Central Intelligence Agency

Fact Box

Central Intelligence Agency

Formed on September 18, 1947
Preceding agency- Office of Strategic Services
Headquarters- George Bush Center for Intelligence, Langley, Virginia
Director- David Petraeus
Employees- Classified (estimated 20,000)
Annual budget- Classified (1997 budget: $26.6 billion, 2005 intelligence budget: $44 billion)
Website- cia.gov

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has long been the nation’s top spy agency responsible for uncovering information about threats to the United States and carrying out operations to neutralize such threats. Born at the beginning of the Cold War, the CIA came of age at a time when the U.S. was in constant fear of being taken over by the Soviet Union, which produced a legacy of dirty deeds by the agency. Critics have questioned the effectiveness of the cloak-and-dagger agency, especially in recent times when former officials were caught selling American secrets to Russia, and the CIA leadership failed to warn of the attacks that were carried out on Sept. 11, 2001. That failure caused the CIA to lose some of its standing in Washington D.C., although the agency has worked hard to rebuild its trust by implementing some of the most controversial plans in the Global War on Terrorism campaign. It scored a success in 2011 with the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden, who was located in Pakistan, after more than a decade of intelligence tracking by the CIA.


The predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)  was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 to help the military garner intelligence in its battles against German, Italian and Japanese forces in World War II. The OSS reported to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and never possessed the broad intelligence-gathering mandate that the latter CIA enjoyed. The military branches continued to maintain their own spying operations, while the FBI maintained its jurisdiction over domestic counter-espionage.

The OSS’s creator and director, William Donovan, submitted to President Roosevelt in late 1943 a plan that would have separated the OSS from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and had it report directly to the President. Donovan’s idea also would have made the OSS a more powerful and centralized intelligence operation, instructed to “procure intelligence both by overt and covert methods,” determine national intelligence objectives and pull together all intelligence gathered by other government agencies. The heads of the military balked at turning over their espionage and counter-espionage operations to the OSS, but Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, agreed that the U.S. needed a stronger intelligence network to combat efforts by the Soviet Union to expand its influence in strategic regions.

In October 1945, two months after the end of World War II, the OSS was abolished and its functions transferred to the State and War Departments. This move was only temporary, as Truman established the Central Intelligence Group (pdf) in January 1946 to coordinate intelligence gathered by federal departments and to compliment these efforts by acquiring its own leads and details on foreign targets. The Central Intelligence Group operated under the direction of the National Intelligence Authority composed of a Presidential representative and the Secretaries of State, War and Navy. Rear Admiral Sidney Souers, U.S. Naval Reserve, who was the deputy chief of naval intelligence, was appointed the first Director of Central Intelligence.

Truman and his people weren’t entirely satisfied with this intelligence set up, and so in 1947 the Central Intelligence Group was replaced under the provisions of the landmark National Security Act of 1947 (pdf) with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The act also created the National Security Council (NSC).

The 1947 National Security Act largely mirrored what Donovan called for in 1944 for the OSS. It charged the CIA with coordinating the nation’s intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating and disseminating intelligence affecting national security. In addition, the CIA performed other duties instructed by the NSC as long as those actions did not require it to conduct any kind of domestic spying on Americans, which was forbidden. Two years later, the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949 established the policy of making the CIA’s budget secret from almost all government officials, making it difficult for members of Congress to maintain any kind of effective oversight of the agency’s clandestine operations. The same legislation exempted the CIA from having to disclose details about its organization, including names, titles, and salaries of employees.

With these rules in place, and an ever-growing worry over the perceived threat of Soviet spies targeting American interests, the CIA wasted little time in doing its part to implement the Truman Doctrine and get involved in clandestine operations that would come to define— and leave a legacy of ashes— during the Cold War. In fact, only one year after it was created, CIA officials embarked on a domestic operation— in spite of its own originating legislation not to—known as Operation Mockingbird that sought to influence American media by recruiting highly respected members of the press to either join the CIA or secretly help it shape the news. CIA operatives also focused on conditions inside Greece in the late 1940s to assess and thwart Communist efforts to seize control of the country’s central government.

It was the early 1950s that the CIA began to concentrate on covert operations. In 1951, Iran’s parliament decided to nationalize its oil industry, which, until then, had been under the control of British petroleum companies. The seizure of the oil fields was endorsed by Iran’s newly elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, whom the U.S. and British officials decided to target for overthrow. The CIA successfully carried out a clandestine operation that toppled Mossadegh in 1953 and installed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi in power, where he remained for the next 25 years until the Iranian revolution of 1979 forced the Shah out, leading to the seizure of the American embassy and 52 American hostages and leaving U.S.-Iranian relations in shambles for the next 30 years.

