The United States Intelligence Community from World War II to the Present
The enormous political and economic changes of the years since the Second World War have dramatically changed the way governments collect and use intelligence. During that period of time, the United States went from a nation with only a small, primarily wartime intelligence community, to a state in possession of an extensive national security apparatus. The “national security state” arose first in response to the perceived threat of communism, and eventually grew to encompass many other potential dangers. Terrorism, economic espionage, as well as rogue states and foreign domestic disturbances are now included within the purview of the contemporary American intelligence community. Numerous reforms of America’s intelligence system have been implemented, the most significant being those of the period just after World War II, again in the 1970s, and most recently, those that followed in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the Iraq War. These changes to the intelligence community have come largely in the form of reactions to altered circumstances and greater public awareness of threats real and perceived. In each case, the United States intelligence community has been transformed in ways that might have seemed inconceivable only a short time before.
During the Second World War, the primary goal of the United States intelligence community had been the obtaining of information that would be useful in the prosecution of the war against Nazi Germany, Japan, and their allies. With the War’s end, the office of Strategic Services was disbanded, to be replaced the national Intelligence Authority, or NIA, and its operative arm, the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA. 1 The National Security Act of 1947 established the formal organization and purpose of this new post-war intelligence community. The Central Intelligence Agency would be accorded the following five chief functions:
To advise the National Security Council in matters concerning such intelligence activities of the government departments and agencies as relate to national security
To make recommendations to the National Security Council for the coordination of such intelligence activities of the departments and agencies of the government as relate to national security
To correlate and evaluate the intelligence relating to national security, and to provide for the appropriate dissemination of such intelligence within the Government, using, where appropriate, existing agencies and facilities
To perform for the benefit of existing intelligence agencies such additional services of common concern as the National Security Council determines can be more effectively accomplished centrally
To perform other such functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct 2
By 1947, communism had come to dominate among the perceived threats to American national security. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Soviet Union had emerged as the sole major rival to American power. Joseph Stalin’s communist regime controlled directly, or through satellite states, virtually all of Eastern Europe, much of central Europe, and a huge swath of Northern and Central Asia. As shown by the notorious “communist witch hunts,” led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, ordinary Americans greatly feared the proliferation of communist ideology, and with it, the establishment of an encircling network of Soviet allies. In 1949, mainland China, too, became communist under the People’s Republic of China, and the American intelligence community seemed to set to battle the forces of a vigorous, and triumphant international communist movement. Much as the senator from Wisconsin took it upon himself to shape American domestic policy in the direction of an anti-communist crusade, the presidents of the United States assumed increasing powers to direct the nation’s foreign policy, its overt, and covert, wars. Originally under control of the State Department, the country’s security apparatus quickly came to be dominated by the president’s own personally appointed national security staff, giving to the chief executive unprecedented power to control the collection and usage of sensitive information, and a far-reaching ability to shape and manage global affairs. 3
The CIA was barred from conducting domestic operations, and so concentrated on conducting psychological operations, for example, in Eastern Europe. 4 The Agency’s Office of Policy Coordination, or OPC, conducted covert operations all over the world. Starting off with a staff of 300, in 1949, the agency counted more than 6000 operatives by the end of the Korean War. 5
The Central Intelligence Agency’s increasing emphasis on clandestine paramilitary operations exacerbated political situations around the world. The Bay of Pigs, though not the first of these operations, was one of the more notable. America’s presidents were developing a test for hidden machinations that not infrequently led the country into international crises, or even worse, open war. The failure of the Bay of Pigs operation erupted in scandal, but still the national security community suffered from few restrictions – Congress remained averse to interfere in its affairs, and the chief executive’s supposed prerogatives. 6
Yet Vietnam and Watergate would prove the undoing of the old CIA, and bring dramatic changes to the way the nation handled its national security. After years of acquiescing to presidential power grabs that had given the White House almost a free hand in the conduct of war and foreign policy, 7 Congress at last reacted to what it saw as the provocations of the Vietnam War and President Nixon’s unilateral policy decisions:
President Nixon had challenged Congress by impounding appropriated funds, secretly bombing Cambodia, and asserting unlimited executive privilege. The CIA itself had angered many members of Congress by its secret actions in Indochina and by withholding crucial information about Watergate. 8
Finally, the CIA’s failure to inform Congress of its covert operations in Chile led directly to the Hughes-Ryan amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act. 9 Enacted on December 31, 1974, this law mandated stricter controls on covert actions. President Ford set up an Intelligence Oversight Board, and signed an executive order prohibiting assassination plots, while each house of congress established its own intelligence oversight board, and further extended the activities of their judiciary and military affairs committees to include investigations of and controls on the intelligence community: 10
Congressional staff experts pored over budgets, organized hearings, and, less formally, met with intelligence officers to evaluate their operations. With various degrees of enthusiasm, lawmakers posed questions at hearings, visited the secret agencies, and traveled abroad to speak with field operatives in U.S. embassies…. The intelligence agencies had become a part of the regular government and now faced the full panoply of oversight procedures. 11
Congress’ actions were reflecting a new mood among the public – one that did not look kindly on secret government and abuse of power.
