CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency)

views updated May 21 2018

CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency)


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is an independent government organization, founded under the National Security Act of 1947. The agency is a leader among the 14 agencies and organizations in the United States Intelligence Community. The mission of CIA is to support the president, the National Security Council (NSC), and other officials involved in national security policy by providing accurate, comprehensive, and timely foreign intelligence on national security topics. CIA also supports the chief executive and the national security policy leadership by conducting counterintelligence operations, special activities, and other duties relating to foreign intelligence and national security as directed by the president. The CIA in the 1990s increased its openness with the American public, and provides relatively detailed information about its organizational structure, through which the director of Central Intelligence (DCI) oversees the four directorates (Administration, Intelligence, Science and Technology, and Operations), as well as numerous other offices.


CIA's headquarters is in Langley, a neighborhood in McLean, Virginia; hence the term "Langley" is used as a metonym for the entire organization, or its leadership. (The terms "CIA" and "the CIA" are used interchangeably, while "the Company" is a term by which some employees refer to the agency.) Information on its budget is classified, but the entire U.S. intelligence budget, of which CIA comprises but a portion, was $26.6 billion in 1997, the first year in which such figures were reported. (The 1998 budget figures, the only other ones released as of early 2003, showed an increase of $100 million, to $26.7 billion.)

Also classified is the number of persons employed by CIA, but the agency is more open concerning the variety of personnel it hires. There is no one single type of CIA employee, and the popular image of CIA operatives as cutthroats and assassins is a bankrupt cliché. As of 2003, the agency had a particular interest in hiring scientists, engineers, economists, linguists, mathematicians, secretaries, accountants, and computer specialists, although the scope of employment opportunities exceeded even this wide range.

In order to be considered for employment with CIA, an applicant must have a college degree, with a minimum grade point average of 3.0. The applicant must submit to a polygraph and medical examination, as well as background checks. Once hired, the new employee must be willing to relocate to Washington, D.C., or to CIA stations in various locales throughout the world. Many CIA officers work under some form of cover, either as employees of other government organizations (for example, some CIA operatives serve under diplomatic cover in the State Department), or under nonofficial cover, whereby an intelligence officer lives as a private citizen who ostensibly has no ties to the U.S. government.

In accordance with the CIA's mission, the majority of activity by its operatives is directed toward the gathering, production, and analysis of political, economic, and military intelligence on foreign governments, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations. This information originates from documents obtained either openly or illegally, from human sources (human intelligence or HUMINT), from electronic eavesdropping (signals intelligence, or SIGINT), or from images collected by spy cameras or satellites in space (imagery intelligence, or IMINT). Once gathered, intelligence must be processed and analyzed, after which the CIA passes information on to its clients, which include

the president and major cabinet-level departments, including State, Defense, and the Treasury.

CIA officers may also be involved in counterintelligence, which is designed to preserve U.S. national security by protecting American assets from foreign spying. Additionally, operatives of the CIA may at times engage in actions such as the spreading of propaganda or disinformation; the use of blackmail or other means to put pressure on enemy operatives; and give support to overseas political or military groups whose objectives align with U.S. interests.

CIA excesses in the past have prompted a number of countermeasures against it on the part of the federal government. In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford issued an executive order forbidding acts of assassination by the CIA, and Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, extended this prohibition to forbidding indirect involvement in assassination. This order also expressly prohibited CIA collection of foreign intelligence on the domestic activities of American citizens. Today, the Executive Office of the president monitors and investigates CIA activities through the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

In the mid-1970s, the Church Committee hearings in the Senate and the Pike Committee hearings in the House led to the formation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Congressional oversight of CIA through these and other committees is an ongoing activity.

Some critics argue that the agency can find ways around the executive and legislative authorities charged with oversight of CIA activities. However, those authorities are privy to information on the CIA far beyond the reach of ordinary citizens lacking an appropriate security clearance and need-to-know, and it is likely that in many cases presidents or legislators have put a stop to activities about which the general public never learned. In light of the increased atmosphere of scrutiny that has attended CIA activities since the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, the idea that the CIA maintains a government within the government, whereby it exerts its will independent of executive or legislative oversight, is tantamount to conspiracy theory.

The Structure of CIA

Although both Congress and the president exert oversight of CIA activities, it is the president who holds ultimately authority. Only the president, acting usually through the NSC, can direct the CIA to participate in covert actions. By the same token, DCI reports either directly to the president, or indirectly through the NSC.

Under DCI is the deputy director of Central Intelligence (DDCI), who assists DCI as head of the CIA and of the Intelligence Community. DDCI also exercises the powers of the DCI when the holder of that position is absent or disabled. Within the CIA and the Intelligence Community as a whole, the offices of the DCI and the DDCI are intended to function virtually as a single unit.

Three lines of authority. Under the leadership of the DCI/DDCI office are a number of functions within the intelligence community but outside the CIA. These include the DDCI for Community Management and the Assistant DCI for Administration, both of which are statutory positions for which presidential appointment and Senate confirmation is required; the Associate DCI for Military Support; the DCI for Foreign Intelligence Relations; and the National Intelligence Council.

Reporting to the DCI and DDCI are a number of independent offices within the CIA, including the Inspector General, General Counsel (these two are also statutory positions nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate), Public Affairs, Congressional Affairs, Protocol, and Diversity Plans and Programs. By far the largest chain of command within the CIA, however is the one that runs through the offices of the Executive Director (EXDIR) and Deputy Executive Director (D/EXDIR).

The EXDIR oversees five centers that collectively enable the CIA to carry out its mission: the Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, Global Support, Human Resources, and Security, each of which have numerous subordinate offices and bureaus. Also under the EXDIR aegis are several independent functions, including the Center for the Study of Intelligence, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, Ombudsman/Alternative Dispute Resolution, and the Executive Secretary. Finally, the Executive Director's office is in the line of authority between DCI/DDCI and the four directorates.

The directorates. The work of the directorates of Operations and Intelligence are at the heart of what most people think of when they hear the initials "CIA". Operations is responsible for collecting foreign intelligence, including HUMINT, and for overseeing the overt collection of intelligence domestically through persons or organizations that volunteer that information. Within Operations are the Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism centers, the National HUMINT Requirements Tasking Center, and various regional and transnational issues divisions.

The Directorate of Intelligence is responsible for producing the bulk of CIA's finished intelligence, processed from raw data collected in the field. Within this directorate are the offices of Asian, Pacific, and Latin American Analysis; Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Analysis; Russian and European Analysis; Transnational Issues; and Policy Support. Other groups within this directorate include the Collection Requirements and Evaluation Staff, the DCI Crime and Narcotics Center, and the DCI Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center.

The Directorate of Administration provides support to CIA activities through a number of administrative and technical offices such as Communications, Facilities and Security Services, Information Technology, and Medical Services. The Directorate of Science and Technology also provides support through research, development, acquisition, and operations of technical capabilities and systems. It directs the Foreign Broadcast Information Service and the National Photographic Interpretation Center.

A Brief History of the CIA

The CIA began operation on September 18, 1947, with Rear Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter as its first DCI. In its first covert operation, begun late that year, it influenced the general elections in Italy so as to prevent a Communist victory. Despite this success, President Harry S. Truman blamed Hillenkoetter for failing to predict the coming of the Korean War, and replaced him with General Walter Bedell Smith in October 1950. Under Smith's leadership, the CIA helped bring about the overthrow of Iran's Premier Mohammed Mossadegh after the latter nationalized oil fields in his country.

The accession of Allen W. Dulles to the position of DCI in 1953 marked the beginning of a new era. Under his direction, the CIA became highly energetic and enterprising, building both the Berlin Tunnel and the U-2 spy plane, and undertaking covert operations in Guatemala, Egypt, Indonesia, Chile, and the Congo. Despite a number of successes, the CIA under Dulles also experienced several disasters, most notably the shootdown of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union in 1960, and the abortive invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

The 1960s and 1970s. Under John A. McCone, who replaced Dulles, the CIA regained favor with Kennedy when it furnished spy plane photos showing Soviet missile emplacements in Cuba, evidence Kennedy used during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Following Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed fellow Texan William F. Raborn, Jr., who had little background in intelligence. In June 1966, Raborn's DDCI, Richard McGarrah Helms, took the leadership position.

Helms vigorously prosecuted the CIA's secret wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, yet struggled with Johnson and President Richard M. Nixon over their demands to conduct domestic intelligence campaigns. Nixon fired him in February, 1973, and after a six-month period in which James R. Schlesinger led the agency, William E. Colby became DCI. Colby's was a difficult tenure, as the CIA came under intense scrutiny from journalists and committees in Congress.

Colby retired in January 1976, and was replaced by future President George H. W. Bush, who put his support behind improvements in satellite technology. When James E. Carter became president, he replaced Bush with Admiral Stansfield Turner, who continued Bush's emphasis on intelligence collection via satellite. Turner sought to distance the agency from its old practices, and covert operations declined dramatically under his leadership.

