Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953-61

"Our First Line of Defense" Presidential Reflections on US Intelligence (U)


President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized the importance of intelligence from his days as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II. During the Eisenhower administration, technological advances enabled CIA to collect information previously unavailable. The U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and CORONA satellite reconnaissance programs both began under Eisenhower, permitting CIA to penetrate the Iron Curtain.

CIA began construction of its present headquarters complex in Langley, Virginia, in 1959. In a November ceremony, the President along with his Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles laid the cornerstone of the current Original Headquarters Building.

    "AMERICA'S FUNDAMENTAL aspiration is the preservation of peace. To this end we seek to develop policies and arrangements to make the peace both permanent and just. This can be done only on the basis of comprehensive and appropriate information.

    "In war nothing is more important to a commander than the facts concerning the strength, dispositions, and intentions of his opponent, and the proper interpretation of those facts. In peacetime the necessary facts are of a different nature. They deal with conditions, resources, requirements, and attitudes prevailing in the world. They and their correct interpretation are essential to the development of policy to further our long-term national security and best interests. To provide information of this kind is the task of the organization of which you are a part.

    "No task could be more important. "Upon the quality of your work depends in large measure the success of our effort to further the nation's position in the international scene.

    "By its very nature the work of this agency demands of its members the highest order of dedication, ability, trustworthiness, and selflessness--to say nothing of the finest type of courage, whenever needed. Success cannot be advertised: failure cannot be explained. In the work of intelligence, heroes are undecorated and unsung, often even among their own fraternity. Their inspiration is rooted in patriotism--their reward can be little except the conviction that they are performing a unique and indispensable service for their country, and the knowledge that America needs and appreciates their efforts. I assure you this is indeed true.


    "The reputation of your organization for quality and excellence of performance, . . . is a proud one.

    "Because I deeply believe these things, I deem it a great privilege to participate in this ceremony of cornerstone laying for the national headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. On this spot will rise a beautiful and useful structure. May it long endure, to serve the cause of America and of peace."

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Laying of cornerstone for CIA building, 3 November 1959



    "I HAVE MADE SOME NOTES FROM which I want to talk to you about this U-2 incident. . . .

    "The first point is this: the need for intelligence-gathering activities.

    "No one wants another Pearl Harbor. This means that we must have knowledge of military forces and preparations around the world, especially those capable of massive surprise attacks.

    "Secrecy in the Soviet Union makes this essential. . . .

    " . . . ever since the beginning of my administration I have issued directives to gather, in every feasible way, the information required to protect the United States and the free world against surprise attack and to enable them to make effective preparations for defense.

    "My second point: the nature of intelligence-gathering activities.

    "These have a special and secret character. They are, so to speak, `below the surface' activities.

    "They are secret because they must circumvent measures designed by other countries to protect secrecy of military preparations.

    "They are divorced from the regular visible agencies of government which stay clear of operational involvement in specified detailed activities.

    "These elements operate under broad directives to seek and gather intelligence short of the use of force--with operations supervised by responsible officials within this area of secret activities. . . .

    "These activities have their own rules and methods of concealment which seek to mislead and obscure-- . . .

    "Third point: how should we view all of this activity?

    "It is a distasteful but vital necessity.

    "We prefer and work for a different kind of world--and a different way of obtaining the information essential to confidence and effective deterrents. Open societies; in the day of present weapons, are the only answer. . . .

    "My final point is that we must not be distracted from the real issues of the day by what is an incident of a symptom of the world situation today."

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower News conference following Soviet downing American reconnaissance aircraft, 11 May 1960



    " . . . ACCORDING, AT THIS morning's private session, despite the violence and inaccuracy of Mr. Khrushchev's statements, I replied to him on the following terms: . . .

    "In my statement of May 11th and in the statement of Secretary Herter of May 9th, the position of the United States was made clear with respect to the distasteful necessity of espionage activities in a world where nations distrust each other's intentions. We pointed out that these activities had no aggressive intent but rather were to assure the safety of the United States and the free world against surprise attack by a power which boasts of its ability to devastate the United States and other countries by missiles armed with atomic warheads. As is well known, not only the United States but most other countries are constantly the targets of elaborate and persistent espionage of the Soviet Union."

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Paris summit, 16 May 1960





    "DURING THE PERIOD LEADING up to World War II we learned from bitter experience the imperative necessity of a continuous gathering of intelligence information, . . .

    "Moreover, as President, charged by the Constitution with the conduct of America's foreign relations, and as Commander-in-Chief, charged with the direction of the operations and activities of our Armed Forces and their supporting services, I take full responsibility for approving all the various programs undertaken by our government to secure and evaluate military intelligence.

    "It was in the prosecution of one of these intelligence programs that the widely publicized U-2 incident occurred.

    "Aerial photography has been one of many methods we have used to keep ourselves and the free world abreast of major Soviet military developments. The usefulness of this work has been well established through four years of effort. The Soviets were well aware of it. . . .

    "The plain truth is this: when a nation needs intelligence activity, there is no time when vigilance can be relaxed. Incidentally, from Pearl Harbor we learned that even negotiation itself can be used to conceal preparations for a surprise attack. . . .

    " . . . It must be remembered that over a long period, these flights had given us information of the greatest importance to the nation's security. In fact, their success has been nothing short of remarkable. . . .

    "I then made two facts clear to the public: first, our program of aerial reconnaissance had been undertaken with my approval; second, this government is compelled to keep abreast, by one means or another, of military activities of the Soviets, just as their government has for years engaged in espionage activities in our country and throughout the world."

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Television report after the Paris summit, 25 May 1960

    "AS I THINK YOU KNOW, I WISH you and your associates in the Central Intelligence Agency well in the tremendously important job you do for our country. Upon the work of your organization there is an almost frightening responsibility; I know all members of the CIA will continue to do the best they can for all of us."

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower Letter to Mr. Allen W. Dulles, DCI, 18 January 1961


    An indispensable organization to our country.
    Dwight D. Eisenhower"

    Inscription on the photograph of President Eisenhower, which he presented to CIA






Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 01:33 PM
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2008 01:58 PM