FIRST FOUR DCIS: GAINING A FOOTHOLD
The first four DCIs (clockwise from upper left):
RAdm. Sidney William Souers, USNR;
Lt. Gen. Hoyt Sanford Vandenberg, USA (AAF);
RAdm. Roscoe Henry Hillenkoetter, USN;
Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, USA
First Four DCIs: Gaining a Foothold
Those who are aware of the Walter Trohan exposé of OSS activities and
the Park Report will be able to understand the pressures exerted by the
Army, Navy and the FBI to kill the concept of a central intelligence system
and the entailed obstacles I confronted in preserving the assets of OSS.
The dramatic end of World War II released feelings of enormous relief in the United States. Wartime dangers and privations were over. The country sought a sense of normalcy, and demobilizing wartime activities preoccupied the federal government. The field of foreign intelligence, which had grown manyfold during the conflict, proved no exception. A presidential order signed on 20 September 1945 abolished the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as of 1 October, and its dynamic director, Maj. Gen. William Donovan, USA, returned to civilian life.
What could not be demobilized, however, was the newly dominant position of the United States in a changed world. US political leaders had for years been planning how best to advance US interests in the postwar world. They wanted to avoid the problems caused by misguided policies pursued after World War I, and they had already made their most fundamental policy choice of engagement rather than isolation. Two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century had shown that the country could not avoid being drawn into wars on other continents. The United States therefore had to take an active role in international affairs so as to make conflicts, and the need for US military intervention abroad, less likely. Even before the final moment of victory, Washington helped establish new international institutions—notably the World Bank and the United Nations—to deal with political, social, and economic issues on a global scale.
Intelligence Support for US World Role
US leaders planned for a foreign intelligence capability to support the country’s new world role. Donovan’s persistent campaigning during 1943–1945 for the establishment of a postwar peacetime intelligence structure had attracted serious consideration by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and key officials, especially Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal. Donovan’s plan, however, aroused opposition within the government. Many did not believe that a new intelligence organization should report directly to the president, as Donovan wanted. Others criticized OSS for wasting money and for security lapses, and the press reflected these concerns plus fears of a “Gestapo” organization as the debate widened. Existing intelligence organizations fought to keep their roles unencumbered by a new, high-level organization.
But neither the publicity and bureaucratic infighting nor Truman’s apparent personal dislike of Donovan dissuaded senior administration officials from believing that a peacetime intelligence apparatus was appropriate for the United States and from planning for such a capability. President Truman and his principal subordinates, as they considered pressing foreign and defense policy issues, accepted readily that the US international role meant that information about world affairs must be available to them in a more comprehensive and organized manner than had been the case in the interwar years.
The still vivid memory of Pearl Harbor reinforced this desire for better information. The most comprehensive congressional hearings on why the Japanese attack there had been such a successful surprise began in November 1945, and they concluded that available but poorly handled information had cost the nation dearly in 1941. Two other lessons flowed from the Pearl Harbor attack. One was that since disaster could come suddenly (a point underscored in 1945 by the advent of atomic warfare), collecting and evaluating threat information had to be performed regularly in peacetime. The other was that since the Japanese had succeeded in hiding their plan and action, it followed that the country needed a “secret” intelligence (secret both for the kind of information being sought and for the way it had to be obtained) capability.
Another factor driving senior officials to act without delay in setting up a postwar foreign intelligence structure was the belief that parts of OSS had built up a useful concentration of professional expertise that should not be allowed to dissipate with demobilization. As OSS disbanded and most of its personnel rapidly demobilized, the State Department took over the research and analysis section, and the War Department agreed to house intact the active foreign intelligence branches. In both cases, the capabilities were to be preserved pending decisions regarding the future organization of peacetime intelligence. Also, American leaders were quite aware of the US dependence on Great Britain in the intelligence field during the war and wanted to have a strong independent intelligence capability to support the country’s new world leadership role.
The abrupt end of OSS disguised a fundamental fact. President Truman, while not known to have devoted notable personal attention to issues of foreign intelligence before the fall of 1945, was already on the path of acting to establish a peacetime national foreign intelligence organization. In discussions with his budget director during the same month he signed the directive abolishing OSS, Truman indicated that J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) should be cut back to prewar levels and confined to operations in the United States. He also said that he envisaged “a quite different plan for intelligence” than that proposed by Hoover, who had suggested an expansion of the FBI’s wartime intelligence operations in Latin America to other regions of the world. A week later, in a conversation with the same official in which he confirmed his determination to close down OSS, Truman “again commented that he has in mind a broad intelligence service attached to the President’s office.”
Aware that the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and others were studying the issue, the president directed the secretary of state to consider what foreign intelligence arrangement would best serve national interests. Having already moved Donovan and Hoover to the sidelines of the postwar government foreign intelligence arrangement, Truman gave the action for recommending the shape of the postwar peacetime intelligence organization that would serve his presidential leadership to the heads of the major departments, State, War, and Navy.
