A True World War II Spy Adventure on this Veterans Day

A tall, trim, dapper, white-haired man was waiting for me in my lobby. John (Jack) L. Behling is 91 years old and, although he sports an attractive cane, he still stands ramrod straight. His eyes are piercing. John wears a jaunty beret and his jacket is festooned with possibly six rows of military medals and ribbons representing his patriotic service in the United States infantry, paratroops, and intelligence corps.

Behling was a combat soldier in World War Two. He also worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and became an undercover espionage agent (a spy) in Europe. He also served in the U.S. Army and Air Force intelligence services and as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Department of State. Later, he became a diplomat and a professor.

Behling has written an important, even unique, book about Islam, terrorism, the Muslim mind-set, “stealth” jihad, and counterterrorism. I realized that his steely, quiet, but daring deeds as a soldier and an intelligence officer would be of great interest to readers. I urged him to go public with some of his adventures on behalf of America’s and Europe’s freedom. Finally, but reluctantly (“I’ve made my report in full to the proper authorities, this information is in the hands of the right people”), he agreed to go on the record with me. Here is part of our conversation.

Q: How does one become a spy? How did you become a spy?

A: To join the OSS, one had first to volunteer; no one was ever ordered, transferred, or conscripted into OSS without volunteering. Once an OSS-er, one had to volunteer for “mission status.” This example of double volunteerism constitutes the essence of patriotism.

Q: What skills must a spy have?

A: Gen. Donovan, whom President Roosevelt personally chose as his “Co-ordinator of Information,” always stressed imagination and “thinking outside the box.” There is always the unexpected event, the crisis, which must be met without long periods of study and planning. And most likely there will only be one chance, and one chance only, to devise an on-the-spot reaction to crisis or danger to the mission. During peacetime, physical fitness is not so necessary, but it is still helpful. In wartime, it is an absolute requirement. Dedication is a mental fitness; one does not “give up” trying, no matter the circumstances.

Q: What is daily life like in the field?

A: Secret intelligence is a lonely occupation. One gets no mail from home, one cannot communicate with any outside, back-home location or person. Even “chit-chat” with someone in the field is dangerous. One’s linguistic guard is let down, if what is said is not carefully planned and memorized. The agent sleeps very lightly and is constantly alert and on guard with respect to his surroundings. Is someone watching or following me? What exit route can I take if need arises? Is my “contact” under surveillance, waiting for me to show up? Are my contacts equally alert and careful? How can I be sure of anything? If caught, what shall I do to make the earliest possible escape? Will I have to kill my captor? What means will I use? How will I dispose of the body? Will there be a follow up search for me? Will my cover hold up or do I need to manufacture a new one? I have a food and money stash; can I reach it or will it be too dangerous? Every possible vision of disaster runs constantly, like an endless loop through the agent’s mind. All of the above creates a mental tenseness, which must be masked and kept hidden. An agent is often a victim of acid indigestion and has difficulty sleeping.

Next: Why did General Donovan buy refugees' old clothing?