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The CIA: How It Runs

Chapter 3

An Overview of the CIA

SECTION I: Intelligence versus Secret Operations

          WHAT OTHER AGENCY OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT has ever had as much blame heaped upon it as the CIA? President Truman wrote that it was being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue and a subject for Cold War propaganda. Arnold Toynbee wrote: "For the whole world, the CIA has now become the bogey that Communism has been for America." John F. Kennedy said, "Your successes are unheralded, your failures are trumpeted." Tibetans once supported by the CIA had been left to fend for themselves against the Chinese. Hungarians armed and urged to fight on for their freedom were left to fight by themselves. Cubans stranded on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs were left for Castro's jails. Tens of thousands of people who have contributed to Radio Free Europe and to CARE on the assumption that they were private organizations have learned that the CIA was using them for its own devices. And during the summer of 1971, Congress was faced with a ground swell of indignation over the actions of the CIA in the wake of events in Indochina and as a result of revelations contained in the Pentagon papers. The frequently asked questions are: How responsible is the CIA? How is the CIA permitted to operate independent of national policy and of the general standards of conduct expected of the U.S. Government?

          In seeking to solve the dilemma of the CIA, it is important from the beginning to understand the intimate language of the Agency and of the intelligence profession. Intelligence professionals become so accustomed to using and living with cover stories, cover language, and code terms that they use them interchangeably with their normal, or dictionary, usage. Thus the outsider has little opportunity to break through this fabric to get to the real thing.

          In the beginning, when Roosevelt assigned Donovan to the task of Coordinator of Information, there was a belief that the United States had within its resources reasonably adequate intelligence organizations in the Army, Navy, and Department of State, but that the gross intelligence product was sadly lacking in coordination. As a result, the President felt that he was not getting the best Intelligence. Thus his insistence that the new chief of intelligence should be a coordinator. This view of the role of the Director of Central Intelligence has persisted through the years, and it is still the primary statement of his mission and responsibility as contained in present law.

          The other key word is "information". In 1941, President Roosevelt felt that he required coordinated information, and because of certain unacceptable connotations for the profession of Intelligence, the word "Intelligence" was not used at all. It was not too long before that time (1929) that the then Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson, had downgraded Intelligence, actually that special part pertaining to cryptoanalysis, with the statement: "Gentlemen don't read other people's mail."

          The profession of Intelligence always is beset by one characteristic problem. It is a staff function. It is the kind of effort that can succeed only insofar as it is accepted and used by the leadership. If the commanding general trusts his Intelligence people and makes use of their product, he will generally have good intelligence. If a business leader uses his Intelligence people as a real adjunct to his operations and provides them with the resources they need, he will have good Intelligence. And if the President of the United States uses intelligence as intelligence, and demands a really professional product, he will get the best intelligence in the world. But leadership is often prone to disparage the intelligence product. At one time, in 1939, Winston Churchill said the following about Intelligence: "It seems to me that Ministers run the most tremendous risks if they allow the information collected by the Intelligence Department and sent them, I am sure, in good time, to be shifted and colored and reduced in consequence and importance, and if they ever get themselves into a mood of attaching weight only to those pieces of information which accord with their earnest and honorable desire that the peace of the world should remain unbroken."[1]

          The profession of Intelligence before World War II was not well thought of, and it was not very good. There can be no question that the two go hand in hand. Had there been more real demand for good Intelligence, there would have been more funds and personnel provided for its support, and as a consequence, intelligence services would have been better. But history is full of incidents citing very poor intelligence service, under Hitler, Stalin, and the Western powers.

          I was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This attack came as such a surprise and with so little preparation or understanding in the United States Army that although that attack occurred more than four thousand miles away, the Commanding General of the Armored Force headquarters at Fort Knox ordered tanks and heavy guns out in a perimeter defense of Fort Knox and of the U.S. gold reserves that were stored there. No one knew what to expect the Japanese to do next after they had hit Pearl Harbor.