Truman was in agreement with a basic tenet of Donovan’s thinking, that a permanent peacetime foreign intelligence capability should serve directly the topmost level of policy decisionmaking. We know from Truman’s memoir that he was aware—at least in general terms via his senior military aide, Adm. William D. Leahy—of some of the ideas about setting up a peacetime intelligence apparatus being considered by senior administration officials. He had one very specific requirement for whatever organization would handle foreign intelligence: he wanted a central coordinating function performed with respect to the information about the world coming to the president. He wrote in his memoir that “the President must have all the facts that may affect the foreign policy or the military policy of the United States” and went on to mention no fewer than eight different agencies involved in gathering information during the war. “This scattered method of getting information,” he wrote, first struck him when he was in the Senate and did so again in his initial months as president. His assistant Clark Clifford has testified that this complaint increased as he moved toward making a decision on intelligence: “By early 1946, President Truman was becoming increasingly annoyed by the flood of conflicting and uncoordinated intelligence reports flowing haphazardly across his desk.”
Truman’s approach to intelligence differed from Roosevelt’s. Before and during World War II, President Roosevelt in effect operated as his own chief of intelligence, setting up both informal private and formal governmental arrangements for the collection and funneling of information about world affairs to him personally. After the war, President Truman sought advice from a range of close advisers, but he depended more than Roosevelt on public servants charged formally with giving him information and advice about foreign and military policy. By 1946, when he initiated the postwar intelligence system, Truman found it natural to assign to someone other than himself the role of “director of central intelligence” to pull together all strands of important reporting.
An important study of how the executive branch should be organized for “national security” affairs, written by New York banker Ferdinand Eberstadt and completed in September 1945, called for a central intelligence agency as well as for a national security council and other mechanisms. The study carefully delimited the centralized intelligence functions and made clear that they would be enmeshed in a broader organization dealing with national security affairs. This addressed a major concern of the military services (in particular the Navy and Secretary Forrestal, who had commissioned Eberstadt’s study), which feared that Donovan wanted to absorb or destroy their intelligence activities. As long as the important field of intelligence remained grounded in organizations in which they had considerable influence, they were willing to accept that some functions were best done centrally.
President Truman did not wait for the establishment of what would become the national security system enacted in 1947 to start his intelligence service. After forcing his key subordinates to bring forward their recommendations to him early in 1946, on 22 January 1946 he signed a memorandum to the secretaries of state, war, and navy establishing a “National Intelligence Authority” (NIA) made up of the three of them plus a presidential representative (Adm. Leahy). This group was charged with planning, developing, and coordinating “all Federal foreign intelligence activities.” Thus, the first central intelligence authority set up after the war was a committee whose members commanded the major separate organizations that needed to work together.
That this collective of top-rank officials would be the group charged with leadership of foreign intelligence was natural given the experience of group decisionmaking during the war and the postwar planning pressed especially by Secretary Forrestal. Various “committees of three” (state, war, and navy) had operated for years, and officials accepted the benefits of committees and combined staffs proved in wartime without question in the immediate postwar period. As Coordinator of Information, Donovan had succeeded in making himself directly subordinate to President Roosevelt prior to the war in 1941 (he subordinated himself and OSS to the JCS in wartime), but his attempt to press for the earlier relationship for postwar intelligence with Roosevelt’s successor was doomed. Truman in his memoir cites the coordination of staff work accomplished in a committee set up by the state, war, and navy departments to support the Potsdam talks in July 1945 as a pattern of support that he requested be continued and as a precursor to the National Security Council (NSC) established by law two years later.
Director of Central Intelligence
Truman’s memorandum stated that a “Director of Central Intelligence” would serve the NIA. This official would head a “Central Intelligence Group” (CIG) made up of personnel seconded by the three departments, and he would be responsible for performing several functions: correlating and evaluating intelligence and disseminating resulting national-level intelligence, planning for the coordination of the national-level activities of the intelligence organizations of the three departments and recommending overall intelligence policies, providing services of common concern best accomplished centrally, and fulfilling additional unspecified duties as might be directed. In order to perform the first function, he was to have access to all relevant intelligence information in the executive branch.
The memorandum also stated that an “Intelligence Advisory Board” (IAB) of intelligence organization heads would advise the DCI. The NIA was to determine its membership but not limit it to representatives of organizations within the three departments. By designating the board as advisory, Truman imputed superior authority to the DCI relative to the other board members. Outside the group, however, the members each reported via a command chain culminating in an executive department head, whereas the DCI reported to a collective authority made up of the principal department heads. The memorandum followed closely the recommendations of the JCS and ended the inconclusive efforts of the State Department to devise a plan for intelligence.
It seems clear enough that, in setting up a DCI, the president and other top administration figures wanted a senior official to serve as a singular focal point to whom they could turn for foreign intelligence information in support of their formulation and implementation of US national security policy. Thus the clearest statement of a centralizing role for the DCI was defined with respect to the staff function of providing information to the nation’s policymakers.
The president’s memorandum, however, did not state or imply that the DCI would play a significant role in guiding or directing the activities conducted in various foreign intelligence parts of the executive branch outside the unit he himself headed. This remained the case when the DCI position was re-established on a statutory basis in the National Security Act of 1947. Nothing was stated about any “leadership” or “management” role for him with respect to non-CIA activities and organizations. On the contrary, intelligence elements other than CIA were explicitly envisaged in the charters establishing the DCI and the CIA as continuing to collect, evaluate, correlate, and disseminate “departmental intelligence.” Their activities and chain of command to their department heads remained unchanged.