Because of its success in Iran, the CIA was emboldened to carry out another coup two years later in Guatemala. After the country’s president began to implement land reforms that threatened the holdings of the United Fruit Company, corporate officials went to the Eisenhower administration for help. The CIA’s Operation PBSuccess eliminated President Jacobo Arbenz and installed a US-friendly government that not only restored United Fruit’s interests, but also left a legacy of bitter fruit and death squads for Guatemalans.

Being two-for-two, CIA officials weren’t at all reluctant to take on another, even larger leftist target in Cuba once the Kennedy administration gave the go-ahead for the Bay of Pigs operation in 1961. That operation— aimed at removing from power the Communist government of Fidel Castro— was an unmitigated disaster for President Kennedy. But the failure didn’t slow down the CIA from trying to reshape other governments around the world. In the same year of the Bay of Pigs failure, the CIA played a role in the assassination of President Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, and in 1965, operatives in Indonesia helped replace the leftist Sukarno with the rightist Suharto, whose oppressive regime led to the massacre of an estimated one million Indonesians.

The CIA’s involvement in Vietnam from the early 1960s until the mid 1970s was another opportunity for the agency to conduct activities of a “questionable” nature. When the Kennedy administration grew weary of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, the CIA offered intelligence assessments on the prospects of a coup to remove Diem, which subsequently came about at the hands of the Vietnamese military. Even worse, the CIA implemented one of its most controversial operations with the Phoenix Program, in which supporters of the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam were targeted, tortured, and in some cases assassinated.

CIA spies also worked in neighboring Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. In Laos, CIA agents helped arm and train the Hmong people to fight a secret war against the country’s leftist government. That operation failed to destabilize the Communists in power and left many Hmong either dead or forced to flee the country for the United States.

In the 1970s, the CIA’s nefarious conduct finally was exposed as a result of several investigations, including the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, otherwise known as the Church Committee, after its chairman, Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho). Church’s committee reports  uncovered a dark treasure trove of illegal and unethical conduct by CIA agents that ranged from spying on Americans to assassinating foreign leaders. In the wake of the agency’s public exposure, Democratic President Jimmy Carter cut funding for the CIA, leaving the future of the spy office in doubt.

For the CIA’s Cold Warriors, the best thing that could have happened was the election of Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980. An ardent anti-Communist, Reagan had no qualms about unleashing the CIA to carry out espionage and other secret missions to support U.S. foreign policy. He entrusted the leadership of the much-maligned agency to his campaign manager, William Casey, who had worked for the OSS as a young man during the Second World War. Casey expanded the agency’s spy operations and reinstituted covert operations in strategic countries, such as Afghanistan (helping the mujahedeen battle the Soviet army), Poland (encouraging the Solidarity movement) and Nicaragua (undermining the leftist Sandinista government). The CIA’s activities in Nicaragua led to accusations that agents allowed Contra rebels fighting the Sandinistas to run narcotics that wound up on American streets, and that Casey was involved in the illegal diversion of monies from secret arms sales to Iran to help finance the Contras. Casey, however, died in 1987 from a brain tumor before the Iran-Contra independent prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, could interview him about his role in the scandal.

Because of the turmoil of Iran-Contra, CIA leadership after Casey failed to address speculation that the agency had a Russian spy, or “mole,” working inside it. During the 1980s, several important American spies operating in Soviet-bloc countries disappeared, and some intelligence officials worried that a turncoat had given the spies’ identity to the USSR. It wasn’t until 1994 that the FBI finally seized Aldrich Ames, one of the CIA’s top men and head of the agency’s counter-espionage division, who had been paid $2 million to deliver a huge cache of sensitive information about CIA operations to the Russians.

Lawmakers in Congress were outraged by the CIA’s incompetence in not discovering Ames sooner. Three years later, an even higher-ranking CIA official, Harold James Nicholson, was caught selling U.S. intelligence to Russia.

In addition to the exposure of Soviet moles, the agency suffered other embarrassing intelligence lapses as it struggled to reorient itself after the end of the Cold War and warn U.S. officials of the new threat: Islamic terrorists. Again and again, the CIA failed to uncover attacks against U.S. targets, from the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing to the 1998 twin attacks against US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya to the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.

