In 1929, the US Secretary of State, Henry Stimson, shut down the State Department's cryptanalytic office saying, "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail.”
This thinking led to our surprise on 7 December 1941 by the ungentlemenly Japanese Navy’s attack on the USN Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.
To provide for war time intelligence, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was created within six months of Pearl Harbor to collect, analyze and disseminate foreign secrets to all US war offices and to conduct special operations against US enemies.
It was in existence for only three years. But during that time, more than 10,000 OSS spies, saboteurs, commandos, propagandists, and research analysts operated against the Nazis in Europe and the Japanese in China.
General MacArthur did not allow OSS operatives in the Pacific theater because of his conviction that the military operatives assigned to his command could provide the military intelligence he needed. And, especially, he did not want a competing channel of analysis and communications back to Washington, DC.
When the OSS organization was disbanded after the war, the War Department took over the OSS’s Secret Intelligence collection and Counter-Espionage branches, lock, stock and barrel. The military organized these two units into what was called the Strategic Services Unit (SSU) and the Secretary of War appointed Brigadier General John Magruder (formerly OSS’s Deputy Director for Intelligence) as the SSU director. Magruder also oversaw the liquidation of the remaining pieces of OSS.
There was intense back room fighting in Washington for control of this new organization and its primary mission of providing strategic warning on international threats to US security. Many thought that it should have a broader government application than just to a Pentagon constituency… since, for among other reasons, previous US military intelligence had failed to give an early warning to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
It took President Truman less than four months to respond to this concern. In January 1946, he authorized the creation of an independent civilian Central Intelligence Group (CIG). It specifically included the SSU, now re-titled the CIG’s Office of Special Operations (OSO). Located in the old OSS cluster of ramshackle office buildings along the Reflecting Pool, this new intelligence organization functioned under the direction of a National Intelligence Authority (NIA), which was composed of a presidential representative and the secretaries of State, War, and the Navy.
OSS buildings above the Reflective Pool and Lincoln Memorial 1945
Twenty months later, under provisions of the National Security Act of 1947, the NIA became the National Security Council (NSC) and the CIG became the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The old OSO functions of HUMIT collection continued unaffected in the new CIA organization. It was subdivided into area divisions with William Dugfill given the responsible for operations in the Far East.
In 1948, a separate super-secret, small covert action division of the USG was created - the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC).
While it was housed in CIA office space – and was often assumed to be an integrated part of the larger CIA - it was responsible directly to the US State Department, the Pentagon and the National Security Council. It was created to counter USSR covert ops in such a way that the “…US Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.” Its operations included: “…propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.”
State Department’s George Kennan, the father of post war “containment” ideas, was one of the major players in creating OPC, although Frank Wisner, a former OSS officer and State Department staffer, was put in charge of day to day operations. Wisner brought back in some former OSS operatives who did not stay in the USG during the SSU and CIG post war years and also added many of his cronies from Wall Street. OPC had a deep-seated Eastern Establishment base and was very Ivy League in education.
Colonel Richard Giles Stilwell - no relation to General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell of World War II fame - ran Wisner’s OPC Far Eastern (FE) Division. Desmond FitzGerald was his very personable and capable deputy.
Because CIA’s OSO espionage operations offices and State’s OPC covert ops offices were co-located on the old OSS campus and there were members of each group who had served together in the OSS, there was a healthy cross fertilization of information and sources.
The CIA provided cover for the OPC in some Embassies overseas, though some stations located outside US Embassies were known as OPC because the preponderance of their activities were covert ops.
All CIA, OPC and military intelligence start up work was made significantly harder on “Black Friday,” 1948, when our coverage of Soviet diplomatic and military communication almost completely ceased.
Actually it didn’t happen in one day, but over the course of time around 1948 the Soviet Union replaced all its codes, private communications equipment and methods of operations in sending sensitive state electronic traffic.
Well certainly the Soviet Union must have thought its communications were vulnerable to intercept because a significant amount of its equipment had been received from the west during WW II. But also the Soviet Union security apparatus had the sure inside information provided by Bill Weisband, a Soviet emigre to the US recruited by the Soviet’s NKVD organization in 1934. Although he was used initially as a handling agent for other NKVD assets in the US, his Soviet spying activities were not known to US security.