From the 1980s to the present. The inauguration of a new president, Ronald Reagan, in January 1981 brought with it a new DCI, William J. Casey. Under Casey, a veteran of U.S. intelligence in World War II, the CIA's budget, size, and influence grew enormously. Casey directed funds and arms to rebels fighting Communist regimes in both Afghanistan and Nicaragua, and became heavily involved in the Iran-Contra affair. How great that involvement was may never be known, in part because Casey died on January 29, 1987, during the congressional investigation.

William H. Webster, who served as FBI director from 1978 to 1987, succeeded Casey as DCI and served for four years. Under Robert M. Gates, a former DDCI of long standing, the CIA redirected its efforts from a Cold War orientation and toward a focus on issues such as nonproliferation, terrorism, and drug trafficking. During the tenure of R. James Woolsey, appointed in 1993, the CIA came under criticism with the exposure of Aldrich Ames, a mole for the Soviet Union and later Russia, who had operated within of the agency for many years.

Woolsey resigned in January 1995, and John M. Deutch replaced him. Deutch, who held the position for less than two years, was the first DCI to serve on the president's cabinet. In July 1997, George J. Tenet became the fifth DCI in just six years. Though Tenet's leadership style has won praise from observers of the Intelligence Community, the CIA as a whole came under criticism for perceived intelligence failures prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the wake of those events, the agency has placed a renewed emphasis on human intelligence, or the gathering of intelligence from human sources.



Andrew, Christopher M. For the president's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush. New York: Harper Collins, 1995.

Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri. The CIA and American Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Kessler, Ronald. Inside the CIA: Revealing the Secrets of the World's Most Powerful Spy Agency. New York: Pocket Books, 1992.

Prados, John. President's Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since World War II. New York: W. Morrow, 1986.

Richelson, Jeffrey T. The U.S. Intelligence Community, fourth edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999. . The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001.


Central Intelligence Agency. <> (April 24, 2003).

Central Intelligence Agency. Federation of American Scientists. <> (April 24,2003).


CIA, (CSI) Center for the Study of Intelligence
CIA Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T)
CIA, Foreign Broadcast Information Service
CIA, Formation and History
CIA, Legal Restriction
DCI (Director of the Central Intelligence Agency)
HUMINT (Human Intelligence)
IMINT (Imagery Intelligence)
Intelligence Community
Intelligence, United States Congressional Oversight
Iran-Contra Affair
NIC (National Intelligence Council)
President of the United States (Executive Command and Control of Intelligence Agencies)
SIGINT (Signals Intelligence)
United States, Intelligence and Security

Central Intelligence Agency

views updated May 18 2018


CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY. World War II stimulated the creation of the first U.S. central intelligence organization, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), whose functions included espionage, special operations ranging from propaganda to sabotage, counterintelligence, and intelligence analysis. The OSS represented a revolution in U.S. intelligence not only because of the varied functions performed by a single, national agency but because of the breadth of its intelligence interests and its use of scholars to produce finished intelligence.

In the aftermath of World War II, the OSS was disbanded, closing down on 1 October 1945, as ordered by President Harry S. Truman. The counterintelligence and secret intelligence branches were transferred to the War and State Departments, respectively. At virtually the same time that he ordered the termination of the OSS, Truman authorized studies of the intelligence structure required by the United States in the future, and the National Intelligence Authority (NIA) and its operational element, the Central Intelligence Group (CIG), were formed. In addition to its initial responsibility of coordinating and synthesizing the reports produced by the military service intelligence agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the CIG was soon assigned the task of clandestine human intelligence (HUMINT) collection.

CIA Organization

As part of a general consideration of national security needs, the National Security Act of 1947 addressed the question of intelligence organization. The act established the Central Intelligence Agency as an independent agency within the Executive Office of the President to replace the CIG. According to the act, the CIA was to have five functions: advising the National Security Council concerning intelligence activities; making recommendations to the National Security Council for the coordination of intelligence activities; correlating, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence; performing services of common concern as determined by the National Security Council; and performing "such functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct." The provisions of the act left considerable scope for interpretation, and the fifth and final provision has been cited as authorization for covert action operations. In fact, the provision was intended only to authorize espionage. The ultimate legal basis for covert action became presidential direction and congressional approval of funds for such programs.

The CIA developed in accord with a maximalist interpretation of the act. Thus, the CIA has become the primary U.S. government agency for intelligence analysis, clandestine human intelligence collection, and covert action. It has also played a major role in the development of reconnaissance and other technical collection systems employed for gathering imagery, signals, and measurement and signature intelligence. In addition, as stipulated in the agency's founding legislation, the director of the CIA serves as director of central intelligence (DCI) and is responsible for managing the activities of the entire national intelligence community. As a result, the deputy DCI (DDCI) usually assumes the responsibility of day to-day management of the CIA.

CIA headquarters is in Langley, Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C., although the agency has a number of other offices scattered around the Washington area. In 1991, the CIA had approximately 20,000 employees, but post–Cold War reductions and the transfer of the CIA's imagery analysts to the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) probably reduced that number to about 17,000. Its budget in 2002 was in the vicinity of $3 billion. The CIA consists of three major directorates: the Directorate of Operations (known as the Directorate of Plans from 1952 to 1973), the Directorate of Intelligence, and the Directorate of Science and Technology (established in 1963). In addition, it has a number of offices with administrative functions that were part of the Directorate of Administration until 2000, when that directorate was abolished.

Directorate of Operations

The Directorate of Operations has three major functions: human intelligence collection, covert action, and counterintelligence. The directorate's intelligence officers are U.S. citizens who generally operate under cover of U.S. embassies and consulates, which provides them with secure communications within the embassy and to other locations, protected files, and diplomatic immunity. Others operate under "nonofficial cover" (NOC). Such NOCs may operate as businesspeople, sometimes under cover of working at the overseas office of a U.S. firm. The CIA officers recruit foreign nationals as agents and cultivate knowledgeable foreigners who may provide information as either "unwitting" sources or outside a formal officer-agent relationship.

During the Cold War, the primary target of the CIA was, of course, the Soviet Union. Despite the closed nature of Soviet society and the size and intensity of the KGB's counterintelligence operation, the CIA had a number of notable successes. The most significant was Colonel Oleg Penkovskiy, a Soviet military intelligence(GRU) officer. In 1961 and 1962, Penkovskiy passed great quantities of material to the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service, including information on Soviet strategic capabilities and nuclear targeting policy. In addition, he provided a copy of the official Soviet medium-range ballistic missile manual, which was of crucial importance at the time of the Cuban missile crisis.

In subsequent years, the CIA penetrated the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and General Staff, GRU, KGB, at least one military research facility, and probably several other Soviet organizations. Individuals providing data to the CIA included some stationed in the Soviet Union, some in Soviet consulates and embassies, and some assigned to the United Nations or other international organizations. CIA HUMINT operations successfully penetrated a number of other foreign governments during the last half of the twentieth century, including India, Israel, the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Ghana.

The CIA also experienced notable failures. During 1987, Cuban television showed films of apparent CIA officers in Cuba picking up and leaving material at dead drops. It seemed a significant number of Cubans had been operating as double agents, feeding information to the CIA under the supervision of Cuban security officials. CIA operations in East Germany were also heavily penetrated by the East German Ministry for State Security. In 1995, France expelled several CIA officers for attempting to recruit French government officials. From 1984 to 1994, the CIA counterintelligence officer Aldrich Ames provided the Soviet Union and Russia with a large number of documents and the names of CIA penetrations, which resulted in the deaths of ten CIA assets.

CIA covert action operations have included (1) political advice and counsel, (2) subsidies to individuals, (3) financial support and technical assistance to political parties or groups, (4) support to private organizations, including labor unions and business firms, (5) covert propaganda, (6) training of individuals, (7) economic operations, (8) paramilitary or political action operations designed to overthrow or to support a regime, and (9) until the mid-1960s, attempted assassinations. Successes in the covert action area included monetary support to anticommunist parties in France and Italy in the late 1940s that helped prevent communist electoral victories. The CIA successfully engineered a coup that overthrew Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in 1954. In contrast, repeated attempts to eliminate Fidel Castro's regime and Castro himself failed. CIA covert action in cooperation with Britain's Secret Intelligence Service was crucial in restoring the shah of Iran to the throne in 1953, and, by providing Stinger missiles to the Afghan resistance, in defeating the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Such operations subsequently had significant detrimental consequences. The CIA also orchestrated a propaganda campaign against Soviet SS-20 missile deployments in Europe in the 1980s.

Counterintelligence operations conducted by the Directorate of Operations include collection of information on foreign intelligence and security services and their activities through open and clandestine sources; evaluation of defectors; research and analysis concerning the structure, personnel, and operations of foreign intelligence and security services; and operations disrupting and neutralizing intelligence and security services engaging in activities hostile to the United States. Successful counterintelligence efforts have included penetration of a number of foreign intelligence services, including those of the Soviet Union and Russia, the People's Republic of China, and Poland.

