DISCIPLES: THE WORLD WAR II MISSIONS OF THE CIA DIRECTORS WHO FOUGHT FOR WILD BILL DONOVAN by Douglas Waller

(William Donovan, the man who headed the Office of Strategic Services  during World War II)

At a time when people are concerned with government spying on its citizens, it is useful to examine how two world wars and the Cold War led to the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Douglas Waller, a former correspondent for Time and Newsweek, and the author of WILD BILL DONOVAN: THE SPYMASTER WHO CREATED THE OSS AND MODERN AMERICAN ESPIONAGE has revisited the origins of the CIA by examining the men that William Donovan trained as intelligence operatives who went on to head America’s foremost spy agency.  In his new book, DISCIPLES: THE WORLD WAR II MISSIONS OF THE CIA DIRECTORS WHO FOUGHT FOR BILL DONOVAN, Waller follows the careers of Allen W. Dulles, William Casey, Richard Helms, and William Colby, and their interactions with Donovan as their careers  culminated in Langley, Va.  When I first picked up the book I was concerned that Waller would rehash a great deal of the same material he covered in his biography of Donovan.  To my satisfaction this is not the case.  There is some repetition, but the book can stand on its own merits as Waller has written a wonderful adventure story that weaves together the experiences of the “disciples.”  Based on archival material, the most prominent secondary sources, and pertinent memoirs the book is an excellent read for spy buffs and the general public.

Waller begins the book with short biographical sketches of each individual and the similarities in their backgrounds.  Waller points out that there was a common thread that ran through Dulles, Casey, Helms, and Colby.  Each was smart, intellectual, and “voracious readers, thoughtful, and creatures of reason….these were strong, decisive, supremely confident men of action, doers who believed they could shape history rather than let it control them.”  When one follows their careers Waller’s description appears extremely accurate.  Though their personalities differed; Dulles comes across with a much larger ego who rubbed many in power the wrong way; Casey, more of an introvert who worked behind the scenes and new how to navigate the bureaucratic morass of government; Helms and Colby, more adventurous and hands on, the result of which was they all would ascend the intelligence ladder at different rates to finally emerge as leaders in their own right.  All had important relationships with Donovan; some more testy, particularly Dulles who wanted Donovan’s job as head of the Organization of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, but in the end they worked together and laid the foundation for America’s post war intelligence operations.

(Allen W. Dulles, headed American intelligence operations against Germany during WWII and as CIA Director under Eisenhower launched numerous covert operations)

Waller traces the career of each of the disciples and what stands out is their roles during World War II.  Donovan was charged by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create an espionage operation during the war by choosing him as the Coordinator of Information, a position that would morph into the head of the OSS.  Waller examines the rise of Allen Dulles first, tracing his career from World War I, his experiences as a diplomat at Versailles, and his relationship with his brother, John Foster, and their law firm Sullivan and Cromwell.  Dulles emerges as a self-confident individual who sought total control of all operations. Posted to Berne, Switzerland during the war, Dulles developed important sources though he was at times over the top with his predictions.  On a number of occasions he resented Donovan, but in the end went along with his boss.  William Casey’s education as a spy began as a lawyer in the 1930s where he became an expert on the tax code dealing with War Department contracts.  This attracted Donovan interest and he would recruit Casey for the OSS in 1943.  Casey, an organizational expert was sent to London where he worked under David Bruce, and implemented a management style that would lead him to oversee intelligence assets and commando operations in France and Germany.  Richard Helms joined the navy after Pearl Harbor and worked on strategies to deal with German submarine warfare.  By 1943 he was forced into OSS Psyops and by the end of the war he was sent to London to organize operations in Germany for the post war period.  William Colby, the most liberal of the four and a supporter of FDR, studied in France in the late 1930s, witnessed the Spanish Civil War, and developed a hatred for communism.  He would become a commando during the war and showed tremendous physical courage behind enemy lines in France and Norway.