          A few years later, during World War II, I was the pilot of a large transport plane being sent on an emergency mission deep into the heartland of Russia from Tehran, Iran. Since this was to be one of the first unescorted U.S. flights deep into the Soviet Union, I was called aside by a military intelligence staff officer and told that the maps he had to give me for the flight were of very little value and would I please keep a careful log of everything I saw as I flew some eighteen hundred miles into Russia in order that mapping information and other data might be improved. Then, as I left this briefing, he more or less apologetically wished me well because I had to find my way into Russia without the aid of reliable maps. Before I left Tehran I managed to obtain the maps that had been used by Wendell Willkie's pilot and had been hand annotated. They were the best available at that time.

          It was not surprising, then, that President Roosevelt directed that Colonel Donovan be Coordinator of Information (COI). By 1942, Donovan had made some headway, and the war had become better organized. He had built up the reputation of intelligence activities and he had been successful in refining the problem. At the same time, he had learned that the role of coordinator was unworkable, untenable, and undesirable -- in other words, hopeless. General MacArthur had preempted the intelligence role in the Far East -- that is, those intelligence activities which were not under the control of the Navy -- and the FBI had been given the responsibility for intelligence operations in Latin America. As a result, in 1942 the COI became the Office of Strategic Services, (OSS), and the task of that new organization was broadened to include collecting and analyzing information and planning and operating special services. On that day Donovan no doubt put his intelligence hat on the shelf and concentrated on his first love, special services.

          In pursuit of the business of definitions in this most elusive of professions, few terms have been so confused and misused as "special services". These two words simply mean clandestine operations. General Donovan's office was called Strategic Services, and his duties were described as special services. It was all the same clandestine operations. As the intelligence profession has labored through its first quarter-century since World War II, these terms have acquired additional synonyms. Clandestine operations are also known as covert operations, special operations, and peacetime operations or peacetime special operations, and secret operations.

          There are two other terms that need clarification here in order that they not be confused with the above. Secret intelligence is the deep penetration of the enemy by secret agents and other devices. It is more specifically clandestine intelligence, as differentiated from the more open and more academic type of intelligence. This leads to intelligence operations, which may or may not be clandestine, but are operations carried out to obtain intelligence, and not operations carried out to achieve a certain objective as a result of the gaining of certain intelligence input data. In the former, the operation is carried out to get intelligence, and in the latter the operation is carried out using intelligence input data.

          Then there are secret intelligence operations, which are deeper and more clandestine operations carried out to get deep-secret intelligence data. It can be said that it is the business of secret intelligence operations to get information required in the making of foreign policy that is unavailable through routine and overt intelligence channels.

          The fundamental dichotomy that has always divided Intelligence community and which in the long run has given it its bad reputation is that the Intelligence operator just cannot keep his hands and his heart out of operations. This same affliction leaves its mark on the entire community, not just on individual agents. Established for the legitimate business of intelligence, the Agency has become deeply involved in clandestine operations; yet to maintain its status and reputation in the structure of this open government, it must continually give the appearance of being nothing more than an Intelligence Agency while it keeps itself covertly occupied with special operations on an ever expanding scale.

          Nowhere has this attempt to be legitimate been more apparent than in the revelations of the publication of the Pentagon Papers. One of the primary objectives of that inner group (who directed the compilation of that fantastic massive reconstruction of the history of the United States' role in Indochina) was, without doubt, to make certain that the role of the CIA always appeared in a most laudable and commendable manner, to be that of an intelligence organization and no more. Thus the product of the intelligence staff has been extracted from the great mass of records available and portrayed most favorably, while at the same time the role of the CIA, special operations, or clandestine organization as a sinister and secret operational activity has been submerged. In retrospect, the CIA, that part which publishes intelligence reports, always appears to have come up with the correct analysis and evaluation.