Directorate of Intelligence

The Directorate of Intelligence, established in 1952 by consolidating different intelligence production offices in the CIA, is responsible for converting the data produced through examination of open sources, such as foreign journals and Newspapers, and collection of imagery, signals intelligence, and human intelligence into finished intelligence. The finished intelligence produced by the Directorate of Intelligence comes in several varieties whose names are self-explanatory: biographical sketches, current intelligence, warning intelligence, analytical intelligence, and estimative intelligence. A directorate component is responsible for producing the "President's Daily Brief," a document restricted to the president and a small number of key advisers that contains the most sensitive intelligence obtained by the U.S. intelligence community. In addition to producing intelligence on its own, the directorate also plays a major role in the national estimates and studies produced by the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which is outside the CIA structure and reports directly to the director of central intelligence. The NIC consists of national intelligence officers responsible for specific topics or areas of the world.

During the Cold War, a key part of the directorate's work was producing national intelligence estimates on Soviet strategic capabilities, the annual NIE 11-3/8 estimate. Its estimates on the prospects of foreign regimes included both notable successes and failures. The directorate provided no significant warning that the shah of Iran would be forced to flee his country in early 1979. In contrast, from the time Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power in the Soviet Union, CIA analysts noted the difficult path he faced. By 1987, their pessimism had grown, and by 1989, they raised the possibility that he would be toppled in a coup. In April 1991, the head of the Office of Soviet Analysis noted that forces were building for a coup and accurately identified the likely participants, the justification they would give, and the significant chance that such a coup would fail.

Directorate of Science and Technology

The Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T) was established in August 1963 to replace the Directorate of Research, which had been created in 1962 in an attempt to bring together CIA activities in the area of science and technology. By 1962, those activities included development and operation of reconnaissance aircraft and satellites, including the U-2 spy plane and the Corona satellite; the operation and funding of ground stations to intercept Soviet missile telemetry; and the analysis of foreign nuclear and space programs.

The directorate went on to manage the successful development of a number of advanced reconnaissance systems. The A-12 (Oxcart) spy plane, which operated from 1967 to 1968, became the basis for the U.S. Air Force's SR-71 fleet, which conducted reconnaissance operations from 1968 to 1990. More importantly, the directorate, along with private contractors, was responsible for the development of the Rhyolite signals intelligence satellite, which provided a space-based ability to intercept Soviet and Chinese missile telemetry, and two imagery satellites, the KH-9 and the KH-11. The latter gave the United States the ability to monitor events in real time, that is, to receive imagery of an activity or facility as the satellite was passing over the target area. The successors to the KH-11 and the Rhyolite remained in operation at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The DS&T has undergone several reorganizations and has gained and lost responsibilities. Both the Directorate of Intelligence and the Directorate of Operations have at times disputed actual or planned DS&T control of various offices and divisions. In 1963, the directorate assumed control of the Office of Scientific Intelligence, which had been in the Directorate of Intelligence. In 1976, all scientific and technical intelligence analysis functions were transferred back to the Directorate of Intelligence. A 1993 reorganization of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) eliminated the semiautonomous role of the directorate in the development and operation of reconnaissance satellites. In 1996, the National Photo-graphic Intelligence Center (NPIC), which had been transferred to the DS&T in 1973, was merged into the Newly created NIMA.

In the early twenty-first century, the directorate responsibilities included the application of information technology in support of intelligence analysts; technical support for clandestine operations; development of emplaced sensor systems, such as seismic or chemical sensors placed near an airbase or chemical weapons facility; the collection of signals intelligence in cooperation with the National Security Agency; and provision of personnel to the NRO to work on satellite reconnaissance development. The directorate also operated the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), which monitors and analyzes foreign radio, television, Newspapers, and magazines.


Mangold, Tom. Cold Warrior: James Jesus Angleton: The CIA's Master Spy Hunter. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991.

Prados, John. Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations from World War II through the Persian Gulf. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1996.

Ranelagh, John. The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986.

Richelson, Jeffrey T. The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 2001.

Rudgers, David F. Creating the Secret State: The Origins of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1943–1947. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

Thomas, Evan. The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the CIA. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Woodward, Bob. Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981–1987. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.


See alsoIntelligence, Military and Strategic ; Intervention ; Spies .

Central Intelligence Agency

views updated May 18 2018


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was established following world war ii, from which the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as superpowers with vast military might and sharply conflicting world views. To protect the nation's security in all international matters and to ensure continued democracy and freedom for the United States, Congress created the CIA with the National Security Act of 1947 (ch. 343, 61 Stat. 495 [1947]). Gathering information from other countries relevant to national security is a sensitive task requiring considerable secrecy and covert activity. Unlike most other organizations, the CIA receives comparatively little media coverage when it is doing its job well. For this reason, most of the information that reaches the media concerning the CIA is negative.

All intelligence information collected by the CIA is reported to the national security council, under whose direction the CIA acts. The CIA is headed by the director of central intelligence, who is a member of the president's cabinet and the presidential spokesperson for the agency and the intelligence community. The director and deputy director of the CIA are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The CIA is headquartered at a 258-acre compound in Langley, Virginia, and maintains twenty-two other offices in the Washington, D.C., area. The main compound includes a printing plant that produces phony documents, such as birth certificates, passports, and driver's licenses, for use by its agents. The plant also produces the President's Daily Brief, an eight-page CIA document that is presented to the president every morning. Another facility is used exclusively for recruiting spies to work for the CIA; another houses the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, which monitors and translates broadcasts from forty-seven countries. Several other facilities recruit officers of the former Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (KGB)—the State Security Committee for countries in the former Soviet Union, now known as the Russian Federal Security Service—to spy on their own countries. The agency also maintains facilities in 130 countries throughout the world. Of the $28 billion that is budgeted annually to the U.S. Intelligence Committee, $3 billion goes to the CIA. The official number of individuals employed by the CIA is sixteen thousand, but many believe the actual number to be closer to twenty-two thousand.

Although all aspects of the CIA revolve around gathering intelligence and maintaining the security of the nation, the actual responsibilities of the agency are many and varied; they include

  • Advising the National Security Council in matters concerning national security
  • Gathering and disseminating foreign intelligence (The CIA coordinates with the federal bureau of investigation (FBI) to gather intelligence within the United States.)
  • Conducting counterintelligence activities outside of the United States (The CIA coordinates with the FBI to conduct intelligence and counterintelligence activities within the United States.)
  • Gathering and disseminating intelligence on the foreign aspects of narcotics production and trafficking
  • Conducting other special activities approved by the president.

In its earliest days the CIA operated in a shroud of secrecy. In recent years, however, increased media attention has made the country more aware of CIA activities. Since the mid 1970s, the CIA has received more attention for breaking the law than it has for upholding national security. Four events focused unwanted attention to the CIA: the Church committee hearings, the iran-contra affair, the Aldrich Ames scandal, and the end of the cold war.

The Church Committee Hearings

In 1974, the New York Times broke a story that the CIA had violated its charter by spying on U.S. citizens who openly opposed the vietnam war. An investigation followed, headed by Senator Frank Church (D-ID). Church and his committee uncovered a wealth of damaging information about the agency that went far

beyond the issue of the Vietnam War. The Church committee hearings changed the way the public looked at the agency that is responsible for the security of its country.

The Church committee found that the CIA had been intercepting and reading mail exchanged between the United States and the Soviet bloc. The CIA had records on more than three hundred thousand U.S. citizens who had no ties with espionage or intelligence. The CIA had also conducted LSD tests on unknowing participants, one of whom was driven to suicide. Through the CIA, the United States had tried to assassinate at least five foreign leaders, including Cuban premier Fidel Castro. The CIA had first decided to embarrass the Cuban leader and thereby damage his popularity. To accomplish this, the agency plotted to make Castro's beard fall off by placing thallium salts in his shoes. The agency had a second plot: to give Castro a personality disorder by contaminating his cigars. The agency had even enlisted the help of the mafia in its attempt to assassinate Castro. These shocking disclosures brought demands for closer scrutiny of CIA activities.

Following the Church committee hearings, Congress amended the National Security Act of 1947 in 1980 to require the CIA to inform the House and Senate Intelligence Committees of "significant anticipated intelligence activity." Within six years, however, the CIA found itself in trouble once more for failing to inform Congress of its activities.

The Iran-Contra Affair

On November 3, 1986, the Lebanese magazine Shiraa reported that Robert McFarland, U.S. national security adviser, had come to Iran with a shipment of arms from the United States. This revelation spurred what was ultimately termed the Iran-Contra affair and spoiled an otherwise secret operation.

