Origins of Intelligence Services

Francis Dvornik





Sometimes even books have their own history, and the present work is no exception. In 1948, when I was working at Dumbarton Oaks at the invitation of Harvard University, we received in the spring a visit from General William J. (“Wild Bill”) Donovan, Director of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. General Donovan disclosed his intention of writing a history of the Intelligence Service in order to show its importance in safeguarding the nation. He was looking for a scholar who would he able to write the first chapters on the origin and early development of such a service in the ancient world, and during the early Middle Ages. John S. Thacher, the then Director of the Dumbarton Oaks Library and Collection, told General Donovan that I had given courses at Trinity College, Cambridge University, on the political philosophy of the ancient Middle East, Rome, and Byzantium, and that I could be of some help to him in his plan. I was willing to try, and, during the summers of 1948 and 1949, wrote the first two chapters on the ancient Near East and the Roman Empire.


I do not know if General Donovan was able to find any other collaborators, nor how far his own studies of this problem went. His death in 1959 probably killed the whole project. Since then I have had other obligations as a research professor at Dumbarton Oaks, but I did not entirely forget my first essays. I found new material while working on my book, Early Christian and Byzantine Political Philosophy. Origins and Background, published in two volumes in 1966, which concerned the early Middle East, Rome, and Byzantium. The preparation of my lecture on Greek and Western Missions in the East for the International Congress of Historians, held in Moscow in 1970, induced me to study Mongolian and Chinese history, because the Latin missions to the Ear East started only in the thirteenth century. The courses I gave on Slavic history at Harvard University acquainted me even more with the problems of Kievan Russia and Muscovy. The curiosity to find out by which means different regimes and empires were able to survive, often for centuries, although they







generally neglected the social and economic welfare of their subjects, led me to the conviction that their survival was largely due to the efficient organization of intelligence services.


Finally, I decided to collect all such material that I had found, in a sense a by-product of my continuing research, and to publish it under the title Origins of Intelligence Services.


Because General Donovan’s project was destined for a professional and a general audience, I have omitted footnotes and extensive scholarly discussion. However, most of the work is based on original sources, which are quoted in the text. Scholars interested in different problems will be able to verify both the quotations and my deductions according to the editions listed in the bibliography, which are easily accessible to specialists. Each chapter has a bibliography of sources and publications used in its preparation. The study of similar institutions in the Arab Muslim empires presented some difficulties. Fortunately, although many Arabic historical works are as yet unpublished, most of the sources needed for such a study are available in English or French translations.


This present work is a fresh attempt to treat a subject generally neglected by historians, and it may help us better to understand certain historical events, both past and present. It will not replace the project which General Donovan was prevented from realizing and in which I had the impression he wished to pay tribute to his collaborators among the Allies. However, this attempt may show us, as he wished to emphasize, the importance of a good intelligence service for the security of our country, as well as the dangers inherent in its abuse.


Francis Dvornik


Dumbarton Oaks

October 1973



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