Frank Wisner

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Frank Wisner
Frank Gardner Wisner

(1909-06-23)June 23, 1909
DiedOctober 29, 1965(1965-10-29) (aged 56)
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
EducationUniversity of Virginia (BA) (LLB)
SpouseMary Ellis Knowles

Frank Gardiner Wisner (June 23, 1909 – October 29, 1965) was one of the founding officers of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and played a major role in CIA operations throughout the 1950s.

Wisner began his intelligence career in the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. After the war, he headed the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), one of the OSS successor organizations, from 1948 to 1950. In 1950, the OPC was placed under the Central Intelligence Agency and renamed the Directorate of Plans. First headed by Allen Dulles, Wisner succeeded Dulles in 1951 when Dulles was named Director of Central Intelligence.

Wisner remained as Deputy Director of Plans (DDP) until September 1958, playing an important role in the early history of the CIA. He suffered a breakdown in 1958, and retired from the Agency in 1962. He committed suicide in 1965.

Education and early career[edit]

Wisner was educated at the University of Virginia, where he received both a B.A. and a LL.B. degree.[1] He was also tapped for the Seven Society.[2] After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1934,[3] Wisner began working as a Wall Street lawyer for Carter, Ledyard & Milburn.[4]


In 1941, six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the United States Navy. He worked in the Navy's censor's office until he managed to transfer to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1943. He was first stationed in Cairo where he spent an uneventful year. After Cairo (from June 15, 1944) he spent three months in OSS Istanbul, Turkey, as head of SI (Secret Intelligence) branch. On August 29, 1944, Lt. Comdr. Wisner and 21 OSS agents landed in Romania,[5] where he became head of OSS Bucharest.[6][7]

Wisner arrived just as Romania joined the Allies and declared war on the Axis. His first task was to oversee the return of some 1,350 American airmen who had been shot down in missions against Romanian oilfields. The POWs were returned by a U.S. Air Crew Rescue Unit via the Popeşti-Leordeni Airfield.[8] Twelve B-17 Flying Fortress planes flew out the prisoners in hourly shifts. In all, some 1,700 American POWs were transported.[9]

Immediately after the arrival of Major Robert Bishop (September 9, 1944) as head of X-2 (Counter Espionage) branch in Bucharest, Wisner started the search for German records. With the help of Romanian Intelligence, they manage to obtain tons of records, including SD files, 200 rolls of German film and a large amount of Soviet information. During that time, Wisner and Bishop discovered and penetrated a Soviet intelligence service named GUGBEZ. Wisner left Bucharest in the last week of January 1945.[6]

In March 1945, Wisner was transferred to Wiesbaden, Germany. In 1945–1946, he returned to law practice at Carter, Ledyard & Milburn.

During World War II, Wisner and his wife Polly became close friends with Philip Graham and his wife Katharine Graham who after the war became publishers of The Washington Post.[10]


Wisner was recruited in 1947 by Dean Acheson to join the State Department to become the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Occupied Areas. On June 18, 1948, the United States National Security Council approved NSC 10/2 which created the Office of Special Projects.[11] On September 1, 1948, the office was formally established, although it was renamed to the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) for obfuscation purposes.[12] Wisner was chosen to lead the OPC in the capacity of Assistant Director for Policy Coordination (ADPC).[13] The OPC initially received services from the CIA but was accountable to the State Department.[14]

According to its secret charter, the OPC's responsibilities include "propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action, including sabotage, antisabotage, demolition and evacuation procedures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world."[15]

During the early 1950s, Wisner was the subject of FBI inquiries in connection with his wartime work in Romania, including the claim that he had an affair with Tanda Caradja, daughter of Romanian princess Catherine Caradja during the war; Caradja was alleged in FBI reports to be a Soviet agent. However, Wisner was cleared of all suspicions by the CIA Office of Security.[16]

On August 23, 1951, Wisner succeeded Allen W. Dulles and became the second Deputy Director of Plans, with Richard Helms as his chief of operations. In this position, he was instrumental in supporting pro-American forces that toppled Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953[citation needed] and Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in Guatemala in 1954.[17] Another project he was involved in was with regard to the Belarus Brigade's leaders, a unit incorporated into a German SS division, who were assisted into the United States after the Second world war, due largely to his efforts. In defiance of federal law, John Loftus asserted, the Office of Policy Coordination helped obtain visas for Nazi collaborators from Belarus — who were believed to have facilitated numerous atrocities by the Nazi Germany. According to Loftus, it was all part of a Cold War scheme to wage guerrilla warfare in Soviet-occupied Europe, in which the Nazi collaborators were to play a key role. When the project collapsed, however, the Belarusians quickly settled in and obtained US citizenship – and intelligence agencies protected them from exposure for decades.[18]

