by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was forced to restrict his service’s operations in Spain. It was a low point for the OSS, and Strong undoubtedly saw in the Lisbon imbroglio an opportunity to further humiliate Donovan and weaken his already beleaguered agency.
The Lisbon affair began when the OSS station in the Portuguese capital recruited a local citizen who worked inside the Japanese embassy as a messenger for the naval attaché. Sometime in early April 1943, this source delivered to his American controller some crumpled papers he had retrieved from the wastebasket of his employer. Written on the pages were both numbers and Japanese characters. Believing the writing represented a cipher, the Lisbon station forwarded the materials to OSS headquarters in Washington. On May 20, the OSS passed the pages to the Signal Corps, the service arm that included the Signal Security Service, the army’s top-secret code breaking organization.
Four days later the Signal Corps responded, thanking the OSS for its effort, but disclaiming any interest in the papers. The pages did indeed contain a cipher, but one already well known to army code breakers. Used only for routine, low-grade communications, the cipher was of so little importance that the code breakers had some time earlier abandoned any interest in it. For intelligence purposes the material from Lisbon was worthless. The purloined papers were buried in the archive and everyone considered the matter ended. Everyone was wrong.
The first sign of trouble came in the beginning of July, when the U.S. Army code breakers decrypted a flurry of messages passing between Tokyo and its embassies in Lisbon and Madrid. The messages reported that the Japanese had just learned from Italian intelligence that the Americans had somehow penetrated the Lisbon embassy and might have gained access to its ciphers. The messages ordered the ambassador in the Portuguese capital to report immediately on the security measures in place to protect his ciphers. The ambassador in Madrid was ordered to dispatch a senior officer to review security arrangements in Lisbon.
The initial alarm that this event set off in American intelligence circles was genuine enough. America’s greatest intelligence coup of the war—it was one of the most closely-held secrets of the American government—was the cracking of the Japanese cipher machine code-named Purple, used to encrypt Tokyo’s highest-level diplomatic communications. It was an astonishing feat of mathematical cryptanalysis: the U.S. Army code breakers had reconstructed the inner workings of the machine without ever once laying eyes on one, just by analyzing patterns in the coded messages it produced. The intelligence gleaned from reading the most secret communications of the Japanese foreign ministry was given the code name Magic, reflecting the unprecedented access it gave Washington to its enemy’s plans and actions. Magic in particular provided a front row seat from which to observe Japanese intelligence efforts, much of which was run out of Japanese embassies and consulates and revealed in Japanese diplomatic traffic.
If Japan suspected that any of its ciphers had been compromised, then Tokyo might very well replace all of its current cryptosystems with new ones, including Purple. The Signal Security Service had recently noted that Japan’s foreign ministry had suddenly stopped using a medium-grade cipher known to the code breakers as J-19. It might just have been a coincidence—but it also might have been the first of a wholesale replacement of Japanese ciphers ordered in the wake of the Italian warning.
On July 3, Col. Carter Clarke, chief of Special Branch—the office in the Signal Security Service responsible for disseminating communications intelligence within the War Department— informed General Strong about the pilfered papers and the alarm in Tokyo, Lisbon, and Madrid. He also raised the possibility that it was the OSS operation that had jeopardized the wall of secrecy surrounding American code breaking successes.
If Clarke had hoped to set off warning bells, he certainly pushed the right button.
Strong at once launched a personal investigation, questioning OSS managers and requiring the service to produce all records concerning the Lisbon operation immediately. Strong almost immediately muddied the waters—probably more from confusion than malice, however. The scraps of paper fished from the wastebasket by the OSS agent pertained to a cipher used by the Japanese naval attaché. But the general got it into his head that the OSS had stolen an entirely different cipher, used by Japanese army attachés in Axis and neutral capitals to keep Tokyo informed of their espionage activities. American code breakers had cracked this important and difficult cipher, a coup that Strong feared was now in jeopardy. Outraged, he fired off a series of memos to General Marshall condemning the “ill-advised and amateurish” activities of the OSS, warning that such shenanigans “have so alarmed the Japanese that it is an even money bet that the codes employed by the Japanese are in imminent danger of being changed,” and concluding that the OSS was no less than “a menace to the security of the nation.”
To support his accusations, Strong told Marshall that he had consulted George F. Kennan, the counselor of the American embassy in Lisbon, then in Washington on home leave Kennan had confirmed to Strong that OSS officers in Portugal were rank amateurs whose efforts to penetrate the Japanese embassy were at best puerile and at worst disastrous, since their sources inside the embassy were almost certainly double agents who kept the Japanese informed of OSS activities. Strong demanded the recall of all OSS officers involved in the operation, an investigation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of all OSS activities, and an explicit prohibition on OSS operations that might compromise sources handled by other intelligence elements.
Ironically, it was Kennan himself whose carelessness almost certainly was responsible for the Italians becoming aware of OSS penetration of the embassy. Kennan—who would later become famous as the author of a long analysis of Moscow’s intentions that formed the basis of the American cold war policy of containment of Soviet ambitions—was actually playing a double game. While still in Lisbon, Kennan had actually approved the operation in advance, been shown the documents that had been obtained, and had congratulated OSS officials there on their success. Somehow Kennan forgot to mention any of these facts to Strong during his investigation. Moreover, it is unlikely that Kennan, as a career diplomat, would have failed to inform his superiors by cable of at least the general outlines of the OSS operation. The trouble with that was that Italian military intelligence had broken the cipher used by the State Department to communicate with its embassies. The Italians almost surely intercepted and decrypted Kennan’s message to Washington revealing that the Japanese embassy had been penetrated—and cipher materials stolen.
also turned out that the OSS had never asked its mole in the embassy to target cryptographic material the man had just spotted the papers in the trash and acted on his own. Moreover, the recall by the Japanese foreign ministry of cipher J-19 was not even a reaction to the warning from Italian intelligence, but part of a scheduled upgrade of diplomatic ciphers that the ministry had begun in late 1942. The new army attaché cipher had been introduced in February 1943, at least four weeks before the theft from the Japanese embassy, and a full four months before Tokyo heard from Italian intelligence about the possible penetration of its ciphers. Finally, by late summer 1943, the U.S. Army code breakers had intercepted messages passing between Tokyo and its diplomatic missions in Portugal and Spain indicating that after their initial excitement, the Japanese had convinced themselves that there had been no compromise of security. The ambassador in Lisbon informed Tokyo that embassy security measures, including wax seals placed nightly on the doors and windows of the embassy’s code room, were impenetrable.“This is a planted report to throw us off balance,” the foreign ministry in Tokyo concluded, and determined that there was no need to distribute new ciphers.
Yet all of this exculpatory evidence—which surely was known to Colonel Clarke and General Strong—was not circulated with the alacrity of the original charges: the Lisbon affair always had much less to do with protecting access to Japanese communications than with bureaucratic backstabbing.