(Richard Helms after a career in intelligence dating back to WWII became CIA Director in the 1960s and was eventually fired by President Nixon)

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how Waller introduces individuals who interacted with the OSS, and in particular the “disciples” during the war.  FBI Head, J. Edgar Hoover despised Donovan seeing him as a threat and unleashed his own agents to spy on the OSS.  We meet Julia Child, later known as “the cooking guru” for woman in the 1950s.  Along the way Arthur Goldberg emerges as a link to European labor movements, who would later serve on the Supreme Court.  British spymasters come and go throughout the book, particularly William Stephenson who at one time had an office next to Dulles in Rockefeller Center.  Fritz Kolbe, the OSS’ most important agent who allowed Dulles to penetrate the German Foreign Office in Berlin and whose work saved the lives of many allied soldiers takes a prominent role.  These and many other individuals and their own stories lend a great deal to Waller’s narrative.

(William Colby was a trained commando during World War II and parachuted into France and Norway who later became CIA Director under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford)

Waller does a nice job showing how the careers of the “disciples” intersected with Donovan during the war.  For example, Donovan’s visitations to commando training, witnessing Colby’s preparation for parachuting into France.  Dulles and Casey intersected as both were smuggling agents into France to link up with and supply the French resistance.  Casey was in charge of monitoring commando drops like Colby’s into France.  Casey also funneled Dulles’ intelligence reports to Washington, and in a number of cases felt that they were highly exaggerated. Helms finally left for London in early 1945 and was supposed to organize Dulles’ mission for Germany, but because of Hitler’s last ditch effort in France in the Ardennes, he never carried out the assignment and wound up with Casey overseeing agents in Germany.  In fact Casey and Helms shared an apartment in London at the time!   Colby and Casey would meet at General George S. Patton’s headquarters in September, 1944 as Casey became Donovan’s eyes in Europe and eventually would replace David Bruce as head of London operations, an appointment that Dulles greatly resented.  Donovan felt that Dulles was a poor administrator and lacked the leadership skills that Casey possessed.

Waller spends a great deal of time on the actions of American commandos behind German lines.  He describes Colby’s training in detail and takes the reader along with these men as they parachute into France and Germany, exhibiting courage and discipline as they try to reinforce the French resistance, and later gather intelligence in Germany to try and bring the conflict to a faster conclusion.  Waller also spends a great deal of time discussing the infighting among the “disciples” and their private lives.  By doing so the reader gains insights into each of these men and it helps explains how their post-World War II careers would evolve into directorships of the CIA.

The final section of Waller’s narrative focuses on American intelligence policies and actions during the Cold War as the OSS evolves into the CIA and focuses its attention on the communist threat.  Once President Truman forces Donovan into retirement Dulles takes over the newly created CIA and his reputation for mismanagement will result in what Blanch Wiesen Cook, in her book DECCLASSIFIED EISENHOWER, refers to as the “coup presidency.”  Dulles would launch covert operations in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, and the disastrous U-2 Incident, all resulting in his eventual downfall.  Dulles was succeeded by Helms, who unlike his predecessor believed in tight organizational control.  His mantra was “that there should be no surprises on his watch” and he was very popular within the agency.  Helms would be fired by Richard Nixon in part because he refused to cooperate with break-ins and cover ups associated with Watergate.  Colby’s tenure as director is most remembered for his testimony before the Church Committee in 1974 as leaked CIA documents called for congressional action.  Colby was the most politically liberal of all the “disciples” and this played a role in his cooperation with Congress which he was vilified for by Helms and Casey.  But, as Waller correctly points out his testimony probably saved the CIA from a wholesale reorganization that would have ruined its effectiveness.  The last of the “disciples,” William Casey took over the agency under Ronald Reagan and he tried to create the atmosphere that existed under his hero, William Donovan, who like his mentor “kept the door open to all ideas for operations, even the wacky ones.”  Casey wanted to recreate the can do culture of the OSS from WWII for the 1980s, focusing on the communist menace instead of the Nazis.  This would result in repeated machinations in dealing with Afghanistan, Central America, and the Iran-Contra scandal in particular.

(William Casey was a successful “spy master” during World War II who became CIA Director under Ronald Reagan)

Waller has written a fascinating account of the men who followed Donovan as leaders in American intelligence, and current implications for some of the policies they pursued.   Today we are faced with the ramifications of Edward Snowden’s leaks and issues over NSA and other surveillance.  It would be interesting to speculate how these gentlemen would respond to these issues.

