Frank Wisner

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For his son, the diplomat, see Frank G. Wisner.

Frank Gardiner Wisner (June 23, 1909 – October 29, 1965) was head of Office of Strategic Services operations in southeastern Europe at the end of World War II, and the head of the Directorate of Plans of the Central Intelligence Agency during the 1950s.


He was educated at the University of Virginia, where he received both B.A. and LL.B. degrees.[1] He was also tapped for the Seven Society.[2]


After graduating, Wisner worked as a Wall Street lawyer. 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 was able to get a transfer to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).[3] He was stationed first in Turkey, and then in Romania, where he became head of OSS operations in southeastern Europe. This happened just prior to the Romanian royal coup of August 23, 1944. At Wisner's behest, King Michael I of Romania permitted the United States to fly out Allied prisoners of war. On August 29, some 1,350 American airmen who had been held prisoners in Romania were rescued by an U.S. Air Crew Rescue Unit, with Soviet troops only days away from entering Bucharest. Despite continuing fighting between Romanian and Red Army forces, and the presence of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe in the immediate Bucharest area, the rescue team used the Popeşti-Leordeni Airfield.[4] Twelve B-17 Flying Fortress flew out the prisoners in hourly shifts. In all, some 1,700 American POWs were rescued with the help of the Romanians.[5]

Wisner reportedly grew to hate the Soviet Union during this period, particularly after witnessing a train full of Germans being sent to a labor camp in Russia.[6]

Later, Wisner's main task was to spy on the activities of the Soviet Union. Wisner's agents managed to penetrate the Romanian Communist Party and the Red Army's headquarters in Bucharest.[1] He learned that the Soviet Union planned to take over all of Eastern Europe, and was disappointed at the U.S. failure to move to prevent it. He advised the Romanian royal family to go into exile.

In March 1945, Wisner was transferred to Wiesbaden, where he served as OSS liaison to the Gehlen Organization.[1] In 1946, he returned to law practice, joining the New York City law firm of Carter Ledyard.


Wisner was recruited in 1947 by Dean Acheson to join the State Department's Office of Occupied Territories. In 1948, the CIA created a covert action division, the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). The OPC initially received services from the CIA but was accountable to the State Department.[7] Frank Wisner was put in charge of the operation and recruited many of his old friends from the Carter Ledyard law firm. According to its secret charter, its 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, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world."[8]

In 1947, Wisner established Operation Mockingbird, a program to influence the domestic and foreign media. Around the same time he oversaw the creation of stay-behind networks all over Europe.[9] In 1952, he became head of the Directorate of Plans, with Richard Helms as his chief of operations. This office had control of 75% of the CIA budget. In this position, he was instrumental in supporting pro-American forces that toppled Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in Guatemala [10] following the Alfhem affair.

The FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, became jealous of the CIA's growing power. He described the OPC as "Wisner's gang of weirdos" and began carrying out investigations into their past. It did not take him long to discover that some of them had been active in left-wing politics in the 1930s. This information was passed to Sen. Joseph McCarthy who started making attacks on members of the OPC. Hoover also gave McCarthy details of an affair that Wisner had with Princess Caradja in Romania during the war; Hoover claimed that Caradja was a Soviet agent.[11]

Hoover and Senator McCarthy succeeded in forcing CIA director Allen W. Dulles to dismiss one of his key staff members, Carmel Offie in 1953 over Wisner's objections.[12]

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

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

Wisner was devastated when the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Soon after the Soviet crackdown on the Hungarian revolution, Wisner suffered a breakdown, and was diagnosed as a manic depressive. He underwent psychoanalysis and was subjected to electroshock therapy. After spending 6 months at The Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital,[1] he was released in 1958.

CIA Director Allen Dulles named Wisner Chief of the CIA's London Station, but he was still suffering from mental illness.[1] In 1962, he was recalled to Washington, D.C., and agreed to retire from the CIA.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 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 doi:10.1336/0313332827
  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. "Frank Wisner". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  4. William R. Cubbins, "Letters from Georgescu", January 4, 1990
  5. Patricia Louise Wadley, "Even One Is Too Many", Ph.D. thesis, Texas Christian University, 1993
  6. Wilford, Mighty Wurlitzer (2008), p. 20. "Shortly before leaving Rumania in February 1945, Wisner’s growing hatred of the communist system acquired an obsessive, even apocalyptic intensity when he impotently witnessed the herding of ethnic Germans onto trains bound for forced labor camps in the Soviet Union."
  7. Foreign Relations 1964-1968, Volume XXVI, Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines: Note on U.S. Covert Action Programs. United States Department of State.
  8. Kangas, Steve. "A Timeline of CIA Atrocities". Liberalism Resurgent: A Response to the Right. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  9. Ganser, Daniele: NATO's Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe (2005) p.55 ff.
  10. Operation PBSUCCESS: The United States and Guatemala, 1952–1954, CIA History Staff document by Nicholas Cullather, 1994. Excerpt
  11. Evan Thomas (1995). The Very Best Men: The Early Years of the CIA. pp. 98–106. 
  12. Will Brownell and Richard N. Billings, So Close to Greatness: A Biography of William C. Bullitt (NY: Macmillan Publishing, 1987), 298


  • Wilford, Hugh. The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-674-02681-0.
Government offices
Preceded by
Allen W. Dulles
Deputy Director for Plans
August 23, 1951 – January 1, 1959
Succeeded by
Richard M. Bissell, Jr.