The Genesis of OSI – An Unconventional Beginning

  • Published
  • By Dr. Deborah Kidwell
  • OSI Command Historian

In June 1945, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received an anonymous letter from someone claiming to know that a high-ranking US Army Air Forces officer had participated in fraudulent acquisition activities during World War II. The writer claimed that Major General Bennett E. Meyers, Director of the Air Technical Service Command at Wright Field, Ohio, had profited from illegal wartime contracts.

Though the war in Europe had ended in May, Americans were still waging war against the Japanese forces in the Pacific. Apparently, FBI personnel believed this was not the time to expose a high-ranking general officer for wrongdoing. Public support for the troops in the Pacific was paramount, and a scandal could negatively impact morale. The FBI filed the letter away and it was almost forgotten.

In May 1947, the professional conduct of General Meyers again came into question by a Senate oversight committee investigating contracting irregularities. Investigators leafing through a file on another major contracting company under investigation discovered the letter by accident. 

Meyers, who was medically retired from the service in 1946, had been known for his lavish lifestyle during the war. The press often referred to him as “Dapper Benny.” By the time General Meyers’ trial began in 1948, his extravagant lifestyle had become highly publicized. His third wife, an attractive socialite and model, drew dramatic attention to the case. The couple owned matching “his and hers” Cadillacs, a luxurious apartment in Washington D.C.’s Hotel 2400, and a large Long Island estate. This lifestyle well exceeded the salary of a general officer in the military. The public became outraged that thousands of young men had been dying on the battlefields while a general officer was seemingly profiting from their deaths. 

Meyers had served as the deputy and director of the Air Technical Service, a key procurement command during World War II. Meyers also turned out to be the silent owner of a company based at the Dayton Municipal Airport, which the Senate oversight committee found had received more than a million dollars in wartime contracts. There seemed to be ample evidence of fraud and corruption against Meyers, and when the reluctant officials of this company testified, it came to light that Meyers had paid them only a small portion of their on-the-books salary, while keeping the remainder for himself.      

Meyers was indicted for suborning perjury and income tax evasion charges in early 1948.  By mid-March, he was convicted and sentenced to serve 20 months to 5 years in prison.  Those familiar with Northern Virginia historical landmarks will note that Meyers’ incarceration occurred at the Lorton (Va.) Workhouse, now a thriving arts and community center, although several of the guard towers are still visible. Immediately upon his conviction, his former fellow officers denounced him as a disgrace, he was denied bail and began his sentence. In addition, Meyers was stripped of his military retirement pay, awards and decorations, and forced to pay a $246,000 income tax lien.  In early 1951, Meyers was released from prison and he walked out of the pages of history. 

The Meyers case prompted a review of the capabilities of the military investigative agencies.  Researchers determined that the structure of the Army Criminal Investigations Division (CID) was not conducive to unbiased investigations because the investigators on each installation reported directly to the commander. The Air Force, which was created as a separate service in September 1947, needed a new investigative agency, but senior leaders did not want to duplicate the Army’s flawed organization. Secretary of the Air Force W. Stuart Symington consulted the FBI, and Director J. Edgar Hoover loaned the Air Force one of his top special assistants, Mr. Joseph F. Carroll, to review the military investigative process and make recommendations for an Air Force investigative agency.

Mr. Carroll was already well known at the FBI for his intelligence and integrity. After his review of the military investigative process, especially in light of the Meyers case, Carroll recommended that the Air Force consolidate its law enforcement authority so that investigators reported to a clearly identified chain of command that reached to the Air Staff, rather than base commanders. Following this precedent, OSI’s current investigative authority extends directly from the Secretary of the Air Force to preserve investigative independence. Carroll so impressed Secretary Symington that he asked Carroll to serve as the first director of the fledgling organization that was later created as a directorate under the Inspector General on the Air Staff. 

In order for Carroll to serve as the director, several leaders believed he should be a military general officer. Other Air Force senior leaders, who had virtually grown up through the ranks together during World War II, were outraged that they were not only going to have a new “watchdog” organization, but that its director was going to be an FBI agent turned general officer. This was certainly a highly irregular circumstance at the time, and would certainly face more opposition and scrutiny today. However, General Carroll was commissioned into the Reserves as a Colonel and brought onto active duty as a Brigadier General in 1948, having no prior service in the military. At the age of 38, he was the youngest general officer in the military. Needless to say, he had his work cut out for him.  He not only had to run a new organization, but he had to win over critics on the Air Force senior staff.

General Carroll not only proved himself a loyal and dependable officer, but gained acceptance and helped the organization expand worldwide. He was promoted to Major General and left OSI in 1955 to serve as the Inspector General, United States Air Forces Europe.  He was later promoted to Lieutenant General and became the first director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Though General Carroll went on to other things, probably one of his greatest legacies is his role in creating the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, now Office of Special Investigations. And, the story of an FBI agent turned Air Force general officer is certainly a unique aspect of the command’s history.