Dishing details of a spymaster

Deacon Blog


Douglas Waller’s (’71) latest book “Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage” (Free Press, $30) went on the sale this week and is already garnering praise.

“The book is replete with fascinating anecdotes and tales of derring-do that offer the stuff of espionage thrillers combined with historical fact,” wrote Jerry Harkavy for The Associated Press. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein, an investigative reporter who specializes in U.S. intelligence and foreign policy, said the OSS as the forerunner of the CIA “was every bit as bewitched, beleaguered and befogged for much of its brief existence as its successor has too often been.”

He added, “Not that Waller, a respected former foreign and diplomatic correspondent for Newsweek and Time, set out to take down the Donovan’s OSS…. Indeed, Waller clearly, and rightly, finds much to admire about the OSS, its eclectic corps of brave and imaginative agents and of course, Donovan, the Wall Street lawyer whose dedication and perseverance in winning the war was emblematic of his generation.”

I asked Doug recently about how he became interested in writing about Donovan. “I’m intrigued by controversial historical figures, leaders who provoke strong opinions about them–pro and con,” he said in an e-mail. Wild Bill Donovan’s loyalists “thought he was a god,” while his enemies “thought he was a rogue spymaster and a devious empire builder during World War II. And the new ideas Donovan advocated–such as setting up a national spy service and launching unconventional covert operation –were highly controversial in the 1940s. In fact, Donovan’s legacy is still intensely debated by historians today.”

I wanted to know how his WFU education laid the foundation for his becoming an author. Doug said his liberal arts education best prepared him for the career. In publishing six books, he has drawn from history, political science, math and science courses as well as his English major. And, like me, he drew inspiration from the late journalism professor Bynum Shaw (’48) and Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson (’43).

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