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Our History: Featured Alumni/ae: Wisner, Frank G., 1934

Over the decades our graduates have developed distinguished careers as justices, members of Congress, ambassadors, educators, business people, and community leaders in many fields. This site features some of those late graduates.

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Frank Gardiner Wisner

Operative, Office of Strategic Services and CIA

Frank Gardiner Wisner was born on June 23, 1909. He was educated at Woodberry Forest School in Orange County, Virginia, and at the University of Virginia, where he received both B.A. and LL.B. degrees. After graduating, Wisner worked as a Wall Street lawyer. In 1941, six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the United States Navy. He worked in the Navy's censor's office until he was able to get a transfer to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He was stationed first in Turkey, and then in Romania, where he became head of OSS operations in southeastern Europe. There, Wisner arranged the airlift of over one thousand American prisoners of war. Later, Wisner's main task was to spy on the activities of the Soviet Union.

In 1946, he returned to law practice, joining the New York City law firm of Carter Ledyard. Wisner was recruited in 1947 by Dean Acheson to join the State Department's Office of Occupied Territories. In 1948, the CIA created a covert action division, the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) and Frank Wisner was put in charge of the operation. In 1947 Wisner established Operation Mockingbird, a program to influence the domestic and foreign media. In 1952, he became head of the Directorate of Plans, with Richard Helms as his chief of operations. In this position, he was instrumental in supporting pro-American forces that toppled Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in Guatemala following the Alfhem affair. He was also deeply involved in establishing the Lockheed U-2 spy plane program run by Richard M. Bissell, Jr. In the 1950s, Wisner suffered a breakdown and retired from the CIA in 1962. He died on October 29, 1965.  

Frank Gardiner Wisner Papers in Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

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