Central Intelligence Agency

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The CIA Seal
The CIA Seal

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is an American intelligence agency, responsible for obtaining and analyzing information about foreign governments, corporations, and individuals, and reporting such information to the various branches of the U.S. Government.

Its headquarters are in the community of Langley in the McLean CDP of Fairfax County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.. The CIA is part of the American Intelligence Community, which is now led by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The roles and functions of the CIA are roughly equivalent to those of the British MI6, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, or the Israeli Mossad.




Original sign with seal from the CIA's first building on E Street in Washington, DC
Original sign with seal from the CIA's first building on E Street in Washington, DC

The Agency, created in 1947 by President Harry S. Truman, is a descendant of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) of World War II. The OSS was dissolved in October 1945 but William J. Donovan (aka Wild Bill to both his friends and enemies), the creator of the OSS, had submitted a proposal to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 calling for a new organization having direct Presidential supervision, "which will procure intelligence both by overt and covert methods and will at the same time provide intelligence guidance, determine national intelligence objectives, and correlate the intelligence material collected by all government agencies." Despite strong opposition from the military, the State Department, and the FBI, Truman established the Central Intelligence Group in January 1946. Later under the National Security Act of 1947 (which became effective on September 18, 1947) the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency were established.

In 1949, the Central Intelligence Agency Act (also called "Public Law 110") was passed, permitting the agency to use confidential fiscal and administrative procedures and exempting it from many of the usual limitations on the use of federal funds. The act also exempted the CIA from having to disclose its "organization, functions, officials, titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed." It also created a program called "PL-110" to handle defectors and other "essential aliens" outside normal immigration procedures, as well as give those persons cover stories and economic support. [1]

During the first years of its existence, other branches of government did not exercise much control over the Agency. This was often justified by a desire to defeat and match the activities of the KGB across the globe, a task that many believed could only be accomplished through an equally ungentlemanly approach. As a result, few in government inquired too closely into CIA activity. The rapid expansion of the Agency and a developing sense of independence under DCI Allen Dulles added to this trend.

Things came to a head in the early 1970s, around the time of the Watergate affair. One dominant feature of political life during this period were the attempts of the Democratic Congress to extend its powers and oversight over other branches of government. Revelations about past CIA activities provided both the opportunity and the motive to carry out this process in the sphere of intelligence operations. The involvement of ex-CIA agents in the Watergate break-ins and the fact Nixon tried get the CIA to block Watergate investigations by appointing James R. Schlesinger as DCI hastened the Agency's fall from grace.

Schlesinger had commissioned a series of reports on past CIA wrongdoing produced while he was DCI. These reports, known euphemistically as "the Family Jewels", were kept close to the Agency's chest until an article by Seymour Hersh in the New York Times broke the news that the CIA had been involved in the assassination of foreign leaders and kept files on some seven thousand American citizens involved in the peace movement (Operation CHAOS). Commissions were ordered and the CIA fiercly investigated. Around the christmas of 1974/5, another blow was struck by Congress when they blocked covert intervention in Angola.

The CIA was subsequently somewhat emasculated. While collection of foreign intelligence on U.S. citizenry has always been prohibited by its charter, the restrictions and oversight of the 1970s cut into the CIA's intelligence-gathering powers at home. Any such operation against a U.S. citizen must fall within its counterespionage or antiterrorist purview and requires senior approval, up to and including the Director of National Intelligence or the Attorney General for certain operations.

The entrance of the new CIA Headquarters
The entrance of the new CIA Headquarters

Today, the Central Intelligence Agency reports to U.S. Congressional committees but also answers to the President directly. The National Security Advisor is a permanent cabinet member responsible for briefing the President on pertinent information collected from all U.S. intelligence agencies including the National Security Agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and others.

Some critics have charged that this violates the requirement in the U.S. Constitution that the federal budget be openly published.

In 1988, President George H. W. Bush became the first former head of the CIA to become President of the United States.

On January 25, 1993, Mir Amir Kansi murdered 2 people and injured 3 others in their cars in front of CIA headquarters in Langley. Kansi was later captured and was executed in 2002.


CIA activities fall into four categories. The Directorate of Intelligence (DI) deals with the collection and processing of information on foreign targets. The National Clandestine Service, a semi-independent service which was formerly the Directorate of Operations, is responsible for the clandestine collection of foreign intelligence and covert action. The Directorate of Science and Technology creates and applies innovative technology in support of the intelligence collection mission. Finally, the Directorate of Support ensures the smooth running of the Agency as a whole.

