James B. Donovan

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James Donovan
James B. Donovan.jpg
Born James Britt Donovan
(1916-02-29)February 29, 1916
The Bronx, NY, U.S.A .
Died January 19, 1970(1970-01-19) (aged 53)
Brooklyn, NY, U.S.A.
Alma mater Fordham University, B.A. 1937
Harvard Law School, LL.B. 1940
Occupation Military officer, lawyer, educator
Known for Negotiating the 1962 exchange of Francis Gary Powers & Frederic Pryor for Rudolf Abel
Spouse(s) Mary McKenna (1941–1970; his death)
Children 4

James Britt Donovan (February 29, 1916 – January 19, 1970)[1][2] was an American lawyer, United States Navy officer, and political negotiator.

Donovan is widely known for negotiating the 1960–1962 exchange of captured American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, and for negotiating the 1962 release and return of nearly 10,000 prisoners held by Cuba after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion.[3][4] Donovan was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the 2015 film Bridge of Spies directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen.

Life and career[edit]

James Britt Donovan was born on February 29, 1916, in the Bronx. He was the son of Harriet (O'Connor), a piano teacher, and John J. Donovan, a surgeon. His brother was New York state senator John J. Donovan, Jr. Both sides of the family were of Irish descent.

He attended the Catholic All Hallows Institute. In 1933, he began his studies at Fordham University, where he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1937. He wanted to become a journalist but his father convinced him to study law at Harvard Law School, beginning in autumn of 1937, where he completed his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1940.[3]

After graduating from law school, Donovan started work at a private lawyer's office. He was a commander in the Navy during World War II. In 1942, he became Associate General Counsel at the Office of Scientific Research and Development. From 1943 to 1945, he was General Counsel at the Office of Strategic Services. In 1945, he became assistant to Justice Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremberg trials in Germany.[5] Donovan was the presenter of visual evidence at the trial. While he prepared for the trials he also worked as an advisor for the documentary feature The Nazi Plan.

In 1950, Donovan became a partner in New York based law office of Watters and Donovan. In 1957, he defended the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, after many other lawyers refused.[6] At trial, Abel was convicted, but Donovan was successful in persuading the court not to impose a death sentence. He then appealed Abel's case all the way to the Supreme Court, which in Abel v. United States rejected, by a 5–4 vote, Donovan's argument that evidence used against his client had been seized by the FBI in violation of the Fourth Amendment.[7] Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren praised him and publicly expressed the "gratitude of the entire court" for his taking the case.[6]

From 1961 to 1963, Donovan was Vice President of the New York Board of Education, and from 1963 until 1965, he was the President of the board.

In 1962, Donovan—who was lead negotiator—and CIA lawyer Milan C. Miskovsky[8] negotiated with Soviet mediators to free captured American pilot Francis Gary Powers. Donovan successfully negotiated for the exchange of Powers, along with American student Frederic Pryor, for the still-imprisoned Rudolf Abel, whom Donovan had defended five years earlier.[9]

In June 1962, Donovan was contacted by Cuban exile Pérez Cisneros, who asked him to support the negotiations to free the 1,113[10] prisoners of the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion.[4][11] Donovan offered pro bono legal service for the Cuban Families Committee of prisoners' relatives.[11]

A few months later, he traveled to Cuba for the first time. Cuba–United States relations were extremely tense after the invasion attempt. When Fidel Castro met Donovan for the first time, he was very short-spoken.[12] Donovan managed to create confidence. Castro also praised Donovan for bringing his son to Cuba.[4]

In 1962, he was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in New York but lost in November 1962 to Republican incumbent Jacob K. Javits.[13]

On December 21, 1962, Castro and Donovan signed an agreement to exchange all 1,113 prisoners for $53 million in food and medicine,[10] sourced from private donations and from companies expecting tax concessions.[9] Donovan had the idea to exchange the prisoners for medicine after he had found out that the Cuban medicine didn't help him with his own bursitis.[14] By the end of the negotiations, July 3, 1963, Donovan had secured the release of 9,703 men, women and children from Cuban detention.[15] Donovan was once again teamed up with CIA lawyer Milan C. Miskovsky on these negotiations.[16] For his work, Donovan received the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.