Two of the aforementioned attacks happened on the watch of Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, who served under both President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, one of the few CIA directors to serve under two presidents from different parties. Tenet’s shop came under even more criticism following the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, as officials in Washington D.C., were astonished that such a large and complicated undertaking could be carried out without the CIA hearing about it beforehand. After the 9/11 commission released its findings about the attack and the failure of U.S. security agencies, including the CIA, to thwart it, President Bush and Congress adopted reforms that dramatically altered the agency’s role in national intelligence. The post of director of central intelligence was eliminated, with the CIA now led by a director who reported to the newly created Director of National Intelligence instead of to the President.

But the CIA did not cease from playing a vital role in the Bush administration’s effort to go after Islamic terrorists. Shortly after 9/11, the CIA established secret prisons in foreign countries to house and interrogate suspected terrorists (see Controversies), and agents played a role in torturing detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Under the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the CIA has maintained key intelligence and military roles in the war in Afghanistan, which includes an increased use of controversial CIA drone strikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets along the neighboring Pakistan border. (Drone production makes up $4.8-billion of the U.S. military budget.) U.S. relations with Pakistan have been strained as Pakistan has protested the drone attacks within its borders, which reportedly have killed a large number of civilians in collateral damage. Tensions were further fueled by the January 2011 murder of two Pakistani men by a CIA contractor, and the secret U.S. military incursion into Pakistani in May to kill Osama bin Laden. As evidence of deteriorating relations between the two countries, Pakistan ordered the closing of three intel fusion cellsPakistani liaison centers designed for U.S. intelligence-sharing pertaining to insurgent strongholds.

CIA operatives were also sent into Libya in early 2011 to meet with rebels and gather intelligence in support of NATO airstrikes against the forces of Colonel Moammar Khadafi.

An increasingly militarized CIA found itself with a U.S. Army General at its helm, as David Petraeus replaced Leon Panetta as head of the agency in September 2011.

What it Does

Once America’s premier spy agency, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) continues to play a key role in the country’s pursuit of information that warns of threats to the United States, its citizens and vital interests. The CIA is responsible for collecting intelligence through human sources (spies) as well as various forms of technology. The agency passes on the information it gathers to members of the Intelligence Community and to the Director of National Intelligence.

Although most of its work is classified, the CIA does provide some information about itself on the Internet. The agency performs most of its duties through one of four divisions:

  • The Directorate of Intelligence (DI) maintains a large staff of analysts who examine a wide variety of information that is collected by the CIA and other sources to keep watch on key countries, events and people around the world. DI produces, among other things, the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) and the World Intelligence Review (WIRe). The directorate is structured in 12 regional or topical offices. Four concentrate on regional political and economic issues, six offices examine broad transnational issues and two focus on policy and collection support. The DI also supports a selection of other analytic programs. DI offices consist of:

    • The CIA Crime and Narcotics Center, which collects and analyzes information on international narcotics trafficking and organized crime for policymakers and the law enforcement community.
    • The CIA Weapons, Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center, which provides intelligence support on strategic threats involving foreign weapons.
    • The Counterintelligence Center Analysis Group, which identifies, monitors and analyzes foreign intelligence operations that try to spy on U.S. persons, activities, and interests.
    • The Office of Terrorism Analysis, which serves as the analytic component of the CIA Counterterrorism Center. The office tracks terrorists, assesses their vulnerabilities by analyzing their ideology and goals, capabilities, associates and locations, analyses worldwide terrorist threat information and patterns to provide warnings aimed at preventing terrorist attacks, monitors worldwide terrorism trends and patterns, including emerging and nontraditional terrorist groups, evolving terrorist threats and possible collusion between terrorist groups and identifies, disrupts and prevents international financial transactions that support terrorist networks and operations.
    • The Office of Asian Pacific, Latin American, and African Analysis, which studies the political, economic, leadership, societal and military developments in Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
    • The Office of Collection Strategies and Analysis, which provides comprehensive intelligence collection expertise to the DI, a wide range of senior CIA and Intelligence Community officials and key national policymakers.
    • The Office of Iraq Analysis, which provides multidisciplinary intelligence analysis on Iraq to the President and his top advisors.
    • The Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis, which provides policymakers with comprehensive analytic support on Middle Eastern and North African countries as well as on the South Asian nations of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
    • The Office of Russian and European Analysis, which provides intelligence support on Russia and Europe.
    • The Information Operations Center Analysis Group, which evaluates foreign threats to U.S. computer systems, particularly those that support critical infrastructures.
    • The Office of Policy Support, which customizes DI analysis and presents it to a wide variety of policy, law enforcement, military and foreign liaison recipients.
    • The Office of Transnational Issues, which utilizes a broad range of experts to address threats to U.S. energy and economic security, illicit financial activities, societal conflicts, humanitarian crises, global health and the strategic military and global information environment.