But Strong may have had another reason at that particular moment for having such a short fuse over any implication that America could not properly handle cryptographic secrets. In the spring of 1943 Strong and his communications intelligence managers, including Colonel Clarke, were engaged in delicate negotiations with their British counterparts over access to German messages encrypted by the Enigma cipher machine. While prepared to share the intelligence results of their work against Enigma, the British were reluctant to allow Americans to participate in the technical process of cracking the German messages. Strong struggled throughout the spring of 1943 to convince the British to give his service a seat at the Enigma table. The fact that the U.S. Navy already sat at that exclusive table especially galled the combative general who, even in his best humor, was inclined to see a personal affront in every gesture or development. After months of difficult negotiations that strained the Anglo-American intelligence alliance, Strong overcame British reservations, particularly about British concerns that Americans were lax when it came to security, and in May 1943 signed an agreement providing for U.S. Army participation in Enigma operations. With the ink hardly dry on the document, the last thing that the general needed was an incident that suggested that top-secret cryptanalytic programs could be compromised by the actions of American agents in foreign lands.
In the short run the OSS survived Strong’s wrath, although to mollify the general Donovan issued an order prohibiting OSS personnel from seeking cryptographic material. The Lisbon affair, however, permanently sullied the agency’s reputation and provided ammunition for critics who would, after the war, convince President Truman to dismiss Donovan and abolish the OSS. The erstwhile spymaster learned that intelligence wars are fought on domestic as well as foreign fronts—and that dangerous opponents were to be found in the corridors of Washington as well as the streets and alleys of foreign capitals.
Originally published in the February 2008 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here.
Donovan was born and raised in Rockville Centre on Long Island, New York along with a younger sister  by his parents, Bill Donovan Sr. and Joan Donovan. Bill Donovan Sr. is the third leading scorer in the history of the Boston College Eagles men's basketball program, and he sometimes coached his only son's youth basketball teams while working in the textile industry.  Billy Donovan Jr. attended St. Agnes Cathedral High School in Rockville Centre, where he played basketball under coach Frank Morris. Donovan was described as a "gym rat" who would play basketball as often as possible, even sneaking into his high school gymnasium late at night to practice.  With Donovan starting at point guard, St. Agnes won the Long Island Catholic High School Championship during his senior year. 
Providence College Edit
Upon graduation, Donovan accepted an athletic scholarship to Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. He was not a starter during his first two seasons with the Providence Friars men's basketball team and averaged two points per game as a freshman and three as a sophomore under coach Joe Mullaney. Mullaney retired after the 1984–85 season, and New York Knicks assistant coach Rick Pitino became Providence's new head coach. Soon after, Donovan informed Pitino that he would like to transfer to Fairfield or Northeastern to get more playing time. However, when Pitino called the coaches of those smaller conference schools on Donovan's behalf, they declined to offer him a scholarship, so Pitino advised Donovan to stay at Providence and get himself into better physical shape for the upcoming season. 
Donovan flourished in Pitino's system, which emphasized the new three-point shot on offense and a fast-paced full-court press defense. "Billy the Kid," as Providence fans soon nicknamed him (after the 19th-century outlaw), averaged 15.1 points per game as a junior and 20.6 as a senior, when he led the sixth-seeded Friars to the 1987 Final Four and earned Southeast Regional Most Valuable Player honors. Donovan was also named to the 1987 All-Big East first team, the 1987 Big East All-Tournament team, and was an honorable mention All-American.  Pitino would later say, "I've never in my life had anyone work as hard to improve as (Donovan)." 
Professional career Edit
Donovan was drafted by the Utah Jazz in the third round (68th overall) of the 1987 NBA draft, but was waived before the regular season began. He signed with the Wyoming Wildcatters of the Continental Basketball Association, hoping for another chance to play in the NBA. Pitino left Providence after the team's Final Four run and returned to New York as the head coach of the New York Knicks. In December 1987, Donovan was reunited with his college coach when the Knicks signed him to a one-year contract.  He served as a reserve guard for the remainder of the 1987–88 season and averaged 2.4 points and 2.0 assists over 44 games.
The Knicks waived Donovan in March 1988. He did not make an NBA roster during the 1988–89 preseason, so he returned to the CBA, averaging 10.1 points per game with the Rapid City Thrillers.  
Donovan had not received another NBA offer by the end of 1988 and came to the conclusion that he did not have a long-term future as a professional basketball player. He left the CBA in January 1989 and took a job with a Wall Street investment banking firm. Donovan was "miserable" during his brief stint as a stock broker, and he especially hated the required cold-call stock sales.  After just a few weeks at the firm, he called Pitino to seek advice about becoming a basketball coach. Donovan had not been a vocal leader as a player, and Pitino doubted if he had the necessary communication skills required for coaching, so he suggested that Donovan give the financial sector more of a chance before rushing to change careers.  
Donovan called Pitino again in April 1989 to reaffirm his interest in coaching basketball. At the time, Pitino was in the process of leaving the Knicks to become the head coach at the University of Kentucky, and he agreed to bring along Donovan as a graduate assistant to see if he had a future in coaching. 
Kentucky assistant (1989–94) Edit
Pitino was tasked with rebuilding a Kentucky basketball program which had been devastated by sanctions levied by the NCAA due to earlier rules violations. The Wildcats quickly returned to national prominence, and Donovan's coaching career progressed quickly as well. After one season as a graduate assistant, he was promoted to assistant coach in 1990 and to associate head coach in 1992. In that position, Donovan served as Pitino's top assistant during Kentucky's 1993 Final Four run, and he helped to recruit the members of UK's 1996 national championship team. 
Marshall University (1994–96) Edit
Donovan's association with Kentucky's success plus Pitino's recommendation earned him an offer to become the head basketball coach at Marshall University, where the Thundering Herd had struggled to a 9–18 record during the 1993–94 season. Donovan accepted the offer, making him (at 28 years old) the youngest head basketball coach in NCAA Division I. 
At Marshall, Donovan installed the fast-paced offense and defensive schemes employed by Pitino. A previously scheduled early season match-up pitted Marshall against Kentucky in December 1994. Before the game, Pitino advised his young protege to "try to whip Kentucky's ass, because we'll try to do the same to you."  Though he was warmly received by the Rupp Arena crowd, Donovan's team did not feel as welcome, losing 116–75. The rest of the season was more successful. Donovan's first Marshall squad doubled its win total from the previous year, earning an 18–9 record and winning the Southern Conference North Division title as Donovan was named the 1995 Southern Conference Coach of the Year. In Donovan's second season, 1995–96, the team went 17–11 and led the Southern Conference in scoring and three-point field goals. Donovan was also successful on the recruiting trail, convincing nationally sought prep star Jason Williams to decline scholarship offers from more established programs and remain in state to attend Marshall. Williams would later follow Donovan to Florida.
In all, Donovan's Marshall teams compiled a 35–20 record over two seasons.
University of Florida (1996–2015) Edit
In March 1996, University of Florida basketball coach Lon Kruger resigned to take the same position at the University of Illinois. The Florida basketball program had only fleeting success over its history, and although the Gators reached their first Final Four under Kruger in 1994, his teams slipped back to mediocre levels. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley sought a "young, energetic, and enthusiastic" coach to bring sustained success, and after a wide-ranging search, he decided that 30-year-old Billy Donovan was the best fit.  To assure Donovan that he would be given enough time to build up the program, Foley offered him a six-year contract. 