The CIA had involved itself in a covert action in which arms were shipped to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages. The payments that were received from the Iranians were, in turn, diverted to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels who were fighting the Communist Sandanista regime, at a time when U.S. military aid to the Contras was prohibited by federal law. All of this was done without the knowledge of Congress; the CIA informed neither the House Intelligence Committee nor the Senate Intelligence Committee of its actions. President ronald reagan had not approved the agency's covert activity.

One year after the arms had been sold, william j. casey, director of central intelligence and a cabinet member, asked the president to approve the transaction retroactively. Reagan signed an agreement to that effect, which specified that Congress was not to be told of the approval. John Poindexter, the national security adviser at the time, later testified that he destroyed the only copy of the agreement in order to save President Reagan from political embarrassment.

Despite great media attention and congressional finger-pointing, actual punishments for the Iran-Contra affair were few and lenient. Casey was never indicted in the scandal. McFarland and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger were brought up on criminal charges, but both were pardoned on Christmas Eve 1992 by president george h.w. bush. All other persons linked to the scandal either were also pardoned by Bush or were punished with small fines, probation, or both, or had their convictions overturned on appeal.

The Ames Scandal

It did not take the CIA long to make its way back into the spotlight. This time, it was not the agency that broke the law, but an individual. On February 21, 1994, Agent Aldrich Ames became the highest-ranking CIA official ever arrested. Ames had been selling U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union.

Ames's responsibilities as a CIA agent included directing the analysis of Soviet intelligence operations and recruiting Soviet agents who would betray those operations. This position put Ames in frequent contact with Soviet officials at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. Ultimately, Ames began selling U.S. security secrets to the Soviets, a venture that earned him more than $2.5 million before his arrest. Some of this information involved betraying double agents, disclosures that led to the death of at least twelve Soviet and Eastern European spies.

The CIA began to search for a mole (a double agent) in 1986, after two intelligence officers at the Soviet Embassy who had been recruited as double agents by the FBI were recalled to Moscow, arrested, tried, and executed. The CIA was jolted again in 1989 when three more of its most valued Soviet double agents met their deaths by firing squad in Russia.

In 1991 the CIA began to work with the FBI in investigating East Germany and other former Warsaw Pact countries for leads to possible moles in the U.S. government. Ames became one of the suspects and was quietly transferred to the CIA's counternarcotics center. Since the FBI was in charge of counterintelligence domestically, Ames fell under its jurisdiction of investigation. CIA officials played down the possibility of one of its key employees being a spy and blocked independent scrutiny by the FBI. Ames continued to betray the CIA and the country.

The CIA was sharply criticized for its unwillingness to consider one of its own a double agent and for its refusal to allow the FBI to investigate the situation. For years, the agency failed to monitor Ames's overseas travel, to question his personal finances, or to detect unauthorized contacts between Ames and Soviet officials. As early as 1989, the CIA had been warned that Ames appeared to colleagues and neighbors to have accumulated sudden wealth. Ames was questioned about the source of the money during a routine 1991 background check. He said he had inherited money from his father-in-law.

From 1985 onward, Ames and his wife Rosario bought a $540,000 house for cash, put $99,000 worth of improvements into the house, purchased a Jaguar, bought a farm and condominium in Colombia, and invested $165,000 in stocks. In one year, they charged more than $100,000 on their credit cards. According to court documents, the Ameses spent nearly $1.4 million from April 1985 to November 1993. All of this took place while Ames's annual CIA salary never exceeded $70,000. According to CIA officials, indications of wrongdoing by CIA employees were often overlooked because supervisors were far too trusting of employees, whom they treated as family.

When Ames got a call to go to his CIA office in the morning of February 21, 1994, he had no inkling that after almost nine years his career of selling secrets to Moscow was about to end. With Ames planning to travel to Russia the next day on CIA business, the FBI believed that it had to act. A block and a half from Ames's house, his Jaguar was forced to the curb, and Ames was arrested by FBI agents.

On April 28, 1994, Ames pleaded guilty to the criminal charges of espionage and tax evasion. He received a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, the maximum sentence he could have expected if convicted after trial.

The End of the Cold War

The importance of the threat imposed by Ames's dealings with the Soviet Union was seemingly diminished with that country's dissolution. But despite the apparent end of the cold war and the break-up of the former Soviet Union, the United States continues to spy on the Russian Republic. The former Soviet Union also continues its own covert activities within the United States.

Some question the continued need for the CIA in the post-cold war era. But supporters need point no further than the war with Iraq to justify continued backing for the agency. The CIA was responsible for supplying intelligence reports that allowed the United States to cripple the Iraqi efforts in the Gulf War with an initial air strike. Without the assistance of the CIA, the war might not have reached such a swift ending. Supporters also argue that it is unfair to criticize a covert organization for its failures when so little attention is given to its successes. When the CIA is functioning efficiently and effectively, its operation is invisible to the country's citizens; it is only in failure that the secrecy of the agency is betrayed to scrutinizing eyes.

Since the end of the cold war, some members of Congress have called for severe cuts in the CIA's budget or dissolution of the agency. President bill clinton said that such ideas are "profoundly

wrong," and that the United States still faces many threats and challenges, including terrorism, drug trafficking, and nuclear proliferation. "I believe making deep cuts in intelligence during peacetime is comparable to canceling your health insurance when you're feeling fine," he said.

September 11th and The Aftermath

Having seemingly lost some of its purpose with the end of the Cold War, the CIA found a new purpose in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. However, this new purpose came with both criticism and concern as to whether the CIA was up to the challenge of tackling terrorism. There was strong debate after September 11th as to what role the CIA should play, and how it fit in to the new security paradigm.

Like every other domestic and foreign intelligence service in the United States, the CIA was apparently caught by surprise on Sept. 11th. However, there were some who argued that it should not have been. It was shown that the CIA had tracked two of the terrorists from that day at an al Qaeda summit in January 2000. But the CIA did nothing to share the information with other agencies, and both men were allowed to enter the United States. The CIA also told President george w. bush at a briefing in August 2001 that terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack a plane. Again, nothing was done with this information.

Although President Bush defended the agency and refused to fire its director, George Tenet, he conceded that the cooperation between the CIA and the FBI could have been better: "In terms of whether the FBI and CIA communicated properly, I think it's clear that they weren't."

further readings

Benjamin, Daniel, and Steven Simon. 2002. The Age of Sacred Terror. New York: Random House.

Curl, Joseph. 2002. "Bush Concedes FBI, CIA Faults, But Doubts Attacks Avoidable." Washington Times (June 5).

Gellman, Barton. 2001. "CIA Weighs 'Targeted Killing' Missions." Washington Post (October 28).

Kessler, Ronald. 1992. Inside the CIA. New York: Pocket Books.

Ranelagh, John. 1986. The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA from Wild Bill Donovan to William Casey. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Rudgers, David F. 2000. Creating the Secret State: The Origins of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1943–1947. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

views updated May 17 2018

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

The history of the Central Intelligence Agency is inseparable from that of cold war relations between the United States and Latin America. Established by the 1947 National Security Act only to collect, coordinate, and evaluate intelligence, the new agency got off to an inauspicious start. Rioting at the 1948 Inter-American Conference held in Bogotá, Colombia, elicited charges that the CIA had failed to forewarn the State Department. Although the first director (DCI), Rear Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, successfully fended off Capitol Hill critics, he failed to convince bureaucratic rivals, especially J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), that they should cede their responsibilities in Latin America to the fledgling CIA.

The CIA's reputation improved, and it overcame its competitors' opposition when, empowered by a series of secret National Security Council (NSC) directives, it became progressively more involved in covert activities. It scored some immediate successes, and the selection of the respected General Walter Bedell Smith as DCI in 1950 solidified the Agency's standing. Three years later the CIA's golden era began. Bringing to the White House an enthusiasm for clandestine operations and psychological warfare developed during his World War II military command, President Dwight D. Eisenhower increased the CIA's authority and resources. To succeed Smith as DCI, he appointed Allen W. Dulles, Office of Strategic Services (OSS) veteran, principal author of the 1949 report that granted the CIA exclusive aegis over covert projects, and Smith's deputy director for plans. Eisenhower named Smith chief deputy to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Allen's brother.

Within Eisenhower's first year in office, the CIA rewarded the president by orchestrating the ouster of Iran's prime minister, Muhammad Mussadegh, and the shah's return to the Peacock Throne. It was in Guatemala the next year, however, that the Agency achieved legendary status. Since Guatemala's 1944 revolution, the United States had become increasingly concerned with the perceived leftward drift of presidents Juan José Arévalo Bermejo and Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. These concerns escalated when the Arbenz government enacted agrarian reform legislation in 1952 that appropriated some 400,000 acres held by Guatemala's largest landowner, the United Fruit Company. CIA analysts ascribed this behavior to the influence on Arbenz of Guatemalan Communists. Unless checked, these presumed agents of the Kremlin would, it was argued, promote Soviet penetration of the Western Hemisphere, thereby confronting the United States with a strategic nightmare.

