Harry S. Truman, 1945-53

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


President Truman was conscious of rivalry among US intelligence organizations both during and after World War II. He realized that reorganization was necessary and that a reorganization plan needed to be developed, from competing proposals, which would not exacerbate these rivalries. The following reflects President Truman's thinking on the subject prior to the establishment of the Central Intelligence Group in 1946 and ultimately of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947.


    "I CONSIDERED IT VERY important to this country to have a sound, well-organized intelligence system, both in the present and in the future. Properly developed, such a service would require new concepts as well as better trained and more competent personnel . . . it was imperative that we refrain from rushing into something that would produce harmful and unnecessary rivalries among the various intelligence agencies. I told Smith (Director of the Bureau of the Budget) that one thing was certain--this country wanted no Gestapo under any guise or for any reason."

    President Harry S. Truman, Memoirs Vol I


    "A PRESIDENT HAS TO KNOW what is going on all around the world in order to be ready to act when action is needed. The President must have all the facts that may affect the foreign policy or the military policy of the United States. . . .

    "Before 1946 such information as the President needed was being collected in several different places in the government. The War Department had an Intelligence Division--G-2--and the Navy had an intelligence setup of its own--the ONI. The Department of State, on the one hand, got its information through diplomatic channels, while the Treasury and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture each had channels for gathering information from different parts of the world--on monetary, economic, and agricultural matters.

    "During World War II the Federal Bureau of Investigation had some operations abroad, and in addition the Office of Strategic Services, which was set up by President Roosevelt during the war and placed under the direction of Gen. William J. Donovan, operated abroad to gather information.

    "This scattered method of getting information for the various departments of the government first struck me as being badly organized when I was in the Senate. Our Senate committees, hearing the witnesses from the executive departments, were often struck by the fact that different agencies of the government came up with different and conflicting facts on similar subjects. It was not at first apparent that this was due to the uncoordinated methods of obtaining information. Since then, however, I have often thought that if there had been something like coordination of information in the government it would have been more difficult, if not impossible, for the Japanese to succeed in the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor. In those days the military did not know everything the State Department knew, and the diplomats did not have access to all the Army and Navy knew. The Army and the Navy, in fact, had only a very informal arrangement to keep each other informed as to their plans.




    "In other words, there had never been much attention paid to any centralized intelligence organization in our government. Apparently the United States saw no need for a really comprehensive system of foreign intelligence until World War II placed American fighting men on the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa and on the islands of the Atlantic and the Pacific.

    "The war taught us this lesson--that we had to collect intelligence in a manner that would make the information available where it was needed and when it was wanted, in an intelligent and understandable form. If it is not intelligent and understandable, it is useless.

    "On becoming President, I found that the needed intelligence information was not co-ordinated at any one place. Reports came across my desk on the same subject at different times from the various departments, and these reports often conflicted. Consequently I asked Admiral Leahy if anything was being done to improve the system. Leahy told me that in 1944, at President Roosevelt's direction, he had referred to the Joint Chiefs of Staff a plan for centralized intelligence work prepared by General Donovan. This plan, so Leahy told me, provided for an organization directly under the President and responsible only to him. The Navy, however, had worked out a counterproposal under which there would be a central agency to serve as an overall intelligence organization, but with each of the departments responsible for national security having a stake in it. Much of the original work on this project was done by Rear Admiral Sidney W. Souers, Deputy Chief of Naval Intelligence.

    "Sometime later I asked Secretary of State Byrnes to submit his recommendations for a way to coordinate intelligence services among the departments, explaining that I had already asked Leahy to look into the subject but that I wanted the State Department's recommendations since the State Department would need to play an important role in the operation.

    "Secretary Byrnes took the position that such an organization should be responsible to the Secretary of State and advised me that he should be in control of all intelligence. The Army and the Navy, on the other hand, strongly objected. They maintained that every department required its own intelligence but that there was a great need for a central organization to gather together all information that had to do with over-all national policy. Under such an organization there would be a pool of information, and each agency would contribute to it. This pool would make it possible for those who were responsible for establishing policies in foreign political and military fields to draw on authoritative intelligence for their guidance.

    "In January 1946 I held a series of meetings in my office to examine the various plans suggested for a centralized intelligence authority."

    President Harry S. Truman, Memoirs Volume II

    "WHETHER IT BE TREASON OR not, it does the United States just as much harm for military secrets to be made known to potential enemies through open publication, as it does for military secrets to be given to an enemy through the clandestine operations of spies. . . .

    " . . . I do not believe that the best solution can be reached by adopting an approach based on the theory that everyone has a right to know our military secrets and related information affecting the national security."

    President Harry S. Truman, News conference, 4 October 1951




    "WHEN I BECAME PRESIDENT--if you don't mind me reminiscing a little bit--there was no concentration of information for the benefit of the President. Each department and each organization had its own information service, and that information service was walled off from every other service in such a manner that whenever it was necessary for the President to have information, he had to send to two or three departments to get it, and then he would have to have somebody do a little digging to get it. . . .

    " . . . And finally one morning I had a conversation with Admiral Leahy, and suggested to him that there should be a Central Intelligence Agency, for the benefit of the whole government as well as for the benefit of the President, so he could be informed.

    "And the Admiral and I proceeded to try to work out a program. It has worked very successfully. We have an intelligence information service now that I think is not inferior to any in the world.

    "We have the Central Intelligence Agency, and all the intelligence information agencies in all the rest of the departments of the government, coordinated by that Central Intelligence Agency. This agency puts the information of vital importance to the President in his hands. He has to know what is going on everywhere at home and abroad, so that he can intelligently make the decisions that are necessary to keep the government running. . . .

    " . . . You are the organization, you are the intelligence arm that keeps the Executive informed so that he can make decisions that always will be in the public interest for his own country, hoping always that it will save the free world from involvement with the totalitarian countries in an all-out war--a terrible thing to contemplate.

    "Those of you who are deep in the Central Intelligence Agency know what goes on around the world--know what is necessary for the President to know every morning. I am briefed every day on all the world, on everything that takes place from one end of the world to the other, all the way around--by both the poles and the other way. It is necessary that you make that contribution for the welfare and benefit of your government.

    "I came over here to tell you how appreciative I am of the service which I received as the Chief Executive of the greatest nation in the history of the world."

    President Harry S. Truman, CIA Orientation, 21 November 1952

    "TO THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE agency, a necessity to the President of the United States, from one who knows.

    Harry S. Truman June 9, 1964"

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





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