(Major General William J. Donovan who led America’s intelligence operations during World War II)

 

PACIFIC: SILICON CHIPS AND SURFBOARDS, CORAL REEFS AND ATOM BOMBS, BRUTAL DICTATORS, FADING EMPIRES, AND THE COMING COLLISION OF THE WORLD’S SUPERPOWERS by Simon Winchester

Simon Winchester’s latest book, PACIFIC: SILICON CHIPS AND SURFBOARDS, CORAL REEFS AND ATOM BOMBS, BRUTAL DICTATORS, FADING EMPIRES, AND THE COMING COLLISION OF THE WORLD’S SUPERPOWERS reinforces why I am such a fan and admirer of this eclectic social scientist.  No matter what topic Mr. Winchester takes on he has the uncanny ability to unwind what is a standard interpretation or history of a well-known topic and ferret out little known details to make something that is quite interesting, fascinating.  The list of Winchester’s books are impressive, whether he is exploring the history of the Atlantic, the men responsible for the creation of the English Oxford Dictionary, the annihilation of the volcano island of Krakatoa, or the story of the geologist, William Smith and how he geologically mapped the underside of the earth, and many more, the reader emerges educated and entertained by a master story teller.

In his current venture, Winchester explores historical aspects of the Pacific Ocean or in contemporary parlance the Pacific Rim.  Winchester is a social scientist par excel lance, employing history, political science, geography, and geology as he explores his diverse topics.  Where else can a reader learn about such a conglomeration of stories?  He begins his journey by describing a flight over the Pacific beginning in Hawaii and immediately provides a history of the international dateline and the importance of this massive ocean on our daily lives.  The blue expanse of the Pacific dominates the planet and encompasses one-third of the earth’s surface and forty-five percent of the planet’s surface waters.  Despite its beauty and hidden treasures Winchester describes how the Pacific has been a dumping ground throughout modern history.  America and its allies have conducted nuclear tests in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands among other locations.  Biological testing has contaminated numerous islands and two million gallons of Agent Orange are stored near the Johnson Atoll Islands and rockets carrying atomic weapons have exploded in the region.  What has been created is an ecological nightmare in many places.  It is a shame as Winchester correctly points out that “the Pacific Ocean is the inland sea of tomorrow’s world,” much in the same way the Mediterranean Sea was in the Ancient world, and the Atlantic Ocean was for the modern world.  Therefore improving our knowledge of the ocean and preserving it as best we can is so important.

Winchester concentrates his narrative from 1950 to 2014 as he describes the Pacific Ocean as an “atomic ocean” because of all the nuclear testing.  The narrative of events that he presents in each chapter seem unrelated, but taken as a whole we witness an important history of the Pacific.  Winchester’s first self-contained chapter describes the story of the Bikini Islands and the effects of the testing of the hydrogen bomb.  He then moves on to the invention of the transistor radio in the 1960s and its impact on society.  Winchester then introduces us to the film Gidget as an introduction to the importance of surfing and the industry it spawned to the Pacific culture.  We next meet the “hermit kingdom” of North Korea and revisit the Pueblo Affair of 1968 and other incidents that make the Pyongyang government so dangerous, even today.  Those interested in Australia will visit her history and her evolution from a backward, racist society to a more enlightened one in the 1970s and its reversion to its former “Crocodile Dundee” reputation after 1989 as it can’t seem to make up its mind as to whether it wants to be a Pan Pacific version of Canada and the United States or a backward mulish and racist country that cannot decide if it wants to accept non-whites as immigrants for their country.  Another issue that is extremely important for Australia is its approach to its coral reefs that have been damaged and are threatened with disappearance sooner than scientists ever imagined.  As Winchester aptly points out, the Australian government must decide what is more important, mining interests or the natural ecology of its coastline.