Later scholars have rejected the CIA's estimate of the threat. Eisenhower never questioned it; he instructed the Agency to develop plans to rid the hemisphere of the menace. After the CIA failed to prevent the arrival in Guatemala of Czech-manufactured arms, Eisenhower approved Operation Success. On 18 June 1954, under the leadership of Carlos Castillo Armas, the U.S.-sponsored Army of Liberation invaded Guatemala from Honduras. Its progress, however, was less a determinant of the outcome than was the CIA's intensive program of psychological warfare that all but paralyzed Arbenz and his military. On 27 June, Arbenz resigned and left the country. Guatemala's next president was Castillo Armas. Subsequently many North and South American commentators have judged the United States culpable for Guatemala's internal strife and dismal record of human rights abuses. Although not diminishing the role of the United States, other scholars have focused on how the actions of the Guatemalan government were an attempt to control and reduce the country's large Mayan population.

The Eisenhower administration basked in the glory of the Guatemalan success. Predictably, therefore, notwithstanding CIA failures during the ensuing years, when Fidel Castro embraced the Soviet Union after overthrowing Cuba's longtime caudillo Fulgencio Batista, Eisenhower again asked the Agency to eradicate what was seen as a hemispheric cancer. Dulles delegated primary responsibility for planning to Richard M. Bissell, Jr., who had joined the CIA just in time to play an important role in Operation Success, and by masterminding the U-2 overflights program had become Dulles's heir apparent. Bissell modeled the plan to depose Castro after the Guatemalan venture and assigned many of the same personnel to it. By the time Operation Zapata took its final form, it had grown in size and degree of risk. Moreover, John F. Kennedy had become U.S. president.

Kennedy was never comfortable with Bissell's scheme, and many of his advisers were hostile to it. But Bissell gave assurances that when confronted with a brigade of Cuban exiles spread across three beachheads along the Bay of Pigs, Castro would suffer the same loss of nerve as Arbenz and his military had. In the worst-case scenario a stalemate would result that the Organization of American States (OAS) would resolve in favor of the United States. On 17 April 1961, Kennedy sanctioned the operation's implementation, but he curtailed the concomitant air strikes to reduce U.S. exposure. Castro's fighter planes retained air superiority, and his forces either killed or captured the defenseless invaders stranded on the beach. The Bay of Pigs fiasco strengthened Castro in Cuba and ended Dulles's and Bissell's careers in the CIA.

Its early warning of Soviet missile emplacements in Cuba in 1962 and the 1967 assassination of Castro's lieutenant Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Bolivia helped restore some of the CIA's lost luster. But after Operation Mongoose failed to eliminate Castro, and as it became increasingly preoccupied in Southeast Asia, the Agency in the 1960s and 1970s confined most of its Latin American enterprises to assisting the counterinsurgency efforts of U.S. clients. The major exception came in Chile, where the CIA expended great energy and resources to prevent the socialist Salvador Allende from securing the presidency. In 1970 he did so nonetheless. Debate continues over the extent of the CIA's direct involvement in the military coup three years later that ended in Allende's death. What is unambiguous is that between 1970 and 1973 the CIA distributed millions of dollars among Allende's opponents, and that it knew about and encouraged the successful plot against him.

Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 and his appointment of OSS veteran William Casey as DCI brought a revival of CIA activism, in Central America above all. The fundamental objectives were to bring about the collapse of Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista regime and to bolster the government of El Salvador in its battle against the guerrilla forces associated with the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Assuming that the FMLN depended on the Sandinistas, the administration concentrated on the Nicaraguan front. Reagan proclaimed the indigenous opposition to the Sandinistas to be "freedom fighters," and Casey, aided by White House staffers and private citizens who had participated in the CIA's secret war in Laos, funneled human, financial, and material support to Contra units operating inside Nicaragua and across neighboring borders. Often this assistance required circumventing congressional prohibitions, the most notorious case of which led to the Iran-Contra scandal. The combination of Casey's sudden death, grants of immunity to key witnesses, the Sandinistas' electoral defeat, and the negotiated end to the Salvadoran insurrection has left many details of the CIA's operations in Central America unclear. The greater openness that accompanied the end of the cold war seemed to promise that additional information would be forthcoming. Although many documents still remain classified, the government has released important new information, such as CIA training manuals used in Latin America during the 1980s that discuss how to coerce captured enemies. Furthermore, the Kerry Committee in the U.S. Senate in 1998 found that the CIA often knew about the close ties between the Nicaraguan contras and drug traffickers.

See alsoAllende Gossens, Salvador; Arbenz Guzmán, Jacobo; Arévalo Bermejo, Juan José; Bay of Pigs Invasion; Castillo Armas, Carlos; Castro Ruz, Fidel; Cuba: Cuba Since 1959; Cuban Missile Crisis; Guatemala; Guevara, Ernesto "Che"; Honduras; Nicaragua; Nicaragua, Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN); United States-Latin American Relations.


General histories of the CIA include John Ranelagh, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA (1986); Loch Johnson, America's Secret Power: The CIA in a Democratic Society (1989); Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, The CIA and American Democracy (1989). Equally insightful are biographies of the two most influential DCIs: Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA (1979); Peter Grose, Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles (1994). The most comprehensive survey of the CIA's covert operations is John Prados, Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since World War II (1986). For the project in Guatemala, see Richard Immerman, The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention (1982); Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1982); and Piero Gleijeses, Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944–1954 (1991).

The best studies of the Bay of Pigs are Peter Wyden, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (1979); and Trumbull Higgins, The Perfect Failure: Kennedy, Eisenhower, and the CIA at the Bay of Pigs (1987).

Gregory Treverton, Covert Action: The Limits of Intervention in the Postwar World (1987), is excellent on the CIA and Allende. Starting points for examining CIA activity in Central America in the 1980s are Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981–1987 (1987); Robert A. Pastor, Condemned to Repetition: The United States and Nicaragua (1987); and Walter La Feber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (1993).

Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004.

Cullather, Nick. Secret History: The CIA's Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952–1954, 2nd edition. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Gambone, Michael D. Capturing the Revolution: The United States, Central America, and Nicaragua, 1961–1972. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001.

Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. New York: New Press, 2003.

LeoGrande, William M. Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America, 1977–1992. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Rouquié, Alain. Guerras y paz en América Central. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1994.

Webb, Gary. Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1998.

                                   Richard H. Immerman

Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949

views updated May 23 2018

Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949

Jennifer S. Byram

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was created by the National Security Act of 1947. The Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949 (CIA Act) (P.L. 81-110, 63 Stat. 208) was enacted to give the CIA specific authority to carry out the duties assigned to it in 1947. Until the CIA Act, the CIA had been acting without the authorities typically given to other federal government agencies.


The CIA Act authorized the CIA to receive and spend money, administer overseas employees, and protect the confidential nature of CIA activities. The CIA is allowed to purchase supplies and services using procedures established in the Armed Services Procurement Act of 1947, transfer money to and from other government agencies, have employees of other agencies work for the CIA, and spend CIA funds without the same restrictions placed on other agencies. The CIA can send employees to specialized training and pay for that training; pay travel and moving expenses of employees and their families when they are assigned to work abroad, both at the time of assignment and for vacations back to the United States; and provide for medical care for employees working abroad. The Director of Central Intelligence shall protect intelligence sources and methods from unauthorized disclosure. Finally, each year the Director of Central Intelligence, with the Attorney General, may admit up to 100 immigrants and their families to the United States to help protect national security, typically granting legal residence to foreign nationals who have worked for the CIA and need to leave their homeland.

While the proponents of the CIA Act characterized it as only providing the same authorities that other agencies enjoyed, the CIA actually has significantly more freedom from legislative restrictions. For example, the CIA can have employees of other agencies temporarily transferred to the CIA, allowing people who work at the CIA to truthfully say they do not work for the CIA. The CIA is exempt from laws requiring agencies to list their organizations, functions, names, titles, salaries, and number of employees, and the Director of the Bureau of the Office of Management and Budget shall not report information about the CIA. The CIA can improve rental properties, acquire land, and construct buildings without the limits placed on other agencies.

Perhaps the most important freedoms relate to financial secrecy. The CIA may exchange funds with other agencies. This allows the CIA to spend money that has not been budgeted to it, which hides the true total the CIA spends. The CIA also can spend that money, "without regard to the provisions of law and regulations relating to the expenditure of government funds," with limited accounting for "confidential, extraordinary, or emergency" spending.


Though the CIA Act passed with a strong majority, there were impassioned arguments against it. The main concerns were about the secrecy provisions and the possibility that CIA agents would work in the United States, spying on U.S. citizens. Some senators stated that the CIA Act would set up a "military gestapo" in the United States. Supporters of the act argued that information about the spending, employees, and actions of the CIA needed to be kept secret, to protect the lives of CIA agents abroad who were likely to be tortured or killed if they were suspected of being U.S. spies. The skeptical senators were told that the Senate Committee on Armed Services had seen confidential information about American intelligence that could not be shared with the full Senate, but every Senator would support the act if they had seen it. The supporters said that the attack on Pearl Harbor might have been prevented if U.S. intelligence had been given these capabilities prior to World War II. They also implied that not supporting the CIA Act was unpatriotic.


