MG William J. ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan.

MG William J. ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan was the head of the COI and the OSS.

The Beginning

On 11 July 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Coordinator of Information (COI). Its mission was to collect, analyze, and disseminate foreign intelligence. William J. ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, a WWI Medal of Honor recipient and a prominent lawyer, was selected by the president to head the COI.

    The Research and Analysis (R&A) branch was the most visible element of the COI. It used notable historians, economists, geographers, anthropologists, and subject matter experts to research and prepare reports for senior policy makers. Covert intelligence collection was also done to support potential paramilitary actions. Another COI task was to conduct overt and covert psychological warfare. As a civilian agency with access to unencumbered funding, the COI could operate more freely than the military services  After America entered the war in December 1941, COI established groups to collect intelligence and conduct sabotage in North Africa and Burma. These expanded capabilities provided better, more up to date information for strategic planners and helped to formulate propaganda campaigns. This done, special operations teams would be inserted behind enemy lines to advise and assist in the formation, equipping, training, and employment of guerrilla groups. Commando raids would then help conventional forces gain a foothold in enemy territory. This was a new way for the U.S. to conduct warfare.

In June 1942, COI was disbanded. Responsibility for overt propaganda was assigned to the newly created Office of War Information (OWI), which also took control of the COI-created radio broadcast ‘Voice of America.’ Covert activities were assigned to the new Office of Strategic Services (OSS), an agency placed under the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Although the earliest contributions of OSS were intelligence gathering and analysis for senior policy makers, the paramilitary operations have garnered the most interest in our time.  The following sections offer a brief look into the special operations of the OSS, which influenced the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Army Special Operations Forces today.

OSS product targeting the Japanese government.

One of the most significant contributions of the COI and OSS was the work of the Research and Analysis branch.  This element compiled intelligence and information to provide the executive branch and other intelligence consumers with current products, such as this one on the Japanese government.

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