CIA’s Family Tree
Like all government agencies, the CIA was not created overnight and functioning at full capacity the following morning. In fact, there were various renditions of an intelligence agency for 6 years prior to the formal establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency. At the beginning of World War II America’s first peacetime, non-departmental intelligence organization was created. That organization moved and morphed and changed names and ownership, was dissected and dismantled before President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 creating a permanent Central Intelligence Agency.
Though our directives have changed and generations have turned, our goal to further US national security objectives remains the same. The Agency embraces its roots and celebrates the path that led to the making of America’s premier foreign intelligence agency. As we look to the future we glance at our past to trace the lineage of the CIA to its very beginnings, and to reflect on the different phases it went through, culminating in the creation of the CIA.
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Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI)
Established 11 July 1941, Duration: 337 Days
When World War II started in 1939 the State Department, Army, Navy and FBI were randomly collecting intelligence with no direction or coordination. Nor were these agencies designed to collect the strategic and economic intelligence that was needed during WWII. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, desperate for solid intelligence, was frustrated by the piecemeal, stove-piped information these agencies were providing him. To solve the problem, he created the Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) to streamline the collection, organization, and dissemination of the intelligence that the government agencies collected. The COI was also created to conduct unconventional warfare. Roosevelt appointed World War I hero, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, to lead the organization with a $10 million budget and 600 staffers.
- General William “Wild Bill” Donovan
COI’s first operation was debriefing refugees in New York City who had fled war-torn Europe. Additionally, COI gathered intelligence overseas and worked closely with the British in London to gain information, training, and experience from their intelligence organizations.
As the war progressed Donovan came to the realization that he needed to move his budding organization under the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to ensure the support of the military. President Roosevelt agreed, but, he wanted to keep a portion of COI’s elements out of military hands. Roosevelt moved white propaganda, along with half of the COI’s staff, to the Office of War Information.
What was left of COI after the transition became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) on June 13, 1942. The name change fulfilled Donovan’s wish for a title that reflected the importance of ‘strategy’ in intelligence gathering and clandestine operations.
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Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
Established 13 June 1942, Duration: 3 years, 3 months
The OSS had a mandate to collect and analyze strategic information requested by the JCS and to conduct unconventional and paramilitary operations. To do this Donovan sent OSS personnel to North Africa, Europe, China, Burma, and India. However, the OSS never received complete jurisdiction over all foreign intelligence activities. The Department of State and the armed services arranged a Presidential decree that effectively banned most of OSS and several other agencies from acquiring and decoding the war’s most important intelligence intercepts. General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz kept OSS from contributing to the main American campaigns against Imperial Japan and the FBI, G-2 and Navy intelligence stood together to protect their monopoly on domestic counterintelligence work.
Nonetheless, OSS did eventually develop a capable counterintelligence apparatus of its own overseas and utilizing military, diplomatic and non-official cover, began to build a world-wide clandestine capability.
At its peak OSS employed almost 13,000 people, 35% of whom were women. Two-thirds of its ranks were comprised of US Army and Army Air Forces personnel. Civilians made up another quarter, the rest were from the Navy, Marines, or Coast Guard. Nearly 7,500 OSS employees, men and women, served overseas.
- OSS Organization Chart
There was never an expectation that the OSS would continue to operate after the war despite Donovan’s insistence on the necessity of a peacetime intelligence Agency. President Truman took office and in late August 1945, he ordered that OSS be dismantled.
Donovan had just ten days to disassemble his agency. The Research & Analysis Branch moved to the State Department. Donovan’s Deputy was asked to stay on and help preserve the Counterintelligence Branch and the Secret Intelligence Branch, both now under the War Department in a new office dubbed the Strategic Services Unit (SSU). Donovan was not asked to stay on. On October 1, 1945, the OSS closed its doors.
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Strategic Services Unit (SSU)
Established 1 October 1945, Duration: 1 year, 5 months
SSU temporarily took over the former OSS posts in London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Cairo, Chungking, Calcutta, New Delhi, and Rangoon, as well as various smaller posts until a more permanent solution could be put in place.