Continuing concern about the secret activities of the CIA has led to important amendments to the CIA Act. The amendments were designed to increase congressional oversight of the CIA. Congress created the office of the Inspector General of the CIA in 1988. The Inspector General's duties include investigating allegations of misconduct by CIA employees, performing any other investigations or audits that seem useful, and making semi-annual reports to Congress about CIA activities. Over the years, Congress has increased the Inspector General's authority to investigate and make reports several times. If an employee reports an urgent concern to the Inspector General, and is not satisfied with the response, the employee can complain directly to appropriate congressional committees.

The office of the General Counsel of the CIA was created in 1996. The General Counsel is the head lawyer for the CIA, works to ensure that the CIA operates within the law, and defends it from lawsuits. One of the duties of the General Counsel is to review proposed operations to make sure they comply with U.S. laws and treaties.

Dissatisfaction with the secrecy of the CIA has caused most of the litigation about the CIA Act. Many cases involve the interaction between the secrecy provisions of the CIA Act and the disclosure provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Generally, the courts have decided the CIA is exempt from the requirements of the FOIA.

The Supreme Court has decided one case, United States v. Richardson (1974), which challenged the constitutionality of the CIA Act. The plaintiff argued that the CIA Act's secret funding provisions violated the Statement and Account Clause of the Constitution (Article I, section 9, clause 7), which requires the government to publish an account of public expenditures. The Court held that a taxpayer does not have the right to challenge the secrecy provisions in court because the individual is not specifically harmed by the provisions. Because the Court will not allow any taxpayer to maintain a challenge, the secrecy provisions will not be found unconstitutional.

It is difficult to determine the exact impact the CIA Act has had on the United States because so many of the CIA's activities are not publicized. We do not hear about the CIA's successful operations, or the attacks it has prevented. We seldom hear about its failures, unless they are spectacular, like the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, or the Iran-Contra scandal. It is certain that America must have an effective, well-regulated intelligence agency to provide us with information about hostile powers, and the CIA is that agency.



Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949. P.L. 81-110, 63 Stat. 208. Congressional Record, 81st Congress, 1st Session, H.R. 2663 (1949).

Holt, Pat M. Secret Intelligence and Public Policy: A Dilemma of Democracy. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1995.

Kessler, Ronald. Inside the CIA. New York: Pocket Books, 1992.

Warner, Michael, ed. The CIA Under Harry Truman. Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1994.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion

The Bay of Pigs invasion was an attempt by the United States to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in 1961. Planned during the presidential administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower and managed by the CIA, the invasion involved approximately 1,500 Cuban exiles who had been trained by the CIA. The exiles were to land at the Bay of Pigs, with air and naval support from the United States, and it was assumed that their arrival would set off a popular uprising that would overthrow Castro. However, President John F. Kennedy, who had taken office three months before the invasion, refused to broaden the conflict by authorizing air strikes, and the Cuban populace stayed behind closed doors. Furthermore, counter to intelligence reports, Cuban troops were stationed nearby and moved quickly to repel the attackers. The invasion was a disaster, with 274 of the exiles killed and the rest captured. While the invasion marked the low point of the entire Kennedy administration, the president acknowledged responsibility for the disaster with such grace that his approval rating rose to more than 80 percent. Kennedy's brother, Robert Kennedy, negotiated with Castro to release the prisoners in December 1962 in exchange for $53 million in food and medical supplies.

The Iran-Contra Affair

The Iran-Contra affair was a complicated scandal of the mid-1980s in which the administration of President Ronald Reagan secretly sold arms to Iran, an avowed enemy of the United States, for use in Iran's war with Iraq. In return, Iran used its influence to help secure the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian terrorist groups. Profits from the weapons were then secretly funneled by the CIA to the Contra rebels attempting to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. All of this was illegal. U.N. sanctions prohibited selling weapons to Iran, as did Congressional legislation. In addition, Congress had expressly forbidden covert U.S. support for the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government. In addition to the funding, the CIA provided the Contras with weapons and training in guerilla tactics (including assassination), and there is evidence that the CIA was involved in drug trafficking to raise additional funds for the Contras. When the story first broke, Reagan repudiated it, claiming, "We did not, repeatdid nottrade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we." Reagan later blamed this assertion on incorrect data provided by his staff. He appointed a board called the Tower Commission, headed by former Senator John Tower, to investigate the allegations, and a joint Senate and House committee held four months of televised hearings on the affair. Neither group found the president guilty of a crime; however, both concluded that his inattentive management style had allowed his subordinates to subvert the law. No one prosecuted in the scandal was penalized with anything more than a fine. Criminal indictments against National Security Advisor John Poindexter and Oliver North of the National Security Council were dismissed, and six others who were indicted or convicted of various crimes were pardoned in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

views updated Jun 08 2018


principal u.s. agency responsible for collection and assessment of worldwide intelligence data.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was established in 1947. It is responsible directly to the president of the United States and carries out functions ordered by the president and the president's staff. The agency and its director (called the director of central intelligence, or DCI) are charged not only with collecting and analyzing intelligence data but also with coordinating the activities of other U.S. intelligence agencies, including those attached to the military services and those of the state and defense departments. The agency is divided into three principal directorates: for clandestine collection of foreign intelligence and the conduct of covert actions; for analysis of political, military, and economic developments outside the United States; and for collection and analysis of technical and scientific intelligence. It also maintains the DCI Counterterrorist Center. The CIA is headquartered just outside Washington, D.C., in Langley, Virginia.

In the Middle East, the CIA is best known for having organized the 1953 overthrow of Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh and having returned Reza Shah Pahlavi to Iran's Peacock Throne in a covert operation. Mossadegh, although widely seen in the Middle East as a nationalist, was viewed by the Eisenhower administration as a tool of the Soviet Union who threatened U.S. interests. The CIA has also been implicated in General Husni alZaʿim's 1949 coup in Syria, and the Free Officers' 1952 coup in Egypt. Other CIA covert actions in the Middle East have included providing arms and covert support to rebel groups, including the Iraqi Kurds in the early 1970s; the Afghan guerrillas following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979; and Chad's forces opposing a Libyan invasion in 1980.

Lebanon was for some time the center of much CIA activity. According to newspaper accounts, during the 1970s and the early 1980s, the CIA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had a cooperative arrangement, centered in Beirut, to ensure security against terrorist attacks to Americans. This occurred despite the U.S. government's official, public refusal to deal with the PLO. Apparently in the hope of gaining diplomatic advantage, the PLO warned of any impending attack on U.S. citizens and provided physical protection to U.S. diplomats and installations. The principal PLO contact person in this arrangement, Ali Hasan alSalama (19401979), was killed in a 1979 car bombing believed to have been engineered by Israel, but the security cooperation continued until the PLO left Beirut in the aftermath of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The following year saw a marked upsurge in attacks on U.S. installations and large numbers of American deaths. According to one account, following bombings of the American embassy and a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and 1984all believed to be the work of the Shiʿite group Hizbullah, whose spiritual leader was Shaykh Husayn Fadlallahthe CIA arranged to have Fadlallah stopped. A car bomb was detonated in March 1985 at his apartment building; Fadlallah, however, was not harmed. The CIA denied involvement, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, following an investigation, concluded that no direct or indirect CIA involvement could be shown.

Although not responsible for maintaining diplomatic relationships with other countries, the CIA often provides a vehicle by which the U.S. government can solidify a relationship through unofficial contacts or cooperate with another country covertly on operations of joint interest. This often occurs through regular meetings between a CIA official and a foreign leader. Liaison between the CIA and the intelligence services of friendly nations provides another means of cooperation. This type of liaisoninvolving cooperation on counterterrorist operations, coordination on other specific operations, and the exchange of intelligence datahas been conducted with many Middle East countries, most particularly Israel. The CIA has also been involved as a diplomatic intermediary between nations, as was the case when senior CIA officials Kermit Roosevelt, James Jesus Angleton, and Miles Copeland provided a secret channel of communication between Egypt and Israel in 1954 and 1955. The CIA helped coordinate security arrangements made by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the late 1990s, and DCI George Tenet even offered his own plan for resolving the IsraelPalestinian conflict in June 2001.

The CIA was actively involved in stepped-up counterterrorist activities in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that were engineered by the al-Qaʿida network. CIA operatives were active in Afghanistan during the American invasion of that country beginning in October 2001, and one became the first American to die there as a result of hostile activity. They were also present in Iraq during and after the U.S. invasion in the spring of 2003. The inability of the American forces to find the chemical and biological weapons the United States had claimed the Iraqi regime was stockpiling led to criticism of the CIA's and other U.S. intelligence agencies' prewar intelligence. In February 2004, President George W. Bush called for an investigation into U.S. intelligence failures prior to the invasion.

see also bush, george walker; fadlallah, shaykh husayn; free officers, egypt; hizbullah; mossadegh, mohammad; pahlavi, reza; palestine liberation organization (plo); qaʿida, al-; roosevelt, kermit; zaʿim, husni al-.


