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Behind Closed Doors Part 2 - The CIA and the Clinton White House

Updated on April 16, 2016

“I know not with what weapons WW III will be fought, but WW IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

- Albert Einstein

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt | Source

History books tell us Hitler started invading Austria in March of 1938 and marched into Czechoslovakia a year later. But it was the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, which officially started WW II in Europe. (Note 4) The U. S. at the time was officially neutral, but President Roosevelt had a strong interest in covert affairs dating back to when he was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913 under President Wilson.

It was during this time when he became friends with a younger Winston Churchill who was the First Lord of the Admiralty in England. So when WW II began in Europe and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 at the start of the Nazi invasion of France (Note 10), Roosevelt and Churchill began sharing secret war-related information/intelligence. Clearly, FDR was well ahead in knowing of the Nazi threat to our nation. (Note 7)

U.S. strategic intelligence at this time was independently gathered and analyzed by a diverse group of military and civilian agencies with titles such as G-2 Military Intelligence (WWII Army intelligence), ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence), SIS (Special Intelligence Service (an FBI organization), and the State Department. These agencies had their own histories and were used to doing things their way. Most were not interested in changing that.

The Army, Navy, State Department, and FBI all had uses for central intelligence, but they feuded with one another over who could have access to it. British Admiral John Godfrey, British Director of Naval Intelligence, visited the U.S. in June 1940 to check on our intelligence agencies. He wrote home, “There is no U.S. intelligence service – there is a small, uncoordinated force of ‘special agents’ who travel abroad on behalf of one or another of the government departments. They are amateurs without special qualifications and without training in observation.” (Note 6)

Even though we got failing grades from Godfrey for our intelligence world, our nation was desperately needed as an ally by Britain in the struggle against the Nazi threat. England was surrounded by fallen European countries and they were standing alone. Despite this, most of the American people were steadfastly against another world war. Many in the U.S. wanted to stay isolated and not get involved. But Franklin Roosevelt saw the writing on the wall. He knew we would eventually be involved and Britain needed our help immediately. So with this scenario a lot of things would be changing, not only for the birth of a new intelligence agency but also for a larger territory for the FBI.

When Admiral Godfrey visited, he stayed until July 1940. During this same summer a new British intelligence agency was approved by FDR and J. Edgar Hoover. It was called the British Security Coordination (BSC) and it was headquartered in mid-town New York City in Rockefeller Center. In charge of this new agency was a Canadian born, multi-millionaire businessman in both Canada and Britain. He was an ace fighter pilot in WW I, a prisoner of war, a spy, a fearless, quiet 5’2” multi-faceted dynamo who was also a boxing champion. His name was Sir William S. Stephenson, also known later as “Intrepid.” Stephenson’s mission was to create a British intelligence network through the Western hemisphere but operate it on behalf of the British Government and allies so they could win the war. (Note 13)

Sir William Stephenson ("Intrepid")
Sir William Stephenson ("Intrepid")

Around this same time, President Roosevelt sent “Colonel” Donovan (a rank he had achieved by the end of WW I) as an unofficial envoy to London to meet with British officers to see if they could withstand the Nazi threat. Donovan’s travels allowed him to gather great intelligence because of the high-level people he was exposed to. Not only did he meet with military leaders, he also met Winston Churchill and King George VI. (Note 2) He came home with ideas from the British on how to structure a national intelligence service as well as important war information which he shared with Roosevelt on a private trip to New England. (Note 2) It was also during this trip overseas that Donovan reported that Joseph Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to England, was loudly giving his opinion that the Nazis would win the war. Within months, Roosevelt fired Kennedy. (Note 12)

Donovan had an extraordinary amount of “clout.” It did not hurt that Warner Brothers had released a movie in January of that year called “The Fighting 69th” based on “Wild Bill’s” Irish National Guard unit in WW I. Even though the movie had a lot of factious information, Donovan was a major character in the movie, played by actor George Brent – a popular Hollywood movie star. The timing of this movie was important because the reality of the U.S. entering another world war was gaining strength, and our nation would not be isolationist much longer.