Although the DCI was not expected to be in charge of the national-level activities of US intelligence organizations other than CIA, he was expected to coordinate them. When Donovan first presented “principles” for postwar intelligence to the president in October 1944, he did not include specific mention of the coordination of all US foreign intelligence activities. In the more comprehensive “plan” he presented to the president the next month, however, he added that function.
“Coordination” had emerged as a paramount necessity in planning and executing cooperative endeavors during World War II. Coalition warfare on a grand scale had forced the allied powers to stress teamwork, and grand strategies had required wartime summit meetings. Gen. Eisenhower was chosen for supreme command precisely because he was seen as someone who could handle political and organizational issues of cooperation and coordination at high levels. Thus, in postwar Washington, the notion of coordination of activities and of information was a concept familiar to and favored by key leaders as a counter to sliding back into comfortable, insular patterns of organizational behavior. Some even felt “coordination” was perhaps the most overused word in postwar planning.
Just what this coordination function meant for postwar intelligence, however, was far from clear. President Truman’s 1946 memorandum directed the DCI to “plan for the coordination” of the activities of various intelligence organizations. In the 1947 law, the coordination charge is to “make recommendations to the President through the National Security Council.” Thus, in the basic charter documents, the DCI is not charged with accomplishing coordination himself, only planning and recommending what should be done. The basic reason for this formulation probably flowed from the notion that coordination between elements belonging to different executive departments necessarily had to be agreed upon by the department heads.
Implementing directives adopted pursuant to these charters purported to give the DCI a somewhat greater role. Six months after the 1946 memorandum, the NIA issued a directive to Lt. Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, USA, the second DCI, stating that he was “authorized and directed to act for this authority in coordinating all Federal foreign intelligence activities related to the national security . . . .” This “executive agent” power was surrendered by Vandenberg’s successor, RAdm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter, USN, however, and it vanished completely when the 1947 law abolished the NIA and the CIG. Neither the law nor the first implementing directive of the NSC on the DCI’s duties conferred this level of authority on the DCI. It would not be until President Eisenhower’s second term that language directing the DCI to coordinate federal intelligence activities would return to bolster the DCI’s authority.
The relative priority of the coordination function did rise between 1946 and 1947. In listing the duties of the DCI, President Truman’s 1946 memorandum gives first place to the function of correlating, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence (not surprisingly, in light of Truman’s emphasis on seeking a single compilation of national security information for himself). The charge to “plan for the coordination” of activities is listed second. In the National Security Act, passed in the summer of 1947, the coordination duty is listed ahead of the “correlate and evaluate” duty, implying a belief that broader actions across organizations needed more emphasis.
In both charter documents, the lines of authority between department heads and their intelligence units are unchanged. For intelligence coordination actions to be achieved, the department heads must agree to whatever plan the DCI might put forward. In truth, it could not be otherwise in the absence of a centralized structure commanded by the DCI and with the departments continuing to have their own intelligence organizations. This structure of authority makes clear an important aspect of the president’s importance to the DCI: the president is the only official who holds sway over the department heads who command the non-CIA elements of the intelligence establishment.
Expectations Regarding Community Role
Clark Clifford, a key White House aide who worked directly with the president on intelligence matters in the postwar period, claimed in his memoir (published in 1991) that “the DCI’s oversight of the intelligence community falls far short of our original intent.” He also characterized the intelligence provisions of the National Security Act as indicating the DCI “would not only oversee the CIA but also have authority over the rest of the foreign intelligence community within the American government.” These statements suggest that in 1947 there were substantial expectations regarding the DCI’s community role.
There is little in the record, however, to support this retrospective judgment. It may well be that this was President Truman’s intent or hope, just as it may have been his desire to have a more unified military structure and a stronger secretary of defense than the 1947 law prescribed. But in the case of the DCI, Truman never initiated follow-on actions as he did with the secretary of defense’s position to strengthen the DCI’s personal authority over intelligence organizations other than CIA. Instead, Clifford’s statements probably reflect perceptions and judgments that arose in subsequent decades, perhaps when Clifford served as a consultant to various presidents, as secretary of defense, or even later.
Truman’s memoir, which stresses the DCI’s role in delivering to the president a consolidated summary of intelligence information, contains nothing suggesting a more powerful leadership or managerial role for the DCI beyond CIA. (Had he lived longer, Roosevelt conceivably might have granted Donovan’s wish that the postwar head of intelligence report directly to the president. But nothing he did or said suggests he would have given the DCI stronger coordinating or other leadership authority over intelligence organizations in the various executive branch departments.) Most telling, the relevant charter documents—drafted and reviewed carefully by, among others, Clark Clifford—do not readily lend themselves to an interpretation indicating broad DCI authority. They were sparely worded and highly general, leaving up to the NSC any further spelling out of DCI roles or authority. It seems clear, therefore, that senior executive branch officials in 1947, to the extent that they had expectations regarding a community coordinating role for the DCI, believed that role was a modest one, requiring only limited formal authority.
Individual or Collective Authority?