With few talented players on the roster, Donovan's first two Florida squads had records of 13–17 and 15–16. There were some signs of improvement, however, as the 1997–98 team was invited to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), and Donovan's "relentless" recruiting during this period set the foundation for future success. 
Donovan finally brought lasting success to the Florida basketball program during the 1998–99 season. The Gators went 22–9, earning 20+ wins for only the fifth time in history and starting a streak of 16 consecutive 20-win seasons. The Gators continued to play well in the 1999 postseason, as they made their third NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance and became the second squad in school history to appear in the final top 25 polls (No. 17 in the ESPN/USA Today Poll and No. 23 in the Associated Press Poll).
The 1999–2000 season saw Donovan lead the Gators to their first regular season SEC Championship and their second NCAA Final Four appearance, defeating North Carolina in the national semi-finals before falling to Michigan State in the NCAA championship game.
The Gators again won the SEC regular season championship during the 2000–01 season, and on February 3, 2003, the team achieved a No. 1 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today poll for the first time in school history, returning there the following season on December 8, 2003. The 2004–05 season was highlighted by Florida defeating Kentucky 70–53 to win the SEC Tournament Championship, the first time that the Gators won the conference tournament.
While successful during the regular season, Donovan's Florida squads from 2001 to 2005 consistently underperformed in the NCAA tournament, losing to lower-seeded teams in the first or second round every year despite rosters stocked with highly recruited players. Still in his thirties, some commentators speculated that Donovan was an excellent recruiter who was unable to make in-game adjustments or develop talented players once they were on the UF campus.  
Back-to-back national championships Edit
In the 2005–06 season, Donovan's sophomore-led Gator squad posted the school's best-ever win streak to start a season, reeling off 17 straight wins and reaching No. 2 in the nation in the AP Poll. However, the team failed to reach the top spot as they lost its first SEC game of the season to the Tennessee Volunteers. This loss was followed by a surprising season sweep at the hands of the eventual 2006 National Invitation Tournament champion South Carolina Gamecocks as Florida posted a 10–6 conference record, good for second place in the SEC Eastern Division.
Donovan's young Gator squad would come together in the postseason. Florida reached the SEC Tournament championship and avenged their surprising regular season defeats by beating South Carolina in the finals, earning the school's second conference tournament title. In the 2006 NCAA tournament, the 3rd-seeded Gators finally reached the Sweet 16 and beyond. They defeated Villanova (who had knocked them out the tournament the previous season) to reach the Final Four, and in the championship game, they defeated UCLA 73–57 to win the school's first NCAA basketball title.
During a post-championship celebration in the O'Connell Center, the Gators' entire starting five of (Lee Humphrey, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Taurean Green) announced they would return the following year and attempt to win another championship (the last back-to-back title winner was 1991 and 1992 Duke) instead of declaring early for the NBA draft. Accordingly, the Gators were named preseason favorites to repeat by many media pundits. The Gators raced out of the gates, losing just two non-conference games (versus Kansas and at Florida State). On December 20, 2006, Donovan became the winningest basketball coach in Florida history, earning his 236th win to surpass Norm Sloan's total.  The 2007 Gators looked even more mature in terms of their unselfishness, passing and shooting abilities and overall team play. Although the Gators sputtered down the stretch during SEC play, losing three of four games beginning with a loss at Vanderbilt, the team rebounded with its sixth consecutive win over its archrivals, the Kentucky Wildcats, to regain momentum and claim the SEC regular season championship. The Gators then repeated as SEC Tournament champions with dominating performances that culminated in a win over the Arkansas Razorbacks in the finals.
Florida earned the number one overall seed in the 2007 NCAA Tournament and defeated Jackson State, Purdue, Butler and Oregon to reach the Final Four.  The semi-final was a rematch of the 2006 title game against UCLA, and Donovan's Gators prevailed 76–66. The Gators secured their repeat championship two nights later with an emphatic 84–75 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes, coached by Thad Matta. With the Florida Gators football having won the 2007 BCS National Championship Game (also over Ohio State) three months prior, the University of Florida became the first school in NCAA history to hold both the football and basketball national championships at the same time.
Donovan's first decade in Gainesville brought a new level of success to the University of Florida's basketball program. The Gators were invited to the NCAA Tournament in every season between 1999 and 2007 (a streak of nine straight appearances), reached three national championship games, and won two NCAA titles. In contrast, Florida basketball squads had only appeared in five NCAA Tournaments in 81 years of play before Donovan's arrival and had never reached an NCAA championship game. In conference play, Florida had captured only one regular season SEC championship and had never won the conference tournament before Donovan's arrival. From 1996 until 2007, the Gators won three SEC regular season titles and three SEC tournament titles.
After announcing his return to Gainesville, Donovan signed the top-ranked 2007 recruiting class, as rated by Rivals.com. 
Despite the loss of all five starters from the previous year, the Gators surprised many pundits with Donovan's tenth straight twenty-win season.  However, after an 18–3 start, the team struggled during the final third of the season, winning just three of its last eleven games and snapping the Gators' nine-year streak of NCAA Tournament invitations. The young Gator team rebounded to reach the semifinals of the 2008 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) before falling to the UMass Minutemen.
The 2008–09 Gators started out the season ranked No. 19 and 5–0 before falling to Syracuse. A loss two weeks later to the Florida State Seminoles knocked the Gators out of the top twenty-five ranked teams. Though the team won twenty-two regular season games, it once again was not enough to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. However, the Gators were given a number one seed in the 2009 NIT, where they lost to the Penn State Nittany Lions in the quarterfinals.
The Gators returned to the NCAA tournament during the 2009–10 season, but lost in the first round to the BYU Cougars in double overtime. During the season, Florida defeated Florida State, ending a three-game losing streak to the Seminoles. They also defeated Michigan State, a preseason favorite to win the NCAA tournament and an eventual Final Four team, en route to winning the 2009 Legends Classic tournament.
With three returning senior starters, the 2010–11 Gators posted an improved record. They won the SEC regular season title, and were the runners-up in the 2011 SEC Tournament. In the 2011 NCAA Tournament, the Gators defeated the Jimmer Fredette-led BYU Cougars, before losing in overtime to the Butler Bulldogs in the Elite Eight.
On March 8, 2011, Donovan was named the 2011 SEC Coach of the Year.  Despite appearing in three national title games and winning two national titles, it was Donovan's first time winning the award. Gators forward Chandler Parsons also became the first Gator to ever win SEC Player of the Year honors.
The 2011–12 Gators were again invited to the NCAA Tournament, this time as a seventh-seed. They defeated the tenth-seeded Virginia Cavaliers and fifteenth-seeded Norfolk State (who had beaten second-seeded Missouri) to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, then defeated Marquette 68–58 to return to the Elite Eight for the second straight year. In the Elite Eight, Donovan and the Gators faced off against Louisville and Donovan's former coach Pitino. The Gators fell in a very close game, 72–68.
Donovan recorded his 400th career victory at the University of Florida on January 19, 2013 with an 83–52 win over the Missouri Tigers. The Gators won the 2013 SEC regular season championship (Donovan's fifth regular season conference championship), finished as runner-up in the 2013 SEC Tournament (losing to Ole Miss in the championship game), and advanced to a third consecutive Elite Eight (defeating Northwestern State in the second round, Minnesota in the third round, and Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet Sixteen, before losing to Michigan in the regional final).