In 1942 when Weisband was drafted into the US Army, he was assigned to the US Army Signals Intelligence Service (SIS) because he spoke native Russian. After the war he ended up in the SIS’s “Russian Section” at Arlington Hall, Virginia, where he had access to all US crypto coverages of the Soviet Union. In February 1948 a Soviet official (probably Yuri Bruslov or in information provided to the west by Yuri Bruslov) reported, "For one year, a large amount of very valuable documentary material concerning the work of Americans on deciphering Soviet ciphers, intercepting and analyzing open radio-correspondence of Soviet institutions, was received from (Weisband). From these materials, we came to know that, as a result of this work, American intelligence managed to acquire important data concerning the stationing of the USSR's armed forces, the productive capacity of various branches of industry, and work in the field of atomic energy in the USSR... On the basis of Weisband's materials, our state security organs carried out a number of defensive measures, resulting in the reduced efficiency of the American deciphering service. This has led to the considerable current reduction in the amount of deciphering and analysis by the Americans."
Whatever the actual cause, post-war civilian US intelligence analysis came into being without the added perspective of a cryptanalysis of Soviet communications. This caused significant lapses in our coverage of Soviet activities regarding, 1) the Joseph Stalin-ordered North Korean Army invasion of South Korea and 2) subsequent deliberations between Moscow and Beijing over introduction of Chinese Communist forces into North Korea to fight US Army forces.
Nascent post WW II US intelligence started small. OPC had only 302 personnel in 1949 and the CIA just 5,000 employees in early January 1950… with only three operations officers in Korea.
This three-man CIA station in Korea had its offices in the Tarymore hotel, downtown Seoul, eventually headed up by a big, formidable ex-FBI man, Al Haney.
In Hong Kong, Al Cox (former OSS) handled the OPC office there and had far ranging responsibilities to run both intelligence collections and covert operations throughout the Far East. He had continuing contact with Haney’s station in Korea and also the CIA unit on Taiwan which included Bill Myers, who maintained regular contact with stay-behind agents on mainland China, mostly in old Kuomintang (KMT) units .
Cox also had contact with William Duggan (former OSS) who headed up the six man OSO office on the Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. This unit had been re-located from Shanghai when the communist took over China. Duggan continued to focus on China ops and while his office was in Japan, his operations were directed outside MacArthur’s FECOM (US military Far East Command) Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) and he operated on his own authority.
In May 1950 OPC’s Richard Stilwell travelled to Tokyo to successfully convince MacArthur to allow an OPC office in Japan to work covert operations in Korea, which was within MacArthur’s TAOR. In agreeing, MacArthur asked that this new group maintain day to day liaison with MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo and integrate into the FECOM G-2 apparatus. While it was understood that OPC would have a private ops channel back to its headquarters in Washington, FECOM would maintain some loosely understood control over (or at least awareness of) OPC field operations.
Within weeks George Aurell with four OPC staff officers arrived in Tokyo where they set up what was considered the official CIA station in a downtown hotel. The station maintained a generally unwelcomed and certainly uneasy relationship with Major General Charles Willoughby, the FECOM G-2. Willoughby, having been at MacArthur’s elbow throughout his successful WW II Pacific campaign, maintained privileged access to MacArthur in Tokyo. He was never known to have an opinion separate from the Supreme Commander and in all matters of FECOM business was assumed to be speaking for MacArthur. Gruff, he was intiminating with his staff and FECOM associates, demanding respect and compliance. Angry when things didn’t go his way he’d throw ash trays at subordinates and yell in his heavy German accent. He was not friendly with the CIA; seeing them as an Ivy League civilian organization with a political inspired mission redundant to his.
While Aurell was the temporary CIA Chief of Station in Tokyo, Wisner, Stilwell and FitzGerald specifically wanted another individual as a permanent Chief of the OPC Operations there; the colorful and very experienced Hans V. Tofte.
Born in 1911 in Denmark to a maritime merchant family, Tofte, at age 19, went to work in China as an employee of a Danish shipping firm that did business in East Asia. Living in Manchuria, traveling often to northern Korea, he learned to speak Chinese and gained an intimate knowledge of the area’s geography, political factions, and political personalities. He met with Chiang Kai-shek in the course of his work.