Colby, William, and Forbath, Peter. Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA. New York: Bookthrift, 1978.

Marchetti, Victor, and Marks, John D. The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. New York: Dell, 1989.

Turner, Stansfield. Secrecy and Democracy: The CIA in Transition. Boston: HarperCollins, 1986.

Woodward, Bob. Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 19811987. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Kathleen M. Christison

Updated by Michael R. Fischbach

CIA Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T)

views updated May 29 2018

CIA Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T)


The Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T) is one of four directorates within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It provides support to the CIA mission through research, development, acquisition, and operation of technical capabilities and systems. DS&T also directs the Foreign Broadcast Information Service and the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC). Its most notable work, however, is its task as a "spy shop," in which some of the most innovative surveillance technology in historythe U-2 and A-12 spy planes, or the KH-11 and other satellites of the CORONA programwere first envisioned.

Early History

From the earliest days of CIA, itself created in 1947, scientific and technological support has been an important component of the agency's mission. The earliest ancestor of DS&T was the Office of Reports and Estimates, which in December 1948 merged with the Nuclear Energy Group of the Office of Special Operations to form the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI). The latter would remain the CIA's principal scientific research laboratory until 1962.

In researching his book on DS&T, The Wizards of Langley (2001), intelligence scholar Jeffrey T. Richelson accessed a host of documents that were once highly sensitive, but are now declassified. He posted a number of these at a permanent Web site associated with the George Washington University National Security Archive. One notable early example from the collection is a November 5, 1954, letter from Polaroid chief executive officer Edwin Land to Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Allen Dulles, urging him to develop a specialized aircraft that could fly at high altitudes and obtain ultra-high resolution photographs. From this letter and other early discussions would come the U-2, developed at Lockheed's Skunk Works facility in California.

Other documents from the 1950s show early CIA plans for the deployment of the first spy satellites. At that time, the Air Force had its own satellite project in the works, but the CIA's CORONA, launched in 1959, would prove much more successful, and would outlast the Air Force SAMOS program by a decade. Much less successful were CIA experiments with psychotropic drugs, including LSD, during the period 19491963. Richelson excerpted a January 1975 memo, written just before the CIA became the target for a series of congressional investigations, detailing those experiments, including the infamous MKULTRA program.

The 1960s. In 1962, OSI became the Deputy Directorate for Research, whose name was again changed to Deputy Directorate for Science and Technology in 1963. The directorate assumed its present name in 1965. During this period, the agency developed the A-12 Oxcart, which, though successful, never equaled the U-2 for accuracy. Its satellite programs continued to progress, yet as an NPIC photographic interpretation report from August 1962 showed, even the KH-4 satellite did not offer imagery any better than that obtained by the U-2.

A March 1967 memo, from which several details (including the recipient) were excised, provides an illustration of the folly that sometimes befell DS&T. The memorandum describes a project known as "Acoustic Kitty," whereby DS&T attempted to develop a mobile eavesdropping platform using a cat that had been surgically altered by cutting it open, inserting batteries, and wiring its tail to become an antenna. The unfortunate creature was run over by a taxi before it could be trained for its mission.

The 1970s. More indicative of DS&T's involvement in cutting-edge technology was a report from a June 1971 meeting of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in which President Richard M. Nixon, along Land (still highly involved with the Intelligence Community) and others, discussed the idea of developing a satellite that could return images in real time. Today, of course, such a concept is well known, but in an era when satellites still recorded images on film for viewing days or weeks later, the idea of a satellite that could instantaneously relay images to a ground station seemed farfetched. In December 1976, the vision discussed at this meeting was realized with the deployment of the KH-11 satellite.

Once again, documents selected by Richelson illustrate juxtaposition of scientific triumph with less successful undertakings. Even as KH-11 was being born, DS&T undertook experiments in "remote viewing," or the use of purported psychic knowledge to explore targets of interest that could not be glimpsed by ordinary means. According to a December 1975 report from Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, remote viewers "saw" a number of objects that, as shown by satellite photography, were not at the site in question. After the end of the Cold War, American scientists visiting the site discovered that it was being used to develop a nuclear-powered space rocket and notas remote viewers had supposedfor underground nuclear tests.

DS&T Today

Information about more recent DS&T activities is necessarily scanty, but these details from the first 30 years of CIA science and technology illustrate the breadth of activities with which it was associated in the past. As of 2003, the DS&T is tasked with collecting, assessing, and exploiting information to assist the agency in the execution of its mission by applying innovative scientific, technical, and engineering solutions to critical intelligence matters.

The workforce of DS&T incorporates some 50 different disciplines, ranging from computer scientists to engineers to linguists. These specialists develop, design, evaluate, and deploy highly specialized equipment intended to provide the United States with a significant advantage in intelligence and special operations.

DS&T is involved in a whole range of functions that support the entire intelligence cycle. These activities include collecting information and materials of intelligence value from foreign open sources, developing and deploying collection systems against the most challenging intelligence targets, supporting the National Reconnaissance Office in creating efficient satellite systems, providing state-of-the-art technologies for the clandestine collection of intelligence, and researching and developing advanced technologies to provide and maintain an advantage for the United States. In pursuit of these activities, DS&T in 2001 developed In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit corporation intended to seek information technology solutions to critical needs faced by CIA as a whole.



Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri, and Christopher M. Andrew. Eternal Vigilance? 50 Years of the CIA. Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1997.

Richelson, Jeffrey T. The U.S. Intelligence Community, fourth edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.

. The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001.


Goodman, Melvin A. "Science at the CIA." Issues in Science and Technology 18, no. 3 (spring 2002): 9093.

Mooney, Chris. "Spy Tech." The American Prospect 13, no. 2 (January 28, 2002): 3941.

Prados, John. "Understanding Central Intelligence." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58, no. 2 (March/April 2002): 6465.


Directorate of Science and Technology. Central Intelligence Agency. <> (April 24, 2003).

Richelson, Jeffrey T. Science, Technology and the CIA. National Security Archive, George Washington University. <> (April 24, 2003).


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Central Intelligence Agency

After December 7, 1941, when Japanese warplanes struck the island of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in a surprise attack, the United States vowed to improve its intelligence (secret information about an enemy or potential enemy) capabilities. An investigation into the Pearl Harbor bombing revealed that intelligence about a possible attack had been known in the lower levels of U.S. bureaucracy but had never been shared with the White House or military.

All efforts were focused on fighting and winning World War II (1939–45), but once it was over, U.S. president Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) proposed the creation of an agency that could provide the president and the administration with more accurate and better coordinated intelligence. The National Security Act of 1947 established the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to be led by a director.

The CIA would gather, evaluate, and share intelligence within the federal government. Its operators would report to the president of the United States via the newly created National Security Council (NSC). The CIA would also perform other functions and duties beyond those related to information collection and analysis. Almost immediately, one of those duties involved the fight against global communism . Communism is a political system in which the government controls all resources and means of producing wealth. By eliminating private property, this system is designed to create an equal society with no social classes. However, communist governments in practice often limit personal freedom and individual rights.

The Truman Doctrine

In 1947, President Truman outlined what became known as the Truman Doctrine , a plan that would guide American diplomacy for the next four decades. Truman explained that the United States had a responsibility to protect free people from being controlled by outside pressures. The CIA became a key factor in Truman's efforts to fight the spread of communism as it conducted covert (secret) operations.

Although never spelled out in detail in the National Security Act, the CIA's anticommunism mission quickly took on a life of its own. As the Cold War (1945–91; a war not of physical fighting, but of increased tension and competition) between the United States and the Soviet Union progressed, funding for the CIA's activities shifted from collection and analysis to covert operations. Its activities ranged from spying to outright violence, including secret wars fought against communists in places like Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The CIA also attempted to assassinate procommunist leaders in the developing world, among them, Fidel Castro (1926–) of Cuba. Assassination plots on the part of the CIA were wholly approved of until President Gerald R. Ford (1913–2006; served 1974–77) prohibited them by executive order in 1976.

Tarnished reputation

Although the CIA has proven to be a valuable tool for presidents both in time of war and peace, it has been harshly criticized for its activities. In 1973, CIA director James Schlesinger (1929–) commissioned reports on the illegal activities of the organization. The results of the reports, known as the “Family Jewels,” were published on the front page of the New York Times in 1974. According to the “Family Jewels,” the CIA had murdered numerous foreign leaders and had more than seven thousand American citizens under surveillance for their antiwar activities.

