11 July 1941
Mission:  Intelligence centralization and analysis, foreign propaganda, espionage, and guerilla warfare
Jurisdiction:  Worldwide, while discouraged from operating in Latin America, India, and the South Pacific; propaganda fuctions were allowed only in the Eastern Hemisphere
Headquarters:  National Institute of Health Building ("E Street Complex"), Washington DC
History/Profile:  When war broke out in Europe in 1939, the investigation of "espionage, counterespionage, or sabotage" were mandated by President Roosevelt to the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Army's Military Intelligence Division (also known as G-2), and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. Nevertheless, none of these agencies had the proper capability to gather secret intelligence, choosing instead to focus on domestic surveillance. Through a committee, they established the K Organization in July 1940 to conduct overseas espionage. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, this motley band which consisted of nothing more than a couple dozen businessmen, diplomats, journalists, and spies-for-hire in Europe, North Africa, and Mexico.
Roosevelt would come rely on an old boys' network of unpaid, unofficial spies to gather the crucial information he needed to move America out of isolationism to face the threat of fascism. Chief among Roosevelt's spies was William J. Donovan, a New York attorney, decorated veteran, and Republican politician loyal to Roosevelt in their shared opposition to isolationism. In 1940, Roosevelt sent Donovan on fact-finding trips to Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, where he became convinced in the effectiveness of a German "Fifth Column" of spies and saboteurs that had paved the way for the Blitzkrieg victories. To combat this menace, Donovan proposed the creation of an agency, based on Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), that would collect the fragmentary information pouring into Washington and present it to the President in single coherent reports. ONI, G-2, and the FBI protested against the idea; but, assuaged with a proviso that this new agency would not interfere with military intelligence operations and would staffed solely by civilians, ONI and G-2 relented. On 11 July 1941, Roosevelt appointed Donovan to the new position of the Coordinator of Information.
The Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) was not created to conduct espionage. It was designed purely to collect and analyze the information gathered by others and submit reports on that information to the President. However, Donovan was an energetic leader, and fond of taking on new projects, no matter how little they might relate to the job COI was created for. The development of COI was also as much due to British intelligence as it was to Donovan's attention span. It was the SIS that urged Donovan to propose COI to Roosevelt, and it was the political influence of "the Cousins" that supported its creation. The New York offices of COI at 30 Rockefeller Plaza were right above those of United Kingdom Commercial Corporation, whose president was William Stephenson, the head of British Security Coordination (BSC), which ran British intelligence operations in the Western Hemisphere. Through Donovan, Stephenson had direct access to Roosevelt; and, as COI moved towards espionage work, BSC gained greater access to American intelligence.
In the beginning though, the heart of COI was the Research & Analysis Branch, whose staffers studied the information gathered by other government agencies (the State Department, FBI, ONI, G-2) and prepared reports on their findings. These reports were handed over to Donovan, who delivered them (often personally) to President Roosevelt. R&A recruited the best academic minds from over 35 universities to staff the Economics, Geographic, and Psychology Divisions in the branch. Another department, the Division of Special Information employed historians assigned in geographic sections to write papers on the political, social, military and economic conditions of these regions. While competent, the free nature of the R&A branch did not endear them to the bureaucracies of the other agencies, who kept much of their intelligence from COI (including MAGIC decrypts that could have warned of the Pearl Harbor attack). The State Department considered COI to be inexperienced in dealing with important information, using it "ad lib" rather than diplomatically. Hoover hated Donovan and the COI as interlopers on what he believed was his suzerainty over intelligence operations, bestowed upon the FBI by Roosevelt's 1939 mandate. And the military simply would not trust the civilians of COI, described by one general as a "bunch of faggots." With little direction and less secret intelligence, the scholars of the R&A Branch ended up writing reports on virtually any subject they believed to be applicable to the coming war. While most these reports were valuable, few of them made their way to the President's desk.
