Spying is all over the news these days, a Cold War legacy if ever there was one. Don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to put all the happenings in perspective.
We all want to do what’s right — for ourselves and for others. So there’s a conflict. We want to guard our privacy. At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re safe and secure. I think it was Samuel Huntington who, in his seminal work on Political Order in Changing Societies, noted that people will often choose safety and stability over personal freedom.
Anyway, given today’s circumstances, I started poking around to find out more about the history of the CIA and the NSA. I wanted to know more about the foundational underpinnings and the historical context of what’s going on today. So I decided to put together a Cold War Spying Timeline (year by year) for Cold War Studies. This post is the first installment, covering 1945. Not too much about spying here, but a lot about the Russian – American relationship and about the break-down of America’s World War II intelligence gathering organizations. And that’s where the need for surveillance organizations started.
Cold War Spying: 1945
February 3-11, 1945: The Yalta Conference — attended by Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill — is held in Crimea at Stalin’s insistence. FDR basically signs over control of Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria to Stalin. In return, Stalin agrees to enter the war against Japan once the fighting in Europe has ended.
April 12, 1945: President Roosevelt dies. The incipient Cold War will now be handled by his successor, Harry Truman. Just before his death, FDR wrote to Churchill: “We can’t do business with Stalin. He has broken every one of the promises he made at Yalta.”
April 25, 1945: The founding conference of the United Nations begins in San Framcisco. Attendees include all 26 states that banded together in 1942 against the Axis, including the USSR.
June 26, 1945: The UN Charter is signed on the final day of the founding conference.
July 16, 1945: The first A-bomb is tested at Alamogordo in the New Mexican desert under the code name Trinity.
July 17-August 2, 1945: With Truman taking the place of FDR, the Big Three convene at Potsdam. Midway through the conference, Churchill is voted out of office. He is replaced on July 25 by new Prime Minister Clement Attlee.
September 20, 1945: Six weeks after dropping America’s atomic bomb on Japan, the president of the United States ordered the OSS to disband in 10 days. America’s World War II spy service under the direction of General William J. Donovan was abolished.
September 26, 1945: Donovan’s deputy, Brigadier General John Magruder, meets with Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy at the Pentagon. McCloy issues an order that says “the continuing operations of OSS must be performed in order to preserve them.” That piece of paper keeps the hope for a Central Intelligence Agency alive. The spies will stay on duty as the Strategic Services Unit, the SSU. Also, a secret commission is established to plot the course for American intelligence.
October 1945: Richard Helms, the favorite lieutenant of Allen Dulles, the ranking OSS officer in Germany, begins trying to spy on the Soviets. He tries to recruit German police and politicians to establish spy networks in the east.
October 24, 1945: The United Nations Charter is ratified by 51 founding nations at the San Francisco Conference. Its first secretary-general is a US State Department official named Alger Hiss, who had also attended the Big Three Yalta Conference.
November 16, 1945: General Dwight D. Eisenhower testifies before the House Military Affairs Committee that “Nothing guides Russian policy so much as a desire for friendship with the United States.”
November 1945: Peter Sichel, an SSU officer in Berlin says “we were beginning to see the total takeover by the Russians of the East German system.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal begin to fear that the Soviets will move to seize all of Europe and then push on to the Eastern Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, Northern China, and Korea.
November 1945: The future leaders of American intelligence split into two camps. With support from Richard Helms, one camp believes in the slow and patient gathering of secret intelligence through espionage. The other camp — supported by Frank Wisner, the (former) OSS station chief in Bucharest, Romania — believes in covert action.
December 1945: The Joint Chiefs of Staff fight for an intelligence service firmly under their control. The army and navy each demand their own intelligence service. J. Edgar Hoover wants the FBI to conduct worldwide espionage. The State Department wants to be dominant.
End of 1945: Most OSS veterans have gone back to their old lives. Their number falls by nearly 10,000 in the last three months of ‘45. down to 1,967 by the end of the year. The London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Madrid, Lisbon, and Stockholm stations lose almost all of their officers. Fifteen out of twenty-three Asian outposts close. The remaining intelligence analysts are dispatched to form a new research bureau at the State Department.
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Hope you enjoy this series and that you’ll check in every Thursday for our year by year account of surveillance organizations, espionage, and, yes, spying. Click here to read all about Cold War Spying Year By Year: 1946.