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OSS Records at the National Archives
Lawrence H. McDonald
National Archives
Once they are declared inactive, only a small part of the
records generated by the Federal agencies can be permanently
preserved. The records of the Office of strategic Services
(OSS) are an exception; most of them will be assigned for
permanent retention at the National Archives. All told, the
National Archives has now accessioned some 4,000 cubic feet
of OSS records.
OSS records (Record Group 226) draw heavy reference be­
cause the nearly 3,000 cubic feet of records accessioned from
the Central Intelligence Agency's OSS Archives, which have on­
ly recently been opened for research, reveal information nev­
er available before. They also offer the researcher a kind
of precis of World War II in microcosm, providing a wealth of
research material on almost every theater of the war in the
form of intelligence reports and files on all aspects of OSS
operations in combat and behind enemy lines. Except for the
Pacific Theater, where the OSS was exluded at General MacAr­
thur's request, one could write a history of the Second World
War from OSS files alone. Moreover, they present a record of
the administration and development of America's first nation­
al intelligence agency, the predecessor of the CIA. The cour­
age and daring of the men and women of the OSS is legendary,
making cloak and dagger a byword; these records document the
often incredible bravery of its agents and operational teams.
Incredible is not too strong a word; the OSS Director, Gener­
al Donovan himself, carried the OSS's ilL" tablet (potassium
cyanide) when in danger to avoid capture.
On July 11, 1941, President Roosevelt established (6 F.R.
3422) the Office of Coordinator of Information (COl) to col­
lect, correlate, and disseminate all intelligence relating to
national security. He appointed William J. Donovan chief of
this office. A corporation lawer and, in 1928, Acting Attor­
ney General, Donovan had served with great distinction in
World War I as an officer in the Forty-second Division, the
"Rainbow Division."
On June 13, 1942, the President abolished COl and estab­
lished by military order the Office of Strategic Services un­
der the jurisdiction of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
COl's records and all its functions, except for foreign infor­
mation activities assigned to the Office of War Information,
were transferred to OSS. JCS Directive No. 67 dated 23 June
1942 described and empowered OSS to prepare intelligence stud­
ies, to plan and execute subversive activities, and to collect
information through espionage. JCS 155/4/0 dated 23 December
1942 further authorized OSS to carry out psychological warfare
in direct support of military operations; it defined psycho­