The CIA was involved in the biggest scandal of President Ronald Reagan 's (1911–2004; served 1981–89) time in office. In late 1986, it was discovered that the president's administration had made secret arrangements to provide funds to Nicaraguan contra (counterrevolutionary) rebels fighting the Sandinista (a political party that espoused beliefs similar to those of communism) government in Nicaragua. The funding came from the sale of weapons to Iran, a country that had captured American hostages and held them for more than a year. (See Iran Hostage Crisis .) Congress had outlawed the activity, but Reagan's administration ignored the law and proceeded with the secret operation.

When it was discovered that the CIA played a key role in the Iran-Contra Affair , Congress passed the Intelligence Authorization Act in 1991, which required an authorizing chain of command rather than giving all the power to the director. The act also redefined “covert operations” as secret missions in areas where the United States is neither openly nor apparently engaged.

The CIA has been at the center of numerous other controversies since its establishment in 1947.

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CIA Releases its ‘Family Jewels’

The American public had known for a long time that the CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (CIA) kept secrets. But it was not until 2007 that the intricate details of many of the most covert—and sometimes illegal—CIA operations were released to the general public for review. Pursuant to a 15-year-old Freedom of Information act (FOIA) request from Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive (NSA) made in 1992, 700 pages of long-sealed documents were finally declassified and tendered to the NSA on July 26, 2007. Over the years multiple FOIA requests had been filed, but only a few dozen heavily-censored pages had previously been declassified and released.

Out came the “family jewels”—hundreds of decades-old documents that provided insight and detail into CIA activities including assassination plans, illegal wiretapping and attempts to discover “spies” at political conventions. The released documents comprised not a comprehensive or orderly chronicle of CIA activities, but rather a collection of various internal memoranda, communications with Congress, and newspaper clippings, some of which contained deletions, and a number of blank pages.

Many of the documents stem from the 1970s and the troubled time surrounding Watergate, the scandal involving CIA officers E. Howard Hunt and James McCord who allegedly broke into and wiretapped the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The scandal caused then-president Richard M. Nixon to resign from office.

Senior CIA official William E. Colby apparently struggled to determine how much to reveal as he prepared agency testimony for congressional committee hearings investigating Watergate in 1973. According to internal memoranda, he was advised by a senior colleague to lean toward “candor” rather than “minimal factual response.” His then-boss, former CIA Director James R. Schlesinger, issued an internal order drafted by Colby to “report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or that have gone on in the past, which might be construed to be outside the legislative charter of this agency.”

Responses came in from various division heads, lower-level bureaucrats, and some retired operatives, outlining or explaining various incidents of illegal surveillance and other questionable activities. In the end, Colby's loose-leaf collection contained 693 pages of memoranda.

By September 1973, Colby had succeeded Schlesinger as CIA Director. On December 22, 1974, a front-page story leaked in the New York Times (“Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. Against Antiwar Forces, Other Dissidents During Nixon Years”) reporting on some of the CIA's activities. The article intimated that “a check of the CIA's domestic files ordered last year … produced evidence of dozens of other illegal activities … beginning in the fifties, including break-ins, wiretapping, and the surreptitious inspection of mail.”

Nine days later, on New Year's eve, 1974, Colby and the CIA general counsel John Warner met with the U.S. deputy attorney general and his associate to brief the Justice Department about incidents alluded to in the

Times story that presented “legal questions.” Colby also briefed President Gerald ford about Schlesinger's directive to compile the CIA's “skeletons” in the agency's closet. Weeks later, in February 1975, Colby and Schlesinger met with then Secretary of State/National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, who had previously advised President Ford that leaking of CIA secret activities was “worse than the days of McCarthyism.” Kissinger had already been warned by Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms that “these stories are just the tip of the iceberg,” citing, for example, Robert F. Kennedy's role in assassination plans.

Ultimately, the CIA internally combed its files for what it referred to as “delicate information” with “flap potential.” These became the “family jewels.” Some of the more controversial and intriguing examples of closeted jewels included:

—detention and confinement of Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko “that might be regarded as a violation of kidnapping laws;”

—surveillance and/or wiretapping of journalists, including syndicated columnists Robert Allen and Paul Scott and Washington Post reporter Michael Getler;

—break-ins and/or warrantless entries into the homes or apartments of former CIA employees;

—mail opening from 1953 to 1973 of letters to and from the Soviet Union;

—mail opening from 1969 to 1972 of letters to and from China;

—behavior modification experiments on unknowing U.S. citizens;

—assassination plots against Fidel Castro, Congo leader Patrice Lumumba, and inactive connections to plots against Trujillo;

—surveillance of dissident groups between 1967 and 1971;

—secret files kept on over 9,900 Americans related to the anti-war movement (the Viet Nam War) including Beatles singer John Lennon;

—testing of electronic surveillance equipment on U.S. telephone circuits.

Michael V. Hayden, the CIA director in 2007 (appointed in 2006), decided to release the “family jewels” in response to the 1992 FOIA request as a measure of good faith to show critics that the agency embraces openness when and where possible. In a note to agency employees, he referred to the release as part of a “social contract” with the American public “to give those we serve a window into the complexities of intelligence.” He also noted that the released papers included “reminders of some things the CIA should not have done” and pointed out the internal reforms and increased oversight that has occurred since Watergate.

The contents of released documents may be reviewed by the general public through the National Security Archive, and/or the National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 222, edited by Thomas Blanton.

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Doe v. Tenet

Many works of fiction describe the imagined lives of spies and turncoats, detailing the adventures of international espionage. However, the real lives of spies can reveal more mundane issues, including contractual issues between spies and the agencies that recruit them to betray their country. Such was the case in Doe v. Tenet, __U.S. __, __S.Ct. __, __ L.Ed.2d __ 2005 WL 473682 (2005), in which a married couple who had spied against their country on behalf of the United States sought to enforce a covert-espionage agreement that they had negotiated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of their lawsuit, ruling that a Civil War case forbids such suits.

The two foreign nationals, who filed suit anonymously as John and Jane Doe, alleged that John Doe had been a high-ranking diplomat for a country that was considered an enemy of the United States. When the couple approached the CIA about defecting to the United States, the CIA persuaded them to remain in their positions for a specified period and spy on behalf of the United States. In return, the CIA agreed to bring them to the United States and ensure their personal and financial security for the rest of their lives. After fulfilling their spy duties, the coupled eventually defected to the United States, where they were given new names and false backgrounds and were provided with personal security and financial assistance. The CIA helped to arrange a job for John Doe in the state of Washington. As Doe's salary increased, the CIA decreased its stipend, before ending it altogether with Doe's agreement. In 1997, after many years of employment, Doe was laid off. He could not find another job, in part because the CIA had placed restrictions on the type of employment he could hold. It was at that point that Doe asked again for financial assistance. When the CIA declined to resume the payments, citing lack of funds, the Does filed suit in federal court.

The Does alleged that they had been denied due process because the CIA had refused to grant them the benefits or a fair internal review process for consideration of their claims. They asked the court to order the CIA to make monthly payments to them pending an agency review, as well as to issue a declaratory judgment that would force the CIA to setup a fair administrative review process. The district court dismissed some of their claims but ruled that the Does could proceed with their due process claim. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court's decision and held the Does could proceed to trial on the claim. However, the appeals court stated the government had the right to assert a state-secrets privilege that could keep sensitive evidence out of the court record. The government then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, overturned the Ninth Circuit's decision. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the Court, stated that the case was governed by Totten v. United States, 92 U.S. 105, 23 L.Ed. 605 (1876). In that case, the administrator of William A. Lloyd's estate sued the U.S. government to recover compensation for Lloyd's purported service as a Civil War spy. Lloyd had supposedly made a contract with President Abraham Lincoln in July 1861 to conduct espionage behind Confederate lines concerning troop movements and fort plans. For his work he was to be paid $200 per month (a substantial amount at that time). The Court, while acknowledging that the President had the authority to make such agreements, ruled that the essence of the contract was that it was secret and had to remain secret. The Court noted that the agent and his employer had to know that "the lips of the other were to be for ever sealed respecting the relation of either to the matter." To disclose the existence of the contract "might compromise or embarrass our government in its public duties, or endanger the person or injure the character of the agent." Thus, the Totten Court held that a former spy could not enforce such a contract in a court of law.

Rehnquist stated that the appeals court had been wrong to not apply the Totten precedent. The Ninth Circuit had mistakenly limited the precedent to breach-of-contract claims, thereby allowing the due process claim to proceed. Rehnquist pointed out that Totten contained language that barred any suit in a court of law. Therefore, wrote Rehnquist, "no matter the clothing in which alleged spies dress their claims, Totten specifically precludes judicial review" in cases like the Does' "where success depends upon the existence of their secret espionage relationship with the Government." To deviate from this precedent would threaten to undermine ongoing covert operations and could induce "graymail" (i.e., a lawsuit or a threatened lawsuit that seeks to induce the defendant to settle a case out of fear of public disclosure of sensitive facts.)

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