In 1943, Betty McIntosh (then Betty MacDonald) joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and began to learn what her duties would be in the Morale Operations Division.
A former newspaper reporter, she thought she would be well-suited to serve in an organization that conducted propaganda, influence, and deception operations designed to degrade the enemy’s ability to fight.
She spent those early days at the OSS HQ, at Navy Hill, in Southeast D.C. The OSS Director, Maj. Gen. “Wild Bill” Donovan had his offices in Room 109 of East Building at the site.
Today, Observatory Hill, is under the direction of the State Department, and is closed to the public. But it would make a fitting starting point for an OSS tour of Washington, D.C. and its environs.
Betty wasn’t going to be an intelligence agent or a spy. She didn’t have to endure the grueling operational training that the OSS intelligence and counterintelligence agents needed. Their training primarily took place at two locations, both within a 50-mile radius of Washington, D.C.
The first, was at what was known as Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area, known today as Prince William County Forest Park near Quantico, Virginia.
Heavily wooded and isolated, the park section later designated as Training Area A, was initially developed as the site for basic special operations training. This included guerrilla warfare, sabotage, close combat and covert operations.
Site B was located north of the District, in Cacoctin Mountain Park, Maryland. While this location was initially used for paramilitary training, it later became the holding area for newly trained agents awaiting orders to deploy overseas.
Site C was also located within the Chopawamsic park, and focused on clandestine communications. This included radio communications, Morse code, and the fundamentals of wire tapping.
There were other sites as well, including Site E in Baltimore, MD and Site F, at the Congressional Country Club in Potomoc, MD.
When Betty MacDonald received orders to deploy to India for her first overseas assignment, her operational training began in earnest.
Since she was part of the Operations half of the OSS, she wasn’t programmed to receive the intense combat training held at Sites A-C. Instead, she was scheduled for a condensed regimen, a three-week course designed to prepare her for conducting basic field operations.
Part 1 included basic operational techniques, including how to set up clandestine meetings, how to follow an agent or detect if one was being followed, and how to conduct an interrogation. This training was held in Richmond, Virginia, on the streets of the city, and in a local hotel.
Betty left Week 1 with her head down, cover blown.
Week 2 took place at the Williard family estate in Fairfax, Virginia, in the family’s historic mansion. There Betty underwent several psychological evaluations and tests designed to measure her abilities to work undercover, keep her cover identity separate from her own, and maintain her bearing under pressure.
After week two she wryly commented that she knew 1) she was not a leader, 2) she would be a total failure as a commander, and 3) she could never figure out how to split her personality.
Week 3 really sealed the deal for Betty. This capstone training took place at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland and included training in special skills like arson, mine laying, and small arms, plus knife skills. Once Betty nearly shot her instructor and chewed up the fairways in her first and only encounter with a Thompson submachine gun, she retreated to the clubhouse with her friends.
There were the two pieces of equipment she was most familiar with: a printing press and a radio. But she passed the training and went on to serve in both India and China with distinction.
There were undoubtedly dozens more training sites and office locations in the Washington, D.C. area.
Marion Frieswick created one of the first topographic maps used for intelligence purposes in a makeshift office upstairs in Ford’s Theater.
Stephanie Czech and her contemporaries in counterintelligence undoubtedly went through some combination of training requirements at sites A-C.
A number of these sites can still be visited.
Navy Hill is closed to the public, although the former OSS Headquarters is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Williard family estate in Fairfax was demolished in 1958 to make way for the construction of Dulles National Airport.
The Congressional Country Club is a members only location but the damage to the fairways and greens caused by Betty and her fellows is long gone.
However, many of the buildings and training areas in now Prince William Forest Park are available to visit when the park is open.
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