In January 1946, a new National Intelligence Authority was established along with a small Central Intelligence Group (CIG). In the spring of 1946 the President and Congress decided to give SSU’s duties, responsibilities, personnel, overseas field stations, communications and logistical capabilities to CIG. The decision to do this was based exclusively on the challenge of producing coordinated intelligence assessments.
- Rear Admiral Sidney Souers
The Deputy Chief of Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral Sidney Souers, USNR, was appointed Executive Secretary of CIG and was responsible for carrying out the integration of SSU into CIG. Souers openly admitted he had no desire to run the new organization and would only do so for as long as it took to establish the organization, which was six months.
CIG screened all SSU employees and offered positions to the best of them. CIG then took over SSU’s headquarter elements in Washington and SSU ceased to exist.
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Central Intelligence Group (CIG)
Established January 1946, Duration: 1 year, 6 months
CIG was responsible for coordinating, planning, evaluating and disseminating intelligence. CIG also acquired a clandestine collection capability as well as authority to conduct independent research and analysis. This was key as CIG was no longer just coordinating the intelligence it received from government agencies, but was now producing intelligence on its own. This enlarged CIG’s personnel strength considerably.
The new organization spied overseas with employees lent to it from the Army, Navy and Department of State. CIG functioned under the National Intelligence Authority, which was composed of a presidential representative and the secretaries of State, War and Navy. Within months of its creation, CIG became the nation’s primary agency for strategic warning and management of clandestine activities abroad. Yet, it was shackled to the constraints and resistance of the Department of State and the armed services. And so, to free itself, CIG became an independent department and was renamed the Central Intelligence Agency.
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Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Established 18 September 1947, Duration: 70 years
The CIA was created under the National Security Act of 1947, which President Truman signed on July 26, 1947. The CIA officially came into existence on September 18 that same year. President Truman appointed the Deputy Director of CIG, Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter as the first Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. One third of the CIA’s personnel were OSS veterans.
- Former DCI Roscoe Hillenkoetter
The 1947 Act loosely defined CIA’s mission and while the Act did not alter the functions of CIG, it did add four broad tasks: (1) advise the National Security Council (NSC) on matters related to national security; (2) make recommendations to the NSC regarding the coordination of intelligence activities of the Departments; (3) correlate and evaluate intelligence and provide for its appropriate dissemination and (4) ” perform such other functions… as the NSC will from time to time direct…”
Two years later, President Truman signed the Central Intelligence Agency Act, which authorized CIA to secretly fund intelligence operations and conduct personnel actions outside of standard US Government procedures.
- CIA’s first street sign
By 1953, the Agency was an established element of government. Its contributions in the areas of political action and paramilitary warfare were recognized and respected. The Agency attracted some of the most able lawyers, academicians, and young, committed patriots in the country. They brought with them professional associations and friendships which extended to the senior levels of government.The Agency had also achieved the basic structure and scale it retained for the next twenty years. The Korean War, United States foreign policy objectives, and the Agency’s internal organizational arrangements combined to produce an enormous impetus for growth. The CIA was six times the size it had been in 1947 and three of its current five directorates had been established.
Originally housed in a sprawling set of buildings in the center of Washington, D.C., the CIA’s physical presence gave it the advantage of seeming an integral part of, rather than a separate element of, the government.
In late 1961, CIA employees began relocating from a disparate collection of buildings in Washington, DC, to a newly constructed headquarters complex in Langley, Virginia. The Original Headquarters Building (OHB) was the first home designed specifically for Agency officers, and it still serves today as an iconic symbol of CIA and its mission.
- On August 4, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill authorizing $46 million for construction of a CIA Headquarters Building. This is an artist’s rendering of OHB.
On December 17, 2004, President George W. Bush signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act which restructured the Intelligence Community by abolishing the position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (DDCI) and creating the position the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (D/CIA). The Act also created the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which oversees the Intelligence Community and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).The CIA has continued to adjust and adapt to the emerging trends of an ever-changing global landscape. Today the CIA is America’s and the world’s premier foreign intelligence agency, shaped by its resilient past. We accomplish what others cannot accomplish and go where others cannot go. We are the Nations eyes and ears, and sometimes, its hidden hand. We will continue our mission of collecting, analyzing, evaluating, and disseminating foreign intelligence to assist the President and senior US government policymakers in making decisions relating to national security now and indefinitely into the future.