          On the other hand, this review as it appears in The New York Times publication, almost totally conceals or fails to identify the records of the covert activities of the clandestine organizations. When it does present accounts of that action it reveals them under the label of cover organizations either as part of the military establishment or of some other apparatus. Interestingly, the CIA can't help doing both things at the same time, and its leaders are seldom, if ever, concerned with the fact that what they are doing may be at cross purposes. They are duty bound to perform the former and they much prefer to become involved in the latter, secure in the knowledge that their control of security within this country even more than elsewhere is nearly absolute. In fact Allen Dulles and other following DCI's were fully aware of this discrepancy, yet would authorize the publication of intelligence reports saying one thing at the same time they were authorizing clandestine forces to do exactly the opposite.

          One aspect of the Pentagon Papers that makes them suspect of not being exactly what they are purported to be, that is, an expose of the role of the Pentagon in the United States' involvement in Vietnam (this is an oversimplified definition of them, but it will serve here) is that they laud the role of the CIA and the overall intelligence community while they disparage the rest of the Government, especially the Pentagon. The following extract is from The New York Times' book of the Pentagon Papers, in an introductory and formative early chapter, page 6:

          The Pentagon account discloses that most of these major decisions from 1950 on were made against the advice of the American intelligence community. Intelligence analysts in the CIA warned that the French, Emperor Bao Dai and Premier Diem were weak and unpopular and that the Communists were strong. In early August 1954, for example, just before the NSC decided to commit the U.S. to propping up Premier Diem, a national intelligence estimate warned: "Although it is possible that the French and Vietnamese even with firm support from the U.S. and other powers, may be able to establish a strong regime in South Vietnam, we believe that the chances for this development are poor and moreover, that the situation is more likely to continue to deteriorate progressively over the next year." The NIE continues. Given the generally bleak appraisals of Diem's prospects, they who made U.S. policy could only have done so while assuming a significant measure of risk."

          And The New York Times goes on to editorialize: "The Pentagon study does not deal at length with a major question. Why did the policy makers go ahead despite the intelligence estimates prepared by their most senior intelligence officials?"

          These brief statements are truly amazing and in some respects may be among the most important lines in the entire New York Times presentation of the Pentagon Papers. They show how deeply the clandestine, operating side of the CIA hid behind its first and best cover, that of being an intelligence agency. How can the Times miss the point so significantly? Either the Times is innocent of the CIA as an intelligence organization versus the CIA as a clandestine organization, a highly antagonistic and competitive relationship, or the Times somehow played into the hands of those skillful apologists who would have us all believe that the Vietnam problem was the responsibility of others and not of the CIA operating as a clandestine operation. Let us consider an example:

          A few pages after this statement, the Times version of the Papers tells us that Edward G. Lansdale went to Saigon with a team in August 1954. This date may be one of the correct dates, but the facts are that plans for Lansdale's move to Saigon from Manila, where he had engineered Magsaysay's rise from soldier to President, were laid long before he actually went there with his team. (The author was a frequent visitor to Manila and Saigon from 1952 through 1954 as the commanding officer of a Military Air Transport Service squadron which provided much of the military airlift between those cities in those days, and on more than one flight carried as special passengers members of the Lansdale team, both U.S. and Filipino personnel, to and from Saigon).

          These plans, which were made for the development of a United States presence in Vietnam to replace the French after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu and to create a new leader to replace the French puppet, Bao Dai, had been primarily developed by the operational CIA, almost as a natural follow-on of their production of Magsaysay.

          Ngo Dinh Diem was a selection and creation of the CIA, as well as others such as Admiral Arthur Radford and Cardinal Spellman, but the primary role in the early creation of the "father of his country" image for Ngo Dinh Diem was played by the CIA -- and Edward G. Lansdale was the man upon whom this responsibility fell. He became such a firm supporter of Diem that when he visited Diem just after Kennedy's election he carried with him a gift "from the U.S. Government", a huge desk set with a brass plate across its base reading, "To Ngo Dinh Diem, The Father of His Country." The presentation of that gift to Diem by Lansdale marked nearly seven years of close personal and official relationship, all under the sponsorship of the CIA.

