Central Intelligence Agency

2012-01-16 00:32:05

As a result of the need for intelligence on the Axis Powers during World War II, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was created. After the war, policy makers realized the need for foreign intelligence. Consequently, in 1947 the National Security Act was passed by Congress, creating the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA absorbed the duties of the OSS, additionally taking on the responsibility of coordinating, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence from other U.S. agencies and advising both the president and the National Security Council. The CIA was one of the primary agencies on the front lines of the Cold War, often operating clandestinely in enemy territory.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, political pressure led to the restructuring of the Intelligence Community of the United States. The CIA, once the hub of the community, came under the umbrella of a community- wide Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on February 17, 2005. The CIA still retains the community’s most sizable and well-funded Human Intelligence (HUMINT) function, housed within the Directorate of Operations (DO). The DO, often cited as the most controversial and publicized section of the CIA, is only one of four directorates. The Directorate of Intelligence (DI) analyzes and disseminates collected intelligence. The Directorate of Science and Technology assists with technological systems and devices, document creation, disguises, and other technical activities. Finally, the Directorate of Support (DS), formerly the Directorate of Administration, handles finances, logistical support, security and background investigation, and other administrative activities.

The CIA relies heavily on the expertise of undercover foreign operatives even though their use has been controversial even before the CIA was created. As far back as 1876, the Supreme Court heard a case regarding the use of such operatives by the president in which the Court upheld their use. The CIA has often been the subject of criticism and accusations of legal violations because all of their operations are based on secrecy. Even the exact budget of the CIA is kept secret. In a democracy based on openness, this lack of transparency makes some elements of society uncomfortable. Though it could be argued that the secret nature of the organization and its budget are, in fact, the result of democratic governance, wherein the majority of Americans democratically support the decision.

After the creation of the CIA, the agency faced some of its harshest criticism during the Watergate investigation. During this time, President Nixon was accused of attempting to use the CIA to halt an investigation being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), which eventually led to accusations of obstruction of justice against President Nixon.

In addition, the CIA has been accused of several violations of civil liberties in foreign countries regarding various assassination plots of foreign leaders. After the CIA failed to recognize the terrorist threat prior to September 11, 2001, the agency has been under a lot of pressure to aggressively locate and stop terrorist organizations. The CIA has been accused of hiding information regarding their knowledge and actions. Often, the CIA has been questioned about their use of torture as an interrogation method, although the CIA has consistently denied that it engages in such violations of law and human rights.


References and Further Reading

  • Andrew, Christopher. For the President’s Eyes Only. New York: Harper Collins, 1996
  • Breckinridge, Scott D. The CIA and the U.S. Intelligence System. Boulder: Westview Press, 1986
  • Farren, Mick. CIA: Secrets of The Company. Barnes & Noble Books: New York, 2003
  • Kessler, Ronald. The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror, 1st ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003
  • Olmsted, Kathryn S. Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and the FBI. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996
  • Shulsky, Abram, and Gary Schmitt. Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence. Washington DC: Brassey’s Inc., 2002.