Relationship with other agencies

The CIA has strong links with other intelligence organisations, namely its Canadian counterpart, CSIS, which is headed by Jim Judd. The CIA acts as the primary American provider of central intelligence estimates. It makes use of the surveillance satellites of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the signal interception capabilities of the NSA, including the Echelon system, the surveillance aircraft of the various branches of the U.S. armed forces and the analysts of the State Department and Department of Energy. At one stage, the CIA even operated its own fleet of U-2 surveillance aircraft. The agency has also operated alongside regular military forces, and also employs a group of clandestine officers with paramilitary skills in its Special Activities Division. Micheal Spann, a CIA officer killed in November 2001 during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, was one such individual.

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

The head of the CIA is given the title Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (DCIA).

Before April 21, 2005, the DCIA was known as the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and was not only the head of the CIA but also the leader of the entire U.S. Intelligence Community. In this role, he was the President's principal advisor on intelligence matters until introduction of the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was created in response to the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.

The current Director of the CIA is Porter Goss, who was nominated by President George W. Bush on 10 August 2004 and was confirmed by the Senate on 21 September. Goss inherits the post previously held by John E. McLaughlin, who served as interim director after longtime director George Tenet resigned on 3 June 2004 and left the post on 11 July. Goss previously served as head of the House Intelligence Committee as a representative from Florida.

Historical operations

Eastern Europe

In its earliest years the CIA and its predecessor, the OSS, attempted to rollback Communism in Eastern Europe by supporting local anti-communist groups; none of these attempts met with much success. In Poland the CIA spent several years sending money and equipment to an organization invented and run by Polish intelligence. It was more successful in its efforts to limit Communist influence in France and Italy, notably in the 1948 Italian election.

It has now been firmly established (see references below) that the OSS actively recruited and protected many high ranking Nazi officers immediately following World War II, a policy that was carried on by the CIA. These included, the CIA now admits, the notorious "butcher of Lyon" Klaus Barbie, Hitler's Chief of Soviet Intelligence General Reinhard Gehlen, and numerous less-renowned Gestapo officers. General Gehlen, due to his extensive (if dubious) intelligence assets within the Soviet Union, was allowed to keep his spy-network intact after the war in the service of the United States. The Gehlen organization soon became one of America's chief sources of Intelligence on the Soviet Union during the cold war, and formed the basis for what would later become the German intelligence agency the BND.

Third World

With Europe stabilizing along the line of the Iron Curtain, the CIA then moved in the 1950s to try and limit the spread of Soviet influence elsewhere around the globe, especially in the Third World. With the encouragement of DCI Allen Dulles, clandestine operations quickly came to dominate the organisation. Initially they proved very successful: in Iran in 1953 (see Operation Ajax) and in Guatemala in 1954 (see Operation PBSUCCESS), CIA operations, with little funding, played a major role in ensuring pro-American governments ruled those states. Often, as in these two cases, success in these operations came at the expense of democratically elected governments.

In 1965, the President of Indonesia, Sukarno was ousted in a coup d'état supported by the CIA, led by Suharto. The overthrow of Sukarno by the CIA and Suharto resulted in a nationwide purge of some 500,000 suspected Communists, most of whom were peasants. The CIA secretly supplied Suharto's troops with a field communications network. Flown in at night by US Air Force planes from the Philippines, this was state-of-the-art equipment, whose frequencies were known to the CIA and the National Security Agency. Not only did this technology allow Suharto's generals to coordinate the killings, it also meant that the highest echelons of the US administration were listening in. Suharto was able to seal off large areas of the country.

Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations officer at the time, described the ousting of Sukarno in Indonesia as a "model operation" for the US-run coup that got rid of the democratically elected Salvador Allende in Chile seven years later. [2]

The limitations of covert action became readily apparent during the CIA organized Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in 1961. The failure embarrassed the CIA and the United States on the world stage, as Cuban leader Fidel Castro used the botched invasion to consolidate power and strengthen ties with the Soviet Union.

CIA operations became less ambitious after the Bay of Pigs, and shifted to being closely linked to aiding the U.S. military operation in Vietnam. Between 1962 and 1975, the CIA organized a Laotian group known as the Secret Army and ran a fleet of aircraft known as Air America to take part in the Secret War in Laos, part of the Vietnam War.

The CIA continued to involve itself in Latin America. During the early 1970s, the CIA conducted operations to prevent the election of Salvador Allende in Chile. When these operations failed, the CIA supported Allende's Chilean opponents, who would eventually overthrow him in a coup. In the early 1980s, the CIA funded and armed the Contras in Nicaragua, forces opposed to the Sandinista government in that country, until the Boland Amendment forbade the agency from continuing their support. This support resulted in a World Court decision in the case Nicaragua v. United States ordering the United States to pay Nicaragua reparations. In 1993, with support of the U.S. government, Colombia created the Search Block to locate and kill Pablo Escobar.