 Other Analytic Programs run by DI:

  • The Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis, which serves as the DI’s component of CIA University and provides basic analytic training and more advanced courses in specialized skills. The Career Analyst Program is the DI’s basic training program and introduces all new employees to the basic thinking, writing and briefing skills. Segments include analytic tools, counterintelligence issues, denial and deception analysis, and warning skills. The Kent School also offers a wide range of intermediate- and advanced-level training for analysts and managers on analytic methodologies, substantive issues, and leadership skills.
  • The Global Futures Partnership, which functions as the CIA’s think tank, or as the agency puts it, a strategic “think and do tank.” It conceptualizes and implements interdisciplinary and multi-organizational projects on key intelligence issues with leading thinkers from academia, business, strategy, and intelligence consultants.
  • The Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, which examines those movements and organizations that use religion for political purposes and use religious ideology to attempt to change the existing political, social or economic order. The CIA claims that the program “does not focus on Islam as a religion or on the worldwide Muslim community.”
  • National Clandestine Service operates the CIA covert operations and conducts counterintelligence and special activities as authorized by the President. Once known as the Directorate of Operations, the clandestine service houses the CIA’s elite spies and coordinates the human intelligence (HUMINT) services which involve working with other agencies including the FBI, the Diplomatic Security Service, Defense Intelligence Agency, Air Intelligence Agency, Army Intelligence and Security Command, Marine Corps Intelligence Activity and Office of Naval Intelligence.
  • Directorate of Science & Technology is where “the magic happens” in the CIA. Composed of scientists, engineers and other specialists, this division works on new technology to help the agency better collect information. According to the National Security Archive at George Washington University, S&T has helped design and operate the nation’s spy satellites as well as spy planes like the U-2 and A-12. The division was also responsible for failed efforts like using experimental drugs to extract information from human sources, designing poison pens and exploding seashells to assassinate Fidel Castro and employing psychics to report on activities at Soviet military facilities by using “remote viewing.”
  • Directorate of Support is, as its name implies, the CIA’s support wing that performs various duties to help the agency carry out its missions. It builds and operates facilities and communications networks and secures CIA buildings, people, data and networks from threats. The directorate also hires, trains and assigns CIA officers for every directorate in the agency and manages the CIA’s business contracts and acquisitions, financial services, administrative support, and phone company.

Where Does the Money Go?

Because the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) budget is classified, there are no public records of how the agency spends its money. Even the Government Accountability Office, the federal government’s top watchdog agency, has not audited the CIA since the 1960s due to restrictions on the agency’s financial data.

It has been reported that the CIA has paid for contractors—who make up one third of the agency’s workforce—to help conduct its missions. According to one published account, some contractors have worked with detainees held in Afghanistan, and in one instance, a contractor was convicted of murdering an individual held in custody on a US military base (see Controversies). Former CIA Director Michael Hayden testified before Congress in 2008 that some contractors have participated in “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a.k.a. torture). During his first week as U.S. President in 2008, President Barack Obama banned the CIA’s use of such interrogation methods.

It also has been reported that Booz Allen Hamilton, a private firm that specializes in intelligence-related services for the U.S. government, has provided extensive services to the CIA. The company claims to provide war-gaming, data-mining, analysis of imagery and intelligence picked up by U.S. spy satellites and design of code-breaking systems.

Another company that has performed work for the CIA is Tepper Aviation, whose fleet of transport planes have been used to fly detainees to secret prisons run by the CIA. The agency has also used Aero Contractors Ltd. for such operations. 

Hayden publicly stated that he intended to hire fewer contractors in response to pressure from Congress to cuts costs within the agency. The initiative sought to reduce the contractor workforce by 10% by the end of Fiscal Year 2008 and end the practice of “bidding back,” in which employment agencies hire retired CIA employees and sell their services back to the agency while they collect their government pensions. In April 2009, CIA Director Leon Panetta announced his decision toban the CIA’s use of contractors for prisoner interrogations and security.


  • http://www.allgov.com/departments/independent-agencies/central-intelligence-agency-cia?agencyid=7293