Dorwart’s History of the Office of Naval Intelligence, 1865–1945, by Jeffrey M. Dorwart, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 2019, $62
Established in 1882, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) is the oldest intelligence agency in the United States. Based on exhaustive research into government archives, personal memoirs and oral interviews, this updated volume presents an in-depth history of the ONI through 1945 by an author widely recognized as the authority on the subject.
As with invention, the ONI arose out of necessity. At the close of the American Civil War the United States possessed one of history’s most powerful navies. Due to the national preoccupation with commercial enterprise and westward expansion, however, the Navy fell into neglect and by 1881 had slipped to 13th place in the world. Proponents lobbied for a modernization program, but first the Navy needed to study foreign technical and tactical developments. That was the ONI’s initial function.
As author Jeffrey Dorwart explains in his History of the Office of Naval Intelligence, with the expansion of the fleet came a corresponding increase in the ONI’s scope. During World War I its duties included the security of domestic naval installations and manufacturing facilities, counterintelligence, cryptology, personnel security, censorship, psychological warfare and even domestic investigation. By the end of World War II, Dorwart notes, the ONI had more personnel working within the U.S. than without. There’s far more to the story, of course, but 1945 is where this volume ends.