|The Genesis Of AFOSI
by Maj Kurt K. Kunze
former AFOSI Historian
|Part I: - The Forgotten Letter
Germany had surrendered unconditionally over a month and a half before the anonymous letter arrived at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. at the end of June, 1945. The letter, purportedly from an Army Air Forces member, made serious allegations against retiring Deputy Director of the Air Technical Service Command, Maj Gen Bennett E. Meyers.
On July 7, 1945, as 14th Air Force's P-51's and P-38's were pounding Japanese military targets in Indochina and China in an intensified effort to disrupt their withdrawal and bring an end to the Pacific war, the FBI was forwarding copies of the letter to the Justice Department's Criminal Division and to the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 (Intelligence), at the War Department. When viewed in the context of the times – feverish preparations being made to end World War II and to plan for post-war occupation – it is easier to see why the letter would be forgotten. Perhaps it was its anonymous character or the questioned credibility of the charges themselves. After all, "crack pots" were always writing anonymous letters making incredible charges later proved to have no substance. Besides, charges against a man who had played such an important role as a key procurement officer in building up the nation's war machine seemed almost preposterous.
Routine processing continued when the letter reached the War Department. Since it concerned an Army Air Forces' matter, it was forwarded to AS-2 (Air Intelligence Section) which, in turn, sent it to the Air Inspector. In testimony before the Senate Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program in November, 1947, it was revealed that the letter apparently never got to Maj Gen Junius W. Jones, the Air Inspector. Annotations on the transmittal documents indicated the anonymous letter had been sent to the "front office" where it was marked for "no action" and consigned to the files. Thus, it was destined for obscurity in a dusty file drawer, or so it seemed.
At the time of the letter's arrival in the "front office", General Henry "Hap" H. Arnold, the Army Air Forces' Commanding General, was at the Potsdam Conference with President Truman drawing up terms for the Japanese surrender. Neither his deputy, Lt Gen Ira C. Eaker nor the Secretary of the Air Staff, Col Jacob E. Smart (the latter's initials appeared below the "no action" annotation) would be able to recall, sixteen months later at the Senate hearings, of ever seeing the letter. Still, the Army Air Forces' failure to investigate the allegations did not seem as serious to the Senate Committee members as the Air Force's subsequent reluctance to release the letter when the Meyers case reached national prominence.
In May 1947, the Committee requested information from the Army Air Forces concerning an alleged business relationship between General Meyers and a company in Wisconsin having an Army Air Forces contract. When a search of the Air Inspector's files revealed nothing on this particular company, the Committee was so informed. Shortly thereafter, the anonymous letter was discovered. However, since it did not refer specifically to the company, a decision was made not to release the letter to the Committee. Instead, the Air Inspector ordered an inquiry into the validity of the charges. Through an independent source, the Committee learned of the letter's existence and went to newly-appointed Secretary of the Air Force, W. Stewart Symington, to obtain it. Amid thinly-veiled charges of "whitewash" or cover-up, the hearings took on sensationalized overtones as Committee members grilled Air Force witnesses about the letter's disposition.
In all fairness to the participants, the real culprit may have been the unclear lines of jurisdiction in such matters. The FBI's letter of transmittal to the War Department stated "in the event the Criminal Division requests investigation by this Bureau, you will be advised." As a result, the Air Inspector's office took no action pending notification from the Justice Department. On the other hand, Isaiah Matlack, Chief of the War Fraud Section of the Criminal Division, testified that just after the war's beginning, the Justice Department, the Army, the Navy and the FBI made an agreement whereby service personnel who became involved in fraud or other crimes would be investigated by their respective services. Thus, the Justice Department took no action to investigate charges set forth in the letter since they involved a military member.
Had it not been for the Senate hearings, the anonymous letter might have remained forgotten. However, when it became Exhibit 2760 at the hearings, it became a prelude to a full scale examination of the Army Air Forces' investigative system. Ultimately, a new kind of centralized military investigative system – the Office of Special Investigations – would be created in the newly-established Department of the Air Force.
The principal mandate of the Senate Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program was to examine U.S. Government expenditures in the prosecution of World War II. During its 1947 hearings, the Senate Committee developed information concerning questionable procurement practices. This, in turn, led to an examination of the Army Air Forces' investigative apparatus and in concluding its report the Committee summarized:
There was a complete lack of coordination among the several groups authorized to conduct
investigations of misconduct of Air Forces personnel. This resulted in a confused, haphazard method of investigation.
The principal weakness in the investigative system of the Army Air Force was the lack of any centralized control wherein several different organizations with overlapping jurisdictions conducted investigations completely independent of one another.
The most prominent Army Air Forces' investigative organization was the Air Inspector, established in early 1943 whose investigative functions fell into two major categories: military and nonmilitary. The military function involved the inspection of matters pertaining to the efficiency and economy of military units, including the discipline, efficiency, unit morale and the condition of equipment and facilities. The nonmilitary category involved corrupt or improper activities on the part of Army Air Force personnel.
One of the biggest drawbacks to the Air Inspector system was its lack of authority. As the Committee observed:
Investigations and inspections under this system are a command function and representatives of the Air Inspector operate within the chain of command. This means that in most cases the air inspectors conducting the investigations are under the jurisdiction of the commanders of the military unit in which the investigation is being made, or are subject to the control of the commander of the next higher echelon in the command... Under this system, commanders exercise control over the investigations which might very well involve themselves or at least have a reflection upon their ability as commanding officers.