The Second World War brought him back to Denmark where he saw some service in the anti-German resistance.
Using bogus papers, he escaped to Spain (a stow-away on a German plane) and thence to the United States. In New York he sought out William Stephenson - later famed as "The Man Called Intrepid" - who ran British intelligence operations from America. Tofte offered his services and Stephenson dispatched him to Singapore. There he organized native crews to deliver supplies over the Burma Road to the Chinese fighting the Japanese in the interior.
When Singapore fell, Tofte returned to the United States and surrendered his rank of brevet major in the Indian Army to enlist in the American army as a private.
Because of his background, Tofte was detailed to OSS. Working directly with Major General William "Wild Bill" Donovan, the OSS chief, Tofte ran a major covert operation scheme that compelled the Germans to divert strategic troops from its campaign in Italy to Yugoslavia. Drawing upon his maritime background, he organized a flotilla of decrepit coastal vessels, manned them with refugee Yugoslavs, and set up a seaborne supply service across the Adriatic to the Yugoslav coast.
Hans V. Tofte
By October i943 Tofte's rag-tag but effective navy contained forty-four vessels that darted across the sea at night, each ship carrying as much materiel to the partisans as British airdrops had supplied in a month. Joseph Tito, later president of Yugoslavia, gratefully received the arms, and his partisan bands tied down scores of thousands of German troops. For this the United States awarded Tofte the Legion of Merit.
The end of the war came suddenly thereafter and Tofte eventually took up the life of a middle-class small businessman in the US, marrying an American woman and moving to Mason City, Iowa.
During a Christmas 1949 visit to Washington he met with two old OSS buddies, Richard Stilwell and Desmond FitzGerald who tried to convince him to join their upstart OPC organization. He politely but firmly refused, saying he was leading a comfortable middle-American life in Iowa and he wanted no part of a peacetime bureaucracy.
He also talked with the OPC chief, Frank Wisner, another wartime colleague.
Frank Wisner, Sr.
"We sure need you," Wisner said.
In declining again Tofte said, "… but if there is another war, you can count on me."
In June 1950 Tofte was on active reserve duty in Fort Riley, Kansas, when he heard about the North Korean invasion of South Korea.
The expected call from Wisner came early the next morning.
"Is this enough of an emergency for you?" Wisner asked dryly.
“Yes,” Tofte said and two days later he was at agency headquarters by the Reflecting Pool in Washington. Because of his intimate on-the-ground knowledge of Manchuria and Korea and his linguistic ability (he spoke six languages), he accepted the expected field assignment to Korea. His Hqs would be in Japan under MacArthur’s command, but he would be responsible to the OPC in Washington, DC.
Stilwell and Wisner arranged for briefings, but they could give Tofte few orders, especially on how to handle MacArthur. "There was no book to go by," he was told. MacArthur hadn’t worked with anyone else, every before.
"Basically I was told to choose a site and build an operations base outside Tokyo, big enough to handle one thousand people, with our own communications. Whatever else happened, I was on my own…"
He arrived in Tokyo on July 16, 1950, three weeks after the North Korean invasion, to find his biggest challenge was, not surprisingly, FECOM G-2 Major General Willoughby, who looked at Tofte as a spy reporting back to the Ivy League Establishment in Washington, DC. On this Willoughby certainly reflected MacArthur’s views.
Though only a Lt Colonel in the US Army Reserves, in preparation for dealing with Willoughby, Tofte had Wisner give him temporary two star general rank, which put him at the same level as Willoughby. He was able to use this temporary rank to force the issue in getting quarters in a downtown Tokyo hotel set aside for the highest ranking officers under MacArthur, and rode around with two-star flags flapping in the wind from both sides of the front bumper of his sedan.
"I decided that the only way to deal effectively with Willoughby was to kick him in the pants every chance I got, to let him know I was tough as he was, or tougher," Tofte related. So when Willoughby made what came to be his "monthly threat" to throw Tofte and the CIA out of Japan, Tofte would tell him, "Shut up, you work for me, I'm an American citizen and a taxpayer, and you can't order me around."
