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Forefathers of the CIA: Colonel Charles Howard “Dick” Ellis
Forefathers of the CIA: Colonel Charles Howard “Dick” Ellis

As any student of the Kennedy assassination well knows, there is endless discussion of the CIA in the literature of the case, but as I observed early on there is not much of value written about what the CIA actually is, where it came from, or who it serves. So a few years ago I decided to do a little digging and I eventually ended up presenting some of my findings in a talk to our local JFK research group that I called “A History of the Origins of the CIA.”

One of the biggest surprises in my “re-searching” was to learn about a career officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) by the name of Dick Ellis (1895-1975), who it was claimed, was actually running the two predecessor American organizations to the CIA, the Coordinator of Information office (1941-42) and the Office of Strategic Services (1942-45) for the official head, William Donovan. And that was only the first of the big surprises.

One also learns that Dick Ellis, an Australian who joined the SIS in the mid 1920s, was later subjected to an investigation and hostile interrogation in the UK to determine if he was a traitor of major proportions, who, it was claimed, spied for the Germans before and during World War II and later for the Soviet Union. The information I had on this at the time contained in Thomas Troy’s book Wild Bill and Intrepid: Donovan, Stephenson, and the Origin of the CIA and Thomas Mahl’s Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44, was limited and inconclusive so I made a mental note to check later to see if there might be something further in the “spycather” books about Ellis.

Well, I now have done a little more checking, and is there ever!

The most detailed exposure of the Dick Ellis story that I am aware of appeared in the 1981 book by Chapman Pincher, Their Trade is Treachery, and there is also much important coverage in Peter Wright’s Spycather.

This is a long and complex story and there is one more important source that I want to check on before going into any more detail so I will let this much serve as a little introduction.

More to follow. Shortly, I hope.

I also hope to write up a little “Forefathers of the CIA” sketch about Dick Ellis’s boss during World War II, Sir William Stephenson, the famous “Man Called Intrepid,” who is of course a major part of the story. There is also some great later information on him that I wasn't aware of either.

Ron Williams
Ron, I am aware of Dicky Ellis, but his early involvement in the COI and the OSS is new to me, and I look further to your more detailed post.
The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
Carl Jung - Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14
Thanks so much for this Ron. I look forward to further installments.
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.
No matter what name is mentioned in the same sentence with "origins of the CIA" the term "spying for" or "working with" the Germans- ( or Nazis)- is always there as well. When I first heard of Gehlen in the mid 70's that story had some shock value. Now it's what I have come to expect. I'd not heard of this fellow and look foward to more as well.
BTW Magda, this is a terrific additon to DPF.
My Interest in Dick Ellis: The Books

I guess one way to attempt to explain how I got interested in Dick Ellis is to recount how the first four of the main source books came into my hands, all on the same day, and to present an extensive quote from one of them. The books are:

Wild Bill and Intrepid: Donovan, Stephenson, and the Origin of the CIA, by Thomas F. Troy, 1996

Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44, by Thomas E. Mahl, 1998

Room 3603: The Story of the British Intelligence Center in New York during World War II, by H. Montgomery Hyde, 1962 (with a forward by Ian Fleming, published in Canada and the UK as The Quiet Canadian)

British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45, written for Sir William Stephenson by various BSC staff members, 1945

Some seven or eight years ago when I was hoping to find some background on the origins of the CIA I stopped into a used book store that I frequented at the time and asked the cashier if they had a section on intelligence and espionage and he pointed me to a shelf in a section of the store that I had overlooked in previous visits. There in close proximity to one another were the above listed four books. What they contained was beyond anything I had imagined, and here specifically is what got me interested in Dick Ellis:

[COLOR="Blue"]The influence of British Security Coordination in America to involve the United States in World War II and to prepare the United States to participate in war is impressive, even startling. In the (Ernest) Cuneo Papers at the Franklin Roosevelt Library is an article written by Cuneo that, while its main purpose was to defend Cuneo’s friend Dick Ellis from charges of being a Soviet mole, captures a telling fact known to few people: British intelligence created William Donovan’s COI/OSS. “If the charge against Ellis is true,” wrote Cuneo, “…it would mean that the OSS, and to some extent its successor, the CIA, in effect was a branch of the Soviet KGB.”

