The historical context behind the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency was covered by the last article ‘What are the Historical Origins of the CIA?‘ That context was one of many problems faced by the US intelligence community and was instrumental in the creation of the CIA.
The CIA was created in the first instance to solve the historical problems that the US intelligence community had faced. The need for an intelligence agency that solved the problems of rivalry that existed between the various intelligence branches of the armed services and of the government was quite evident even before the increase in demand for intelligence during the Second World War. The CIA was not created simply because there was no significant co-ordinating and central body present to organise intelligence, but also because the US intelligence networks were far surpassed by those of its allies and of its enemies pre-World War Two. The development of the OSS during the war and the subsequent organisations resulting in the creation of the CIA can be seen as an attempt to solve this problem of a lack of a significant intelligence apparatus. The events and intelligence problems of the Second World War, especially highlighted by the Hoover Commission on the attack at Pearl Harbor, showed firstly the need for the CIA and secondly the areas of intelligence deficiency and inefficiency that the CIA would become involved in.
The National Security Act of 1947, that gave birth to the CIA, directed the CIA towards solving these problems. This National Security Act attempted to define the role of the CIA and to set out the functions that it was envisaged to do. However, it was rather limited in one respect. Although it defined the function of the CIA it was almost impossible to define the methods they were to employ in carrying out that function. This was largely due to the fact they were ‘indefinable and unorthodox methods.’
However, despite this problem there are several clear messages that stand out from the National Security Act of 1947. The CIA was to advise the National Security Council on intelligence relating to national security. This established a clear relationship between the CIA and the National Security Council. The National Security Act also stipulates that the CIA was to make recommendations for the co-ordination of intelligence activities to the NSC. The CIA was also to examine information and intelligence that related to national security and support other agencies and branches of government by disseminating the relevant information and intelligence. Linked to this support of other agencies is the idea that the CIA would perform functions that the NSC deemed better suited to a central organisation.
The National Security Act of 1947 did briefly stipulate some activities that the CIA was not to perform. That it should not have a police force, subpoena or law-enforcement powers. The National Security Act also significantly laid down that the CIA should not be engaged in ‘internal security functions.’ This was quite clearly an attempt to prevent the CIA, or those in control of it, from achieving power in the way that so many other tyrants had done. Most notably, as had been the case in Italy, Germany and the Soviet Union the intelligence apparatus had become much more than an apparatus for gathering intelligence. This was one aspect that people, not just those in government but also those on the street, were wary of. It was due to these fears that the legislation enacted in the 1947 National Security Act attempted to limit the role of the CIA.
However, the phrase ‘such other functions and duties’ allowed a rather large amount of space for the CIA to expand its operations into areas that the NSC ‘may from time to time direct’. This was Section 102 of the 1947 National Security Act that essentially gave the CIA scope to expand their operations in almost any direction and was what ‘created the furores in the United States and abroad.’ Clark Clifford wrote in ‘Counsel to the President’:
‘The ‘other’ functions the CIA was to perform were purposely not specified but we understood that they would include covert activities. We did not mention them by name because we felt it would be injurious to our national interest to advertise the fact that we might engage in such activities… In light of the continuing controversy over the role and activities of the CIA, it bears emphasizing that it was by act of Congress that the CIA was established and exists today, and it was by act of Congress that covert operations were authorised.’
There was clearly some difference in opinion over the role of the CIA especially referring to the ‘other functions’ that may be carried out, as noted by General Counsel Lawrence Houston, who stated:
‘…review of the debates indicates that Congress was primarily interested in an agency for coordinating intelligence and originally did not propose any overseas collection activities for the CIA… We do not believe that there was any doubt in the minds of Congress that the Central Intelligence Agency under this authority would take positive action for subversion and sabotage… It is our conclusion, therefore, that neither MO [morale operations, i.e. covert propaganda] or SO [special operations] should be undertaken without previously informing Congress and obtaining its approval of the functions and the expenditure of funds for these purposes.’