Major General Charles Willoughby
Willoughby, born in Europe to a German Baron and an American socialite, had an ear for language - spoke at least four fluently - and would often talk with Tofte in any of the several they spoke in common… but there was no friendship between the two. Tofte kept his own counsel and Willoughby became so suspicious he often assigned Japanese security units to follow Tofte and his staff.
Tofte’s newly arrived deputy, Colwell Beers, and Tofte spent the first week driving around the Tokyo environs looking for a site for the new CIA base. They were actually eating lunch as they scouted Atsugi Air Force Base, forty-seven miles south of Tokyo, when they happened on an isolated area of some fifty acres. "I had a beer in one hand and chicken sandwich in the other, and I pronounced, 'This is where the base will be.'"
Still eating and drinking, Tofte and Beers paced off where various buildings would be located. Engineers and a construction battalion were at work within the week. By the end of the year there would be a thousand men assigned to this main OPC office on the Atsugi Air Force base. That was a sizable part of the entire US civilian intelligence organization… which had a work force of only five thousand total in January 1950.
Tofte also established an OPC training facility at Chigasaki and Sasebo, both isolated areas on the Japanese coast. Aurell’s office remained in Tokyo for daily liaison with MacArthur’s staff. He was considered by many to be the ranking CIA officer, in that that was the way he was first introduced to US military liaison offices in the spring of 1950. There is no recorded friction between Aurell’s CIA office at MacArthur’s Hqs, Tofte’s OPC base at Atsugi Air Force base and Duggan’s OSO office at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. All seem to understand that Tofte was the senior man in charge.
For immediate help to staff his outlaying training locations, Tofte sought people from the local military, the only pool of available manpower. Recognizing upper-echelon were hostility to the CIA, he concentrated on second - and third - level staff officers.
Tofte’s decided that his highest ops priority was to establish an E&E network across Korea to rescue downed fliers, as he reported later, “… this had great appeal to the air force and the navy, for they wished security for their fliers. Thus I was able to persuade these services, and the army as well, to assign men to me."
Tofte took two officers assigned from the air force, the army, and the navy and locked them into a conference room with orders to draw up the initial evasion-and-escape plan for US pilots hit over enemy territory. These plans, finally crafted, called for clandestine partisan bases and landing sites for crippled aircraft on islands off the east and west coasts of North Korea.
After some discussion and revisions, the air force and army approved Tofte's plan.
The next steps were to find appropriate island sites and to create guerrilla bands, both for E&E and for sabotage and paramilitary operations.
In pursuit of these objectives in Korea, Tofte put US Marine Colonel "Dutch" Kramer in charge of new CIA bases at Cheju-do and Yong-do islands southwest of Pusan. Working with Kramer was Tom Curtis, George Atchison and Joe Pagnella.
Dutch and his men set about first to screen Koreans in refugee and POW camps near Pusan paying particular attention to North Koreans as potential behind the lines operatives. They were surprised by the quality and quantity of the volunteers, from both North and South Koreans. In the first year of the war some 1,200 recruits were trained on the island of Yong-do with advanced specialized training at the CIA base at Chigasaki, Japan.
The training format for the new recruits was the same basic guerrilla course Tofte had taught other Asians in the early months of the Second World War: weaponry, use of small boats for covert landings, sabotage techniques, espionage, covert communications, and the other tradecraft skills long used by behind-the-lines agents.
In forming up guerrilla teams the CIA found enough trained radio and telegraph operators in the South Korean Telegraph Company to form fully functional field communications units.
CIA borrowed underwater demolition experts from the navy for training. Small landing craft would stand offshore beyond the horizon while the infiltration and sabotage teams inflated their rubber boats and rowed to training site beaches.
Tofte's empire expanded by leaps and bounds; every week it was larger. Tofte’s job was focused on operations. His deputy, Beers’, job was handling administration, a partnership by all accounts that worked perfectly.
Several years earlier the CIA had taken control of General Claire Chennault's old "Flying Tiger" air force from the Second World War – flown by American mercenaries who fought for Chiang Kai-shek against the Communists - and transferred it to Formosa, where the airlines was renamed Civil Air Transport, or CAT. Forty of the aircraft, bearing Nationalist Chinese markings along with the CAT emblem, were transferred to Japan and Korea for Tofte's use.
The pilots and ground crews were on the CIA's payroll. Tofte took a comfortably outfitted C-47-number XT-854-for his personal plane, for flights around the different OPC training units in Japan and Korea.