Just as “coordination” had supporting lineage in wartime experiences, so too did unity of command and individual responsibility. Thus, a committee headed by Robert Lovett that considered the new national security mechanisms made it clear that the new DCI was expected to carry out the responsibilities given to him by the president even though he did not have command authority over the resources that would enable him to carry them out. This charge was well understood by the first DCI, RAdm. Sidney Souers, who had drafted the intelligence section of the Eberstadt Report. But neither he nor his next two successors resolved an argument that continued through their tenures about the extent or nature of the DCI’s personal authority.
The issue was: could the DCI act on his own in taking issues to the NSC or the president after taking advice from the leaders of the intelligence organizations constituting his advisory board? Or did he also have to forward the concurrence or dissents of the board members? The Navy in particular pressed the collective responsibility point of view. DCIs held to the individual responsibility oriented position. Souers, DCI for less than five months and preoccupied with initial start-up actions connected with the new CIG, did not become embroiled in this debate. Vandenberg, his successor, took a much stronger stance, but even the NIA’s blessing of his role as its “executive agent” in some matters did not resolve the issue. His frustrations led to his not holding board meetings during much of the latter part of his year as DCI.
The third DCI, RAdm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter, USN, tried to strike a balance. By voluntarily giving up the “executive agent” status acquired by Vandenberg, he sought to encourage a cooperative atmosphere and a return to more meetings of the board and fuller discussions. His reward was a running argument on this issue (especially with the intelligence chief of the Navy, his home military service, to which he longed to return) that led him also to resort to fewer board meetings and to a passive “voting slip” procedure of board interaction. At one point when one of the civilian military department heads backed the collectivist viewpoint, Hillenkoetter took the issue to the new secretary of defense, James Forrestal. Forrestal held a meeting attended by civilian and military service heads and by the military intelligence chiefs and strongly backed Hillenkoetter’s statement favoring the DCI’s right to act with their advice but not necessarily with their agreement. Even this action and a formal statement to that effect in an NSC intelligence directive, however, did not end Hillenkoetter’s woes. Such coordination as he could achieve via consensus-minded meetings consisted largely of ensuring that activities conducted by various intelligence elements did not collide unproductively, were apportioned sensibly, and did not duplicate one another in substantial ways.
The initial report card written on CIA, the so-called Dulles-Jackson-Correa Report, submitted to the NSC on 1 January 1949, complained that the DCI’s coordination function was “not being adequately exercised.” Recognizing that this responsibility consisted essentially of recommending directives for the NSC to approve, the report asserted that gaps and overlaps needed to be identified and dealt with more aggressively. The report itself suggested several such areas: scientific intelligence, counterintelligence, use of the committee of intelligence chiefs, and use of the DCI’s coordination staff (which it argued should be reconstituted and strengthened). Having issued this criticism, the report concluded that “coordination can most effectively be achieved by mutual agreement among the various agencies” and “with the right measure of leadership on the part of the Central Intelligence Agency.” This formulation may have satisfied the report’s drafters, but it was of little practical value to a relatively low-ranking DCI hampered by demands from his professional colleagues that consensus be reached before taking any action.
Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, USA, the fourth DCI, smothered the issue. In his initial meeting with his fellow intelligence agency leaders, he tactfully emphasized the collective responsibility they all had to the NSC (a different tone than that struck by Hillenkoetter, who had stressed the board’s responsibility to the DCI) and evoked supportive nods of agreement. He then made it unmistakably clear that he would act on his own when he felt it appropriate to do so and would brook no dissent to that principle. Knowing that Smith enjoyed the respect of even the most senior cabinet officials, the other intelligence chiefs readily accepted his leadership.
This dominating performance ended the festering issue and introduced a new era of active use of the Interagency Advisory Committee (IAC), which had replaced the IAB in January 1947. DCI Smith used the committee for active discussions of issues, and he readily forwarded dissents on substance in national intelligence estimates to the NSC. A knowledgeable observer declared: “Gen. Smith bequeathed to his successors a DCI-IAC relationship that gave real meaning to the idea of an intelligence community,” and he also noted the apparent first use of the term “intelligence community” in the minutes recording an IAC meeting held in April 1952.
Although this development showed that a DCI respected by the president could enforce comity among intelligence officials, it did not result in any formal redefinition of the DCI’s authority. James Srodes, one of Allen Dulles’s biographers, points out that Smith “went out of his way to avoid confrontation” with his fellow intelligence leaders, making sure they felt “secure in the knowledge that, while they were members of his team, they remained in charge of their own bailiwicks and were solely responsible to their own internal constituencies.” Srodes describes how Smith brushed off the suggestion by CIA lawyers Lawrence Houston and Walter Pforzheimer that he seek bolstered authority from the NSC. Instead, he personally visited George Marshall at the Pentagon and Dean Acheson at the State Department and assured them that, while he wanted full cooperation and participation from their intelligence chiefs, his command authority applied only to CIA. In this way, the DCI’s community role became defined early as heavily limited.
Smith’s approach arguably made sense in light of the conception of the DCI’s community role held in the early 1950s. The main objective at the time was using all relevant information to coordinate production of national intelligence. For that purpose, most officials saw a process that gained access to and made sense of all the data held by the various intelligence agencies as sufficient to support DCI leadership.
