About the CIA

About the CIA

THE Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) owes its creation to the 1947 National Security Act when then President Harry S. Truman signed the measure into law.  The statute created a special government body tasked to “collect, evaluate, and disseminate foreign intelligence to assist the president and senior US government policymakers in making decisions relating to the national security[1].”  Its powers and functions also include the authority to undertake special undercover operations, subject to the President’s directive and pursuant to prevailing laws.

The agency is governed by the Director of Central Intelligence who also acts as the President’s principal adviser with regard to national security intelligence matters.

Throughout its existence, the CIA has served the U.S. by providing and relevant intelligence data to various agencies and government bodies.  Its mandate has allowed it to operate behind the scenes in some of history’s more important and sensitive matters as well as engage in intelligence and counterintelligence measures across the globe, particularly in the areas of counterterrorism and during the Cold War era.

At present, the agency is divided into four parts, namely; (1) the Directorate of Intelligence, the (2) National Clandestine Service, the (3) Directorate of Science and Technology, and the (4) Directorate for Support.

The Directorate of Intelligence is the CIA arm that analyzes vital intelligence information and supplies it to high-level officers of the government.  For its part, the National Clandestine Service conducts counterintelligence and special operations as directed by the U.S. President.  The Directorate of Science and Technology, on the other hand, provides technical expertise and support to clandestine operations.  Lastly, Directorate for Support is more of the logistical arm of the agency.

History of the CIA

The CIA traces its shadowy beginnings back in 1942 during the Second World War when then President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Office of Strategic Services and appointed war veteran William J. Donovan to be its coordinator.  This is the first formal effort by the U.S. to put its intelligence efforts on a government-wide basis. The OSS then had power to gather and process strategic information. However, the OSS outlived its usefulness when World War II ended and its powers and functions were dispersed to another department.  It was only in 1947 that President Truman saw the necessity for a centralized intelligence organization to protect America’s security.

In 2004, the agency experienced some dynamic changes when the offices of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (DDCI) were abolished by President George W. Bush and replaced it with the positions of CIA Director and National Intelligence Director through the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, placing more thrusts to counterterrorism measures by the agency[2].

However, despite the creation of two new positions, the discretion to undertake in covert operation remains with Commander-in-chief.  Operations of such covert nature are considered when foreign policy objectives by the U.S. may not be met through the usual diplomatic channels[3].  The recommendation must be initiated by the National Security Council judges and there must be notice made to the Congressional intelligence oversight committees.  By engaging in undercover operations, the CIA believes that drastic military action may be avoided.


Numerous issues have sprung from the CIA’s extremely veiled existence and its propensity to engage in covert operation to the point of interfering in the domestic affairs of other sovereign.  Thus, giving rise to an unending series of protest to its objectives and methodology.

The agencies highly decorated history includes its detailed account of Red China’s development of its first nuclear device, the successful wiretapping of a Soviet army headquarters in East Berlin, and its discovery of Russian missile bases in Cuba[4].

The continuous intelligence activities of the CIA, particularly with regard to its foreign policy, have even placed former President Gerald Ford under public scrutiny.  Referring to America’s right to attempt to destabilize a foreign government, President Ford said in a press conference back in 1974, that “l am not going to pass judgment on whether it is permitted or authorized under international law. It is a recognized fact that historically as well as presently, such actions are taken in the best interest of the countries involved[5].”

On several occasions, the CIA has been accused of orchestrating assassinations and engaging in drug trafficking.  According to the CIA, the agency does not engage in such illicit activities as there have been insufficient facts or evidence to prove it and Executive Order 12333 of 1981 expressly prohibits them from doing so[6].  In the same vein, the law also prohibits the CIA from spying on its citizens since the main thrust of its intelligence efforts is on gathering information related to foreign intelligence and foreign counterintelligence.  However, in exceptional cases the agency may look into suspicious activities by persons who it believes is “involved in espionage or international terrorist activities[7].”  Yet, in spite of its vast network and tremendous effort in safeguarding the peace and welfare of the country, the CIA failed to avert the disastrous September 11 terrorist attack.

Interesting facts

Among the fascinating facts about the CIA is that its budget and workforce is known only to a privileged few.  The agency also provides as special security to the U.S. President.  And for security reasons, the agency only accommodates very limited visits for a few academic and civic groups.  However, a virtual tour is available at the agency’s website.  This year, the percentage of CIA recruits offered positions as undercover agents this year who are minorities reached a record high at 27%.  This is a noticeable development from last year’s 13%.[8]

[1] The CIA. ”About CIA FAQs”. The CIA website, April 12, 2007 The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. October 25, 2007. < https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/faqs/index.html >[2] The CIA. ”History of the CIA”. The CIA website, September 25, 2007 The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. October 25, 2007. < https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/history-of-the-cia/index.html>[3] The CIA. ”About CIA FAQs”. The CIA website, April 12, 2007 The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. October 25, 2007. < https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/faqs/index.html >[4] Time Magazine. “The Silent Service”. Time Magazine. Feb. 24, 1967[5] Frank Merrick. “The CIA: Time to Come In From the Cold”. Time Magazine. September 30, 1974[6] The CIA. ”About CIA FAQs”. The CIA website, April 12, 2007 The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. October 25, 2007. < https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/faqs/index.html >[7] Ibid.[8] Numbers. Time Magazine. October 4, 2007. Time Magazine < http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1668461,00.html> October 25, 2007