(Mt. Pitubo eruption in the Philippines on June 15, 1991)

Winchester dissects weather patterns, natural resources, plant life, tectonic mayhem, ecology, i.e.; describing areas of the Pacific as “garbage gyres,” through various discoveries and how they affect us. Of course, no history of the Pacific could be complete without a discussion of China’s evolution into a major economic and military power and what that means for the future of the Pacific region and the planet in general.  This evolution is reported in pure Winchesteresque manner as the author relates the Mount Pitubo volcanic eruption in the Philippines on June 15, 1991, the second largest volcanic eruption of the last century, to the decline of the American naval presence in the Pacific to the emergence of the Chinese goal of projecting a deep blue water navy.  The eruption resulted in the loss of the Subic Bay Naval and Clark Airforce bases in the region and created a military vacuum that the Chinese have been eager to fill.  Winchester describes numerous examples of how the Chinese have projected their newly acquired naval power in the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea, and the East China Sea and what it has meant to its Asian neighbors and has resulted in a number of close encounters with American ships and planes.

(the author, Simon Winchester)

There are so many interesting and insightful tidbits that Winchester puts forth in the narrative, that readers of many different interests will be satiated.  The role of the Soviet spy Klaus Fuchs and President Truman’s decision to allow thermonuclear testing in the Pacific in 1950 and its implication for our world is most important.  Winchester’s descriptions of the Marshallese people and the destruction of their culture is never talked about by historians. As a young boy I used to listen to New York Yankee baseball games on a small Sony transistor radio under my pillow never thinking about how it got there.  The chapter on Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka and their discoveries that morphed into the Sony Corporation is fascinating as the consumer electronics industry that was born in Tokyo is detailed and finally explains what was hidden under my pillow for many baseball calendars.  With the transistor radio in hand Winchester moves on to the art of surfing.  Known as “wave gliding” for over a century Winchester describes how the release of an “unexceptional film” in conjunction with the discovery of new materials created the polyurethane surf board that took a Polynesian invention and transformed it into a worldwide sport and industry.  Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the book is Winchester’s discussion of the relationship between the creation of the 38trh parallel after World War II separating North and South Korea, the seizure of the USS Pueblo, and the sinking of the RMS Queen Elizabeth and how their intertwining leads the reader to the explanation of the end of the colonization of Hong Kong and its emergence under Chinese control in 1997.  The Alvin, a three person submersible is described as it allowed scientists from Woods Hole, MA to locate many of the most significant deep-seas structures and assisted in the undersea mapping of the Pacific’s mid-ocean range system causing armies of geophysicists to uncover amazing discoveries.  Along the way Winchester introduces us to many inventors, political figures, scientists, and everyday people that have impacted our daily lives, yet most of us will have never run across them.  These and many other aspects of the book, particularly Winchester’s discussion of the interplay between Polynesian culture and the west will provide hours of entertainment and thought for any reader.

Simon Winchester not only is an excellent social scientist, he is a wonderful stylist and his writing is very easy to digest as your eyes fly across the pages.  PACIFIC is a fascinating work of many social sciences and is the type of book that should produce a wide audience, I give it five stars!

THE ENDS OF THE EARTH by Robert Goddard

The Ends of the Earth

The journey of James Maxted (Max) begun in the first volume of Robert Goddard’s World Wide Trilogy continues in the third volume, THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. The focus shifts to Japan as Max is determined to bring his investigation of his father’s death, Sir Henry Maxted, a British diplomat to a conclusion.  In the first two installments we learn that Max does not accept the verdict of the Parisian police that his father had committed suicide and he is bent on restoring his father’s reputation and finally learn the truth.  Max is certain his father was murdered and everything seems to center on a failed Japanese nationalist attempt to assassinate the Russian Tsarevitch upon his visit to Tokyo in 1891.  The “Dark Ocean” is a Japanese nationalist organization that hoped to prevent any improvement in Russo-Japanese relations, as they were focused on Japanese expansion in the Far East.

Many of the characters from the previous novels reappear in THE ENDS OF THE EARTH; Sam Twentyman, Max’s engineer from World War I; Malory Hollander, an assistant to Schools Morahan; Horace Appleby, a British secret agent, and they with their allies confront the xenophobic Count Iwazu Tomura, a nationalist leader with his own murderous agenda as they try to block the sale of Frederick Lemmer’s spy network to the Japanese government.  As in the two earlier novels, the book possesses numerous twists and turns one would expect from a Goddard story.  Goddard’s description of the historical period is very accurate.  The infighting in the Japanese government over expansion and honor is a major theme.  The difficulties between Russia and Japan over the Far East would culminate in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and continue thereafter is accurate.  Goddard also creates a number of documents and letters that keep the reader abreast of what took place in the previous novels that allows the current volume to make sense.