Correlate and Evaluate
The specific DCI responsibility that Smith was addressing when he successfully asserted his leadership over his fellow intelligence chiefs was the law’s charge that the DCI “correlate and evaluate intelligence relating to the national security” and provide for its dissemination to policy customers. For President Truman, this was the first, and probably the main, kind of coordination he expected from the DCI. By mid-February 1946, the DCI was sending the president a daily intelligence summary. This responsibility involved the cooperation of the organizations that generated the information used in the summary, and the law explicitly directed those organizations to provide the DCI with any intelligence information they possessed. At the same time, this task also reflected the principle of individual responsibility felt keenly by the early DCIs, who had it produced by officers under their command in CIG.
Even so, the issue was clouded at the outset by challenges. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes believed that the diplomatic information used in CIA’s intelligence summary was “policy” information that he should transmit to the president and took his case to the president. Truman simply told him the DCI’s summary was “intelligence” to him and not to stand in its way (although he continued to accept daily reporting from the State Department, thus undercutting his own objective of non-duplication).
Another challenge was the contention that predictive papers, or “estimates” of future events abroad, a form of intelligence beyond simply passing on reporting done by others, required a full coordination process and a product that contained any dissents to main lines of argument or key facts. The first national intelligence estimate (NIE), a lengthy study of broad scope prepared on a short deadline in response to a White House request, was prepared in July 1946, when Vandenberg was DCI. Written by a single author and not coordinated, the estimate drew complaints from the chiefs of the various intelligence agencies. The DCI defended what had been done as reasonable given the task and deadline. At the same time, he conceded that the precedent was not a model to follow in most instances and agreed that coordination of such papers was desirable. Nobody questioned that the DCI was the proper person to oversee products of this kind.
The most basic challenge voiced by intelligence chiefs was that the DCI did not, under the law, have the right to “produce” intelligence unilaterally at all. Although OSS had had a sizable and productive research and analysis section, it was not clear to the military services or the State Department that CIG, or CIA, should have such a capability. DCI Vandenberg in effect answered this question by building up the independent analysis strength of CIG rapidly, angering his colleagues as he did so, and by arguing that scientific and technical issues and atomic weapons and energy were areas where it was indeed appropriate for CIG to do original research and analysis since they were not naturally realms of departmental expertise. He also argued that these areas, and possibly others, constituted “gaps” that needed addressing and that some subjects demanded treatment that exceeded any one department’s expertise.
The NIA authorized Vandenberg in 1946 to inventory possible gaps and to centralize research and analysis activities where that seemed advisable, and the NSC authorized his successor to “produce” intelligence, a more substantial role than simply passing on the best items of available information. The early DCIs used interagency processes to accomplish this task, but they increasingly turned to CIA to build analytic capabilities to improve the finished intelligence meant for senior policymakers.
The arguments in the 1940s about this and other subjects were contentious because they were related to the larger issue of what “central” intelligence really was to be and what a DCI could or should do. The substantive “finished” product—“national intelligence” information including what came to be analytic assessments and estimates—was after all arguably the culminating crown jewel of the entire business. If the DCI’s responsibility to “disseminate” intelligence was recognized as the duty to “produce” products that were more than the sum of the inputs on which they were based, then it could be argued that the entire basis for that product was logically fair game for the DCI to examine. He could argue he had the right to inquire whether various types of information were or were not being obtained, and he even could ask questions about the activities that underlay the acquisition of all kinds of information.
Smith accompanied his enforced comity among his fellow intelligence chiefs with practical steps to ensure that the top-level NIEs were “his” products. Upon taking office, he called upon distinguished professors William Langer and Sherman Kent to lead a new Board and Office of National Estimates (BNE, ONE) at CIA, thus putting the staff responsible for preparing the product fully under his authority. The new NIEs approved under Smith fit in well with the NSC process as it was practiced throughout the Eisenhower administration. The success this process and product enjoyed in the 1950s represented perhaps the best early example of DCI-led coordination of US foreign intelligence activities. It also embodied the view that the CIA should be the central “hub” of the entire Intelligence Community.
Some substantive areas cut across US intelligence agencies in such a way that coordination of some kind made sense but full centralization of collection and analytic capabilities did not. CIA inherited from the wartime Manhattan Project the task of handling intelligence on atomic matters in foreign countries. This was not an exclusive charge, as the military services and the new DOD had a vital stake in developing information on foreign military applications of atomic energy. So, on this topic, and on science and technology in general, committees were formed by the interagency intelligence board to sort out just what each organization should do in the way of collecting, reporting, and analyzing to ensure comprehensive coverage and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. Another important subject handled in this way was economic intelligence. Treasury and State were inclined to think of this as their subject area, but its importance in relation to understanding the Soviet threat led to their recognition of a CIA analytic role and to committee-centered coordination activities.
Services of Common Concern and Other Functions and Duties
Thanks to the 1947 National Security Act, the DCI also was to perform services of common concern best done centrally and such other functions and duties as the NSC might direct. The act stated these two responsibilities in general terms in part because it was thought at the time not proper to refer explicitly to secret activities in a public government document, and in part because the services and duties involved could not be specifically determined at the outset of this novel undertaking of a peacetime intelligence enterprise. They quickly came to be the legal basis for two important overseas intelligence activities assigned to the DCI, conducting espionage and mounting covert actions.
