No longer satisfied with gentlemanly intelligence gathering, with the advent of WWII the United States changed its espionage policy and opted for more daring tactics like decoding secret messages and detonating exploding cigars. Under the guidance of decorated WWI hero William""Wild Bill"" Donovan, the Office of Special Services, the CIA's predecessor, assembled a motley assortment of agents who set the stage for the Allied armies' most important missions, like the invasion of North Africa and the storming of Normandy. Through first person narratives from a slew of OSS operatives, O'Donnell explores the thrilling world of spying before satellites and computer hacking boxed agents into cubicles. The WWII OSS hauled hardened criminals out of jail to burgle enemy embassies and culled spies from the Free French who fled to England and North Africa. The sophisticated seductress""Cynthia"" used her sex appeal to gather ciphers for breaking Polish, Italian and Vichy codes from high-ranking military men. Elsewhere, Virginia Hall supplied the French Resistance with arms and continually sabotaged the Gestapo while limping with a wooden-leg. The book also chronicles psychological operations by the Allied""Sauerkraut agents"" who demoralized German troops by spreading rumors of defeat, disease and desperation. The chapter on the OSS' covert weapons, like exploding baseballs and umbrella pistols, vividly recalls 007's pre-mission encounters with""Q."" This book is far more than a simple historical survey and reads like a satisfying cloak and dagger yarn, making it a good choice both history and mystery buffs.
Reviewed on: 03/01/2004 Release date: 03/01/2004 Genre: Nonfiction