Donovan's 2013–14 squad started the year with several players injured or suspended and faced one of the most challenging non-conference schedules in college basketball. Florida dropped two close road games to ranked teams and entered the conference portion of their schedule with an 11–2 record and a No. 10 national ranking. The Gators would not lose again during the regular season, becoming the first team in SEC history to finish with an 18–0 conference record while also setting numerous school records.  Florida then won the 2014 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament to run their overall record against SEC opponents to 21–0.
The SEC regular season championship was the third in four seasons for Donovan's Gators, and their conference tournament championship was their fourth in school history, all coming under Donovan. He was named the SEC's Coach of the Year for the third time, and his players won many of the conference's individual awards. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was named Southeastern Conference Men's Basketball Player of the Year and the SEC Tournament MVP, senior center Patric Young was named the Defensive Player and Scholar-Athlete of the Year, junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith was named Sixth Man of the Year, and senior guard Casey Prather was named to the All-SEC First Team. 
The Gators earned the number one overall seed in the 2014 NCAA tournament, and their winning streak stretched to 30 games as they reached the Final Four by defeating each of their first four tournament opponents by double digit margins. However, the Gators' season ended with a national semifinal loss to the 7-seed and eventual national champion UConn Huskies, who had been the last team to beat Florida the previous December.
On February 28, 2015, Donovan became the second youngest coach in NCAA Division I history to earn 500 career wins, accomplishing the feat in the Florida Gators' 66–49 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers. Donovan joined Bob Knight as the only coaches to reach 500 wins before turning 50 years old. However, his Gator squad finished the season with a 16–17 record, ending the Gators' winning season and 20-win season streaks at 16 years apiece.
In 18 years at Florida, Donovan led the Gators to 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, six SEC regular season titles (four outright, two shared) and four SEC Tournament titles. By comparison, the Gators had only made three "official" NCAA Tournament appearances (not counting two under Sloan which were vacated), one regular season conference title, and no tournament titles in their entire history before Donovan's arrival.
Orlando Magic (June 2007) Edit
During Florida's national championship runs, rumors abounded that Donovan was considering an offer to become the head coach at the University of Kentucky. He later said that, while UK may have had some interest, he "never had any official contact with Kentucky."  After winning the 2007 national championship, Donovan announced that he had no plans to leave Florida for another college job and was working on a contract extension with UF.
However, in late May, the NBA's Orlando Magic offered Donovan their head coaching job to replace Brian Hill, who had been fired after two consecutive losing seasons. Donovan struggled with the decision until June 1, 2007 when he agreed to accept the Orlando Magic's contract offer, reportedly worth $27.5 million over five years.  Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley contacted Anthony Grant, Donovan's former assistant who was the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University at the time, to inquire about his interest in replacing Donovan. 
Donovan held an introductory press conference in Orlando on June 1, 2007, followed by an emotional farewell press conference in Gainesville later that day. The next morning Donovan began having second thoughts about his decision, and informed Jeremy Foley and the Magic front office that he had changed his mind about leaving Florida.  After failing to change his mind, the Magic reached an agreement with Donovan on June 6, 2007, releasing him from his contract, thereby leaving him free to return as the head coach of the Florida Gators basketball team. As a stipulation of his release, he reportedly agreed not to coach in the NBA for the following five seasons.   Donovan issued apologies to all involved parties, and the Orlando Magic soon after hired Stan Van Gundy as their head coach. 
Oklahoma City Thunder (2015–2020) Edit
On April 30, 2015, Donovan was named the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, reportedly agreeing to a five-year deal   replacing Scott Brooks worth nearly $30 million,  who previously coached the Thunder for seven seasons. 
On September 8, 2020, it was announced that Donovan would not be returning to the team as the two sides failed to agree on a contract extension.  Over his five seasons in Oklahoma City, Donovan went 243–157 while making the postseason each year, advancing past the first round just once.
Following the 2019–20 season, Donovan's contract was not renewed, and both sides agreed to mutually part ways. 
Chicago Bulls (2020–present) Edit
On September 22, 2020, the Chicago Bulls hired Donovan as their new head coach  with a four-year deal worth a reported $24 million.  Donovan got his first win as Bulls coach on December 29, beating the Washington Wizards 115–107. 
Donovan has been chosen to be a head coach for USA Basketball on three occasions. He coached the 2012 U18 team to the 2012 FIBA Americas Under-18 Championship, going 5–0 in the tournament. He then led many of the same players to the 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Championship, going 9–0 in that tournament. The following summer, he again coached the US team at the 2014 FIBA Americas Under-18 Championship and again led them to the tournament championship with another 5–0 record. 
Some commentators have opined that Donovan should succeed Mike Krzyzewski as the head coach of the United States men's national basketball team at the 2020 Summer Olympics. 
The United States Sports Academy presented Donovan with the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award in 2006.   Donovan was the recipient of the John R. Wooden Award's "Legends of Coaching Award" in 2010. Donovan was recognized by his peers as the SEC Coach of the Year in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
Donovan married his wife, Christine (née D'Auria), in 1989.  The Donovans have four children: Connor, Bryan, Hasbrouck and William Donovan III, who transferred to Florida from Catholic University and walked on to his father's team as a reserve guard.  A fifth child, Jacqueline, was delivered stillborn in 2000, prompting Donovan to become involved in several children's charities and to help raise funds for a children's hospital in Gainesville.  Similar tragedies struck the families of Pitino, former assistant coach Anthony Grant, and current assistant John Pelphrey, forging a closer bond between them. 
Donovan's parents bought a home in Gainesville in 1996, and Bill Donovan Sr., has been a fixture at most Gator games and practices ever since. 
Donovan is a Roman Catholic. He has been described as politically conservative by some of his players and in the media  however, he is a registered independent. 
In October 2008, coach Donovan and then-head Florida Gators football coach Urban Meyer were named co-chairmen of an effort to raise $50 million to support the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program.   The Florida Opportunity Scholars Program was created by University of Florida President Bernie Machen in 2006, and is intended to increase the opportunities for academically prepared first-generation students who have experience significantly different needs and financial challenges.  
Donovan was instrumental in fund-raising and pushing for the development of a Catholic high school in Gainesville, which did not have a Catholic secondary school when Donovan arrived at the University of Florida in 1996. St. Francis High School opened in 2004 and expanded in 2008 with much help from Donovan his children attended the school.   