Cuneo is not the only insider to say bluntly that credit must fall to William Stephenson’s organization for the “conception and establishment of the COI.” Stephenson cabled this to London in mid-June 1941: “Donovan accuses me of having ‘intrigued and driven’ him into appointment. You can imagine how relieved I am after three months of battle and jockeying for position in Washington that our man is in a position of such importance to our efforts.”

Not only were the British the primary force in the conception and creation of the COI, which later became the OSS and whose pieces were finally reconstructed in the CIA, but a British officer, Dick Ellis, then ran the organization. This was done in the deepest secrecy, because as Winston Churchill’s personal intelligence assistant, Major Desmond Morton, wrote, “It is of course essential that this fact not be known in view of the furious uproar it would cause if known to the Isolationists.”

The isolationists never caught on, but Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle did, though he was misled by Ellis’s cover name, as he passed this explosive information on to Sumner Welles: “For your confidential information, the really active head of the intelligence section in Donovan’s group is Mr. Elliot, who is assistant to Mr. Stevenson [sic]. In other words, Stevenson’s assistant in The British intelligence is running Donovan’s intelligence service.” (Mahl, pp. 18-19)[/COLOR]

I had read the two “Intrepid” books when they first came out, but I had almost no background at the time to help me appreciate what was in the second one, Intrepid’s Last Case (1983). Only now in a rereading did I learn its main purpose was an attempt by Sir William Stephenson to clear Dick Ellis’s name eight years after his death. (More on this later.)

In the last week and a half or so I also skimmed through A Man Called Intrepid, and read for the first time Spycather, Their Trade is Treachery, and a great and startling book that I had not been aware of at all, The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents that was written in 1998 by Bill Macdonald, a Canadian from Sir William’s home town of Winnipeg.

As I am not sure how to get to the end of this, I will leave it here for now, and attempt to put together a basic biographical sketch of Dick Ellis in the next post.

Ron Williams
Very interesting.
The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
Carl Jung - Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14
I found there is an excellent biographical sketch of Dick Ellis from the Australian Dictionary of Biography that is much better than anything I could put together.

Ron Williams


Australian Dictionary of Biography - Online Edition

ELLIS, CHARLES HOWARD (1895-1975), soldier and intelligence officer, was born on 13 February 1895 at Annandale, Sydney, second son of English-born parents William Edward Ellis, clothing manufacturer, and his wife Lillian Mary, née Hobday. After Lillian died in 1898, William took his sons to Brisbane and Launceston, Tasmania, before settling in Melbourne about 1902. Completing his education at Stott & Hoare's Business College, young Ellis worked for the booksellers, Melville & Mullen Pty Ltd, and played oboe with the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society. He sailed to Britain in June 1914, intending to study there.

Initially rejected as too short, on 26 July 1915 Ellis enlisted in the 100th Provisional Battalion, Territorial Force. He was promoted corporal and was thrice wounded in action on the Western Front. Commissioned in September 1917, he joined the 5th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, and suffered further wounds before escorting troops to India where he studied Persian and Urdu. He took part in Major General (Sir) Wilfrid Malleson's military mission which entered Turkestan in August 1918. Malleson's aim was to block possible German-Turkish thrusts towards India and Afghanistan, but his soldiers became involved in fighting Bolsheviks around Merv (Mary). The force withdrew in March-April 1919. That year Ellis was appointed O.B.E. and mentioned in dispatches.

Having visited Melbourne in 1920, he began a course in Russian at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, England. In 1922-23 he was a captain, Territorial Army Reserve, based in Constantinople on intelligence work. At the British High Commission on 12 April 1923 he married a 17-year-old White Russian, Elizabeth (Lilia) Zelensky; they were to have a son before being divorced. In December Ellis became British vice-consul in Berlin: there and elsewhere he maintained surveillance on White Russians fabricating intelligence documents for the British Special (Secret) Intelligence Service (M.I.6) and probably joined the S.I.S. at this time. By 1926 he was employed by the British Chamber of Commerce in Vienna; as a journalist with the London Morning Post, he reported from Geneva on sessions of the League of Nations Assembly. He travelled to Australia and New Zealand in 1930, and from 1931 worked for the S.I.S. under his journalistic cover. On 19 April 1933 he married 21-year-old Barbara Mary Burgess Smith at St Peter's parish church, Cranley Gardens, London; they had a daughter, but their marriage ended in divorce.

