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Encyclopedia ArticlefromEncarta
Central Intelligence Agency
Trial of Francis Gary PowersTrial of Francis Gary Powers
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Article Outline
Introduction; Responsibilities; Structure; How the CIA Gathers and Analyzes Intelligence; History
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Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States government agency created in 1947 to gather information and conduct secret operations to protect the country’s national security. The information that the CIA gathers is known as intelligence. The CIA also coordinates the activities of the United States intelligence community, which includes agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA). In addition, the CIA takes overall responsibility for gathering information from other U.S. intelligence agencies, analyzing the separate pieces of information from each source, and providing a recommendation to the president of the United States and the president’s advisers.

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The president dictates the CIA’s general tasks and assignments, a process known as tasking
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. The nature of the tasks has changed over the years. Today, for example, the CIA’s responsibilities include identifying terrorists and halting terrorist attacks, anticipating threats to international oil supplies, and preventing the theft of trade secrets from U.S. businesses. The CIA did not have responsibility for these problems in the agency’s early years.

Some responsibilities have remained constant, however. The foremost of the CIA’s jobs is assessing the long-term potential threat to the United States by other countries. The CIA must ask basic questions, such as “What is Russia’s military strength, and how do the Russians intend to use it?” The CIA also has to predict short-term military threats, so it operates a warning system to protect the United States and its allies from surprise attack. In addition, the CIA works in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct counterespionage—the process of preventing spies from finding out U.S. national security secrets.

Several presidents have also ordered the CIA to conduct covert operations—the use of secret means to achieve foreign policy objectives. Covert operations might include providing weapons to a rebel army, kidnapping an individual leader who is seen as hostile to U.S. interests, or even organizing the removal of a government through a coup d’état, the seizure of an existing government by a small group. The CIA’s covert operations are controversial for many reasons, often because they involve conducting violent actions in other countries without a congressional declaration of war. In other instances the operations are uncontroversial and are covert in name only, and may become the subject of debate in open sessions of Congress and in the news media.

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The CIA also has the responsibility of gathering information from other U.S. intelligence agencies and producing joint reports known as estimates. The NSA, for example, often breaks secret codes used by other countries and then intercepts the countries’ secret communications. The NSA passes the important messages to the CIA, which then integrates this information with the intelligence provided by other U.S. government intelligence agencies and with intelligence from the CIA’s own sources. The CIA sends these estimates to the president and other members of the National Security Council (NSC), which includes the chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (representing the armed forces), the secretaries of defense and state, and certain other members of the government’s executive branch.

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The CIA is part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, which means that the president has direct control of the agency. The president appoints the CIA director and deputy director with the consent of the United States Senate, and the two directors are responsible for ensuring that the CIA follows the president’s instructions. The president’s appointees sometimes come into conflict with career (permanent) CIA officials if the president tries to push the CIA in a direction that career officials view as unwise. The CIA also has to work to coordinate its efforts with the strategy established by the NSC. In practice, however, because the CIA’s day-to-day operations and its budget are secret, the agency has more discretion to act than nearly all other parts of the U.S. government.

Within the CIA, the director of central intelligence (DCI) and the deputy director of central intelligence supervise four additional deputy directors. Each of these four deputy directors leads a directorate (branch) of the agency. The Operations Directorate is the best known because it conducts covert action and counterintelligence around the world. The Operations Directorate has specialized divisions for each region of the world. The Science and Technology Directorate interprets data gathered from code-breaking activities; from telephone, radio, and other electronic transmissions; and from detailed photographs taken by spy satellites. The Intelligence Directorate takes the information provided by other parts of the CIA, other agencies in the intelligence community, and from publicly available sources, and produces analyses and estimates for policy makers. The Administration Directorate arranges the agency’s finances, personnel matters, computer facilities, and medical services. It also assumes the critical task of internal security—including detecting spies and potential spies within the agency.

Besides all this work concentrated in the CIA’s headquarters building in Langley, Virginia, the agency undertakes fieldwork in foreign countries. The CIA has an office, or station, in almost every nation, whether friend or potential foe. Each office is headed by a station chief, whose real job is hidden by a fictitious job known as a cover. A station chief’s cover is often as an official within the U.S. Embassy. The station chief must find out what is happening in the host country that may have a bearing on U.S. national security. Station chiefs are officers of the CIA and do not usually conduct actual spying, but they often hire spies to achieve their goals.

To ensure that the CIA meets these various responsibilities in a proper manner, the agency has an inspector general, who audits its secret accounts and investigates malpractice. In an attempt to limit the responsibilities and therefore the power of the director of central intelligence, Congress provided in 1947 that the CIA should not collect intelligence in the United States. The CIA only monitors the domestic activities of U.S. citizens when it believes they may be involved in espionage or international terrorist activities. Since then, Congress has periodically investigated the agency. In the mid-1970s, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate set up permanent committees to oversee the CIA, and these committees have established procedures for the monitoring of covert operations.

IVHow the CIA Gathers and Analyzes Intelligence
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The excitement of spying and secret operations sometimes leads people to assume that a piece of information is important just because it is secret. In reality, CIA analysts spend much of their time gathering and analyzing information from newspapers, television and radio broadcasts, speeches by foreign leaders, and other public sources. CIA analysts call these open sources, and they are sometimes adequate to predict how a country is likely to act in the future. This enables the president, Congress, and other important officials to formulate effective U.S. policy. In many cases, however, open sources provide only an incomplete picture of how a country will act. In some instances, in fact, governments may deliberately publicize false information in order to fool the United States and other countries.