Although propaganda didn't have much to do with intelligence collection, the Foreign Information Service was the largest branch in COI, with nearly half of its personnel. Donovan had developed an interest in psychological warfare as well as in centralized intelligence during his fact-finding missions in 1940, and sought to combine the two functions in COI. Headquarted in New York under the leadership of Robert E. Sherwood, a Broadway playwright, FIS men were among the first sent overseas to set up or lease radio stations and broadcast anti-Axis propaganda through programs like the Voice of America. Under COI, the Outposts Division of the FIS sent officers to London, Chungking, New Delhi, Lisbon, Stockholm, Bern, Brazzaville, Capetown, Cairo, Ankara, Honolulu, and Reykjavik. FIS also experimented in black propaganda: damaging and often false information fashioned to appear as if it came from an enemy source. Arguments between Sherwood and Donovan would end up in the transfer of FIS to the Office of War Information when COI became OSS.
Other branches of COI included the Foreign Nationalities Branch, which carried out domestic surveillance aimed at targeting possible saboteurs among ethnic groups, exile communities, labor organizations, and Communists, as well as establish liaisons with anti-Axis factions that could provide agents for intelligence and sabotage operations overseas. The Visual Presentation Branch was the audio-visual club of the COI, using photographs and film to capture strategic information. Their Field Photographic Division was created from a Naval Reserve unit in Hollywood and employed several studio technicians, as well as directors like John Ford. The Oral Intelligence Division interviewed tourists and immigrants to gather information on the situation abroad. Finally, overseeing the entire COI apparatus was the Board of Analysts, better known as Donovan's "College of Cardinals," which included some of the most distinguished academics in America. It was up to this Board to provide a final judgment on the intelligence collected by COI, and that judgment would then be delivered to the President by Donovan himself.
By the autumn of 1941, it was obvious that the military attaches of ONI and G-2 could not gather proper intelligence while Europe and Asia were plunged in the chaos of war. Roosevelt urged military intelligence to carry out foreign espionage, but the officers remained wary, considering the spy game unsavory. ONI and G-2 handed the job to Donovan in October 1941, transferring the K Organization to COI where it became the basis of a new branch called "Special Activities - K and L Funds." This section would soon after be re-designated the Special Activities Branch, the home of espionage, subversion, guerilla warfare, and any other "supplementary activities."
Immediately after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt and Churchill met at the first of several conferences to discuss what would be their strategy now that Britain and the United States were officially allied against the Axis. Churchill favored a plan based on the "fourth element of warfare" which would wear Germany down through aerial bombardment, naval blockade, propaganda, sabotage and subversion. The soon-to-be-created Joint Chiefs of Staff, the "unified high command" of America's armed forces, would take a dim view of this plan, but it was embraced by Donovan. He therefore designed the Special Activities Branch as part of this fourth element of warfare, softening up the enemy through espionage and guerilla warfare in preparation for a conventional military assault.
To coordinate operations with the British SIS and SOE, the Special Activities Branch divided the functions of espionage and subversion in January 1942. The undercover networks supplied to COI were put under the command of David K.E. Bruce, and the section became known as Special Activities/Bruce (SA/B). Colonel M. Preston Goodfellow, the G-2 liason officer to COI, took over the guerilla warfare section which was designated Special Activities/Goodfellow (SA/G). Bruce recruited his officers from former diplomats and businessmen with experience abroad, while Goodfellow had authorization from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to recruit 200 military personnel to train and serve in SA/G (the first military personnel in COI). COI recruiters searched military training centers for men who could speak foreign languages, work well in small groups, and were at least moderately physically fit.