Colonel “Wild Bill” (a name he earned from his teammates while playing football at Columbia University) Donovan was passionate about the need to gather dependable intelligence. (Note 5) During WW I, his Fighting 69th Division merged into the regular Army’s 165th Infantry. This unit was involved in two big battles in France: one at the Ourcq River in July 1918 and the other at Meuse-Argonne in October 1918. In both of these battles, intelligence reports were inaccurate and because of this, hundreds of our troops were unnecessarily killed. (Note 5)

William "Wild Bill" Donovan
William "Wild Bill" Donovan

But the winds of change in the intelligence business were starting to blow, creating rumbles of discontentment because of this outsider who would soon be disturbing their clandestine worlds – worlds they did not share with each other! Wasn’t it enough that there was a new British spy agency housed right in the middle of Manhattan? Now FDR wanted a separate civilian intelligence force reporting directly to him. Wasn’t that asking a bit much? And then to realize that these two were friends from WW I and that Stephenson was the one who recommended Donovan for this new position. These two would be a force to be reckoned with, and that would be an understatement. Stephenson and Wild Bill Donovan seemed to be “cut from the same cloth”. While Donovan was on the ground during WW I fighting hand-to-hand, Sir William was a top fighter pilot credited with shooting down 26 planes and earning the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. (Note 11)

President Roosevelt accepted Stephenson’s recommendation of Donovan to head this new agency. He knew him casually at Columbia University in Manhattan, but they ran in different circles, and their political ideas were not in harmony -- Roosevelt was a Democrat and William Donovan was a Republican. Roosevelt was from an affluent background, and Donovan was the son of poor Irish Catholic immigrants. However, Roosevelt liked the idea that “Wild Bill” thought “outside the box”. He was a lively personality, always active in mind and body, and absolutely fearless as he showed in France during WWI. He was well traveled, especially to Europe between 1920 and 1939. During these trips he met with foreign chancelleries, went to battlefields and to military installations and returned home with great war intelligence. Yes, Stephenson suggesting his friend Donovan to FDR was the right move. (Note 3)

So in the summer of 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the first attempt at creating a central intelligence service under the leadership of then Colonel William Donovan. This pre-war intelligence organization was called the COI (Coordinator of Information). The COI agency’s job was to collect pertinent information abroad and share it with the President. Plus the other intelligence organizations were encouraged to participate, but they chose not to share their secrets with this outsider. (Note 1) Why would they? They weren’t willing to share their information with any other agencies.

William Donovan’s was well known in Washington, after all he was dealing with the War Department and he stood out because he was the only military officer to have earned all four of the nation’s highest honors – the Medal of Honor, The Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal and the National Security Medal. If this was not enough to show what a unique, strong and smart character he was; he had also succeeded in establishing a successful Wall Street law firm. What do you think Hoover must have felt having this intimidating figure disturbing his power as the FBI Director. J. Edgar never was a soldier, much less an officer or a hero. One thing they had in common, they were their own islands. They were both characters in history that left a mark on our society. So even at the inception of what would evolve into the CIA, it was clear these two organizational cultures were not going to be close or even share information. (Note 2)

But there was much more work to be done, and time was not on their side. To help both Donovan and Stephenson, Admiral Godfrey became involved in the activities of both the BSC and the COI, and went to unprecedented lengths to assist them any way he could. Britain wanted us with them and it was going to take a lot to change our nation’s stance on the war. (Note 14)

It was less than 5 months after the creation of the COI, that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The next day, on December 8th, 1941, the U. S. declared war on Japan, and three days later Germany declared war on the U.S. Because both Roosevelt and Churchill, knew the inevitable, plans had already been made to set up two spy and espionage camps. One of these camps was located 30 miles from Toronto, Canada and the other in Maryland at what we now call Camp David. The Canadian Camp focused on hand-to-hand survival fighting – no rules; kill or be killed. These techniques were taught by British intelligence veterans. The Maryland camp, outside Washington DC was less intense and hired civilians from all walks of life. These new U.S. war spies were very diversified and included, chemists, bankers, models, gangsters, welders. But most of all, they had to be smart. Even Julie Child worked as a secretary for the OSS after graduating from Smith College. Later she moved into the Research and Development Division and worked on shark repellants. Our nation’s people were fiercely fighting and doing whatever was necessary to defeat the enemy. (Note 15)