Another problem encountered by the Air Inspector was that his investigators were prohibited by Army regulations from conducting any investigative interviews without being on record, that is, without first swearing a witness and telling him exactly why he was being questioned. Such restrictions prohibited any type of undercover activities. For this reason, the Air Inspector utilized investigators from the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Army Provost Marshal to conduct criminal investigations, including undercover operations. In those instances when the CID conducted an inquiry and determined an investigation was needed, the Air Inspector had no authority to direct the investigation. Rather, the CID would handle the investigation as directed by the commanding general. Consequently, while the investigative functions of the Air Inspector appeared to be broad in scope on paper, they were
actually very severely restricted.
Earlier, another investigative body had been formed in the latter part of 1942 by Brig Gen William M. O'Dwyer (later mayor of New York City) who was assigned directly to Maj Gen Oliver P. Echols, Assistant Chief of Air Staff in Charge of Materiel, Maintenance and Distribution. Gen O'Dwyer's investigative unit was established to conduct investigations involving procurement matters. (This group was disbanded in 1944 when Gen O'Dwyer was assigned overseas.) But, at about the same time, intelligence officers assigned to the Materiel Command at Wright Field and at the various regional procurement districts were also making investigations into procurement irregularities.
Among its recommendations to eliminate the weaknesses in the Air Force investigative system, the Senate Committee, in April 1948, proposed
A competent investigative unit should be established at once to act as a watchdog over the huge continuing expenditure of public funds by that important arm [Air Force] of the Military Establishment. The Air Forces is now revamping its present investigative system. It is recommended that the new system be set up in accordance with recognized investigatory procedures which are followed by many of the nonmilitary agencies of the Government. ...Investigations involving misconduct of personnel should be removed from the chain of command in all branches of the armed services.
The Air Force was to be the first military department to fully follow the dictates of the Senate Committee recommendations when it established its Office of Special Investigations on August 1, 1948.
When the Department of the Air Force was established as part of the National Military Establishment by the National Security Act of 1947 and came into being on September 18, 1947, one of its initial concerns was to revamp its investigative system. Frank J. Wilson, retired director of the United States Secret Service, became a consultant to the Air Force in developing a centralized investigative organization. Subsequently, Stewart Symington, the first Secretary of the Air Force, persuaded J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, to assign his Special Assistant, Joseph F. Carroll, to the Air Force. As former head of the Surplus Property Administration (SPA) (later to become the War Assets Administration) Symington had worked closely with Carroll who, on loan from the FBI, had organized and directed the SPA's Compliance Enforcement Division. Carroll came into the Air Force in late
1947 and continued the work initiated by Wilson.
An initial proposal called for centralizing the Air Force's investigative organization under the Secretary of the Air Force. However, under such an arrangement the unit would be outside of military command channels. Instead, it was decided the investigative organization should be placed under The Inspector General whose position and office were in the process of being established. Not only would the investigative unit be functionally more akin to The Inspector General but in this position the investigations unit would be within command channels, under the Chief of Staff, where the investigators could operate with the rapport of "insiders" to the military system. To enhance the military character and stimulate acceptance of the new system he was organizing, Carroll was tendered a commission as a colonel, USAF Reserve, on January 12, 1948. Less than five months later, Colonel Carroll was ordered to active duty as a brigadier general on May 6, 1948.
Initially, the new investigative organization was planned along lines of a criminal/fraud investigative unit. The Senate hearings in 1947 had brought home the need for a better investigative system, especially in the area of procurement fraud investigations. Now, another functional area was suggested for the new organization – counterintelligence. The counterintelligence mission was combined with the criminal and fraud investigative missions because it was believed they could compliment one another. Therefore, by combining the counterintelligence mission with the other investigative missions, an added flexibility was given to the total investigative program.
Finally, after months of difficult preparation, General Carroll's brainchild, the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), became operational on August 1, 1948. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Chief of Staff, USAF, in a letter to his commanders, announced
On 1 August 1948, the Directorate of Special Investigations, an activity of the Inspector General, USAF, will commence operations in the United States. This new Directorate will perform investigations formerly performed by the Air Inspector and by the USAF Counter Intelligence Corps. It will also conduct criminal investigations, formerly under the supervision of the Provost Marshals.
There are several benefits to be derived from a centrally directed investigative service. Investigations can be performed in a more uniform manner. The results of investigations can be assessed and reported more consistently. Trends and patterns in the nature and location of irregularities can be detected before they reach serious proportions.
The Office of Director of Special Investigations will provide a new and more complete service to assist you in carrying out the responsibilities of command.
Some of the most important events and personalities leading to the establishment of the Office of Special Investigations have been discussed above. Certainly, the establishment of the Office of Special Investigations was given impetus by the Senate inquiry and attending public disclosure of the illegal dealings of General Bennett E. Meyers. One might ask what happened to General Meyers when the furor over his activities died down. The following account appeared in the Dayton, Ohio Journal Herald on April 6, 1972 and I quote:
"Air Force records end when Meyers was stripped of his $550 a month pension and decorations following conviction March 15, 1948, in federal court on three counts of subornation of perjury. Once praised as the "ablest procurement man in the Air Force whose efforts shortened the war," dapper Benny was found to have secretly owned Aviation Electric Co. of Vandalia. The perjury charges arose from his efforts to have the company's president, Bleriot LeMarr, lie to Senate investigators looking into siphoning of procurement funds into the firm. Meyers served just under three years of a 20 months to five year sentence when he was paroled from the federal reformatory at Lorton, VA. After some tax difficulties, he disappeared into private life. He was rumored to have gone West, then come back East, changed his name. If alive now he'd be 76."