National champion Postseason invitational champion
Conference regular season champion Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
Division regular season champion Division regular season and conference tournament champion
Conference tournament champion
Donovan Builds the COI
Without any of the usual fanfare accompanying a new agency, Donovan began to set up shop. In the space-tight capital, he obtained a few rooms and telephones, and with half a dozen assistants began to recruit an organization. After several moves, each into larger quarters, Donovan, in September 1942, consolidated into what would be his organization’s headquarters throughout the war. It was a 13-acre, six-building complex at the far western end of E Street between that and Constitution Avenue, which ran parallel to E street, and bordered by 23rd Street to the east and 25th Street to the west. The buildings were those formerly occupied by the National Institutes of Health and the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Donovan, who for security purposes was referred to in coded messages as “109” had his office on the southwest corner on the second floor of the South Building. Several large wooden huts, called temporary buildings, although some dated back to World War I, housed more offices, including most famously within the OSS, “Q” Building at 2430 E Street, N.W., the main personnel administration center where most new recruits reported. As the organization expanded during the war, OSS established additional administrative and storage facilities in a nearby former public skating rink and warehouses down the hill. Motorists driving along the then Rock Creek Park Drive generally paid no attention to the anonymous looking governmental structures scattered around a generally, rather disreputable industrial area. 57
Donovan had an anti-bureaucratic philosophy. Because he saw members of his agency as learning their way in new forms of warfare, he was more interested in initiative, innovation, and results than abidance by the rules and being held to strict accountability. He told subordinates that he would rather have them use their imagination, try new things, and take risks, even if it meant that they would make mistakes and sometimes fail, rather than simply to stick cautiously to traditional ways of doing things. Donovan was not interested in military expertise as much as people who could think quickly and clearly and find innovative solutions to difficult situations. He asked for bold, new thinking and action, and, to a surprising extent, he got them. The organization was infused with Donovan’s own spirit of energy, experimentation, and possibility. He was an inspiring leader: visionary, bright, brave, quick to make decisions, open and fair. “He was open-minded,” recalled Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., historian and veteran of the Research and Analysis Branch. “He listened to anything. He’d try anything. He was adventuresome. He was not a conventional figure.” 58 The innovators, explorers, and point people in his organization probed new frontiers in the war against the Axis powers. They felt a sense of uniqueness, of special quality, of membership in an elite group. The members of Donovan’s organization viewed themselves as an advanced guard leading at the point of attack against the Axis threat to civilization. No wonder that the OSS selected for its emblem, its shoulder patch, a golden spear point. 59
With a free hand in hiring, Donovan began by enlisted a number of his able associates and then began recruiting Americans who had traveled abroad or were otherwise well versed in world affairs. In the early 1940s, that often meant educated or affluent members of the American elites or foreign émigrés. Donovan relied upon his personal contacts with people he or his subordinates trusted, and he drew most of his top aides from prestigious colleges and universities, businesses, and law firms, including his own. 60 As the war approached and particularly after the United States entered the war following the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, many Americans volunteered to serve their country. In that rush to service, Donovan's COI and its successor, the OSS, drew such a disproportionate number of socially prominent men and women that some wags claimed the initials of O.S. S. stood for "Oh-So-Social." Although prominent people held a number of high level positions in the agency, the vast majority of the men and women recruited by the OSS were neither prominent nor listed in the Social Register. 61
First priorities were to obtain experts to evaluate incoming intelligence and also propagandists who would use some of that research to undermine enemy morale abroad. As early as June 1941, Donovan had obtained the support of the Librarian of Congress, poet Archibald MacLeish, to allow the prospective organization to use the library's extensive materials in analyzing the Axis' strengths and weaknesses. In July, Donovan hired the President of Williams College, James Phinney Baxter III, an historian, to head the COI’s Research and Analysis (R&A) Branch. Baxter and Donovan quickly recruited noted scholars in various disciplines from prestigious colleges and universities and put them to work in the Library of Congress Among the early recruits were Harvard historian William L. Langer Edward Meade Earle from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton economist Edward S. Mason from Harvard Joseph Hayden, a University of Michigan political scientist and former vice governor of the Philippines historian Sherman Kent of Yale Wilmarth S. Lewis, millionaire Yale biographer of Horace Walpole and James L. McConnaughy, President of Wesleyan University, and many others. Within a few months, Donovan began sending to Roosevelt summaries of detailed R&A reports on strategic economic, political, social, and military information about conditions and strategic prospects in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. 62 Robert E. Sherwood, noted playwright, pacifist turned interventionist and a speech writer for the President, enthusiastically endorsed the idea of undermining enemy morale and bolstering resistance via short-wave radio broadcasts and other media aimed at Nazi Germany and German-occupied countries, and Donovan quickly chose him to head COI’s Foreign Information Service. Within a few months, Donovan added a Visual Presentation Branch, which would include Hollywood directors John Ford, famous for his westerns and other epics, and Merian C. Cooper, adventurer/filmmaker and creator of King Kong. 63 To facilitate COI’s work in Europe and the German-occupied countries there, Donovan, with the permission of Roosevelt and Churchill, set up an office in London in October 1941, the first of many overseas regional headquarters. 64
Donovan’s organization expanded dramatically. When the COI was established in July 1941, planners at the Bureau of the Budget had estimated that it would need only a small staff and an annual budget of about $1.5 million. At the same time, Donovan warned that additional funds for the secret operations would be needed later. Still, the overall estimate was $5 million. The Budget planners certainly underestimated Donovan. In November 1941, Budget Director Harold Smith was shocked by Donovan’s budget request for $14 million for fiscal year 1942. Roosevelt concurred in most of Donovan’s requests, and by December 1941, COI had 600 staffers and a current budget of $10 million, the major outlays of which were for international short-wave and medium-wave broadcasting to Europe and the Far East, counterespionage and secret activities in Europe, Research and Analysis, and the creation of a War Situation Room for the President. On December 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. Roosevelt authorized an immediate additional $3 million for the COI. 65
More importantly, although the majority of expenditures for COI/OSS—payrolls, supplies, and other regular expenses—were paid with vouchered funds, subject to government audit, COI and later OSS also obtained authority to use "unvouchered" funds (U.V.F.) from the President's emergency allocations. Congress granted these to the President and a few other designated officials to spend solely on their personal responsibility. They did not have to disclose the specific purpose for which the funds were used, and these secret expenditures were not subject to detailed audit. In practice, Donovan had only to sign a note certifying that the funds had been used properly for national security purposes. This fiscal authority, augmented by the espionage authority that Donovan received from the armed forces, allowed him to conduct a wide variety of secret activities, from hiring foreign spies, to sending American agents behind enemy lines with bags full of currency, gold or silver coins, or other inducements for recruiting and purchasing supplies for indigenous guerrillas, for bribes for guards or turncoat officers, for theft, assassination attempts and a host of other clandestine purposes. As a CIA historian later put it, unvouchered funds were "the lifeblood of clandestine operations." 66
During the war, considerable sums were paid for secret ends. Neither the names of the OSS personnel in the field who made the secret payments, nor the identity of those who received them was revealed for the record. There was no detailed accounting of that kind of disbursement. “U.V.F. was dollar dynamite,” recalled Stanley P. Lovell, chief of Research and Development. “Always haunting us was the specter of some postwar Congressional committee, which might well be empowered by the Congress to ignore all wartime secrecy and which, assuming a hostile attitude, might make a Teapot Dome type of thing [scandal] out of these large sums, for which no accounting whatever existed.” 67 Consequently, Donovan placed responsibility for the unvouchered funds in the hands of a triumvirate of individually wealthy and highly respected financiers: Junius S. Morgan of J.P. Morgan and Company in New York Robert H. Ives Goddard, an immensely wealthy financier from Providence, Rhode Island and W. Lane Rehm, financial genius of one of the largest investment trusts in the United States. Together they performed the delicate task of approving or denying requests for use of unvouchered funds and assessing reports on their expenditure in secret activities.