Camp X in 1943
Camp X in 1943

The Canadian commando training base, known as Camp X, and the Maryland Camp were influenced by Sir William Stephenson, who was a master in the spy world. In fact, the James Bond novels were supposedly inspired by actions of Stephenson. (Note 16) Ian Fleming once said, “James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a try spy. The real thing is William Stephenson.” (Note 16) Donovan said, “Bill Stephenson taught us all we ever knew about foreign intelligence.” (Note 11)

In June 1942, with the U.S. now involved in WW II, Donovan’s Coordinator of Intelligence organization was re-designated the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). This new organization no longer reported to the President, but rather was assigned the task of collecting and analyzing information required by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and conducting special operations not assigned to other agencies. Donovan returned to active military service with the rank of Major General.

During the war, the OSS was spying, performing acts of sabotage, waging propaganda campaigns, organizing and coordinating anti-Nazi resistance groups in Europe and providing military training for anti-Japanese guerrilla groups in Asia. At the height of WW II, the OSS employed close to 13,000 people. (Note 21) The OSS ran one of the war’s most important spy programs within Nazi Germany plus was able to work out a German surrender in Italy. In short, their activities were the stuff of legend. (Note 8) However, there were consequences gathering, fixing, changing, and eliminating those and things in their path. Both “Wild Bill” and “Little Bill” (a nickname Stephenson was called because of his height) were like tornados. They had a path and whoever got in their way felt their powerful, ruthless, and clever ways. They had enemies, and at the top of the list was J. Edgar Hoover, and behind him were many high ranking generals and politicians.

But as Donovan and Stephenson were doing their spying and espionage, so was J. Edgar Hoover. FDR knew of the deep Nazi threats within the U.S. and Latin America, so he authorized J Edgar even before we were involved in the war to set up an intelligence gathering branch of the FBI called the Special Intelligence Service (SIS.) It started out with agents posing as diplomatic couriers traveling from one Latin American capital to another. During WW II, Hoover’s SIS expanded and sent agents that had known Nazi influence like Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, and were successful in turning Nazi agents into double agents with offers of protection and money. The British, however, had been turning Nazis into double agents for years by telling them they would be killed if they did not cooperate. (Note 18)

This organization rapidly grew to hundreds of agents across Latin America. The FBI/SIS even started to enter countries in the region which did not have Nazi influence – like Ecuador. After 1943, with the Nazi threat declining, J. Edgar Hoover shifted his attention to his obsession with Communism. (Note 9)

The war in Europe was finalized on July 11, 1945, but the different surrenders in Italy, Western Europe and Eastern Front went from April 29th through May 8th. (Note 18) Unfortunately, President Roosevelt’s health was grave and he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at his “Little White House” in Warms Spring, Ga, around 1:00 P.M. April 12th 1945. Less than one month V.E. (Victory in Europe) Day was celebrated on May 8th (which was also Truman’s birthday). (Note 19)

During those war years, Roosevelt was the biggest backer of Donovan, Stephenson, and even Hoover. But Hoover hated Bill Donovan and William Stephenson and this was obvious throughout the war. In part due to both the OSS and BSC eavesdropping on high level U.S. officials which Hoover considered his own cherished domain. Because of this personal hatred, J. Edgar kept files on “Wild Bill” and made sure the public was aware of any negative findings. He made it known that Donovan was a womanizer and in return Donovan kept files on Hoover and let it be known that the FBI chief was a homosexual. Hoover was also suspected of leaking information to the press whenever the OSS experienced an operational failure. (Note 20)