Up till this point, recruits to COI had either been handpicked by Donovan or recommended by those whose judgment Donovan trusted. These were men who Donovan met during his diverse career - lawyers, bankers, academics, and veterans who fought under Donovan during the First World War. Its rivals wouldn't allow COI to recruit from their own ranks, so COI grew into an elite clique due to the common background of its personnel, most being affluent Republicans with Ivy League educations. Few of these people had ever worked in government service, fewer still had military experience, and virtually no one had any understanding of the world of espionage. Nevertheless, Stephenson and the BSC were there to rectify the situation. COI and its heirs in the OSS learned just about all their tradecraft from these veterans of the spy game: everything from operating a radio transmitter to setting up secret bank accounts to killing a man silently with a dagger. This alliance between COI/OSS and British intelligence became so strong after Pearl Harbor that Donovan was made aware of the Ultra decrypts of the Enigma code, and an agreement was made to share counterintelligence derived from Bletchley Park.
With the help of BSC, SA/B began opened its training program in May 1942, on a 100-acre estate outside Washington that would become known as "The Farm." Here, classes of 15 students underwent a 4-week course that taught them radio operation, photography, cryptography, small arms, close combat, interrogation, concealment, bribery, and how to recruit and run a network of spies. By January 1942, SA/G officers were being trained at Camp X, a commando school in Canada run by BSC and the SOE. SA/G opened up their schools in April 1942, four compounds (Areas A thru D) in Quantico and Maryland where officers and agents studied at the Preliminary School (a two-week course in demolitions, small arms, close combat, and fieldcraft), the Basic School (a two-week course in sabotage and guerilla warfare tactics), the Advanced Training School (a two-week course in undercover work and organizing resistance groups), the Parachute School (a one-week course), the Maritime School (a one-week course teaching infilitration by submarine and small craft), the Industrial Sabotage School, and the Localized Social School.
The first battlefield for Donovan's new spies was in the Mediterranean, where COI was tasked with keeping the French fleet from going over to the Axis, seeing that Spain remained neutral, and, most of all, finding a way to keep the French from declaring war on the United States when they invaded North Africa. By January 1942, there were SA/B officers operating undercover as vice-consuls of the State Department in Algiers, Tunis, Oran, Rabat, Tangiers, and Casablanca, recruiting agents among the many exiles, informants, diplomats, gamblers, and prostitutes. SA/G also made contact with pro-Allied factions within the French in North Africa, and organized them into stay-behind networks to wage guerilla war on the Axis should they occupy the region.
Organized into Geographic Desks (Western Europe, Central Europe, Northern Europe, British Empire, Italy, Eastern Europe, Africa, Near East, and Far East), SA/B established bases in Tangiers, Chungking, Cairo, and London. By June 1942, a handful of SA/B agents also operated in Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Africa, and the Middle East. The intelligence staff of Douglas MacArthur felt that their authority was threatened by COI, so neither SA/B nor SA/G were allowed in the Southwest Pacific theater. COI found similar treatment by the British in India, who were wary of the anti-imperialist sentiment popular among the Americans. Occupied Europe also remained the province of the British, as the first independent American operation did not take place there until mid-1943.
Despite this activity, SA/B suffered from a lack of special equipment and false documents needed to properly place agents in occupied territory. SA/G was even less active, since their only unit near to being operational was Detachment 101, which did not receive its orders until September 1942. In fact, the most active COI missions overseas were the broadcasters of FIS, but even these operations were limited. There were only twenty-one agents in the whole of COI working outside the United States in May 1942.
By that date, COI had grown from a small staff of 92 personnel to 1630 people on the payroll. Donovan had stepped on far too many toes in building up COI, and everyone from the State Department to the FBI to the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to see the agency disbanded. Then, while Donovan was in London negotiating with Britain's Special Operations Executive to divide up spheres-of-influence in the coming campaign of guerilla warfare, Roosevelt "abolished" COI and gave Donovan and his agents a new birth as the Office of Strategic of Services. This order of 13 June 1942 placed OSS under the command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who suddenly realized that guerilla warfare would be a necessary component of this war. While the generals and admirals considered behind-enemy-lines work as unsuitable for soldiers, they wanted to retain control over it, with the job itself to be carried out by Donovan's civilians. All of the branches in COI were transferred mostly intact to OSS with the exception of FIS, whose black propaganda section was preserved in the Special Operations Branch, and later became the Morale Operations Branch of the OSS.
