CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency)

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

President Bush, right, and George Tenet, left, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, pause at the entrance to agency headquarters on the way to a speech in March, 2001, in which the president thanked CIA employees for their service and spoke of the importance of intelligence collection and analysis in a world that includes many new threats to U.S. security. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS.
President Bush, right, and George Tenet, left, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, pause at the entrance to agency headquarters on the way to a speech in March, 2001, in which the president thanked CIA employees for their service and spoke of the importance of intelligence collection and analysis in a world that includes many new threats to U.S. security.

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.



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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

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