‘The American section of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta has about 1,000 members—including 300 dames. They represent the vanguard of American Catholicism, the point at which the Vatican and the U.S. ruling elite intersect. The Knights of Malta comprise what is perhaps the most exclusive club on earth.”
Mother Jones 1983
This month, as the CIA celebrates OSS’s 75th anniversary, the Agency showcases some of the fine women and men who made up America’s first intelligence agency. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) is the precursor of today’s CIA. Created on June 13, 1942, just after America’s entry into WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed, a highly decorated WWI officer, as Director of the OSS.
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Donovan organized the OSS to reflect his vision of a national intelligence center, uniquely combining research and analysis, covert operations, counterintelligence, espionage, and technical development.
“In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the nation was in a state of shock and horror. The day after the attack, the United States officially declared war on Japan, with Nazi Germany declaring war on the United States three days later. President Franklin D. Roosevelt realized that to win the war, the country needed an organization to gather important intelligence from around the world. The president’s advisors knew just the man to lead such an outfit — Gen. William J. Donovan, also known as “Wild Bill” Donovan.”
Establishing an Intelligence Organization
On July 11, 1941, President Roosevelt established the Office of the Coordination of Information (COI) and named Donovan as its director. From this moment forward, Donovan became known as the “Father of American Intelligence.”
The COI was tasked with coordinating information collected abroad for the president. After the United States became involved in World War II, the COI became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in June 1942, with Donovan still in charge.
The OSS consisted of men and women from many areas and backgrounds — lawyers, historians, bankers, baseball players, actors, and businessmen. Their assignment was to conduct espionage, sabotage, and morale operations against the Axis powers, and conduct in-depth research and analysis on the nation’s enemies and their capabilities.
Donovan was a fearless leader and became known for saying, “let’s give it a try!” The OSS was instrumental in many of the successes during World War II, including providing the U.S. government with advance information about German efforts to develop atomic weapons and the plot to assassinate Hitler. [CIA Website]
JULY 1944 — “Wild Bill” Donovan Meets Pope Pius XII
One day in July 1944, as the Second World War raged throughout Europe, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan was ushered into an ornate chamber in Vatican City for an audience with Pope Pius XII.
Donovan bowed his head reverently as the pontiff intoned a ceremonial prayer in Latin and decorated him with the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Sylvester, the oldest and most prestigious of papal knighthoods.
This award has been given to only 100 other men in history, who “by feat of arms, or writings, or outstanding deeds, have spread the Faith, and have safeguarded and championed the Church.”
Although a papal citation of this sort rarely, if ever, states why a person is inducted into the “Golden Militia,” there can be no doubt that Donovan earned his knighthood by virtue of the services he rendered to the Catholic hierarchy in World War II, during which he served as chief of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
In 1941, the year before the OSS was officially constituted, Donovan forged a close alliance with Father Felix Morlion, founder of a European Catholic intelligence service known as Pro Deo.
When the Germans overran western Europe, Donovan helped Morlion move his base of operations from Lisbon to New York.
From then on, Pro Deo was financed by Donovan, who believed that such an expenditure would result in valuable insight into the secret affairs of the Vatican, then a neutral enclave in the midst of fascist Rome.
When the Allies liberated Rome in 1944, Morlion re-established his spy network in the Vatican; from there he helped the OSS obtain confidential reports provided by apostolic dele-gates in the Far East, which included information about strategic bombing targets in Japan.
Pope Pius’ decoration of Wild Bill Donovan marked the beginning of a long-standing, intimate relation-ship between the Vatican and U.S. intelligence that continues to the present day. For centuries the Vatican has been a prime target of foreign espionage.
One of the world’s greatest repositories of raw intelligence, it is a spy’s gold mine. Ecclesiastical, political and economic information filters in every day from thousands of priests, bishops and papal nuncios, who report regularly from every corner of the globe to the Office of the Papal Secretariat.
So rich was this source of data that shortly after the war, the CIA created a special unit in its counterintelligence section to tap it and monitor developments within the Holy See.
But the CIA’s interest in the Catholic church is not limited to intelligence gathering. The Vatican, with its immense wealth and political influence, has in recent years become a key force in global politics, particularly with Catholicism playing such a pivotal role in Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Unbeknownst to most Catholics, the Vatican, which carefully maintains an apolitical image, not only has a foreign office and a diplomatic corps, but also has a foreign policy. And with Polish Communists embrac-ing Catholicism and Latin American Catholics embracing communism, the U.S. government and particularly the CIA have recently taken a much greater interest in Vatican foreign policy.
