The Dirty Tricks Department: Stanley Lovell, the OSS, and the Masterminds of World War II Secret Warfare by John Lisle



John Lisle reveals the untold story of the OSS Research and Development Branch—The Dirty Tricks Department—and its role in World War II.

In the summer of 1942, Stanley Lovell, a renowned industrial chemist, received a mysterious order to report to an unfamiliar building in Washington, D.C. When he arrived, he was led to a barren room where he waited to meet the man who had summoned him. After a disconcerting amount of time, William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of the OSS, walked in the door. “You know your Sherlock Holmes, of course,” Donovan said as an introduction. “Professor Moriarty is the man I want for my staff…I think you’re it.”

Following this life-changing encounter, Lovell became the head of a secret group of scientists who developed dirty tricks for the OSS, the precursor to the CIA. Their inventions included bat bombs, suicide pills, fighting knives, silent pistols, and camouflaged explosives. Moreover, they forged documents for undercover agents, plotted the assassination of foreign leaders, and performed truth drug experiments on unsuspecting subjects.

Based on extensive archival research and personal interviews, The Dirty Tricks Department tells the story of these scheming scientists, explores the moral dilemmas that they faced, and reveals their dark legacy of directly inspiring the most infamous program in CIA history: MKUltra.



Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Dirty Tricks Department: Stanley Lovell, the OSS, and the Masterminds of World War II Secret Warfare by John Lisle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, what a page turner! There is so much contained in this book. I’d recommend it to anyone, particularly those who might be less familiar with the full story of different undertakings of U.S. government agencies in carrying out strategic operations and experiments, especially those occurring during warfare, notably WWII, as well as those who are unfamiliar with the stratification and organization of intelligence used in war, those who read true crime, for a book report, as well as the human condition and character studies for an ethics or philosophy course. Would also make for an interesting book club discussion.

I would like to thank St. Martin’s Press for providing me with this copy for free through the Goodreads giveaway program.

The Story
Undercover appearance, currencies, propaganda, disinformation campaigns, sabotage, espionage, itching powder, incendiaries, signatures, and invisible ink to the grimness and underpinnings of profit and trade agreements, truth serums, various weaponry and agents, suicide swimmers, The Manhattan Project, Operation Paperclip, Unit 731, MKUltra, amongst many others. As well as insight into the roles of women, baseball player Moe Berg, and even a look at President Roosevelt’s stamp collection. Along with the rationalization, as shared within the organization, some formed by what was initially deemed as altruistic and utilitarian in notion, those stories as told by the various recruits carrying out such operations. Operations that were carried out on the enemy, U.S. military, civilians, and themselves alike.

This reads so smooth, like a fictional spy, mystery-thriller with intensity and immersive quality, yet these operations are all unbelievably real. Depicted and nicely curated, very thorough, read like a classic sense of adjacency to foundations of what you’d see in the stories of predate Sherlock Holmes and themes for James Bond, and even had me thinking back to the schemes of Max, 99, and the Chief from Get Smart. Though unfortunately as revealed, the darker of schemes of tragedies and crimes against humanity.

Tells deep perspective of assignment and duty in an emerging need turned tragedy that quite connects Stanley Lovell, colleagues, and informants, whether involved directly or indirectly, to their respective positions, agencies, branches, and all the undercover ways they… did what they did.

The turning points and advancement of technological advances through innovation, many of which were fascinating and clever, straddling the unknown to the known, many without an ethical oversight or accountability, whether on behalf of the agency or individual, leading to those of which that became horrific. Under the umbrella, whether intended or unintended, directly or in collateral, all hidden from the public, the book welcomes the reader to the underworld of intel.

It spans different operations across the globe, taking place within the mid-20th century, from point of origin and differing methodology. What’s derivative and adapted by the U.S. amongst other interventions from Germany, British insight, The Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and Japan in the race to win the war by completing the missions set forth. With obscure and unconventional objectives to avoid defeat, with experiments turned unethical and criminal.

Conveys the outlook well, in that perspective of an inside job. Will leave you asking who can you even trust? At what point, in the thickness of details, went wrong? What is trust anyway? Reality? Duties? Intentions? Consequence? Morality? Denial or searing of conscience, influence or coercion? Justice? Individual and group ethos? Compromising principles? Shame?

The Writing
This was very well-written. A great balance of narration in full detail, dialogue, written letters/passages that really added to the depth and breadth of each task and operation.

Well-organized by category, while remaining semi-chronological, all without losing any plot, and stayed precisely focused on matters as conducted in their raw and vulnerable forms.

Well-researched, revealed in good pace, and told by character perspective simultaneously so it felt suspenseful, yet also informative throughout.

Really clever use of time and setting to give personality and significance to the setting and atmosphere, in addition to personal characteristics of each recruit, including their backstory, initiations tests, and dynamics of PSYOPS assignments and toll of the emotion, psychological, and physical endurance as either witnessed or directly experienced, to orders carried out, sense of duty, outlook and conversations had, partnerships, social relations, and ramifications.

A birth of subsequent government agency, namely the CIA.

I’ll look forward to the next read.

View all my reviews

<span class="uppercase">Hello, I'm Erica </span>
Hello, I’m Erica

Recipe developer, book reviewer, and artist. Expect delicious recipes both traditional and new, book reviews of all sorts of genres, a variety of creative expression, life musings, and much more!



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