How Camp X Worked


Notable Alumni of Camp X
"Father of the CIA" Bill Donovan (pictured here) played a major role in the development of Camp X. Underwood & Underwood/Underwood Archives/Getty Images
"Father of the CIA" Bill Donovan (pictured here) played a major role in the development of Camp X. Underwood & Underwood/Underwood Archives/Getty Images

We've already mentioned the influence Bill Brooker and Dan Fairbairn had on Camp X and secret agent training methods. But several other notable men were involved with Camp X. (No women were ever trained there, although women did play an important role at the camp and in the war effort, which we'll discuss shortly). The most famous was Bill Donovan, who was deeply involved in the efforts to create a U.S. espionage organization and establish Camp X. Donovan was the coordinator of information and the first head of the Office of Strategic Services. He lobbied strongly for the establishment of the CIA after the war, although he never worked directly for the agency.

John Bross, a Camp X graduate, influenced American intelligence for decades. He went through the Camp X training course in 1942 and later oversaw teams parachuting behind Nazi lines to support the D-Day invasion, when the Allies invaded Normandy, France in June 1944. He worked in the CIA for 20 years, rising to become deputy to the director of central intelligence for programs evaluation. Some Camp X trainees went on to work for the CIA, while others used their training to, in turn, train other Americans at newly established American secret agent schools [source: Chambers].

Gustave Biéler is one of the more well-known Camp X graduates. He was a French-Canadian (literally — he was born in France and emigrated to Canada), considered an exemplary student of sabotage and resistance coordination. While Biéler was exceptional in his abilities, many Camp X trainees took incredible risks to complete their missions. Here are some of the ways Biéler put his Camp X training to use [source: Clibbon]:

  • Paradrop training allowed Biéler to parachute into France behind German lines, although he landed on rocks and injured his spine.
  • Leadership training helped him organize the French Resistance in the Saint-Quentin region, directing their missions and teaching them some of his espionage skills.
  • Propaganda training enabled Biéler to recruit locals to his cause. Local workmen often assisted in his sabotage efforts. For instance, he gave railroad workers abrasive grease to make train wheels fail.
  • The stealth skills taught at Camp X allowed Biéler and his teams to sneak into railyards, industrial facilities and warehouses without being spotted.
  • The silent kill techniques Dan Fairbairn taught were crucial when Biéler encountered Nazi guards while on a sabotage mission.

Ultimately, the Nazis captured Biéler after a long and extensive search and several near-misses. He was sent to a concentration camp and executed, which wasn't unusual for Camp X trainees in the war. Often more than half of a training unit would die during a mission [source: Bicknell].

But secret agent training wasn't the only thing that happened at Camp X. Hydra radio was a key link in the Allied communications network during World War II.

There is a confirmed Bond connection, though. Paul Dehn was a member of the Camp X staff and may have had a hand in writing the infamous camp manual [source: Bicknell]. Dehn later wrote several well-known screenplays, including that of the James Bond film "Goldfinger."