The story of the Abel trial and defense, followed by the tense negotiation and thrilling prisoner exchange at the height of the Cold War, was the basis for the book Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel and Francis Gary Powers, written by Donovan and ghost writer Bard Lindeman, which was published in 1964.[3] Several similar works would come later, but Strangers, originally published in 1964, was the definitive work and was widely critically acclaimed.[17][18] The book was re-released by Simon & Schuster in August 2015.[17][19]

In 1967, Donovan published his second book, Challenges: Reflections of a Lawyer-at-Large.

In his final years, Donovan was President of Pratt Institute. He died of a heart attack on January 19, 1970, at the Methodist Hospital in New York, after being treated for influenza.[20]

Personal life[edit]

In 1941, Donovan married Mary E. McKenna. The couple had a son and three daughters.[21]

In popular culture[edit]

Works[edit]

  • Donovan, James B. (1964). Strangers on a Bridge, The Case of Colonel Abel. Atheneum. ISBN 978-1-299-06377-8. 
  • Donovan, James B. (1967). Challenges: Reflections of a Lawyer-at-Large. Atheneum.  (with a preface by Erwin Griswold)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Donovan, James B., socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu, access date 5 June 2015
  2. ^ Dr. James B. Donovan, 53, Dies, nytimes.com, access date 5 June 2015
  3. ^ a b c d Bigger, Philip J. (2006). Negotiator: The Life and Career of James B. Donovan. 
  4. ^ a b c Kornbluh, Peter. "US-Cuban Diplomacy, 'Nation' Style". The Nation. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  5. ^ Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 1 : Prosecution Counsel, avalon.law.yale.edu, access date 5 June 2015
  6. ^ a b The Man Who 'Sprung' Powers in: The Milwaukee Journal, 16 February 1962, page 8
  7. ^ "Abel v. United States (1960)". FindLaw. Thompson Reuters. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  8. ^ The People of the CIA … Milan Miskovsky: Fighting for Justice, cia.gov, access date 5 June 2015
  9. ^ a b Donovan, James Britt in: Encyclopedia of the Kennedys: The People and Events That Shaped America., page 193, ABC-CLIO, 2012, ISBN 978-1-59884-538-9
  10. ^ a b Miami, Richard Luscombe in. "Bay of Pigs survivors on US-Cuba thaw: 'Two American presidents betrayed us'". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-12-22. 
  11. ^ a b FBK-Dokumentation Nr. 9 – Seite 4, fg-berlin-kuba.de, access date 23 June 2015
  12. ^ How Metadiplomacy Works: James Donovan and Castro, cuba-l.com, access date 5 June 2015
  13. ^ NY US Senate – November 06, 1962, ourcampaigns.com, access date 5. June 2015
  14. ^ James Britt Donovan in: Der Spiegel 23/1963, pahe 82
  15. ^ Siracusa, Joseph M. (2012-09-07). Encyclopedia of the Kennedys: The People and Events That Shaped America. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598845396. 
  16. ^ The People of the CIA … Milan Miskovsky: Fighting for Justice, cia.gov, access date 9 March 2016
  17. ^ a b "Strangers on a Bridge". Simon & Schuster. August 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  18. ^ Miskovsky, M. C. (22 September 1993). "Strangers on a Bridge by James B. Donovan. Book review by M. C. Miskovsky". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  19. ^ "The New York Times: Best Sellers: Espionage". The New York Times. December 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  20. ^ "Dr. James B. Donovan, 53, Dies; Lawyer Arranged Spy Exchange" (PDF). The New York Times. 20 January 1970. Archived from the original on 9 December 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  21. ^ Famed Lawyer for Spies Dead in: New Orleans States-Item, 19 January 1970
  22. ^ Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident--IMDB
  23. ^ Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg Cold War Thriller Set for Oct. 16, 2015, variety.com, access date 5 June 2014

Further reading[edit]

  • Bigger, Philip J. (2006). Negotiator: The Life And Career of James B. Donovan. Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press. ISBN 978-0-934-22385-0. 

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert F. Wagner, Jr.
1956
Democratic Nominee for U.S. Senator from New York (Class 3)
1962
Succeeded by
Paul O'Dwyer
1968