A year-long Mother Jones investigation has revealed a number of unlikely channels—both overt and covert—which the agency uses to bring its influence to bear upon that policy.
Since World War II, the CIA has:
- subsidized a Catholic lay organization that served as the political slugging arm of the pope and the Vatican throughout the Cold War;
- penetrated the American section of one of the wealthiest and most powerful Vatican orders;
- passed money to a large number of priests and bishops — some of whom became witting agents in CIA covert operations;
- employed undercover operatives to lobby members of the Curia (the Vatican government) and spy on liberal churchmen on the pope’s staff who challenged the political assumptions of the United States;
- prepared intelligence briefings that accurately pre-dicted the rise of liberation theology; and
- collaborated with right-wing Catholic groups to coun-ter the actions of progressive clerics in Latin America.
It was in this last regard that the CIA supported factions within the Catholic church that were instrumental in promoting and electing the current pope, John Paul II, whose Polish nationalism and anti-Communist credentials, they thought, would make him a perfect vehicle for U.S. foreign policy. John Paul’s recent trip to Nicaragua could not have been matched by any American’s for the contribution it made to President Reagan’s Central American initiative. And hopes are high in Washington, D.C., that the pope’s forth-coming trip to Poland, where 90 percent of the people are Catholic, will re-spark the anti-Soviet uprising so vital to Reagan’s plans for Eastern Europe. [Mother Jones investigation]
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And, as they say, the rest is History.
About Felix A. Morlion
In the latter part of April 1948 the Romanian Timpul published an article, “The Vatican Espionage Service,” cited in the Soviet journal New Times, No.31, 1948, at pp. 5, 6. As reported, the article indicated that,
“In 1946 the Pope entrusted the Dominican friar [Felix A.] Morlion, a Belgian, with the reorganization of the Vatican intelligence service and its merger with the jesuit espionage network. The central intelligence department of the Vatican is headed by Janssens, a general of the Jesuit Order. His deputy is Montini, the acting Vatican Secretary of State, and his assistants are Schmider, the administrative director of the central jesuit espionage bureau, and Morlion, director of Centro d’informazione pro Deo. The central intelligence department is subdivided into branches and sections dealing with the various countries. One of the main branches is the so-called ‘special division’ which operates under the signboard of the Centro d’informazione pro Deo press agency. Similar divisions have been set up in the Centro d’informazione pro Deo units in all parts of the world. In New York the ‘special division’ is directed by Cardinal Spellman, in Innsbruck (Austria) by Regent, the rector of a jesuit college, in Coblenz (Germany) by the Catholic priest Poelaert who is also director of the Catholic press agency. The branch in charge of espionage in Eastern and Southeastern Europe is supervised by Schmider and Preseren, the jesuits’ chief expert on the Slav countries and adviser to the Vatican Secretary of State.”
In August 1966, Morlion approached H. L. Hunt for funding Vatican anti-Communist operations in Latin America. Hunt gave an interview to the British Guardian Weekly, February 27, 1969:
” ‘I was approached by Paolo Cardinal Marella, who said he spoke for the Pope and asked if I would supply members of my [20,000 member] Youth Freedom Speakers’ movement who spoke Spanish to be sent south [to Latin America] to engage in speechmaking and activities. I was told the Pope was thinking in terms of 11 million dollars a year support for the entire movement against communism in Spanish-speaking countries.’ ……… The project was now centered in New York, at the Asian Speakers Bureau, with the Free Pacific Association, Inc., on Riverside Drive [another front for the Rev. Moon’s Unification Church]. A key figure in this papal concern over Leftist threats to the Vatican’s greatest stronghold was thc Rev. Felix A. Morlion, who was present at the original discussions. “
Subsequently, Morlion emerged as a key figure in the “Bulgarian Connection” hoax when the fascist Grey Wolf Agca attempted to assassinate the Pope: It appears that Morlion lived in Rome directly below the apartment of the Bulgarian Antonov, and was a possible source of Agca’s description of Antonov’s apartment. (See, Il Mondo, April 8, 1985; L’Espresso, May 19, 1985.) [KNIGHTS OF DARKNESS – THE SOVEREIGN MILITARY ORDER OF MALTA]
William Donovan Biography
Their Will Be Done — Mother Jones
Unholy Alliance: General William “Wild Bill” Donovan and Pope Pius XII