Harry Truman did not project out as a calculating personality, but he was known for being stubborn. And now he was suddenly the leader in Washington with 10 years experience in the Senate, giving him some idea about the challenges ahead. And he did not want to deal with either Hoover or Donovan on national intelligence matters. (Note 22)

Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman | Source

So after the war, Truman dissolved both the OSS and the SIS. The Research and Analysis Section of the OSS went to the State Department, the War Department got most of the rest of the organization, and a few of the field operation units were actually dismantled. It was amazing so much of the OSS survived because Major General Donovan had only 10 days to disperse this complex agency. The papers were signed by President Truman on September 20, 1945, and the OSS was gone by October 1. (Note 24)

Donovan wanted to see a post-war central civilian intelligence agency, but it seemed like whatever suggestions he gave to Truman about the structure of a new intelligence agency were rejected. Ironically, in the end Donovan’s key idea for a civilian central intelligence agency survived, even though Truman claimed it as his own.

On January 22, 1946, the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) came into being via presidential order. In 1947, the CIG morphed into the CIA. The new Central Intelligence Agency would be allowed to conduct covert actions. This was reflected in the National Security Act of 1947 and the Central Intelligence Act of 1949. (Note 1)

It may have seemed thankless on Truman’s part not to have Donovan continue in his role as the head of central intelligence, but Harry Truman personally disliked him. “Wild Bill” was a very intimidating personality and had ruffled many feathers in Washington. After the war ended with both Japan and Germany, President Truman started downsizing the War Department. Our nation had spent huge amounts of money during the war and the focus was changing.

Bill Donovan’s clout had drastically weakened after the death of FDR, but his strong presence continued as many of Donovan’s key people became directors of this new CIA. As a result his ideas and influence were not lost with the name change, and the basic culture continued. Even though there was a 2-year gap between the OSS and the CIA, Wild Bill Donovan is seen in the eyes of the Central Intelligence Agency as the father of the organization. At the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA are busts of both Wild Bill Donovan and Little Bill Stephenson. (Note 21)

Truman felt it was also time to get rid of Hoover’s SIS even though this agency had been very successful at catching German, Japanese, and Italian spies within the U.S. and Latin American countries. Because of this success, J. Edgar had a vision of making it a world-wide network and wrote to Attorney General Tom Clark on August 29, 1945 about his intentions. However, Hoover’s plan was rejected outright by both Donovan and Truman. (Donovan at that time had not yet been dismissed from his post.) Eventually, the presidential order gave all of the SIS territory (formerly under the wing of the FBI) to this new central agency. (Note 22)

Leaving behind WW II and moving forward into the next four decades passing by the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Iraq War, and bypassing other conflicts in this world full of wars, it is time to focus on the 1990’s.

On January 20th 1993, just 38 days before the bombing of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York, Bill Clinton took the oath of office and became the 42nd president of the United States. At that time, some of the issues were balancing the budget, trade agreements, reducing welfare programs, gay rights, and other internal and social issues. (Note 26)

William J. Clinton
William J. Clinton

After the WTC bombing, there were hundreds of FBI agents working the case. Even though they caught several of the terrorists, the ringleader, Ramzi Yousef, escaped and in December 1994 was working a plot to blow up 11 U.S. jets that would be departing Asia for the United States. This plot was foiled due to a fire in a Manila apartment building where Ramzi and partner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were assembling bombs. Their plan was to kill 4,000 people over the Pacific and this author could have easily been one of them because she was flying Hong Kong-Los Angeles trips in January of 1995. The dates for the planned explosions were for January 21st and 22nd 1995. (Note 27) Memories are still vivid of security forces coming onto our United Airlines plane at Kai Tak International in Hong Kong checking overhead bins, under the seats, and in our bathrooms. Funding for this plot was traced back to Osama bin Laden and Riduan Isamuddin (also known by the nom de guerre of Hambali) and other organizations operated by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa (Bin Laden’s bother in law) (Note 27)