Early DCIs expanded the capabilities of CIA to enable them to carry out these responsibilities. Clandestine collection of human source intelligence had been an integral part of CIA’s activities from the beginning. The War Department had transferred the relevant resources left over from OSS to CIG, and CIA inherited them when it began operations in 1947. Executive branch leaders, intelligence professionals, and most congressional leaders considered this to be an appropriate “service of common concern” at the time the 1947 law passed.
The duty of mounting covert actions to influence events abroad came very soon after CIA was established, beginning as the Cold War developed in Europe. This duty was justified under the “other duties and functions” responsibility, a connection not known to have been considered at the time the 1947 law was passed. The phrase seems to have been meant to cover unforeseen contingencies. Its inclusion in Truman’s January 1946 memorandum precedes many of the events that convinced US leaders of the onset of the Cold War with the USSR and the need for a whole range of steps appropriate to that struggle, including covert actions assigned to CIA.
Centralization and coordination of intelligence activities were key objectives sought in giving these responsibilities to the DCI and to CIA. A fundamental goal was to ensure that clandestine operations abroad not suffer from crossed wires such as having two or more US organizations trying to hire the same agents. For some years after the war, DCIs had to deal with US Army clandestine collection efforts not favored by CIA and about coordination of activities in occupied Germany. Another goal was to coordinate the clandestine operations of the two major civilian organizations working overseas: the CIA’s foreign intelligence collectors (Office of Special Operations, or OSO) and the growing covert action organization (Office of Policy Coordination, or OPC) created in 1948, a unit that responded to direction from the departments of state and defense but was administered by CIA. The 1949 Dulles-Jackson-Correa Report urged the merger of the two offices into one clandestine service in CIA, and the NSC endorsed that recommendation.
Again, it was DCI Smith who took decisive action toward these goals. He first insisted that OPC report via him to its cabinet-level policymaking superiors, resolving what had been a somewhat ambiguous situation without dissent from either Frank Wisner, OPC’s head, or the cabinet officers involved. He then adopted the halfway measure of placing the two clandestine operations offices under the same senior officer (Allen Dulles) while keeping them separate (again, without dissent from the NSC despite its endorsement of merger). In 1952, he finally merged them into a single CIA directorate. In this way, the DCI gave priority to the aim of coordination despite misgivings about the wisdom of joining two activities with different and not always compatible purposes.
The “services of common concern” rationale applied to a number of activities other than those connected with clandestine operations abroad. Basically, no departmental intelligence organization wanted to give up activities it saw as essential to its own departmental mission, but there were activities such as the exploitation of documents captured during the war that all were happy enough to see taken over by the “central” organization. Prominent examples discussed among the intelligence chiefs and then given to CIA to handle were the interception and exploitation of foreign radio broadcasts and press and the gleaning of intelligence from US citizens who traveled abroad.
CIA: A Complicating Factor
It is worth pausing to consider how the DCI’s use of CIA, the one organization that he unambiguously headed, complicated his community leadership role from the beginning. The 1947 law incorporated the functions assigned to the DCI in Truman’s 1946 memorandum (and added to the top of the list another, advising the NSC on intelligence matters), but with an interesting difference. They are assigned to the CIA, not—as in 1946—to the DCI. This was done, most probably, because the main purpose of the intelligence portion of the law was to establish a regular executive agency in place of a presidential staff. But the wording also implies that the CIA was to be the DCI’s instrument for carrying out his responsibilities, including his coordinating role. Indeed, in his November 1944 proposal for an independent and central intelligence agency, Donovan suggested that its purpose was “to coordinate the functions and supplement the work of the departmental intelligence agencies.” And in September 1945, key Forrestal aide Mathias Correa recommended to Forrestal that “any central authority or agency set up should have the primary function of coordination rather than operation in the intelligence field.”
Some foresaw that combining this coordination role with other functions posed a potential problem. One of Secretary of State Byrnes’s advisers told him in November 1945 that “the more the central agency engaged in operations, the less effective it could be in coordination.” Indeed, although DCI Souers’s CIG seemed to be more a staff than an operational organization, DCI Vandenberg’s objective was “to build up the prospective CIA into an independent, entirely self-sufficient, national intelligence service,” reducing the importance of the intelligence staffs of the military services. During 1946–1947, in addition to tackling coordination duties, Vandenberg went about aggressively creating a professional clandestine service for conducting secret operations abroad (Souers had anticipated this development) and a research and analysis capability for producing “national intelligence.” By building these capabilities within CIG, he alarmed some and introduced the distinction between significant intelligence programs over which the DCI had direct authority and those where he did not. He also supported the development of legislation to strengthen his authority and convert CIG into an agency. The drafters of the 1947 law took carefully into account the interests of “departmental” intelligence agencies, and, as a consequence, apparently did not anticipate the growth of CIA as an independent actor viewed as a competitor with other intelligence organizations (CIA was represented on the IAC only by the DCI, the committee’s chairman), and the impact of that development on the DCI’s ability to act as a coordinator of all US foreign intelligence activities.
Hillenkoetter was DCI when the basic goal of creating CIA was statutorily accomplished in 1947, and in 1949 another law strengthened the DCI’s powers with respect to CIA. The 1949 legislation did not attempt to enlarge the DCI’s authority with respect to existing intelligence organizations in other federal departments and agencies, however, nor was the DCI given a larger staff to support communitywide functions.
