On the eve of the United States entering World War II, the U.S. was woefully unprepared—both militarily and in the realm of intelligence. The United States did not have a professional intelligence service, but that was about to change.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the need for a professional global intelligence service. He was worried about the state of the United States intelligence services, which operated strictly on an ad hoc basis, without any overall direction or leadership. All counterespionage activities took place under the auspices of the FBI and its director, J.Edgar Hoover, who tried to quash any talk of a military intelligence service.

FDR turned to a man whom he greatly respected but who was at the opposite end of the political spectrum. William Donovan was a war hero in World War I with the “Fighting 69th,” part of the Rainbow Division, formerly known as the “Irish Brigade” that rose to fame during the Civil War. Donovan was awarded the Medal of Honor for his exploits. He also joined General Pershing’s punitive expedition in Mexico to find Pancho Villa before the U.S. entered the war.

After the war, Donovan was, for a time, the assistant attorney general. During that time he earned the enmity of Director Hoover, something that would rear its head again and again. Donovan also developed contacts all over the world as part of a network of businessmen. They proved much more adept at tracking and collecting intelligence than any government agency.