          It was the CIA that created Diem's first elite bodyguard to keep him alive in those early and precarious days. It was the CIA that created the Special Forces of Vietnamese troops, which were under the tight control of Ngo Dinh Nhu, and it was the CIA that created and directed the tens of thousands of paramilitary forces of all kinds in South Vietnam during those difficult years of the Diem regime. Not until the U.S. Marines landed in South Vietnam, in the van of the escalation in 1964, did an element of American troops arrive in Vietnam that were not under the operational control of the CIA.

          From 1945 through the crucial years of 1954 and 1955 and on to 1964, almost everything that was done in South Vietnam, including even a strong role in the selection of generals and ambassadors, was the action of the CIA, with the DOD playing a supporting role and the Department of State almost in total eclipse. Thus, when The New York Times asks, "Why did the policy makers go ahead despite the intelligence estimates prepared by their most senior intelligence officials?" it has asked an excellent question, because it must include in the "most senior intelligence officials" the Director of Central Intelligence and others of the Agency. This makes one wonder at what point a man like Allen Dulles stops playing the role of intelligence official and sees himself in the mirror as CIA clandestine commander in chief.

          These examples have to make certain aspects of the release and publication of the Pentagon Papers deeply suspect, especially since the man who says he released these vast volumes to the newspapers, Daniel Ellsberg, was ideally suited for this role by virtue of his Vietnam experience with the very same Edward G. Lansdale. No matter what one might wish to believe the intentions of Ellsberg were when he did this, it would be most difficult to accept that he of all people did not know all the facts. And if he did know all of the facts I have described, why did he want to make it appear that it was Pentagon policymakers who went ahead "despite the intelligence estimates prepared by their most senior intelligence officials"? Why has so much care been taken to make it appear that these are papers from the Pentagon that he has dumped on the news media's doorstep? Why has no one made the proper distinction that the majority of these documents were not really Pentagon originated at all, but were originated in, among other places, the CIA (Covert side)? Certainly if his facts, as well as those presented by The New York Times, are right, the CIA (Covert side) was in a much better position to heed its own CIA (Intelligence side) warnings and advice than any other department or agency in Washington.

          The answer to these questions becomes obvious. The CIA uses its intelligence role as a cover mechanism for its operational activities. Furthermore it uses its own secret intelligence as an initiator for its own secret operations. This is what pleased General Donovan when President Roosevelt unleashed him with the OSS and it is what has been the driving force behind the hard core operational agents within the intelligence community since that time.

          Allen Dulles himself helps us to define General Donovan's new title in 1942 in his own words: "Special Services was the cover designation for Secret Intelligence and Special Operations of all kinds and character." To the old pro the new designation was an important step forward in the evolution of the intelligence profession in the United States. One could almost see him hunching up to his desk to write a few more memoranda to the President about the development of the intelligence services. It was no mistake when Dulles entitled his book The Craft of Intelligence. He was the crafty professional in a fast-growing profession.

          During 1943, General Donovan did his best to extend the OSS into all those parts of the world left to him by the Navy, General MacArthur, and J. Edgar Hoover. At one time in 1943 he got a bit overambitious and went to Moscow. There he met with his counterparts in the intelligence profession and was so won over by their good fellowship that he came back to Washington to propose that there be an exchange program between the Russians and the Americans. Donovan proposed that their hand-picked agents be brought to this country to learn all about Intelligence and special operations with Americans, utilizing new techniques and equipment that we had. To those who recall the same General Donovan on countless platforms ranting about the "communist threat" only a few years later, this proposal of his must seem to have been part of a soft-headed era. In any event, others such as J. Edgar Hoover and Admiral Leahy overruled Donovan's gesture of hospitality to the Russians.