He also took over a small house on Yong-do Island overlooking Pusan Harbor, highest point in the area, which he used for a retreat and for planning conferences. "This was one of the best views in Asia, and getting down there away from all the clamor in Tokyo enabled us to work better and faster," Tofte later said.
The Korea peninsula was divided into two countries based on geography, and not political ideology. There was more subservient group-think in the north because people were killed if they didn’t obey the party line. In the south, there was more open debate, and scattered pockets of dissent to the national gov’t of Syngman Rhee.
This was the case in the spring of 1949 when the US military moved out of South Korea after establishing the DMZ at the 38th parallel, leaving behind only a small group of about 500 US military caretakers.
On the US Army’s departure, the US State Department took over responsibility of helping the South Korean gov’t getting to its feet. The CIA established a small station and soon after arrival began recruiting and sending out cross border agents.
The US Air Force became a HUMINT player primarily because of its Chief Warrant Officer Donald Nichols. Nichols, who did not graduate high school, worked his way up the US Army Air Force ranks to a position of some authority in the USAF’s Office of Special Intelligence (OSI), Korea. He learned to speak the language and was in regular contact with Syngman Rhee. 1948-1950, operating from a base near the Kimpo airfield west of Seoul, his small office developed effective teams of Koreans who crossed the DMZ on a regular basis to report on the North Korean Army and activities out in the countryside… on occasions going on reconnaissance missions himself into North Korea.
In Tokyo, Major General Willoughby did not look on the CIA nor the USAF OSI as experienced or necessarily competent. His Tokyo office maintained contact with the Korean Liaison Office (KLO) in Seoul, where his staff there also dispatched intelligence teams north of the 38th. Willoughby seemed to consider his KLO operations significantly more creditable than the others.
On an organizational schematic, the FECOM G-2, Willoughby’s command of the Joint Advisory Commission, Korea (JACK) supposedly gave him the authority to coordinating all US run field intel activities in Korea, which included signal and photo intelligence.
It was not, however, a friendly or effective coming together of the different US players because of Willoughby’s heavy handed manner. Some JACK members admittedly kept some of their parochial and proprietary information to themselves. Especially the CIA and the USAF, both upstart organizations created in the National Security act of 1947. And the enormous coastline of the Korean peninsula gave the US Navy (and the ROK Navy) its own particular area of operations with its own particular problems and objectives.
Adding to the intermural resistance to cooperation was the fact that intelligence can be interpreted differently by different organization. And it was here that Willoughby greatly asserted his influence… by using his interpretation of field reports as the final word. All agent information went through his office in Tokyo before disseminated to the intelligence community in Washington, DC.
In the spring of 1950 the small CIA station in Seoul sent out reports from its cross border assets about the improvements along railroad spurs and access roads in North Korea right above the DMZ, and the movement of North Korean troops.
According to Jack Singlaub, Haney’s future deputy in Korea, Willoughby graded all these reports “F-6” which meant the reports were sourced to new and untested/untrained agents. That more or less destined them to the trash pile, because “F-6” reports were generally regarded as market place gossip, and unreliable. Despite Willoughby’s low grades on the significance on CIA reporting, Haney - increasingly alarmed over multiple indications that the North Korean army was mobilizing for war in the spring of 1950 - sent a high precedent alert through CIA communication channels directly to CIA Director Hillenkoetter. The director in turn passed on the warnings to the Pentagon, US congressmen and the President… but no action was taken. The military reporting from the area was that everything was cool. And Korea was not high on anyone list of international hot spots of concern to the US.
However Donald Nichols, the USAF highly regarded intelligence OSI chief in Korea - and possibly the most knowledgeable man in the US military on the North Koreans - said in his autobiography ““I get more than furious every time someone asked why didn't we know about the Korean conflict before it happened? We did know. Or, at least, some of us knew, but some ass at General MacArthur's Headquarters in Tokyo… didn't believe what was being reported.”
With that background it’s easy to understand why JACK meetings always seemed to be acrimonious and continuous, though its first major joint operation was a tremendous success.
That was the pre-Inchon invasion joint CIA/US Military reconnaissance code-named Operation Trudy Jackson.