/* */

19 February 2008

The dark history of those wearing orange (and tweed)

We are lucky to count among our correspondents an officer and a gentleman who has sought to enlighten us as to a little known aspect of the history of the Office of Strategic Services –the involvement of the United States Coast Guard in maritime clandestine operations through WWII. Guardian Spies is the result of these efforts – and an excellent resource well worth the reader’s time.

Given the importance of port operations to the early OSS, this should not be surprising. After all, one look at the map of WWII era stations throughout Europe and Asia should have been enough to validate the requirement for the kind of experiences that the Coasties could bring to the dark side. Yet this is an area which has been consistently overlooked - in a fashion regrettably typical of the shabby treatment usually afforded the "other" service, and we are glad now to see the effort to surface it. This is truly a best of class endeavor to rescue an otherwise lost history, through a combination of primary source documentary work as well as an oral interview series. It is a model by which other, also lesser known aspects of military support to intelligence structures might also be explored. We very much look forward to further developments out of the program.

The OSS has been very much on our minds as of late. We have recently also had occasion to pick back up the excellent treatise Foreign Intelligence: Research and Analysis in the Office of Strategic Services by Barry Katz, which recounts the unique circumstances of those present at the creation of R&A. The line of influence of many of the decisions taken under the political and operational environment in which that office first came into being has rarely been more clear, and as such the volume is a must read for those contemplating transformation within the community. Many of the same tensions faced today – under the exceptional circumstances of wartime expansion and pressures – were very much the stuff that mere academics of earlier service had to contend, and without even the benefit of being afforded an overarching professional framework to unify the various threads of their activities.

We think that this body of history can provide a rich set of case studies for those that now seek the further professionalization of their own tradecraft – in both operational and analytic contexts. We are inclined to believe that the general overviews with which most students are now presented – the history everyone knows – has served as an intellectual obstacle to a deeper understanding of the very real, and very relevant, aspects of these events which still translate directly across the decades to the concerns of today. It is our fortune that this state of affairs is now changing.

Labels: , , ,