Early in World War II, to attract support for Britain's cause and to monitor German activities in the United States of America, the S.I.S. opened the British Security Co-ordination office in New York. Bearing the official title of British consul, Major Ellis was sent to the B.S.C. in 1940 as assistant-director; in 1941 he became head of its Washington office. Some American officials were eager to preserve their country's neutrality and opposed the B.S.C., but the intelligence links it established bore fruit when the U.S.A. entered the war in December. Next year Ellis was in the Middle East where he worked with R. G. (Baron) Casey, the British minister of state who was based in Cairo. Ellis rejoined the B.S.C. in 1942 as a local colonel and returned to London in August 1944. He was appointed to the U.S. Legion of Merit and C.B.E. in 1946.

Posted that year to the S.I.S.'s Singapore office as field-officer in charge of South-East Asia and the Far East, he retained the post until his retirement in 1953 when he was appointed C.M.G. On 24 August 1954 at the register office, Kensington, London, he married a 48-year-old widow and retired schoolteacher Alexandra Wood, née Surtees (d.1970). In the 1950s he spent periods in his native-land, assisting with the establishment of the Australian Secret (Intelligence) Service. He also helped to found the journal, Hemisphere (1956), which focussed on Asian-Australian affairs. His publications included The Transcaspian Episode, 1918-1919 (London, 1963), and he frequently contributed to the Journal of the Royal Central Asia Society.

Allegations have been made that 'Dick' Ellis had passed information to German intelligence before and during World War II, and that he could have worked for Soviet intelligence while with the B.S.C. and subsequently. Experts have dismissed these claims, if only because important information held by Ellis was known not to have been transmitted to the Soviet Union. On 25 January 1973 at the register office, Eastbourne, Sussex, he married a 44-year-old widow Joyce Hatten, née Steeples. He made his final visit to Australia that year. Survived by his wife, and by the son and daughter of his previous marriages, he died on 5 July 1975 at his Eastbourne home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

H. M. Hyde, Secret Intelligence Agent (Lond, 1982); private information. More on the resources

Author: Frank Cain

Print Publication Details: Frank Cain, 'Ellis, Charles Howard (Dick) (1895 - 1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, Melbourne University Press, 1996, p. 93.
Dick Ellis: A Conclusion?

From a distance of many years and having only access to standard published sources it is difficult to come to a completely satisfactory conclusion about the career of Dick Ellis, not only regarding his role in the birth of American central intelligence, but also the part he played in two World Wars and the Cold War. As far as the serious charges made against him stemming from his career as an intelligence officer during the World War II and Cold War period I might recommend checking, what could be called the case for the prosecution, contained in Their Trade is Treachery by Chapman Pincher and Spycather by Peter Wright, and the defense by friends and colleagues contained in Intrepid’s Last Case by William Stevenson (no relation to Sir William), and in a book that I can’t recommend highly enough, The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents by Bill Macdonald.

Dick Ellis was charged by Chapman Pincher in 1981 (six years after his death) with having passed “order of battle” information about the British intelligence services to the Germans before and during World War II and of being a Soviet agent that did so much damage to the West that in this regard he put Kim Philby “in the shade,” and Peter Wright in Spycatcher claimed that Ellis would have been hung if the information that came out in the 1960s would have been known in 1939-40. Both Chapman and Wright claim that Ellis confessed to these charges made against him.

A very different story is to be found in Intrepid’s Last Case in which Ellis’s friend and World War II boss, Sir William Stephenson, makes some telling points. He explains, for example, that Dick Ellis’s career in Europe was set in such a complex shifting minefield of Germans, Bolsheviks, and White Russians of unknown loyalties that it would not have been difficult for anyone wanting to, to make a case against him by a selective interpretation of facts and events. He also shows that “to his friends, it seemed that Dick Ellis was being framed, in a service where a scapegoat was easily created to take the blame for otherwise serious and otherwise unexplained breaches of security” and that “the Soviets had an interest in helping this along.” (Stevenson, pp. 252-253)

Another eloquent defense of Dick Ellis comes from a source largely unknown and unheard from until Bill Macdonald’s book came out in 1998. This was the amazing Canadian electronic telecommunications wizard, Benjamin de Forest “Pat” Bayly, who had become a good friend of Ellis in New York during World War II. He describes for example long hours of discussing their shared love of classical music and he says “…I’m quite sure if Ellis had been a spy (we would have known). I’m suspicious of the people who said he was.” (Macdonald, pp. 337-338)

Dick Ellis is someone we need to know more about and I would be very interested in learning about other sources that might help this process along.

Ron Williams

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