"The Office of Strategic Services means what its name implies: every
service of a strategic nature, tried or untried, that may be useful to
our Army and Navy and Air Force."
William Joseph Donovan (1883–1959)
Columbia College 1905, Law 1908
LLD (hon.) 1947
A military hero and confidant of presidents, William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan was the father of the modern American intelligence service. As chief of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of today's Central Intelligence Agency, Donovan developed the espionage techniques that became central to CIA operations. He also trained and mentored men—William Casey among them—who became cornerstones of the postwar intelligence establishment. Decorated for bravery as commander of a regiment during the First World War, Donovan became an intelligence agent after the war, conducting a mission to Siberia in 1920 on behalf of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Republican Donovan and the Democrat Roosevelt had met at Columbia Law School and remained friends despite their partisan differences, sharing an internationalist outlook and, in the 1930s, concerns over German and Japanese aggression. As president, FDR sent Donovan on a series of intelligence missions and, after the outbreak of the Second World War, appointed him civilian coordinator of information in 1941, and then head of the new OSS when it was created in 1942. In 1947, the National Security Act established the CIA, which was built on the foundation of the OSS and staffed by many of its veterans. Disappointed by President Harry Truman's refusal to make him CIA director, Donovan contributed to preparations for the Nuremberg trials and then returned to his private law practice. But Truman's successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower—with whom Donovan had worked during the general's tenure as Columbia's president—summoned him back to government service in 1953, appointing him ambassador to Thailand, at the time a vital diplomatic post. When Donovan died six years later, he had been awarded the nation's highest decorations—the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Distinguished Service Medal.