The plot is very suspenseful as Max’s quest continues, but as the story evolves Max is presented with a number of situations that blindside him.  At times in the novel it appears that things are about to settle down, but Goddard will then introduce a new character or bring back an old one from the previous volumes to twist the plot even further.  Goddard seems to have a low opinion of human nature as most of his characters seem to be seeking some sort of revenge. Max’s goal is to find the letter that Jack Farngold, an old friend whose sister is married to Tomura had sent his father in 1917. The purpose of the letter was to warn him about Tomura and Lemmer, which would explain Sir Henry’s death.  As he proceeds Max will learn things about his past that are shocking and will force him to confront Tomura as he tries to uncover the mystery of his own birth.

Throughout the novel Goddard constantly provides hints from the perspective of 1919 of what to expect from Japan in the future.  Goddard’s knowledge of Japanese history and geography is an asset as he sets his scenes and allows the reader insights into Japanese culture and politics between 1891 and 1919.  The novel is very fast paced and at times I found myself jotting down who some of the characters were because they came and then disappeared at a rapid rate.  Despite the numerous characters and shifting plot lines, the novel is surprisingly easy to follow if one pays attention.  Despite a storyline seems to bring closure at the book’s end, in true Goddard fashion there are hints that some of these characters may reappear once again in the future. If you enjoyed THE WAYS OF THE WORLD and THE CORNERS OF THE WORLD, Goddard’s final installment will not disappoint.

The Ends of the Earth

IN THE KINGDOM OF ICE by Hampton Sides

Hampton Sides is a very engaging writer who has taken his readers through a number of diverse adventures.  Whether hunting down James Earl Ray for the assassination of Martin Luther King; detailing the mission of US Army Rangers in January 1945 behind Japanese lines in the Philippines; ; or exploring the role of Kit Carson in the American west, Sides has always been able to break down each topic to capture the attention of his readers.  His latest effort, IN THE KINGDOM OF ICE, is no exception as he tells the story of the USS Jeannette which set sail from San Francisco in July, 1879.  Sides describes the origins of the voyage and its place in navigational history and he produces what might be his finest book yet.

The narrative traces the development of the idea that there was a warm water path through the Arctic ice flows that would enable an expedition to reach the North Pole.  The story begins with the disappearance of the Polaris, a ship Captained by Charles Hall, that was sailing north off of Greenland in 1872 and the failed rescue mission that was attempted by the “Little Juniata,” a much smaller ship.  The rescue boat had traveled over 400 miles through large chunks of ice broken off icebergs and was Captained by George DeLong, an Annapolis graduate, who upon returning to New York explained to his wife Emma what he experienced and she realized that “the polar virus was in George’s blood to stay.” (10)    DeLong knew he was bitten by the “arctic fever,” and began to seek funding for a return trip to the Arctic region in search of a passage to the North Pole.  As Delong planned he came in contact with a number of important and colorful characters including James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the publisher, editor in chief and sole owner of the New York Herald, the largest and most influential newspaper in the world.  Bennett was also the third richest man in America and believed that newspapers should not merely report stories, but should create them.  His most famous involved sending a correspondent, Henry Stanley to Africa to locate Dr. David Livingstone, which took people by storm.  Bennett believed that an Arctic voyage would create even more interest and newspaper sales.  Another major figure was Professor August Heinrich Petermann, a German theoretician who concluded that the Open Polar Sea Theory was valid.  Petermann believed that “the ice pack as a whole forms a mobile belt on whose polar side the sea is more or less ice free.” (60)  Petermann also published numerous maps of the Arctic and Siberian region and was seen as the most reliable source of information for any polar excursion.  Much to DeLong’s chagrin later in the narrative, the German theorist’s ideas were all wrong resulting in disastrous consequences.  Once Bennett is convinced to finance a new voyage with DeLong in command the reader follows the preparation of a new vessel that is rechristened the Jeannette (named after Bennett’s estranged sister), the detailed planning, and the choosing and training of the crew.