COI in Our Darkest Hour:  One of the "supplementary activities" of the Special Activities Branch was the investigation of the occult and its exploitation by the enemy. In February 1942, LtCmdr Martin Cook convinced Donovan to transfer P Division and all its records from ONI to COI, where it became an Unconventional Warfare Unit within the Special Activities Branch (SA/P).
Besides this, any number of Mythos-aware scholars from Miskatonic University or elsewhere would have been happy to join the Research & Analysis Branch of COI due to the state of academic jobs then. COI agents operating in North Africa in early 1942 might have also run into the Karotechia archaeologists out to plunder the Mythos secrets from that region. And COI did manage to create spy networks in China, where they could have gone head-to-head with the Black Dragon Society.
Foreign Information Service Broadcaster
Background: Journalist, Radio Engineer, or anyone with necessary language skills
Skills: Bargain, Electrical Repair, Fast Talk, Other Language, Persuade, Psychology, Signals
Foreign Nationalities Branch Investigator
Background: Private Detective, Federal Agent, Policeman
Skills: Fast Talk, Persuade, Psychology, Other Language, Spot Hidden and any three of the following: Drive Auto, Handgun, Hide, Law, Library Use, Sneak or Track
Intelligence Agent (SA/B):
Background: Journalist, Diplomat, Businessman, Dilletante, Spies (former ONI agents)
Skills: Conceal, Credit Rating, Fast Talk, Locksmith, Other Language, Signals, Spot Hidden and any three of the following: Disguise, Cryptography, Handgun, Hide, Forgery, Listen, Persuade, Sneak, and Tradecraft
Research & Anaylsis Staffer
Background: Professor, Researcher
Skills: Credit Rating, English, Library Use, Other Language, Persuade and up to three fields of study (ie. Archaeology, Geology, etc.)
Special: +3 to EDU
Special Operative (SA/G):
Background: Soldier, Officer, or anyone with necessary language skills
Skills: Climb, Demolitions, Hide, Listen, Navigate (Land), Other Language, Parachute, Rifle, Signals, Sneak, Spot Hidden and three of the following: Conceal, First Aid, Knife, Handgun, Martial Arts, Machine Gun, Submachine Gun, Throw
Professor Charles Myers
STR: 14 DEX: 14 CON: 17 SIZ: 15 INT: 16
APP: 13 POW: 14 EDU: 20 SAN: 65 HP: 16
Damage Bonus: +1d4
Education:  PhD Archaeology, Princeton University
Occupation: COI Research & Analysis Staff
Skills: Anthropology 34%, Archaeology 78%, Climb 70%, Cthulhu Mythos 03%, Dodge 68%, Fast Talk 65%, Geology 62%, History 75%, Library Use 61%, Martial Arts (Boxing) 35%, Navigate 43%, Persuade 45%, Spot Hidden 45%
Languages: English 99%, Latin 78%, Greek 56%
Fist/Punch 80%, 1d3+db
Brown, Anthony Cave. The Last Hero: Wild Bill Donovan. ISBN 0-8129-1021-4.
Dear, Ian. Sabotage and Subversion: The SOE and OSS at War. ISBN 0-304-35202-0.
Kross, Peter. The Encyclopedia of World War II Spies. ISBN 1-56980-171-1.
Smith, Bradley F. The Shadow Warriors: OSS and the Origins of the CIA. ISBN 0-465-07756-0.
Smith, R. Harris. OSS: The Secret History of America's First Central Intelligence Agency. ISBN 0-520-02023-5.
U.S. War Department, Strategic Services Unit. War Report of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). ISBN 0-8027-0529-4.
Written by Gil Trevizo.
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