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OSS in China: Prelude to Cold War

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2002

    Controlling wartime intelligence

    The central theme of Maochun Yu's thoroughly researched book is: who should control intelligence in a foreign, allied country during wartime? OSS chief General Donovan believed he should, conducting what might be termed "bureaucratic guerrilla warfare" and employing his clever lawyer's mind to attain that goal. Reading this book one gets the impression that achieving it was more important to Donovan than defeating the Japanese. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, stating the obvious, declared officially that the theater commander would control intelligence. Chiang Kai-shek was theater and supreme commander in China. His intelligence chief was General Tai Li, who controlled a massive and effective agent network. Instead of agreeing to work cooperatively with him, Donovan believed he could conduct successful operations autonomously with his own non-Chinese people. The only reason he inked the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO) Agreement, with Tai Li its director and Navy Captain Milton Miles its co-director, was to manipulate it for the benefit of OSS, which he managed to do by war's end. Meantime, Miles, who knew China and spoke the language, worked cooperatively with Tai Li. Their partnership resulted in 14 SACO camps being established throughout China from which US equipped, Navy and Marine-trained Chinese guerrillas waged war against Japanese forces. They also produced mountains of useful intelligence that resulted in further damage to the enemy. Though he wasn't aware of it at the time, Donovan had other problems dealing with China. His Secret Intelligence chief for that country, Duncan Lee, was, as Venona documents prove, a Soviet agent. So was FDR's man in charge of China matters, Lauchlin Currie. And, Tai Li knew that communist Chinese agents had penetrated some of his operations. All of which made intelligence issues even more sensitive; why it was essential that he and CKS control intelligence operations in China. From the beginning Captain (later Vice-Adm.) Miles understood that cooperating with the Chinese was the only way Americans could hope to achieve their joint objective: defeating the Japanese. He insured that all those under his command held that view. Many of Donovan's personnel on the other hand were arrogant and ethnocentric, men like Richard Heppner who, when invited by Miles to have dinner with him at his base near Chungking, declined, saying "I'm not going to eat with chopsticks like a god-damned Chinese." This quote is from p. 436 of A DIFFERENT KIND OF WAR by Vice-Adm. Miles, which tells the SACO story from his perspective. I urge those interested to read it side-by-side with Maochun Yu's book for contextual illumination. For reasons of control and power and ego, Donovan refused to cooperate with the Chinese. His men achieved but limited successes near war's end, while SACO units had killed thousands of Japanese and controlled an important section of the coast.

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