George K. Bowden was born in Chicago. In his youth he had been a professional football player. Later he became an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). During the First World War he was an officer in the Military Intelligence Division. After the war he studied at the University of Minnesota.
Bowden eventually became a tax lawyer and after Pearl Harbor joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He was based in Washington and worked under William Donovan. Other senior figures he worked with included David Bruce (head of intelligence), Allen Dulles (head of the New York office) and William Lane Rehm (head of finance). Bowden was appointed head of Special Activities. Soon afterwards he brought in his friend, Arthur Goldberg, chief counsel of the Congress for Industrial Organisation, into the OSS.
According to OSS agent, Donald Chase Downes, the author of The Scarlett Thread (1953): "He had G2 experience in the first war and, despite it, had developed real imagination in intelligence work. Big Bill Donovan had a great confidence in George Bowden, and he carried, in the early, unmilitarized days of OSS, more weight than anyone with the big boss."
Bowden became head of the Labor Desk. They recruited refugee German trade union leaders who had fled from Nazi Germany. Others who joined included Leon Jouhaux from France and Omar Becu from Belgium. Bowden also persuaded Dr. Paul Schwarz (1882-1951), the former German Consul-General in New York City, to supply the OSS with information. Downes argued that Schwarz "began to spill the German beans - scandals, indiscretions, skeletons... In his forty years in the German foreign service, he had kept elaborate notes... This information he kept in huge filing cases, where there was all the gossip and facts about everyone of importance in German diplomatic and military circles for nearly half a century."
Robin Winks, the author of Cloak and Gown: Scholars in America's Secret War (1987): "Bowden, one of Donovan's most brilliant assistants, had shifted effortlessly from peacetime tax law to the work of a highly confidential staff officer in Washington and then in London.... Bowden had left the OSS in 1944, ill and angry over its growing right-wing tendencies."
About this time (February 1942) George K. Bowden of Chicago was attached to the New York office. George was a young (forties) successful corporation lawyer who had been a "wobbly" organizer and a professional football player in his youth. He had G2 experience in the first war and, despite it, had developed real imagination in intelligence work. Big Bill Donovan had a great confidence in George Bowden, and he carried, in the early, unmilitarized days of OSS, more weight than anyone with the big boss.