The reforms of the United States intelligence community that occurred in the 1970s were largely in response to public perceptions of a system that was out-of-control. Watergate had tipped off Americans to the abuses that were possible in a system where the chief executive had assumed almost unchallenged authority to gather and process information, and to take action on that information. Worse still, Nixon’s, and the CIA’s actions in places like Chile and Vietnam, had revealed intelligence networks that operated almost on their own. They possessed their own agendas, conducting covert operations that, at best, challenged Americans’ long-held assumptions about the basic goodness of their country, or at worst, toppled foreign governments, and resulted in the deaths of thousands, possibly millions, of innocent men, women, and children. The reforms of the 1970s were a clear reaction to a situation that no longer seemed acceptable. The present dangers of communism – of the Soviet Union and China especially – appeared to be disappearing amid the more placid atmosphere of detente. The same President who would go down in Watergate, and who would be responsible for many of the abuses that led directly to the Congressionally-mandated reforms, would also be the man to open up China, and work seriously toward a general easing of tensions between the superpowers. Americans no longer trusted their government to make the right decisions, not if they felt these decisions affected them adversely. Spying on citizens and disseminating information were only appropriate if these activities could be seen as benefiting the American people. In tandem with the curtailment of so many of the intelligence community’s covert geopolitical activities came growing support for programs of economic espionage wherein agents of the United States government could conceivably collect information from foreign sources and give them to American corporations. They could also protect American business form hostile operatives. 12
The stage was being set for a come back in America’s intelligence community.
The next, and most recent, major reforms of the United States Intelligence Community occurred in just such an atmosphere of a public demand for the perceived benefits of a more active, more invasive, and interestingly, a more secretive intelligence community. The catastrophic attacks of September 11, 2001 appeared to end America’s sublime isolation from the ethnic and religious violence plaguing other corners of the globe. Terrorism had hit home, and thousands had died. The blame game began almost immediately, and President Bush, together with many among the American people, looked for scapegoats. Iraq – a Muslim nation weakened by war and economic sanctions – would prove an easy target of American wrath in this new era of suspicion and fear. The belief had arisen that, if the rules governing intelligence had been different, 9/11 might have been prevented. A frequent target of attack was “the wall” that supposedly existed between domestic and foreign surveillance operations. In the opinion of the 9/11 Commission, there had evolved the,
Exaggerated belief that the FBI could not share any intelligence information with criminal investigators, even if no FISA procedures had been used. Thus, relevant information from the National Security Agency and the CIA often failed to make its way to criminal investigators. 13
In other words, information that had been available to domestic investigative agencies, like the FBI, could not be shared with the Central Intelligence Agency, and other national security organizations. The President and others pushed strongly to break down this supposed wall, to allow the various intelligence agencies and investigative services to share purportedly vital information regardless of where that information had been obtained or, in many cases, how that information had been obtained. The 9/11 Commission concluded that, “a ‘smart’ government would integrate all sources of information to see the enemy as a whole. Integrated all-source analysis should also inform and shape strategies to collect more intelligence.” 14 The 9/11 Commission was advocating a greater role for the intelligence community in protecting the United States from future terrorist attacks. For the first time in years, the American people appeared willing to grant considerable latitude to the President, and the national security apparatus, if that freedom of action could be justified in the name of keeping the people safe from foreign enemies. The protections and boundaries that had been built up in reaction to prior CIA escapades would now largely be dismantled based on the recommendations in the 9/11 Commission Report.
As a result of their detailed investigation into the causes of the nation’s most horrendous man-made disaster to date, the Commission made numerous recommendations in regard to reforming the structure of the intelligence community. As well, responsibilities were more clearly defined, and specific goals set. The 9/11 Commission recommended, in no uncertain terms, the creation of a new intelligence community that would work in tandem with other law enforcement agencies, information being shared, and action being undertaken jointly in the name of the defense of the American people:
We recommend the establishment of a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), built on the foundation of the existing Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC). Breaking the older mold of national government organization, this NCTC should be a center for joint operational planning and joint intelligence, staffed by personnel from the various agencies. The head of the NCTC should have authority to evaluate the performance of the people assigned to the Center. 15
The National Counterterrorism Center, or NCC, would not only possess oversight of all the disparate agencies, but would also serve as a sort of clearinghouse for information. The head of the NCC would hold responsibility for the proper performance of the personnel under his or her command. The idea was to “re-professionalize” the intelligence community along new lines. The old idea of the CIA as a center for secret plots against foreign governments, and agents of foreign governments, threatening foreign economic enterprises, etc., was being replaced by that of the CIA as but one component part of a vast and complex intelligence machine. In this new, post-9/11 world,
The CIA Director should emphasize (a) rebuilding the CIA’s analytic capabilities; (b) transforming the clandestine service by building its human intelligence capabilities; – developing a stronger language program, with high standards and sufficient financial incentives; (d) renewing emphasis on recruiting diversity among operations officers so they can blend more easily in foreign cities; (e) ensuring a seamless relationship between human source collection and signals collection at the operational level; and (f) stressing a better balance between unilateral and liaison operations. 16
The recommendation was to re-build the CIA by reorganizing its priorities and making sure its personnel were fully trained to meet the challenges of fighting terrorism. The agency was now an organization with a genuine mission – it would focus its efforts on preventing and fighting specific threats to the nation’s security; gathering information and conducting operation insofar as would be required in achieving these objectives. Though narrower in some ways, this represented, in fact, a considerable broadening of the reach of the intelligence community.