In June 1995, Clinton issues his first Presidential Executive Directive labeling terrorism as a “national security issue.” All other prior administrations had dealt with terrorism as a law enforcement issue (within the structure of the FBI). (Note 28)

With terrorism now seriously getting attention, a new unit in the CIA was established in December 1995. The focus was on bin Laden, and the hunters were mostly women, numbering less than a dozen. They were called “the sisterhood” and their assignment was to work together and locate bin Laden so he could be captured or killed. (Note 29)

Some of the CIA Sisterhood
Some of the CIA Sisterhood

In August of 1996, while Bill Clinton was about to finish his first term as President, a declaration of war or Fatwa was being announced against the United States. A fatwa is a type of religious decree and this 30-page polemic was entitled “Declaration of War Against the United States and Israel.” This religious decree was published in a London newspaper called Al Quds al Arabi. The premise was that the people of Islam had suffered enough by our interference in their holy lands. At the end of this document was, “... take part in fighting against the enemy – your enemy – the Americans and the Israelis.” And so it began, more hatred feeding man’s consciousness so war could continue on. (Note 25)

The second Fatwa was published on February 23, 1998 in Al Quds al Arabi, but unlike the first, which contained only Bin Laden’s signature, this one had the signatures of the leaders of the jihad groups in several other countries as well. This declaration was followed in August 1998 by the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing over 200 people and injuring more than 5,000. (Note 25)

Bin Laden’s actions had gotten Clinton’s attention before the embassy bombings. In May of 1998, he appointed counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke to head a cross-agency Counter Terrorism Security Group, and Clarke was given a seat on the Cabinet-level Principals Committee. In June, a grand jury indicted bin Laden for a conspiracy to attack defense utilities of the U.S. On August 20th, Clinton ordered a missile attack in the Sudan which narrowly missed bin Laden. This attack did hit the terrorist training camps as well as a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan where bin Laden was suspected of manufacturing biological weapons. (Note 33)

In late 1998, there were two other attempts to kill or capture bin Laden in Pakistan. Also, cruise missiles were loaded on two Los Angeles-class attack submarines and placed in the waters near Afghanistan. While bin Laden was gaining strength, much of Washington’s was now focused on the President Clinton - Monica Lewinsky sex scandal which made headlines in January of 1998 and lasted through the end of that year. (Note 32) This scandal in the White House was another puzzle part which contributed to the success of the 9-11 attacks because the Republicans in Washington, including FBI Director Louis Freeh, spent much of their time and energy on Clinton’s morals and personal indiscretions keeping the focus away from the growing terrorist threat.

During that year, the political war games played on as many of the Republicans in Congress accused the president of “Wagging the Dog”, which meant that by launching military attacks he was trying to distract the public from his personal problems. Clinton responded that terrorism was a national security issue which 3 years later would manifest itself into our nation’s worst attack disaster since Pearl Harbor. (Note 33)

Finally, in October 1999, the U.S. had a joint effort with Pakistan to capture bin Laden, but the Pakistani prime minister was overthrown and the mission was aborted. Two months later, terrorist Ahmed Ressam was caught at U.S. Customs in Port Angeles, Washington, with more than 100 pounds of explosives. He was planning to use the bomb material at Los Angeles International Airport, most likely in the baggage claims facilities. (Note 31) And then in October of 2000, the USS Cole was attacked by a suicide bomber in the port at Oden, Yemen. The explosion blew a hole 40 feet wide in the hull of the ship, killed 17 sailors and injured others. (Note 25)

After this string of incidents, you could almost hear the shouts and celebratory gunfire from Al Qaeda operatives around the world as if they were saying, “We hate you America. But just you wait – just you wait!”

To this point, luck had been on bin Laden’s side. He had escaped several attempts on his life and had survived the pursuits of the Clinton years. (Note 30) It was now time for a change of Administration in the U.S. and with this change a different direction would be taken.


  14. Smith, Bradley F. “Admiral Godfrey’s Mission to America, June/July 1941.” Intelligence and National Security 1, no 3 (Sep 1986): 441-350.


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