When the COI was established in July 1941, Donovan focused first on building an administrative staff and then on recruiting college faculty, who were area experts, for research and analysis of available information, and setting up a propaganda system. But even before the U.S. entered the war, he had begun to plan a secret operational division that would engage in espionage, counter-espionage, and, as he confided to a representative of the Bureau of the Budget, “very secret activities dealing with sabotage and other ideas which might be developed as the program progresses.” 68
In the fall of 1941, Donovan set up a small working group in COI called “Special Activities,” instructing its members to study clandestine activities, not just espionage but also subversive special operations’ activities by saboteurs, commandos or guerrilla units. His primary American advisers at COI and then OSS on espionage and subversion would be two old and trusted friends. One was David K.E. Bruce, a diplomat married to one of the Pittsburgh Mellons, who was allegedly the wealthiest woman in America. In early 1942, Donovan put Bruce in charge of a fledgling espionage unit known first as Special Activities, Bruce (or SA/B), and then once the COI became the OSS in June 1942, the Secret Intelligence Branch (SI). 69
The other man was M. Preston Goodfellow, a Brooklyn newspaper publisher, who in 1942 would head the Special Operations Branch, and would play an important role in the creation of the training camps in the National Parks. As befitting his last name, Preston Goodfellow was a jolly, good-natured man, an executive with ability to charm and even to ingratiate himself to diverse people while, keeping his eye on the main chance. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he spent a career in New York newspapers. After graduation from New York University with a degree in journalism, he had worked his way up in the city’s newspapers from copy boy to reporter to city editor. He had also joined the Army reserves as an officer, and in World War I, he served in the Army Signal Corps in the United States. After the war, Goodfellow rejoined the Brooklyn Eagle but this time on the business rather than the editorial side. A successful advertising manager there, he left to spend three years as assistant publisher of Hearst’s New York American, then resigned in 1932 to become co-owner and publisher of the Brooklyn Eagle. Six years later, he formed his own business, which he ran until July 1941 when he was recalled by the Army to active duty. Major Goodfellow was assigned to duty in the office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2) in Washington, D.C. There, the friendly 49-year-old New Yorker, who was at ease with both civilian and military personnel, became sympathetic to Donovan’s ideas about unconventional warfare. Consequently beginning in September 1941, Goodfellow, by then a lieutenant colonel, was assigned by G-2 to work informally as liaison between Army Intelligence and the new Coordinator of Information. 70
At COI, Goodfellow became in effect head of the special covert operations planning side of Donovan’s organization after Donovan had a falling out with the first head of that activity, Robert Solberg. In October 1941, Donovan has sent Solberg to England for three months to study the British Special Operations Executive. Goodfellow served as acting chief while Solberg was away and succeeded him in January 1942 when Solberg returned and proposed a plan to replicate British SOE that Donovan rejected. 71 With Solberg’s departure, the office became known as Special Activities/ Goodfellow (or SA/G) until OSS was established in June 1942, when it became the Special Operations Branch. For nearly a year, from the fall of 1941 through August 1942, Goodfellow had divided his time between the two intelligence agencies, Donovan’s and the Army’s, before being assigned fulltime as deputy director of OSS. 72 Goodfellow’s main impact on Donovan’s organization in 1942 was in launching Special Operations and the first American-based training program for agents of the OSS.
In October 1941, when Donovan had sent Solberg to Britain to study the organization, training, and effectiveness of the British Special Operations, the Coordinator of Information did not believe that it was either wise or practical for the Office of COI, being a civilian agency, to seek formal authorization for commandos or guerrilla units when the United States was not officially at war. Consequently, special operations planning in the Office of the COI had not gone beyond rudimentary ideas and an informal title by November1941. 73 That would change dramatically, as would Donovan’s entire organization, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.
A World War I Hero
Donovan was born in 1883 and was drawn to service at an early age. At 29 years old, after graduating from Columbia Law School, he joined the New York National Guard’s 69 th “Fighting Irish” Regiment as a Captain. Not long after, at the onset of World War I, Donovan answered the Nation’s call once again, serving in the 165 th Regiment of the U.S. Army. It was here that the legend of ‘Wild Bill’ began. According to Douglas Waller, author of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage, the story goes something like this:
“After once running them [the troops in his unit in Europe during World War I] in full packs on a three-mile obstacle course over walls, under barbed wire, through icy streams, and up and down hills, the men collapsed gasping for air. ‘What the hell’s the matter with you guys?’ demanded Donovan, who had just turned thirty-five and carried the same load. ‘I haven’t lost my breath.’ A trooper in the back whom Donovan couldn’t see shouted: ‘But hell, we are not as wild as you are, Bill.’ From that day on, ‘Wild Bill’ stuck. Donovan professed annoyance with the nickname because it ran counter to the quiet, intense image he wanted to project. But Ruth [his wife] knew that deep down he loved it.”
As a leader, Donovan demanded excellence from the troops in his battalion, but always led by example, on and off the battlefield. By the end of the war, Donovan had been wounded in action on three separate occasions. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Medal, and—for bravery under fire between 15-16 October 1918 near Landres-et-St.Georges, France—the Medal of Honor. He was among the most highly decorated U.S. soldiers in World War I.
Bridge of Spies (2015)
The Bridge of Spies true story reveals that it was Abel's assistant, Reino Häyhänen, who alerted U.S. authorities to Abel's espionage. After working as a spy in America for approximately ten years, Abel had become unhappy with his assistant over his drinking, arguing with his wife, and hiring of prostitutes. Abel complained to Moscow and Häyhänen was asked to return. Fearing that he would be punished or at worst executed, Häyhänen fled to the U.S. Embassy in Paris where he revealed his identity as a KGB agent and alerted U.S. officials to the whereabouts of Rudolf Abel, which eventually led to Abel's capture by the FBI on June 21, 1957. -It's History (YouTube)
Was James B. Donovan really hesitant to defend Rudolf Abel?
Why did the Brooklyn Bar Association select James Donovan to defend Rudolf Abel?
As stated in the Bridge of Spies movie, despite being a civilian for more than a decade, Donovan had experience from working at the Nuremberg war crime trials as an associate prosecutor on the personal staff of Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. His work at Nuremberg won him the Legion of Merit Medal and retirement as a Navy commander.
Prior to Nuremberg, the Bridge of Spies true story reveals that Donovan had left private practice in 1942 and held the position of associate general counsel of the United States Office of Scientific Research and Development, which oversaw the creation of the atomic bomb. He was then commissioned as a line ensign in the navy in 1943, where he served as general counsel of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the agency that dealt with sabotage, espionage and other covert matters. -The Milwaukee Journal
Was Donovan's wife upset that he was going to defend a spy?
Did James B. Donovan really urge the judge not to give Rudolf Abel the death penalty because Abel could be traded in the future?