As a back drop to the exploratory adventure, Sides reminds the reader of the major technical and scientific advances of the day by describing the 1876 Central Exposition in Philadelphia which was attended by the likes of George Eastman, Alexander Graham Bell, George Westinghouse, and Thomas Alva Edison (whose invention, arc lighting would be a total failure during the Jeannette’s voyage).  The author describes major new inventions and products including Heinz ketchup and Hires Root Beer as people came to observe from all over the world.  The US Navy, politicians and the business community all favored the expedition and it became a cause célèbre in the United States.

The ship departed San Francisco on July 8, 1879 under the command of George DeLong.  Its crew is made up of experts in all nautical fields and is very optimistic on departure.  As the USS Jeanette steamed north toward the Bering Strait, scientists and bureaucrats digested new data from ships returning from the Arctic region, and they discerned that Petermann’s ideas that DeLong was basing his path on did not exist.  “The portal DeLong was aiming for offered no real gate of entrance into the Arctic Ocean….the North Pacific Ocean, has practically speaking, no northern outlet; Bering Strait is but a cul de sac. (143)  By September, 1879, DeLong realized that the “thermometric gateway to the North Pole [was] a delusion and a snare.” (162). at this point on Sides describes how the Jeanette becomes imprisoned in the ice for almost a year, though because of the ice flow the ship does not remain stagnant.  The crew will remain in high spirits but ultimately when the ship is released from the ice the ship has to deal with loose chunks of ice and poor weather.  DeLong is not certain of his path and sends his chief engineer, George Melville on a dangerous reconnaissance mission when land is located.  While Melville is gone lead poison overtakes the crew.  By June, 1880 another ship is sent by the US Navy to learn what has happened to the Jeannette.   Captained by Calvin Hooper, with the naturalist John Muir as part of the crew, the USS Corwin is unsuccessful in locating the missing vessel.  Circumstances become dire for the Jeannette as it is encased in ice for another year and it finally will sink in June 1881.  The crew will escape and split up into three boats and make for Siberia to try and survive.

Sides is at his best as he describes the perilous journey as weather, unkind geography, and loneliness set in.  The author offers a unique and often amazing description of DeLong and his crew as they sail and trek across the ice, slush, and open water as they sought the Siberian land mass.  Details of the topography they dealt with, their physical strength and will power all place the reader among the crew as they tried to overcome the hand that Mother Nature had dealt them as each day became a separate battle for survival.  DeLong and his men were always up against the Arctic clock, when would the warm weather end?  By August 1881, DeLong had to burn the sleds that pulled his boats, making the remainder of their journey that more difficult.  By September 19, 1881 they were down to four days worth of provisions.  The remainder of the story is one of human will against the elements.  The three boats split up, never to be rejoined again.  DeLong sends his two best men ahead to try and reach a settlement to find aid.  It is when these two men reach Yakutsk, a Siberian village of 5000 people they are reunited with George Melville and a few men from the second boat.  It is with the aid of the Russian Governor-General, George Tchernieff who states that unlike today, “that Russia has your back.”  Melville launches an expedition to return to the ice to look for DeLong and his men and by March, 1882 he will uncover DeLong’s “ice journals,” maps, and other writings that were last dated in October, 1881.  Needless to say, shortly thereafter the bodies of these men were found.

The conclusion that Sides reaches is that courage and loyalty dominated the mission of the USS Jeannette under the leadership of Captain DeLong.  The capacity of George Melville’s commitment and identification with his captain and friend are compelling and explain his dogged determination to rescue DeLong and his crew once he reaches the safety of Yakutsk.  Sides goes on to describe Melville’s commitment to DeLong’s widow, Emma and the mission that he would carry to his grave.  Sides’ research and documentation is impeccable and there is little to question about his account as he has access to all of DeLong’s papers and other important materials.  He presents a work of history that reads like the best adventure fiction that I have read in a long time, and the book should spark interest for all who seek a story about the triumph and loss of the human spirit.