Books

Author Douglas Waller, who profiled four CIA directors, visits Plaza library Wednesday

William Donovan, who ran America’s spy agency during World War II, didn’t object to his employees holding doctorates.

But Donovan, known as “Wild Bill,” also valued other credentials, said Washington author Douglas Waller.

“Donovan once said he wanted Ph.D.s who could win a bar fight,” Waller said.

In 2011 Waller published a biography of Donovan, head of the World War II Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Now Waller has published “Disciples,” which details the missions of four future CIA directors — Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, William Colby and William Casey — who were inspired by Donovan’s swashbuckling nerve and style.

Dulles and Colby attended Princeton University; Casey went to Fordham University.

Helms attended Williams College, a “Little Ivy” school in Massachusetts, and later left a job selling advertising for The Indianapolis Times for a career with the OSS. That’s when he received formal instruction on how to gouge out the eye of a rival in close combat or — if in a bar — to break a beer bottle and use its jagged edges.

“These guys were voracious readers but they were not pointy-headed intellectuals,” Waller said. “They were men of action, and one of the purposes of this book was to show the good war they fought when they were all younger.”

The men all exited public life in awkward fashion.

A federal judge in 1977 sentenced Helms to two years in prison, suspended, for lying to congressional investigators regarding the agency’s role in the 1973 overthrow of the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile.

Dulles resigned in 1961 after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles trained by the CIA.

Colby endured the resentment of some agency staffers after testifying before Congress in the 1970s about some of the agency’s unseemly activities, including spying on American citizens.

Casey’s role in the Iran-Contra Affair of the 1980s — the funding of anti-communist Nicaraguan rebels with proceeds from arms sales to Iran — haunted his deathbed. There is still controversy as to what he may or may not have admitted to reporter Bob Woodward in his hospital room not long before his 1987 passing.

But readers of Waller’s book meet these four men at the top of their profession.

Colby parachuted into France in August 1944 to coordinate French resistance units.

Dulles’ passage from Nazi-controlled France into Switzerland during the Allies’ invasion of North Africa in 1942 sounds likes something “Casablanca’s” Victor Laszlo could have told Rick Blaine over a champagne cocktail.

After Dulles implored a French gendarme to allow him to cross the border into neutral Switzerland — even mentioning Lafayette’s assistance in enabling the colonial American army to defeat the British — the guard waited until a German security agent left for his noon lunch and then handed Dulles his passport.

“Go ahead,” the French guard told Dulles. “You see that our collaboration is only symbolic.”

For the next three years, Dulles ran the OSS office in Bern, the Swiss capital.

To research “Disciples” as well as his Douglas biography, Waller waded through thousands of OSS documents, declassified in recent years and full of previously unavailable details. Among the revelations: the difficulty of Colby’s task in occupied France. That included not only surviving his jump but dealing with one French Resistance leader who was oddly unmotivated.

That leader turned out to be a double-agent, collaborating with the Nazis. Other Resistance members also proved frustrating. Colby, Waller said, “soon found himself refereeing squabbles among the Resistance factions who seemed to fight among themselves as much as they did the Nazis.”

Waller speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10, at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza branch, 4801 Main St.

The library is co-sponsoring the event with the Truman Library Institute, with grants from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

“Last Train to Cooperstown”

In 2006, the National Baseball Hall of Fame conducted a special election that resulted in the induction of 17 players, owners and officials from the Negro Leagues.

It represented the institution’s effort to address the vast legacy of African-American baseball that wasn’t largely visible in the hall until the early 1970s, when some of the more celebrated Negro Leagues athletes, such as Kansas City’s Leroy “Satchel” Paige, began to be elected.

Kansas City, Kan., baseball blogger Kevin Mitchell recently published “Last Train to Cooperstown,” which includes profiles of all 17 of those inductees. Although there may be no end to the vivid social history that continuous Negro Leagues research can uncover, it’s unclear whether how many other overlooked individuals may be elected to the hall in the future, Mitchell said.

“Metaphorically, there will never be another train to Cooperstown from Negro League baseball like in 2006,” he said.

Mitchell speaks at 7 p.m. this week at three Mid-Continent Public Library locations: Monday at the South Independence branch, 13700 E. 35th St.; Tuesday at the North Independence branch at 317 W. U.S. 24 and Wednesday at the Raytown branch at 6131 Raytown Road. Mitchell will speak at other branches during February, which is Black History Month. For more information, go to mymcpl.org/blackhistory.

To visit Mitchell’s blog, “The Baseball Scroll,” go to thebaseballscroll.blogspot.com.

Brian Burnes: 816-234-4120, @BPBthree

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