          The OSS did set up a Guerrilla and Resistance Branch, which operated from Europe to Burma and was patterned after the highly successful British Special Operations Executive (SOE) model. But General Donovan never got over the blows he suffered from MacArthur and Hoover. His wartime disappointment led him on many occasions to recommend that there be a single top intelligence director who would be placed within the immediate Office of the President and that this director be a civilian who would control all other intelligence services, particularly most of the military. By 1944, his views were so firm that he wrote to President Roosevelt:

          "I have given consideration to the organization of our intelligence service for the postwar period.
          "Once our enemies are defeated the demand will be equally pressing for information that will aid in solving the problems of peace.
          "This requires two things:

    1. That Intelligence control be returned to the supervision of the President.
    2. The establishment of a central authority reporting directly to you."

          On careful scrutiny, this is a most unusual memorandum to be written during time of war to the Commander in Chief of the greatest military force ever assembled. First there is the assumption, and perhaps even an implied criticism, that the control of Intelligence was not under the President, or that the President had lost control of that aspect of the military effort world wide. (Later historians may be able to probe the depths of Donovan's feelings about General MacArthur by delving into the meaning of such papers as that memo.) The other veiled criticism was his proposal that the central authority be made to report directly to the President. By this, Donovan hoped that Roosevelt might establish such a central authority, that would be himself, and that he might thereby gain ascendancy over his arch rivals, J. Edgar Hoover, the Navy, and most of all, General Douglas MacArthur.

          The germ of these ideas lived throughout the following quarter-century. Even today, there are those who still propose that the DCI be assigned to the immediate Office of the President. The zeal within the "silent arm of the President", as the intelligence service is fondly called by its own, is so strong that they have created a special meaning for the phrase, "the immediate Office of the President". It might generally be considered that the Cabinet is part of this office, but what the Intelligence buffs mean is that the DCI would be above or, to put it more precisely, equal to and separate from the Cabinet. From General Donovan's day down to the present time, it has been the goal of a good segment of the intelligence community to install their Director next to the President. They always claim that the reason for this is so that the President may always have at his elbow the best and most current intelligence available. This, too, is a master cover story. Just like General Donovan and his clan, what they really want is the place at the elbow of the President, unfettered by the Secretaries of State and Defense, in order to have their way with the function of Special Operations. Of course, what follows from this is what would amount to having the ability to make and to control the foreign policy and military policymaking machinery of this country. We shall have more to say about this. It suffices now to point out where and when the seed was planted.

          Shortly after the war had ended, President Truman dissolved the OSS. On September 20, 1945, certain functions of the OSS were transferred to the Departments of State and of War. Although the United States did not delay in disbanding her military might as soon as the war had ended, no group was terminated faster than the OSS. Some of the pressure to dissolve this agency came from the FBI, the Department of State, the Armed Forces, the Bureau of the Budget, and from President Truman's own belief that the "fun and games" was over. He felt that there would be no need for clandestine activities during peacetime, and he meant to devote his time to winning a peace of lasting duration for the generation which had fought its way through the worst depression in history and then through the most terrible war in history.

          In this rapid divestiture of its clandestine wartime service, only two sections were saved. The Secret Intelligence Branch and the Analysis Branch were tucked away among the labyrinth of the departments of State and War, where a few dedicated veterans labored quietly through a precarious existence to preserve files and other highly classified materials. Had it not been for the professionalism and zeal of this group of responsible men, these files that had been created during the war would have been lost. Had they been lost or destroyed, or most serious of all, had they been compromised, they might have occasioned the deaths of hundreds of agents who had risked their lives for the United States and who lived in constant fear lest they be exposed in their homelands, which had fallen under Soviet control. Fortunately, these records, along with irreplaceable talent, were saved. Thus ended an era of war-time inspired clandestine activity, the contagion of which was sufficient to infect a new generation of intelligence professionals for the next twenty-five years.


  1. Sanche de Gramont, The Secret War, New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, p. 29.

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