History of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Oct 10, 2017


The six years prior to the formal beginning of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) saw many variations of the agency.

Office of Coordinator of Information (COI)

Established on July 11, 1941, the COI lasted 337 days.

At the beginning of World War II, the State Department, Army, Navy, and FBI were randomly collecting intelligence with no direction or coordination. However, they weren’t designed for this type of collection. President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to solve the problem by creating this office to streamline collection, organization, and dissemination of the intelligence that the government agencies collected. It also was created to conduct unconventional warfare.

The COI’s first operation was debriefing refugees in New York City who fled Europe. The office also gathered intelligence overseas and worked closely with the British to gain information, training, and experience from their intelligence organizations.

As the war went on, Roosevelt moved part of the organization to the Office of War Information to ensure military support. However, he wanted to keep part of it out of military hands. The part that was left became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

The creation of this office occurred on June 13, 1942, and it lasted three years and three months.

It had a mandate to collect and analyze strategic information and to conduct unconventional and paramilitary operations. To do this, personnel was sent to North Africa, Europe, China, Burma, and India. However, OSS never received complete authority over all foreign intelligence activities.

A Presidential decree was arranged that effectively banned most of OSS from acquiring and decoding the war’s most important intelligence intercepts.

OSS did eventually develop a capable counterintelligence apparatus on its own, but there was never an expectation they would continue to operate after the war.

Therefore, when President Truman took office in late August 1945, he ordered OSS be dismantled.

Strategic Services Unit (SSU)

The SSU was established in October 1945 and lasted one year and five months.

SSU temporarily took over former OSS posts throughout the world until a more permanent solution could be put in place.

In January 1946, a new National Intelligence Authority was established along with a small Central Intelligence Group (CIG). Later that year, the President and Congress decided to give SSU’s duties, responsibilities, personnel, overseas field stations, communications, and logistical capabilities to CIG. This decision was based exclusively on the challenge of producing coordinated intelligence assessments.

CIG screened all SSU employees and offered positions to the best. CIG then took over SSU.

Central Intelligence Group (CIG)

The CIG was established in January 1946 and lasted one year and six months.

It was responsible for coordinating, planning, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence. It also acquired a clandestine collection capability as well as authority to conduct independent research and analysis. This gave CIG the ability to produce intelligence on its own.

They began spying overseas and became the nations’ primary agency for strategic warning and management of clandestine activities abroad.

However, it was still held under the constraints and resistance from the Department of State and armed forces. To free itself, CIG became an independent department and was renamed the Central Intelligence Agency.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

The CIA was established on September 18, 1947, and was created under the National Security Act of 1947, signed July 26, 1947.

National Security Act

This act merged the Department of War and Department of the Navy into the National Military Establishment. It also created the Department of the Air Force and the U.S. Air Force and protected Marine Corps as an independent service under the Department of the Navy.

Aside from military reorganization, the act established the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency—the nations’ first peacetime, non-military intelligence agency.

The act also loosely defined CIA’s missions and while it didn’t alter the functions of CIG, it did add four basic tasks:

  • Advise National Security Council (NSC) on matter related to national security
  • Make recommendation to NSC regarding the coordination of intelligence activities and departments
  • Correlate and evaluate intelligence and provide for its appropriate dissemination
  • “Perform such other duties…as NSC will from time to time direct…”

In 1949, President Truman signed the Central Intelligence Agency Act authorizing the CIA to secretly fund intelligence operations and conduct several personnel actions outside of standard U.S. government procedures.

By 1953, the CIA was a recognized and respected agency and by the Korean War, it had grown six times in size and three of its current five directorates had been established.

On December 17, 2007, President George W. Bush signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act which restructured the Intelligence Community by abolishing the position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (DDCI) and creating the position of Director of CIA (D/CIA). It also created the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) which oversees the Intelligence Community and National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

Today, the CIA is the worlds’ premier foreign intelligence agency.

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