The United States Intelligence Community has changed considerably since the end of the Second World War. Constituted, at that time, as a force to fight the spread of communism, and with it the growth in power and influence of America’s chief rival, the Soviet Union, it has now becoming a terrorist-fighting organization, and one that is intimately linked with other law enforcement agencies. In its earlier days during the Cold War, intelligence was a creature of the White House. Presidents used the agency to conduct covert operation, engage in paramilitary activities, and spread propaganda in foreign nations. It was the backfiring of many of these schemes, in particular the failure of Vietnam, combined with the ignominies of Watergate, which brought Congressional oversight and direction back in the realm of national security. Through the 1980s and 1990s the public had little stomach for an intelligence community that conducted invasive operations – it was actually prohibited from gathering intelligence in the United States – or fomented unrest in foreign lands. Some would have supported a role that included economic espionage, but for the most part the agencies were denied an overly active role in geopolitical affairs until the fateful events of September 11, 2001. It was as a direct result of these events, and the war in Iraq that supposedly arose out of them that the 9/11 Commission proposed far-reaching reforms that would entirely re-shape and re-organize the intelligence community. Today, the United States intelligence community is an integrated whole charged with collecting information wherever that information can be found; processing that information, and sharing it with any arm of government that might require such intelligence and analyses. Operations are conducted jointly in the name of protecting the American people from future attack. The national security state is now united with law enforcement.
Jeffrey T. Richelson, The U.S. Intelligence Community, 4th ed. [book online] (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999, accessed 21 November 2006), 17.
Jeffrey T. Richelson, The U.S. Intelligence Community, 4th ed. [book online] (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999, accessed 21 November 2006), 17.
Amy B. Zegart, Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC [book online] (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999, accessed 21 November 2006), 56.
Amy B. Zegart, Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC [book online] (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999, accessed 21 November 2006), 188-189.
Amy B. Zegart, Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC [book online] (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999, accessed 21 November 2006), 189.
Amy B. Zegart, Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC [book online] (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999, accessed 21 November 2006), 194.
Kathryn S. Olmsted, Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI [book online] (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 43.
Kathryn S. Olmsted, Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI [book online] (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 44.
Kathryn S. Olmsted, Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI [book online] (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 45.
10. Loch K. Johnson, “The Contemporary Presidency: Presidents, Lawmakers, and Spies Intelligence Accountability in the United States,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 34, no. 4 (2004).
11. Loch K. Johnson, “The Contemporary Presidency: Presidents, Lawmakers, and Spies Intelligence Accountability in the United States,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 34, no. 4 (2004).
12. Jeff Augustini, “From Goldfinger to Butterfinger: The Legal and Policy Issues Surrounding Proposals to Use the CIA for Economic Espionage,” Law and Policy in International Business 26, no. 2 (1995).
13. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, “3.2 Adaptation – and Nonadaptation – in the Law Enforcement Community,” The 9/11 Commission Report (21 August 2004), 73.
14. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, “3.2 Adaptation – and Nonadaptation – in the Law Enforcement Community,” The 9/11 Commission Report (21 August 2004), 401.
15. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, “3.2 Adaptation – and Nonadaptation – in the Law Enforcement Community,” The 9/11 Commission Report (21 August 2004), 403.
16. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, “3.2 Adaptation – and Nonadaptation – in the Law Enforcement Community,” The 9/11 Commission Report (21 August 2004), 415.
Augustini, Jeff. “From Goldfinger to Butterfinger: The Legal and Policy Issues Surrounding Proposals to Use the CIA for Economic Espionage.” Law and Policy in International Business 26, no. 2 (1995): 459-495.
Johnson, Loch K. “The Contemporary Presidency: Presidents, Lawmakers, and Spies Intelligence Accountability in the United States.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 34, no. 4 (2004): 828+.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, “3.2 Adaptation – and Nonadaptation – in the Law Enforcement Community,” The 9/11 Commission Report (21 August 2004), 73.
Olmsted, Kathryn S. Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Richelson, Jeffrey T. The U.S. Intelligence Community. 4th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.
Zegart, Amy B. Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.
U.S. Intelligence Community
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