Documents detail history of previously unknown US spy agency

John V. Grombach

J.V. Grombach

A collection of tens of thousands of documents discovered in a barn in a small Virginia town, have brought to light the history and operations of a previously unknown US spy agency that competed for prominence with the CIA during the early stages of the Cold War. The secrecy-obsessed agency was known at various times as the Secret Intelligence Branch, the Special Service Branch, the Special Service Section, or the Coverage and Indoctrination Branch; but insiders referred to it simply as “the Lake” or “the Pond”. It was created in late 1942 by the then newly established US Department of Defense, whose officials did not approve of the civilian character of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA. In its 13-year existence, the Pond operated on a semi-autonomous base under the Departments of Defense and State, but maintained a poor relationship with the CIA, which it considered too “integrated with British and French Intelligence and infiltrated by Communists and Russians”. This information is contained in the files, which were stored in several safes and filing cabinets by the organization’s secretive leader, US Army Colonel John V. Grombach, who died in 1982. The files were unearthed in 2001 and given to the CIA, which released most of them to the public earlier this year. The released documents show that, at its peak, the Pond consisted of an international network of 40 officers, handling over 600 agents and informants in 32 countries around the world. Its officers operated under the cover of employment in major multinational corporations, including Philips, Chase National Bank, and American Express, as well as some newspapers. Among its exploits were atomic espionage operations inside the USSR, as well as an aborted attempt to recruit notorious American mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano to assassinate Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. However, over the years the Pond became increasingly disassociated from US government decision-making structures, ultimately “existing as a quasi-private company” whose operations were rarely vetted or supervised by government officials. Interestingly, the Pond’s demise came along with the downfall of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The reason is that Pond leader Col. Grombach had grown close to fringe anti-communist elements, including HUAC leader fellow-traveler Senator Joseph McCarthy. The latter who was apparently receiving tips from Grombach on alleged communist sympathizers in the US intelligence community. The Associated Press, which has examined the Pond files in detail, is appealing a relevant Freedom of Information Act request, which was declined by the CIA earlier this year.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

4 Responses to Documents detail history of previously unknown US spy agency

  1. mankenlik ajansı says:

    Interesting that the Pond’s demise came along with the downfall of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

  2. S. C. says:

    This is an interesting post, but the author makes a common, but significant, mistake by linking HUAC to McCarthy as its “leader.” HUAC was, as it’s name states, a House committee where as McCarthy was a Senator. McCarthy and HUAC, while both anti-Communist, conducted very different investigations and it would be historically inaccurate to lump them together.

  3. intelNews says:

    Good point. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, HUAC preceded McCarthy and continued after his political demise. Thanks for your input. [IA]

  4. Joe says:

    I hope our nation still has secret intelligence agencies. It is so hard to keep a secret these days. I mean with media folks right in your face. But I for one don’t think we need to know everything. Tell me what I need to know in order to live my life. If something threatens me or my family directly please tell me but otherwise I don’t want to know. Freedom is a much over used word. You are free to persue your happiness as long as your happiness does not mean stealing our national secrets. So I truly hope America has secret intelligence agencies. I doubt that such agencies really exist but I hope they do. I also hope the news media is full of disinformation. If I am nothing else I’m a patriot and I hate traders and people who think they have a right to know everything. Well you don’t have a right to know everything. Good Day, Joe.

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