In 1996, journalist Gary Webb wrote a series of exposes for the San Jose Mercury News, entitled "Dark Alliance," in which he uncovered a massive CIA operation that allowed Central American narcotics traffickers to import crack cocaine to US cities in the 1980s. Internal government investigations supported Webb's reporting.


Defectors such as former agent Philip Agee have alleged that such CIA covert action is extraordinarily widespread, extending to propaganda campaigns within countries allied to the United States. The agency has also been accused of participation in the illegal drug trade, notably in Laos, Afghanistan, and Nicaragua. It is known to have attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, most notably Fidel Castro, though since 1976 a Presidential order has banned such "executive actions," except during wartime.

In 1996, the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence issued a congressional report estimating that the clandestine service part of the intelligence community "easily" breaks "extremely serious laws" in countries around the world, 100,000 times every year. [3]

In a briefing held September 15, 2001, George Tenet presented the Worldwide Attack Matrix: A "top-secret" document describing covert CIA anti-terror operations in 80 countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The actions, underway or being recommended, would range from "routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks." The plans, if carried out, "would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history." [4]

On November 5, 2002, newspapers reported that Al-Qaeda operatives in a car traveling through Yemen had been killed by a missile launched from a CIA-controlled Predator drone (a medium-altitude, remote-controlled aircraft). On May 15, 2005, it was reported [5] that another of these drones had been used to assassinate Al-Qaeda figure Haitham al-Yemeni inside Pakistan.

In June 2005, two events occurred that may shape CIA operations for years to come.

Arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents were issued in Italy. The agents are alleged to have taken a suspected Egyptian militant from Milan on 17 February 2003 for extraordinary rendition to Egypt, where according to his relatives of the cleric, he was allegedly tortured. The removal of the militant wasn't unusual except that it was conducted without the approval of the Italian government. Similar operations of this sort have occurred worldwide since 9/11, the vast majority with at least tacit approval by the national government. Additionally, it allegedly disrupted Italian attempts to penetrate the militant's Al Qaeda network [6]. The New York Times reported soon after that it is highly unlikely that the CIA agents involved would be extradited, despite the US-Italy bilateral treaty regarding extraditions for crimes that carry a penalty of more than a year in prison. The agents involved in the operation are also reported to have booked lavish hotels during the operation and taken taxpayer-funded vacations after it was complete. [7]

Soon after, President Bush appointed the CIA to be in charge of all human intelligence and manned spying operations. This was the apparent culmination of a years old turf war regarding influence, philosophy and budget between the Defense Intelligence Agency of The Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. The Pentagon, through the DIA, wanted to take control of the CIA's paramilitary operations and many of its human assets. The CIA, which has for years held that human intelligence is the core of the agency, successfully argued that the CIA's decades long experience with human resources and civilian oversight made it the ideal choice. Thus, the CIA was given charge of all US human intelligence, but as a compromise, the Pentagon was authorized to include increased paramilitary capabilities in future budget requests.

Despite reforms which have led back to what the CIA considers its traditional principal capacities, the CIA Director position has lost influence in the White House. For years, the Director of the CIA met regularly with the President to issue daily reports on ongoing operations. After the creation of the post of the National Intelligence Director, currently occupied by John Negroponte, that practice has been discontinued in favor of the National Intelligence Director, with oversight of all intelligence, including DIA operations outside of CIA jurisdiction, giving the report. Current CIA Director Porter Goss denies this has had a diminishing effect on morale, in favor of promoting his singular mission to reform the CIA into the lean and agile counter-terrorism focused force he believes it should be.

Support for foreign dictators

Recruitment poster
Recruitment poster

The activities of the CIA have caused considerable political controversy both in the United States and in other countries, often nominally friendly to the United States, where the agency has operated (or been alleged to). Particularly during the Cold War, the CIA supported various dictators, including the infamous Augusto Pinochet, who have been friendly to perceived U.S. geopolitical interests (namely anti-Communism), sometimes over democratically-elected governments.

Often cited as one of the American intelligence community's biggest blunders is the CIA involvement in equipping and training Mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan in response to the Soviet invasion of the country. Many of the Mujahedeen trained by the CIA later joined Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor under President Carter, has discussed U.S. involvement in Afghanistan in several publications.

The CIA facilitated the so-called Reagan Doctrine, channelling weapons and other support (in addition to the Mujahedeen and the Contras) to Jonas Savimbi's UNITA rebel movement in Angola in response to Cuban military support for the MPLA, thus turning an otherwise low-profile African civil war into one of the larger battlegrounds of the Cold War.