During Smith’s tenure, the premium was on accomplishing vital intelligence missions and building more effective national intelligence capabilities. Impatient presidential and other demands of the early Cold War and then the hot Korean War drove this imperative. Smith took actions where he could do so most quickly and efficiently, and that meant furthering the process begun under Vandenberg within CIG and developing capabilities within his own agency, CIA: an analysis directorate that grew in supporting the production of national estimates, and a clandestine operations directorate that expanded to handle the growth of covert action.
With respect to analysis, the growth of CIA’s capabilities aroused suspicions that the DCI might duplicate research and analysis done elsewhere and fail to give due weight to the analytic views of other intelligence agencies. With respect to secret operations, the assignment to the DCI of control over the operations of America’s overseas “clandestine service” housed at CIA gave him a line responsibility he could fulfill with little reference to other intelligence agencies. Indeed, the need for these operations to be conducted in secrecy led DCIs not to coordinate them with, or in many cases even inform, other intelligence agency heads. The DCI’s broader community role of coordinating overseas clandestine intelligence operations, including those of the military services, thus involved a one-way information flow, to the DCI but not from him to others. However necessary this was, it created a sense among US intelligence officials outside CIA of non-coordination and non-cooperation on the DCI’s part. They readily acknowledged him as their leader, but they also looked on him as an official with responsibilities and roles connected to CIA, not as a neutral or supra-community figure overseeing all US intelligence unencumbered by institutional bias.
Even the committee and staff-oriented community coordination processes came to be seen by intelligence organizations outside CIA as CIA-centric, in part because the DCI used CIA officers to staff these mechanisms. For the early DCIs, a small coordination staff handled their community-wide responsibilities, and the Dulles-Jackson-Correa Report recommended strengthening it. In the early years, this staff consciously avoided hiring “representatives” of other agencies for fear they would reflect more the interests of their home organizations than those of the DCI.
The DCI thus found himself caught in a paradox. To be effective, he found it attractive to enhance CIA’s capabilities. And, to the extent that this approach brought positive results, it strengthened his stature and potential for leadership. But it did not lead to a community-wide sense of growing ties and patterns of cooperation. To the extent that the increasing capabilities relied on by early DCIs were CIA’s, the DCI’s increasingly important role seemed tied more to CIA than to the community as a whole. It was a leadership and management tangle that emerged early and affected all DCIs. For those who, like Donovan, felt that what needed to be done was to create a new “national” intelligence capability beyond that represented by the existing military intelligence organizations, it was an appropriate fulfillment of a sensible vision. But comity between the DCI and the heads of the partner agencies remained a matter of personality rather than of maturing organizational structures or agreed management principles.
Smith improved and led cooperative community-wide processes via interagency board meetings, committee work, and coordinated estimates production. During this formative period, however, he did not seek to create a more permanent basis for DCI authority within the community than already existed. Instead, he declared that the NSC’s recommendations adopted before he became DCI in the wake of the Dulles-Jackson-Correa Report (in July 1949, ratifying in NSC 50 the conclusions of the “McNarney Report”), was a sufficient basis for him to act. He requested no more legislation, presidential guidance, or NSC intelligence directives to bolster his role as the leader of US foreign intelligence.
We have noted how the DCI was accorded from the outset community-wide centralizing and coordinating roles with respect to intelligence analysis and clandestine human source collection overseas. We should pause to note the “curious” fact of the non-barking dog, signals intelligence. The DCI was not expected, nor did he seek, to exercise a strong leadership hand or even a strong coordinating role with respect to communications intelligence. Although senior executive branch officials and blue-ribbon panels in the 1940s and 1950s highlighted problems connected with managing and exploiting communications intelligence, they did not turn to the DCI to resolve those problems or otherwise lead or coordinate this sizable and critical intelligence discipline.
There was in the fall of 1945 some fear on the part of those responsible for communications intelligence activities that “a centralized intelligence agency” would take control of them if the Army and Navy did not move to eliminate duplication of effort. They formed a committee to coordinate communications intelligence work between the two military services, and the State Department and the FBI later joined it. This interagency group, soon named the US Communications Intelligence Board (USCIB), existed separately from the IAC that advised the DCI on all other foreign intelligence matters. Vandenberg—already the Army Air Forces representative on the committee and in fact the committee’s chairman—chaired it throughout his tenure as DCI. Hillenkoetter, however, declined the State Department’s nomination to chair the committee on a regular basis although he participated in some of its meetings.
The only point at which anyone seems to have thought the DCI should provide a leading role regarding communications intelligence came when USCIB in 1948 sent forward a report seeking a charter for itself as a coordinating body. The Secretary of Defense Forrestal indicated that the charter should be an NSC directive pursuant to the intelligence section of the National Security Act rather than an executive order, and CIA dutifully drafted a National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) establishing USCIB under the NSC. The Navy objected, and a compromise document was drawn up laying out a confederation-type board requiring unanimity and a statement defining communications intelligence as a field “outside” the intelligence arena for which the DCI was responsible.
DCI Hillenkoetter, with the concurrence of the other intelligence chiefs, forwarded the proposed action to the NSC. Sidney Souers, by then the executive secretary of the NSC, responded by questioning why the NSC should oversee the USCIB directly when it already had a DCI to whom it looked to coordinate all intelligence matters. That Souers would ask this question suggests that translating the still new notion of a “DCI” into something of potentially practical consequence for centralized leadership and management of intelligence was alive in at least some minds at the time.