Yes. On November 15, 1957, attorney James B. Donovan, who represented Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, urged Judge Mortimer W. Byers not to consider the death penalty for his client. In open court, Donovan told the judge, "It is possible that in the foreseeable future an American of equivalent rank will be captured by Soviet Russia or an ally at such time an exchange of prisoners through diplomatic channels could be considered to be in the best national interests of the United States." Of course, this is exactly what happened approximately four years and three months later, when Abel was exchanged for downed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers at the Glienicker Bridge on February 10, 1962. The movie seems to significantly shorten the time between Abel's sentencing and the Powers-Abel exchange. -Strangers on a Bridge
As depicted in the movie, during Rudolf Abel's trial, Donovan had also argued that the government had violated Abel's Fourth Amendment rights by searching his home and seizing both Abel and all his property without a public search warrant or a criminal warrant of arrest.
Did someone really shoot out the windows of Donovan's home?
No. However, during his defense of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, Donovan and his family did receive vindictive letters and threatening phone calls, to the point that he had to have the phone line switched to an unlisted number until the trial was over. Friends of his wife Mary made comments to her and asked her if her husband was "losing his mind." His children were subjected to comments from fellow classmates. "My father says your father defends Communists," an eight-year-old schoolmate told his daughter Mary Ellen. -Strangers on a Bridge
For how long was Rudolf Abel supposed to be in prison?
How long was U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers held captive after he was shot down?
The American U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down on May 1, 1960. Powers was held captive by the Soviets until the February 10, 1962 Glienicke Bridge exchange arranged by James B. Donovan. The Soviet Union had originally sentenced Powers to ten years (three years confined to a prison followed by seven years of hard labor).
CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers had taken off from a military airbase in Peshawar, Pakistan on a mission to secretly photograph Russian military sites deep within Soviet airspace. His U-2 spy plane could reach altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet, which was thought to be too high for Soviet surface-to-air missiles or fighter planes. However, unbeknownst to the United States, the Russians had been improving the range of their missiles to combat the intrusion of spy planes in their airspace. One of the missiles exploded close enough to Powers' plane to break it apart and send it careening toward the ground. He was unable to engage the plane's self-destruct switch before ejecting from the cockpit and parachuting to the ground.
"Suddenly, there was a dull 'thump,'" Powers wrote in a memoir, "the aircraft jerked forward, and a tremendous orange flash lit the cockpit and the sky." -History.com
What were the details of the controversy surrounding the U-2 spy plane incident?
Believing that the CIA's spy plane had been destroyed and that its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was most likely dead, the Eisenhower administration tried to cover up the incident by telling the press that the pilot of a weather plane had experienced oxygen difficulties and drifted off course. The State Department denied espionage, stating that there was no "deliberate attempt to violate Soviet air space and there never has been." The cover story was exposed when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev eventually revealed that his country had recovered the wreckage of the plane and captured the pilot. Watch a newsreel highlighting the U-2 controversy. -History.com
How did James Donovan end up in charge of negotiating the Powers-Abel exchange?
Did the real James B. Donovan really witness escapees being shot as they tried to scale the Berlin Wall?
No, but in his book Strangers on a Bridge, James B. Donovan does refer to such incidents, where escaping East Germans were shot by VOPOs (East German police) at the Berlin Wall. However, it doesn't appear that he ever witnessed such a shooting in person. He only speaks of seeing heavily armed East German guards at the wall, along with observation towers and machine-gun emplacements.
How long did the negotiations take?
The true story behind Bridge of Spies reveals that it took several months of negotiating before James Donovan was sent to meet face to face with the second secretary of the Soviet Embassy, Ivan Schischkin, in East Germany. During those months, Donovan worked with the Department of Justice to set up the prisoner exchange. -The Milwaukee Journal
Did Donovan tell his wife he was going to Berlin to negotiate the prisoner exchange?
No. He deliberately fooled his wife. Business trips to Europe were an almost yearly occurrence. He sent her a cable from London telling her he was heading to Scotland. Instead, he traveled to West Berlin where he stayed for ten days, crossing into East Germany regularly to discuss the terms of the exchange with Ivan Schischkin, the second secretary of the Soviet Embassy. Donovan did meet Abel's "daughter," his "wife," and his wife's "Cousin Drews" at the Soviet Consulate, and like in the film, he suspected they were impostors who the Soviets had brought in to butter him up.
Did James Donovan really cross through the Berlin Wall alone?
Yes. Originally he was supposed to be accompanied by an American Mission officer fluent in German and Russian, but the U.S. feared that if an American official was involved, it would be diplomatically embarrassing should something go wrong. Since Donovan was given no official status, there would be no embarrassment to the government. -Strangers on a Bridge
Did a gang of youths really steal Donovan's overcoat?
No. In his book Strangers on a Bridge, he does talk about nervously walking through a group of ten or twelve seemingly homeless East German youths with cigarettes dangling from their mouths. However, they did not steal his overcoat or give him any trouble. He also did not start with a cold in part due to not having his overcoat. The real James B. Donovan did develop a cold, but it was likely due to forgetting to turn the upstairs heat on in the place he was staying at in Berlin.
Is the Schischkin character that Donovan negotiates with based on a real person?
Yes. The Bridge of Spies true story reveals that the Ivan Schischkin character, who Donovan meets with when he crosses the Berlin Wall into East Germany, is indeed based on a real person. His full name is Ivan Alexandrovich Schischkin and he was the second secretary of the Soviet Embassy. As witnessed in the movie, the real James B. Donovan says that Schischkin spoke "impeccable" English. -Strangers on a Bridge
On what charges was American Student Frederic Pryor being held by the East Germans?
American economics student Frederic Pryor had been held by the East Germans on espionage charges. Prior to the Berlin Wall going up, the Yale student had been doing research for his doctorate on trade behind the Iron Curtain. When his research led him to obtain material that the East Germans deemed confidential, they arrested him and the prosecutor demanded the death penalty. The East Germans were hoping for a propaganda trial that would force the United States to publicly recognize the East German government, something that the U.S. had refused to do. -Strangers on a Bridge
When and where was the prisoner exchange made?
Like in the Bridge of Spies movie, the Americans and Soviets exchanged prisoners at Berlin's Glienicke Bridge and Checkpoint Charlie on the morning of February 10, 1962. First, college student Frederic L. Pryor was released to his parents at Checkpoint Charlie, the most well-known Cold War crossing point through the Berlin Wall that divided West Berlin and East Berlin.
Soviet spy Rudolf Abel was then swapped at Glienicke Bridge for downed American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. The bridge links Berlin with Potsdam and was unique in that it was a place where the Soviet Union and the United States stood directly opposite one another. This made it an ideal place for prisoner exchanges. -Bridge of Spies book
Why was pilot Francis Gary Powers criticized following his release?
Expand your knowledge of the Bridge of Spies true story by watching the newsreels and footage listed below that features the real lawyer James B. Donovan, Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, and coverage of the U-2 Spy Trial.
