Published August 14, 2008
WASHINGTON – Famed chef Julia Child shared a secret with Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg at a time when the Nazis threatened the world.
They served in an international spy ring managed by the Office of Strategic Services, an early version of the CIA created in World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt.
The secret comes out Thursday — all of the names and previously classified files identifying nearly 24,000 spies who formed the first centralized intelligence effort by the United States. The National Archives, which this week released a list of the names found in the records, will make available for the first time all 750,000 pages identifying the vast spy network of military and civilian operatives.
They were soldiers, actors, historians, lawyers, athletes, professors, reporters. But for several years during World War II, they were known simply as the OSS. They studied military plans, created propaganda, infiltrated enemy ranks and stirred resistance among foreign troops.
Among the more than 35,000 OSS personnel files are applications, commendations and handwritten notes identifying young recruits who, like Child, Goldberg and Berg, earned greater acclaim in other fields — Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a historian and special assistant to President Kennedy; Sterling Hayden, a film and television actor whose work included a role in "The Godfather"; and Thomas Braden, an author whose "Eight Is Enough" book inspired the 1970s television series.
Other notables identified in the files include John Hemingway, son of author Ernest Hemingway; Quentin and Kermit Roosevelt, sons of President Theodore Roosevelt, and Miles Copeland, father of Stewart Copeland, drummer for the band The Police.
The release of the OSS personnel files uncloaks one of the last secrets from the short-lived wartime intelligence agency, which for the most part later was folded into the CIA after President Truman disbanded it in 1945.
"I think it's terrific," said Elizabeth McIntosh, 93, a former OSS agent now living in Woodbridge, Va. "They've finally, after all these years, they've gotten the names out. All of these people had been told never to mention they were with the OSS."
The CIA had resisted releasing OSS records for decades. But former CIA Director William Casey, himself an OSS veteran, cleared the way for transfer of millions of OSS documents to the National Archives when he took over the agency in 1981. The personnel files are the latest to be made public.
Information about OSS involvement was so guarded that relatives often couldn't confirm a family member's work with the group.
Walter Mess, who handled covert OSS operations in Poland and North Africa, said he kept quiet for more than 50 years, only recently telling his wife of 62 years about his OSS activity.
"I was told to keep my mouth shut," said Mess, now 93 and living in Falls Church, Va.
The files will offer new information even for those most familiar with the agency. Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society created by former OSS agents and their relatives, said the nearly 24,000 employees included in the archives far exceeds previous estimates of 13,000.
The newly released documents will clarify these and other issues, said William Cunliffe, an archivist who has worked extensively with the OSS records at the National Archives.
"We're saying the OSS was a lot bigger than they were saying," Cunliffe said.