Apparently taking his cue from Souers, Hillenkoetter redrafted the paper to reflect what he took to be White House guidance on the issue and forwarded it to the NSC, noting that all except the DCI dissented from it. The NSC chose not to endorse the view of its executive secretary and instead issued an NSCID supporting the majority of community leaders in establishing a USCIB reporting to the NSC. This episode stood as the only instance of a DCI’s attempting to assert authority over this field until DCI Stansfield Turner unsuccessfully sought control over NSA in 1977. The result was the approval in mid-1948 by the full NSC, led by Secretary of Defense Forrestal—the strongest advocate on the NSC of strengthening DCI authority—of an NSCID enshrining the policy that communications intelligence was to be treated “as being outside the framework of other or general intelligence activities” referred to in the 1947 National Security Act.
This disconnection of communications intelligence from all other foreign intelligence activities that the DCI was supposed to coordinate seems “curious” when viewed in retrospect, especially given its importance as a source of information and its large size in resource terms. To postwar American leaders well aware of its role in World War II and of its continuing importance, however, it seemed entirely natural to treat it separately. Senior officials had not given OSS access to communications intelligence except for its counterintelligence operations, so wartime precedent did not suggest that the DCI or CIA should be involved in its management (and at no point did William Donovan propose that the postwar intelligence chief he so much wanted to be have a key role in this regard). Top officials continued to believe after the war that the special nature of this intelligence merited strict compartmentation. Also, the organizations performing this kind of work were military, not civilian, and their continued integration with military organizations made operational sense, especially for tactical support. Finally, the creation of a DCI aimed especially at the objective of adding a US capability for national intelligence, not gathering existing intelligence activities into one organizational basket.
The early DCIs thus contented themselves with ensuring that they—and the CIG or CIA—had access to communications intelligence products and did not press for a greater role than membership or chairmanship of the interagency committee that dealt with communications intelligence issues. They believed that access to that discipline’s finished products adequately fulfilled the charge to them to “correlate and evaluate” all sources of intelligence information in rendering “national” intelligence to top-level policymakers.
DCI Smith did, however, play a role in the process that led to the creation of the National Security Agency (NSA). Late in 1951, he requested that the NSC review this field of intelligence, and a committee headed by Herbert Brownell, Jr., who became President Eisenhower’s first attorney general, took up that task. It concluded that communications intelligence was a “national” intelligence responsibility and should be conducted by a new agency, NSA, which was duly created by secret presidential order in October 1952. The field nonetheless remained in important respects separate from other intelligence activities. NSA reported directly to a special committee of the NSC, and the secretary of defense became the NSC’s executive agent for the nation’s signals intelligence effort.
By the time Dwight Eisenhower became president and moved Smith to become John Foster Dulles’s deputy at the State Department early in 1953, the DCI position had been accepted as a valued one that contributed to national security decisionmaking at the topmost level. Smith personally had extensive personal access to President Truman, and he dealt confidently with him and with cabinet officials regarding the full range of intelligence issues. His establishment of a system for producing national intelligence in the form of NIEs blended personal DCI leadership with a process that involved and drew upon the entire Intelligence Community. It was perhaps the best example of an accepted and useful DCI community leadership role.
Smith’s influence, however, was also connected with CIA’s growing role as an action agency fighting the Cold War. He had carried further the process begun by Vandenberg in 1946 of increasing intelligence capabilities directly under his command and had formed the basic structure for the modern CIA. Thus, as he strengthened—indeed established—an important personal role for the DCI within the executive branch, he also promoted the dual nature of the intelligence capabilities underlying the DCI’s power and influence, the two “hats” coming to symbolize separate agency and community roles. Even the NIE process run by Sherman Kent over time became perceived as less community-oriented as CIA took over a large share of the research and drafting that supported the community’s premier product.
At the same time, Smith established an improved pattern of Intelligence Community leadership and cooperation. The leadership of the community was the same as that set up after World War II: the DCI (there was no CIA member separate from the DCI), representatives from the FBI and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and the intelligence chiefs of the State Department, the Joint Staff, and the three military services. The Cold War defined the community’s mission, and the urgent need to learn facts about the Soviet threat—especially its military and economic capabilities and its policy intentions—gave strong impetus to all intelligence organizations to work together against a difficult target.
The DCI’s community role defined by Smith was one of leading a process of discussion and mutual agreement in order to decide upon an appropriate division of labor, improve capabilities, and achieve cooperation and coordination among their organizations. A principal mode of community interaction consisted of meetings of the committee of intelligence chiefs chaired by the DCI and the work of committees they commissioned to focus on particular tasks such as scientific intelligence. It was notably dependent upon teamwork among the group of leaders at the top, each heading an organization making contributions to the overall mission. Thus, in a sense, the DCI’s “staff” for his community role was his committee of fellow intelligence chiefs and their subordinates who carried on the committee-based cooperation and coordination. The DCI’s own small community coordination staff did little more than make sure that the necessary bureaucratic activities proceeded in good order and supported the DCI’s personal role in overseeing and leading those activities.