CIA Overview

The Central Intelligence Agency. . . . . America’s premier foreign intelligence Agency.

For more than 60 years, the CIA has been at the forefront of securing the United States by providing America’s policymakers with the intelligence they need to make informed decisions.

The history of America’s foreign intelligence gathering reaches back to the days of George Washington. But it wasn’t until World War II that the USA’s foreign intelligence activities were coordinated government-wide.

The CIA’s forerunner, the Office of Strategic Services – or OSS – was created in 1942. The men and women of the OSS collected and analyzed strategic information and conducted wartime covert actions and counterintelligence operations. However, at the end of World War II, the OSS was disbanded, leaving the nation without a non-departmental, strategically oriented intelligence service.

But with the Soviet threat and the cold war heating up, President Harry Truman soon recognized the need for a new intelligence organization.

So in 1947, he signed The National Security Act, establishing the Central Intelligence Agency as an independent, civilian intelligence agency within the executive branch. The CIA was charged with coordinating the nation’s intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence deemed critical to national security.

The Act also created a Director of Central Intelligence, or DCI, to lead both the CIA and the U.S. Intelligence Community. The DCI also served as the President’s principal adviser on intelligence matters.  Over the next fifty years the CIA performed its intelligence gathering activities alongside a growing number of other agencies, such as the DIA, NRO, NSA and others.

The role of the DCI changed on December 17, 2004, when President George W. Bush signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. This new Act restructured the Intelligence Community and created the position of Director of National Intelligence, or DNI. The DNI now oversees the 16 intelligence agencies, including the CIA, while serving as the President’s principal intelligence adviser.

The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, or D/CIA, now focuses on leading the CIA. The D/CIA manages the Agency’s operations, personnel, and budget. However, the D/CIA also manages – on behalf of the DNI – human intelligence and open source collection programs across the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Since it’s beginnings in 1947, the CIA has expanded and evolved, but its main responsibilities have not changed. The CIA does not make policy. It informs the leaders who do make policy and provides them with essential information.

The CIA’s mission today, as it has been since 1947, is to collect intelligence, perform all-source analysis, and conduct covert action at the direction of the president.

To accomplish this, CIA officers work in one of four directorates:

  • the National Clandestine Service,
  • the Directorate of Intelligence,
  • the Directorate of Science & Technology, and
  • the Directorate of Support.

There are also several offices that provide direct support to the D/CIA and carry out functions Agency wide. While each directorate and office has a unique mission, the Agency achieves its overall mission through integration and partnerships.

As the nation’s premiere human intelligence agency, the CIA’s clandestine work is fundamental to our mission. The National Clandestine Service – or NCS – is the front-line source of clandestine information on critical security issues … from terrorism and weapons proliferation to changes in foreign leadership and military capabilities.

One way NCS officers collect information is from human sources. This is known as HUMINT. The officers live and work undercover to establish and maintain critical networks of foreign spies.

Our NCS officers obtain information that we cannot get from other intelligence sources – such as satellite imagery, open sources or intercepted communications. They also carry out special covert activities as authorized by the President, and protect classified U.S. activities and institutions from penetration by hostile foreign organizations and individuals.

The Directorate of Intelligence, the DI, houses our analysts. The men and women in the DI review and analyze the intelligence collected by our NCS officers plus information gathered through open sources (like foreign media), satellite photography, and other sophisticated technical means.  They provide timely, accurate, relevant and objective all-source intelligence analysis on a full-range of national security and foreign policy issues.

Over the years, DI analysts have warned government leaders of impending crises and confrontations and they have identified opportunities and spotted trends. They produce – time and time again – analysis available nowhere else, and put this vital information in the right hands.

Finished DI analysis is provided to the President, members of Congress, the military and senior policymakers throughout the U.S. government.

The members of the Directorate of Science and Technology, the DS&T, create innovative, technology-driven tools that directly support the CIA’s collection specialists and analysts.  DS&T designs, develops, and builds “spy ware” … the technology and tools our officers need to succeed in their jobs.

Think “Q” from the James Bond movies.

In order to accomplish their mission, DS&T officers are experts on subjects ranging from chemistry and computer science to mechanical engineering and nanotechnology.

DS&T engineers design, build, and operate sophisticated intelligence collection systems, conduct surveillance and provide secure communications for CIA assets all over the world. Every day, DS&T specialists research, develop, and apply advanced technologies that give the U.S. a technological edge that our adversaries cannot match.

Finally, the CIA would not be able to complete its mission without the support specialists in our Directorate of Support, or DS. It’s these officers who make certain that the CIA can deliver on its promise to go wherever needed, whenever needed. The DS helps the Agency plan for future requirements and provides a full range of services to keep operations running smoothly.

DS officers build and maintain our facilities. They hire, train, protect and equip our personnel. And they provide robust secure communications anywhere in the world.   They are our financial experts as well, our doctors and nurses, administrative support, IT specialists and our security officers.

Officers from all these directorates are serving every day on the front lines of America’s defense. Many operate in places of great danger and discomfort.

Since the CIA began in 1947 a number of our employees have given the ultimate sacrifice. Our Memorial Wall in the headquarters lobby, with its rows of carved stars, commemorates CIA employees who have been killed in the line of duty. The Book of Honor, encased just below the stars, includes the names of those fallen officers who can be acknowledged publicly. Unfortunately, he service and sacrifice of others must remain secret, even in death.

The memorial stars are an inspiration to all who today carry forward CIA’s essential mission. The Central Intelligence Agency, unmatched in its core capabilities – and true to the values that define America itself – has made, and continues to make, a real difference to U.S. national security.

Every U.S. President since Truman has relied on the CIA to deliver intelligence in ways no other organization can. President Truman had a special admiration for the Agency he created, even in its early years.  As inscribed below his portrait in the President’s Gallery at CIA Headquarters, President Truman said: “To the CIA – a necessity to the president of the United States – from one who knows.”

To learn more about the CIA, its history, its people and its mission, visit our Web site:

Posted: Jun 04, 2013 03:43 PM
Last Updated: Jun 04, 2013 03:43 PM