J. Edgar Hoover and U.S. Senator McCarthy succeeded in forcing CIA director Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter to dismiss long-time staffer Carmel Offie in 1950, over Wisner's objections.[19]

Grave at Arlington National Cemetery

Wisner worked closely with Kim Philby, the British agent who was also a Soviet spy.

Wisner was also deeply involved in establishing the Lockheed U-2 spy plane program run by Richard M. Bissell Jr.[1]

Wisner suffered a serious breakdown in September 1958. He was diagnosed as manic depressive and received electroshock therapy. Bissell replaced Wisner as Deputy Director of Plans.[20] After a lengthy recovery, Wisner became chief of the CIA's London Station.[20]

In 1961, Wisner was ordered to organize CIA activities in British Guiana.[21]

In 1962, Wisner retired from the CIA.[citation needed]


Wisner married Mary Ellis 'Polly' Knowles (1912–2002) and they had four children: Elizabeth Wisner, Graham Wisner, Ellis Wisner, and Frank G. Wisner who entered into diplomatic service.[10]


Wisner died by suicide on October 29, 1965.[22]


  1. ^ a b Athan Theoharis, Richard Immerman, Loch Johnson, Kathryn Olmsted, and John Prados, "The Central Intelligence Agency: Security Under Scrutiny", Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. ISBN 0-313-33282-7
  2. ^ Thomas, Evan (1996). The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the CIA. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-82538-4.
  3. ^ "Our History: Featured Alumni: Wisner, Frank G., 1934". Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  4. ^ Prados, John (2006). Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Ivan R. Dee. p. 43. ISBN 978-1615780112.
  5. ^ Aparaschivei, Sorin (2013). Spionajul american în România 1944-1948 (in Romanian). Bucuresti, România: Editura Militară. ISBN 978-973-32-0924-9.
  6. ^ a b CIA FOIA ERR, “Report on X-2 Activities in Bucharest, 25 April 1945”
  7. ^ Dill, Josh (September 2019). Parties, Politics and Press on P Street. Citizens Association of Georgetown. page 6. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  8. ^ William R. Cubbins, "Letters from Georgescu", January 4, 1990
  9. ^ Patricia Louise Wadley, "Even One Is Too Many" Archived 2007-04-05 at the Wayback Machine, Ph.D. thesis, Texas Christian University, 1993
  10. ^ a b Levy, Claudia (July 11, 2002). "Polly Fritchey Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  11. ^ "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945–1950, Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment - Office of the Historian".
  12. ^ Mitrovich, Gregory (2000). Undermining the Kremlin: America's Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947–1956. Cornell University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0801437113.
  13. ^ Karalekas, Anne (23 April 1976). History of the Central Intelligence Agency. p. 34. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  14. ^ Foreign Relations 1964–1968, Volume XXVI, Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines: Note on U.S. Covert Action Programs. United States Department of State.
  15. ^ Thorne, C. Thomas Jr.; Patterson, David S. (1995). "National Security Council Directive on Office of Special Projects". Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945–1950, Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment. GPO. Retrieved 2017-01-05.
  16. ^ Evan Thomas (1995). The Very Best Men: The Early Years of the CIA. pp. 138-139.
  17. ^ Operation PBSUCCESS: The United States and Guatemala, 1952–1954, CIA History Staff document by Nicholas Cullather, 1994. Excerpt
  18. ^ Richard Rashke: Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America's Open-Door Policy For Nazi War Criminals (Delphinium Books, 2013) Google Books
  19. ^ Anderson, Scott (2020). The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385540452.
  20. ^ a b Prados, John (2006). Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Ivan R. Dee. p. 180. ISBN 978-1615780112.
  21. ^ Rabe, Stephen G. (2005). U.S. intervention in British Guiana : a Cold War story ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 83. ISBN 0-8078-5639-8.
  22. ^ Evan Thomas (1995). The Very Best Men: The Early Years of the CIA. p. 320.


External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by Deputy Director for Plans
August 23, 1951 – January 1, 1959
Succeeded by