These statements were essentially admissions that there were indefinable areas of CIA activity and that there was in some areas no possible way to lay down its role as there were no precise standard operating procedures. This section of the 1947 National Security Act does, however, put the responsibility of these other functions and duties on the NSC. So although people are in theory accountable for such other functions of CIA activity, it is interesting to note that the President as a member of the NSC, and all other members being subordinate to him, does in effect have a relatively free rein over the actions of the CIA. Therefore the President can define a significant part of the role of the CIA. This was the case in the early years of the CIA and has been since. Despite attempts by legislators to further define the role of the CIA in the 1970s, there was no significant revision of the 1947 National Security Act and it ‘still remains, the conceptual basis for the existence of a Central Intelligence Agency, as well as for the manner in which it has operated’.
It is interesting to note that what has caused the most fear over CIA activity is not strictly its activities and role, but that of its secrecy. Groups worldwide who rightly or wrongly accuse the CIA, for whatever they need a scapegoat for, do so knowing the agency and its members will observe silence over CIA activities. This has unfortunately led to an assumption of guilt surrounding the CIA activities and their role. The policy of no denial and no conformation is kept simply to protect the intelligence networks they have, but it does have the effect of apparent guilt. Although many of the accusations are plausible and a smaller number of those probable, the policy has been upheld even in the face of obviously flawed accusations of ‘responsibility for poor skiing conditions at St Moritz’. However, the CIA and those who direct its activities are in theory ‘accountable to the American people through the intelligence oversight committees of the U.S. Congress.’
The 1947 National Security Act was not explicit in establishing any programme for intelligence activities. This was established through either executive order by the President or through National Security Council Intelligence Directives (NSCIDs). These were the most significant factors in determining what the specific tasks and role the CIA was to undertake. The 1947 National Security Act in conjunction with the Joint Chiefs of Staff created an intelligence operation known as the Joint Intelligence Group (J-2). However, the National Security Act of 1947 along with the NSCIDs and J-2 had created a decentralised intelligence apparatus in the Department of state and each military branch, which it would become the task of the CIA and Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) to co-ordinate.
That role specified within the National Security Act of 1947 was in line with the traditional view of what an intelligence organisation should do. This corresponded with the view that was held by Allen Dulles, DCI from February 1953 to 1961. He was the first civilian to hold the position of DCI, a veteran in the intelligence community having served in both the wars. He was Donovan’s wartime Chief of Mission in Bern during the Second World War and also the brother of John Foster Dulles who was Eisenhower’s Secretary of State. Due to him being one of the first DCIs, but also because of his experience and the connections he had, he held significant influence over the direction the CIA was to take in its early life. Dulles held the view that the CIA was to ‘collect information, assess facts, specify the conclusions in a manner that would enable other people, or agencies of government, to act intelligently and – hopefully – wisely.’ Dulles also held the view that the intelligence community and more specifically the CIA, should not get involved in anyway with policy formation and stated that ‘The Central Intelligence Agency should have nothing to do with policy.’ He also felt that the role of the CIA should be strictly limited to collating ‘the hard facts on which others must determine policy’. However, it was this period at the beginning of the Cold War, especially under Dulles, that the role of the CIA developed and deviated from that which was originally intended.
 Paine, L. The CIA at Work, (1977) Robert Hale London, UK. P. 17
 Wise, D. & Ross, T. The Invisible Government: The CIA and US Intelligence, (1974) Vintage Books, USA. 94
 Ibid. P. 94
 Op Cit. Paine, L. P. 20
 Op Cit. Wise, D. & Ross T. P. 94
 Ibid. P. 94
 Op Cit. Paine, L. P. 19
 Clifford, C. ‘Counsel to the President: A Memoir’, (1991) New York, P. 169 – 170. cited in Rudgers, D. ‘The Origins of Covert Action’, Journal of Contemporary History, (April 2000) Volume 35, Number 2. P. 249
 Houston to Hillenkoetter, 25 September 1947, FRUS, P. 622-3, cited in Rudgers, D. ‘The Origins of Covert Action’, Journal of Contemporary History, (April 2000) Volume 35, Number 2. P. 256
 Op Cit. Paine, L. P. 19
 Ibid. P. 21
 CIA Official Web Site, ‘About the CIA’, (February 2003), https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/index.html
 Fain, T. ‘The Intelligence Community: History, Origins, and Issues’, Public Documentary Series, (1977), R. R. Bowker Co. UK. P. 15
 Op Cit. Paine, L. P. 15-16
 Ibid. P. 17
 Ibid. P. 17
 Ibid. P. 17
Sam Hunter is the author of fiction novel Makaveli’s Prince.