“Wild Bill” Donovan, “The Last Hero”
At the 11 th hour of the 11 th day of the 11 th month of 1918, for the first time in over four years, the guns fell silent across the trenches that scarred the face of Europe during the First World War. America had been latecomers to the conflict, but at a tremendous cost had tipped the scales in what had been a murderous stalemate. No division had sacrificed more than the 42nd Division, nicknamed the “Rainbow Division ,” as it had been formed from National Guard Units whose origins streached across the country. No unit in the Rainbow Division fought on more fronts, nor suffered more casualties, than the regiment that represented the green in that rainbow: the 165 th , the federal number assigned to the 69 th New York. It was the same 69 th that fifty years earlier as a unit of the Irish Brigade had been given the nickname of “the fighting 69th” as a tribute of respect by an enemy commander, Robert E. Lee. While the regimental number had changed, the unit and the New York Irish would once again prove worthy of that title, and no one was more responsible for the regiments unequaled record in WW I than Col. William “Wild Bill” Donovan.
Even before the war William Joseph Donovan was a hero of Horatio Alger proportions. The grandson of immigrants from Skibbereen, Co Cork, he had literally been born on the wrong side of the tracks in Buffalo, New York. Yet, as typical of Irish immigrants, each generation was climbing the long ladder of the American dream. While Donovan’s grandfather had worked shoveling grain in the holds of ships, his father had risen to the influential position of yardmaster for the local railroad. Young William Donovan continued the trend, attending Columbia University where he would earn a law degree. Donovan was a star quarterback of the Columbia football team, where he earned the name “Wild Bill” in an age where amateur athletes were treated like today’s professional superstars. He returned to Buffalo, started a law practice and married the daughter of the wealthiest man in Buffalo.
Donovan was not a man to rest on his success his strong sense of duty and patriotism called him to seek an opportunity to serve his country. With several friends, Donovan formed a National Guard company of cavalry that served when the Army was mobilized to hunt for Pancho Villa. When the United States entered World War I, Donovan was called back to service and assigned as a major to the 165 th regiment. He was a popular choice with the mostly Irish American regiment, particularly their Chaplin, Fr. Francis Duffy who would go on to fame and honor in his own right with the regiment. Donovan applied the same tough discipline on his men in training as he had applied to himself as an athlete at Columbia, training his men would learn to appreciate on the battlefields of France.
At the river Ourcq, nicknamed by the Irish of the 165 th “the O’Rourke,” the 42 nd Division had been ordered to cross the river and secure a ridge and farm on the other side. The position was believed to be “lightly held” when in fact they were being faced by three German Divisions including one of elite Prussian Guards. Only the 165 th managed to reach its objective, the units on the left and right having fallen back. The result was the 165 th was cut off and subjected to machine gun and artillery fire on three sides. It was estimated that the Germans had one machine gun for each four of Donovan’s men. Donovan and his men held their position for three days, until the rest of the Division could reinforce the 165th but at a terrible cost: of 3,000 men 1,750 men and 66 officers were lost. Donovan himself was exposed to poison gas and wounded, yet still continued to lead his men. In one case Donovan, without regard to danger, crossed open ground under heavy enemy fire to communicated coordinates for support artillery. For this action Donovan was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and promoted Lt. Colonel.
Tragically, these circumstances repeated themselves only a few months later when the 165 th was asked to breach a line of German fortifications. Again the 165 th was going up against some of the best troops Germany had, but this time the 165 th did not have the hardened veterans that Donovan had trained and had been lost at the Ourcq, but young and inexperienced recruits. Describing it as foolish but necessary to his wife in a letter written before the battle, Donovan put on his full regulation uniform and insignia. He knew that by being so obviously a senior officer he would be a target for German snipers, but also knew that his men needed to see him and he needed to be in front of them. During the German attack, he was severely wounded, but continued to encourage his men refusing all attempts to evacuate him till the battle was over. For this Donovan was awarded the Medal of Honor and became the most decorated soldier of WW I.
Despite having already accomplished enough to fill multiple lifetimes, history still had much more to write about “Wild Bill” Donovan, He would become a successful lawyer, federal prosecutor, and a confidant to Presidents for his clear and pragmatic thinking. Donovan was often used as a presidential agent, especially when it came to matters of foreign intelligence. In World War II, he would create the Office of Strategic Services, the O.S.S., the precursor to the CIA, and attain the rank of Major General. After the war, he would assist in prosecuting Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. Little wonder that when informed that William Donovan died peacefully after a life of honor and service to his country then President Eisenhower remarked “What a man! We have lost the last hero.”
Note: For those who are interested in learning more about ‘Wild Bill Donovan’, Fr. Duffy and the 165 th in World War I, the Division donated a book “Duffy’s War” to the Pearl River Library which is an excellent source on the topic.
William J. Donovan
Major General William J. Donovan
National Archives and Records Admininstration.
William “Wild Bill” Donovan is considered the father of American centralized intelligence. Major General Donovan led the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) from 1942 to 1945. The OSS is the forerunner of today’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Throughout his lifetime of service he was awarded numerous medals. He was the first person in American history to have earned the country’s four highest awards: The Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal.
William Joseph Donovan was born January 1, 1883 in Buffalo, New York. The grandson of Irish immigrants, he was very religious and wanted to become a Catholic Priest. He was a life-long Republican, but believed in supporting the best man, no matter what their political affiliation. Donovan graduated from Columbia Law School in 1907 and practiced corporate law. He joined the New York National Guard in 1912 as a captain. Captain Donovan served on the Mexican border during the campaign against Pancho Villa in 1916.
During World War 1, Donovan served as a major in the 165th (formerly 69th) New York Infantry Regiment, Rainbow Division. In France he led troops into battle throughout the Champagne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Argonne campaigns. His courage under fire earned Donovan the nickname “Wild Bill”. He was wounded several times and for his service at Landres-et-St.Georges he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. By the end of WWI, Donovan had been promoted to the rank of colonel and awarded several medals by the United States and its European allies. He became one of the most decorated soldiers of WWI.
Colonel Donovan began his intelligence career while serving with the American Expeditionary Force during the Russian Civil War. Donovan continued his intelligence gathering in the 1920s and 1930s through fact-finding trips in Europe. In 1941, President Roosevelt chose Donovan to head the new Office of the Coordinator of information (COI). The main goal of the COI was to get the intelligence braches of the Army, Navy, FBI, and State Department to work more closely together.
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was formed out of the COI after America entered the Second World War. Colonel (and later Major General) Donovan was once again selected to lead this intelligence operation. The OSS conducted espionage, sabotage, and morale operations against Nazi-Germany in Europe and Japanese Forces in Asia. The OSS was instrumental in preparing the French resistance for Operation Overlord (D-Day). In Burma, OSS Detachment 101 led very successful missions against the Japanese military. President Roosevelt referred to Donovan as his “secret legs” and General Dwight D. Eisenhower though very highly of him as well. However, not everybody appreciated Donovan and the OSS. Some notable critics were FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, General Douglas MacArthur, President Harry S. Truman, and several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In September 1945, the OSS was dissolved (the CIA would take its place in 1947). Donovan became a lawyer once again, first during the prosecution of Nazis at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal and later as a Wall Street lawyer. From 1953-1954 he was appointed Ambassador to Thailand by President Eisenhower. In 1956 he was diagnosed with arteriosclerosis. Donovan died on February 8, 1959 in Washington DC and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.