Quote: "...100,000 times a year...engage in highly illegal activities"

"A safe estimate is that several hundred times every day (easily 100,000 times a year) DO officers engage in highly illegal activities (according to foreign law) that not only risk political embarrassment to the US but also endanger the freedom if not lives of the participating foreign nationals and, more than occasionally, of the clandestine officer himself. In other words, a typical 28 year old, GS-11 case officer has numerous opportunities every week, by poor tradecraft or inattention, to embarrass his country and President and to get agents imprisoned or executed. Considering these facts and recent history, which has shown that the DCI, whether he wants to or not, is held accountable for overseeing the CS, the DCI must work closely with the Director of the CS and hold him fully and directly responsible to him." --The Intelligence Community in the 21st Century Staff Study Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence House of Representatives One Hundred Fourth Congress Parenthesis from the original. 'DO' stands for Directorate of Operations

Criticism for ineffectiveness

The agency has also been criticized for ineffectiveness as an intelligence gathering agency. These criticisms included allowing a double agent, Aldrich Ames, to gain high position within the organization, and for focusing on finding informants with information of dubious value rather than on processing the vast amount of open source intelligence. In addition, the CIA has come under particular criticism for failing to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union and India's nuclear tests or to forestall the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Conversely, proponents of the CIA respond by stating that only the failures become known to the public, whereas the successes cannot be known until decades have passed. Immediate release of successful operations would reveal operational methods to foreign intelligence, which could affect future and/or ongoing missions. Some successes for the CIA include the U-2 and SR-71 programs, anti-Soviet operations in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s (though with the serious downsides noted earlier, the ultimate worth of these operations is open to considerable debate), and perhaps others which may not come to light for some time.

CIA operations in Iraq

According to some sources [8] [9] [10] [11] the CIA appears to have supported the 1963 military coup in Iraq and the subsequent Saddam Hussein-led government up until the point of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. U.S. support was premised on the notion that Iraq was a key buffer state in relations with the Soviet Union. There are court records [12] indicating that the CIA gave military and monetary assistance to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. The CIA were also involved in the failed 1996 coup against Saddam Hussein (see Iyad Allawi).

In 2002 an unnamed source, quoted in the Washington Post, says that the CIA was authorized to undertake a covert operation, if necessary with help of the Special Forces, that could serve as a preparation for a full-scale military attack of Iraq. [13]

It became widely known that the basis of the second Gulf War in 2003 was erroneous intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons capability. The term "Weapons of mass deception" (WMD) was famous around the world and was frequently used to deride those who had initiated the war with Iraq, notably George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

The unreliability of U.S. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have been a focus of intense scrutiny in the U.S. In 2004, the continuing armed resistance against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the widely perceived need for systematic review of the respective roles of the CIA, FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency are prominent themes. On July 9, 2004 the Senate Report of Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq of the Senate Intelligence Committee stated that the CIA described the danger presented by weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in an unreasonable way, largely unsupported by the available intelligence. [14]

Secret CIA Prisons

A story by reporter Dana Priest published in The Washington Post of November 2, 2005, reported that "The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement."[15]

The report contends that the CIA has a worldwide covert prison system with facilities in Asia, Eastern Europe, and in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The system is central to the agency's anti-terror role, and according to the report has been kept secret from government officials (including Congressional committees that oversee the CIA) through the agency's own efforts as well as cooperation with foreign intelligence services.

Priest's story continues:

  • "The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country...The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents."

The BBC has followed up on these reports and confirmed that there is credible evidence of covert prisons. [16]

Trent Lott also seems to have confirmed their existance. [17]

On November 8, 2005 US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert called for a joint leak probe by the Senate and House intelligence committees into the disclosure of these alledeged secret CIA facilities in a letter. In their letter (If the Post story is correct) "such an egregious disclousure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consenquences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks."[18]

The letter went on to state: "What is the actual and potential damage done to the national security of the United States and our partners in the global war on terror?"


Other Government Agency or OGA is reportedly slang for the CIA, as is The Agency and The Company.

A pejorative term for people who work for the CIA or other intelligence agencies is often "spook"; the phrase "Virginia farmboys" is also occasionally used.

One of the CIA's publications, the CIA World Factbook, is unclassified and is indeed made freely available without copyright restrictions because it is a work of the United States federal government. Much of the demographic information presented in Wikipedia is drawn from this publication.

Further reading

See also

CIA insiders and whistleblowers

Other Countries

Main article List of intelligence agencies




United Kingdom

External links

Official websites and documents


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