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Central Intelligence Agency
January 2003

Early History of the CIA


The United States has carried on foreign intelligence activities since the days of George Washington, but only since World War II have they been coordinated on a government-wide basis.

Even before Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned about American intelligence deficiencies—particularly the need for the State and War Departments to cooperate better and to adopt a more strategic perspective. He asked New York attorney William J. Donovan to draft  a plan for a new intelligence service.  In July 1941, Roosevelt appointed Donovan as the Coordinator of Information (COI) to direct the nation's first peacetime, nondepartmental intelligence organization.  America's entry into World War II in December 1941 prompted new thinking about the place and role of the COI.  As a result, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was established in June 1942 with a mandate to collect and analyze strategic information required by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to conduct special operations not assigned to other agencies.

During the War, the OSS supplied policymakers with essential facts and intelligence estimates and often played an important role in directly aiding military campaigns.  However, the OSS never received complete jurisdiction over all foreign intelligence activities.  The FBI formally received responsibility for intelligence work in Latin America when its Secret Intelligence Service was established in June 1940, and the military branches conducted intelligence operations in their areas of responsibility.

As World War II drew to a close, Donovan's civilian and military rivals feared that he might win his campaign to create a peacetime intelligence service modeled on the OSS.  President Harry S. Truman, who succeeded Roosevelt in April 1945, felt no obligation to retain OSS after the war.  Once victory was won, the nation wanted to demobilize quickly—which included dismantling wartime agencies like the OSS.  Although it was abolished in October 1945, however, the OSS's analytic, collection, and counterintelligence functions were transferred on a smaller scale to the State and War Departments.

President Truman soon recognized the need for a centralized intelligence system.  Taking into account the views of the military services, the State Department, and the FBI, he established the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) in January 1946.  The CIG had two missions: providing strategic warning and conducting clandestine activities.  Unlike the OSS, it had access to all-source intelligence.  The CIG functioned under the direction of a National Intelligence Authority composed of a Presidential representative and the Secretaries of State, War and Navy.  Rear Admiral Sidney W. Souers, USNR, who was the Deputy Chief of Naval Intelligence, was appointed the first Director of Central Intelligence.

Twenty months later, the National Intelligence Authority and the CIG were disestablished. Under the provisions of the National Security Act of 1947 (which became effective on 18 December 1947) the National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were created.  The 1947 Act charged the CIA with coordinating the nation's intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence which affects national security.  In addition, the Agency was to perform other duties and functions related to intelligence as the NSC might direct.  The Act defined the DCI's authority as head of the Intelligence Community, head of the CIA, and principal intelligence adviser to the President, and made him responsible for protecting intelligence sources and methods.  The act also prohibited the CIA from engaging in law enforcement activity and restricted its internal security functions.  The CIA carries out its responsibilities subject to various directives and controls by the President and the NSC.

In 1949, the Central Intelligence Agency Act was passed and supplemented the 1947 Act.  The addendum permitted the Agency to use confidential fiscal and administrative procedures and exempted CIA from many of the usual limitations on the expenditure of federal funds.  It provided that CIA funds could be included in the budgets of other departments and then transferred to the Agency without regard to the restrictions placed on the initial appropriation.  This Act is the statutory authority which allows for the secrecy of the Agency's budget. 

In 1953, Congress amended the National Security Act to provide for the appointment of the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.  This amendment also provided that commissioned officers of the armed forces, whether active or retired, could not occupy both DCI and DDCI positions at the same time. The DDCI assists the Director by performing such functions as the DCI assigns or delegates. The DDCI acts for and exercises the powers of the Director during his absence or disability, or in the event of a vacancy in the position of the Director.

Congressional oversight has existed to varying degrees throughout the CIA's existence.  Today the CIA reports regularly to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as required by the Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980 and various Executive Orders.  The Agency also reports regularly to the Defense Subcommittees of the Appropriations Committees in both Houses of Congress.  Moreover, the Agency provides substantive briefings to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Armed Services Committees in both bodies, as well as other committees and individual members.

This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved  in the Policy Archive for historic reasons. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

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