In many cases open sources do not provide enough information to enable analysts to draw firm conclusions. A piece of the picture will often be missing or unclear. Analysts must find the missing piece of the picture, which is often deliberately concealed by potential enemies of the United States. Once the analysts have found the piece, they must rely on their training and judgment to recognize where it fits into the overall picture. To help CIA analysts develop a complete understanding of world events, the CIA supplements open sources with three clandestine (secret) sources. The clandestine sources include human intelligence provided by CIA field officers, electronic intelligence gathering, and intelligence provided by other agencies. Analysts sift through and evaluate all the open and clandestine sources to develop a general assessment of how a country will act. The analysts pass these assessments to their superiors, who forward important reports to the director of central intelligence, who takes responsibility for keeping the president informed.

AField Officers

The CIA deploys hundreds of field officers all over the world to gather intelligence for the United States. The field officers report to CIA headquarters through the station chief in the country where they are placed. Each station chief supervises several field officers, assessing the information they have gathered and sending it to CIA headquarters. Field officers are expected to have detailed knowledge of the country where they are stationed, although the CIA has sometimes been criticized for sending out unqualified and poorly trained personnel. Field officers must be United States citizens.

Field officers rarely break into foreign military bases, infiltrate political parties, or otherwise try to collect sensitive information themselves. Instead they usually persuade foreign citizens to provide information. Sometimes foreign citizens volunteer to give secret information to the CIA. In oppressive regimes, their motive is sometimes altruistic and even patriotic—they feel they can best serve their country by providing the CIA with information that will help bring about social and political change or diminish the possibility of war. Such a spy is known as a defector in place.

In other situations CIA field officers use money or blackmail to convince foreign citizens to betray their country. The CIA field officer’s most difficult job is figuring out who might be willing to spy for the United States, and then using the right amount of persuasion and coercion to turn the foreign citizen to the American cause. The process of identifying and turning a foreign citizen is delicate because the best sources of information are often senior government and military officials. Approaching the wrong official might lead the foreign government to arrest or even kill the field officer. Even after a subject has been turned, field officers must constantly assess the accuracy of the information that he or she provides.

Because turning a foreign citizen is difficult and the intelligence received is sometimes unreliable, the most valuable spy is often not someone who has been turned, but a defector in place. At times, such “human assets” have supplied vital information that could not have been obtained by technical means. For example, from 1953 until his execution by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) sometime in 1959 or 1960, Pyotr Semyonovich Popov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet army, supplied the CIA with important information about USSR missile systems. Popov’s information helped the CIA understand the Soviet military threat before the advent of satellites made it possible to spy on the USSR from space.

BElectronic Intelligence Gathering

The CIA Science and Technology Directorate uses a wide variety of electronic techniques to gather intelligence. These include planting bugs (microphones or other listening devices), intercepting radio transmissions, and using seismic sensors and satellites to monitor military activity around the world. The CIA relies on the National Security Agency for a large portion of its electronically gathered data, but also conducts some electronic intelligence gathering on its own. During the Cold War—the period from 1945 to the early 1990s, when the United States and the USSR vied for global dominance—the CIA operated its own “listening stations” in Norway, Iran, Australia, and other places. But since the end of the Cold War, the CIA has reduced its electronic intelligence operations and relied more heavily on the NSA. The CIA Science and Technology Directorate still contributes significant research, such as developing techniques to detect and measure dangerous gases from long distances.

CInformation from Other Agencies

The CIA receives and analyzes information from several other elements of the U.S. intelligence community. These elements include the DIA, NSA, the intelligence branches of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Treasury Department and its Secret Service, and the FBI. The CIA also manages some joint programs with other parts of the intelligence community. The CIA and the NSA, for example, work together to provide eavesdropping equipment to the CIA’s stations around the world. Similarly, the CIA works with the Air Force to coordinate satellite reconnaissance. The CIA also receives information from the intelligence services of friendly powers. Britain’s MI6 and Israel’s Mossad are the most notable examples. Although the CIA sometimes has disputes with MI6 and Mossad over when and how to share intelligence, the generally close cooperation between these agencies reflects the strong ties that link the United States with Britain and Israel.

DAnalysis and Reporting

CIA analysts have the difficult task of sorting through information from open sources, field officers, electronic intelligence, and intelligence from agencies in the United States and other countries. In many instances most of the information is a jumble of irrelevant facts that analysts refer to as noise. But buried in the noise there may be a critical “signal,” giving an insight that can prove crucial to U.S. national security. Once the analysts have sorted and assessed the available information, they prepare secret reports that are passed on to policy makers. CIA analysts also prepare overall reports for the president and his staff on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. The DCI also briefs the president personally on a regular basis and contacts the president immediately if there is a sudden crisis.

In most cases the CIA has little role beyond providing information to the president and other policy makers. These leaders must take the responsibility for responding to threats to the country’s national security. But the CIA’s reports may sometimes prod policy makers in a certain direction, and in that way the CIA can have a large impact on the country’s policies. In 1998, for example, the CIA produced a report indicating that a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was producing chemical weapons, leading U.S. president Bill Clinton to order the bombing of the plant. The bombing became controversial when outside experts disputed the CIA’s claim.

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