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Nov 04, 2014 444 Days in Tehran: The Story of CIA Officers Held Captive During the Iranian Hostage Crisis

It was a warm, sunny November morning when six CIA officers stationed at the US Embassy in Iran first heard the rumblings of a crowd amassing outside. A small group of mostly nonviolent protesters had been gathering near the Embassy for several weeks to demonstrate against US support for the exiled Iranian leader Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. This protest seemed no different. Then, slowly, the noise from the crowd changed, intensified, and grew closer. By mid-morning, a group of radical Islamist students breached the perimeter of the US Embassy on Takht-e-Jamshid Avenue in Tehran and took sixty-six Americans hostage. Fifty-two of the hostages, including the CIA officers, remained in captivity for 444 days. That was 35 years ago.

The Iranian hostage crisis began on November 4, 1979 and was one of the greatest US foreign policy crises of the last century. While much has been written about the crisis, this week we recount the story of two CIA officers who were held hostage during this critical point in American history.

Read Part 1: Storming of the Embassy: November 4, 1979

Read Part 2: Life in Captivity

Read Part 3: The Release: January 20, 1981

Oct 02, 2014 2014 CIA Trailblazer Awards Presented

Last month, Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan presented this year’s Trailblazer Awards to Donald R. Cryer and another valued employee, whose work remains classified. The Trailblazer Awards were established in 1997 to recognize CIA officers who, by their actions, example, innovations or initiative, have taken the CIA in important new directions and helped shape the Agency’s history. This year’s honorees continue this tradition.

Since 2008, the CIA has recognized officers with an award for outstanding work in promoting diversity and inclusion to enhance the mission. In 2010, that award was officially renamed for Cryer, a 42-year veteran of the Agency and tireless advocate who laid the groundwork for CIA’s diversity and inclusion programs. His concentration on building an inclusive, high-performing workforce through strategic planning, succession planning and success measurement—as well as his emphasis on removing obstacles and barriers that impede employee success—remains in effect today. Cryer attributes the accomplishments recognized by the Trailblazer Award to the host of people who mentored, supported and inspired him throughout his career.

To read about previous Trailblazer Award recipients, follow these links:

Sep 15, 2014 CIA Reaches Deep to Feed Local Families

brennanfedsfeedfamiliesThe "Feds Feed Families" food drive, which began in early June, concluded last month with Central Intelligence Agency officers having donated 11,798 pounds of food to local families at risk of hunger. This year's poundage nearly doubled the 2013 campaign, which accumulated about 6,300 pounds. All of the food donated by CIA was delivered to the Capital Area Food Bank, which distributed it to local families.

During the past five years, federal employees have donated more than 24 million pounds of food. Goods collected through the program are distributed to several hundred food banks, soup kitchens, and other service organizations across the metropolitan area. Food is processed quickly on a first-in, first-out basis and can take as little as two weeks to get to needy families.

Sep 05, 2014 CIA Unveils Portrait of Former Director Leon E. Panetta

Today, CIA honored the legacy of former Director Potrait of Former Director Leon E. PanettaLeon E. Panetta with the unveiling of his portrait, which joins those of his predecessors in the Agency’s Directors’ Gallery. Mr. Panetta served as CIA Director from February 2009 to June 2011, leading the Agency and managing human intelligence and open source collection programs on behalf of the Intelligence Community. At the portrait unveiling ceremony, CIA Director John Brennan spoke of Mr. Panetta’s many achievements during his tenure at CIA, including the operation that killed the world’s most wanted terrorist. In addition, Director Brennan praised the work of the artist, Steven Polson, who also painted the agency’s official portraits of former directors George Tenet and General Michael Hayden.

Aug 29, 2014 #HISTINT: Aug. 29, 1959: Design Selected for Supersonic Successor to the U-2

On August 29, 1959 --55 years ago today-- an interagency panel selected Lockheed’s 12th design for a supersonic successor to the U-2. The research and development program, codenamed OXCART began, and in1962, after arduous work by Lockheed and CIA program managers and technical officers, the first A-12 took flight.  It took another three years for engineering challenges to be surmounted and the fleet to be declared operationally ready.

A-12 evolution

To learn more about the A-12 check out these additional resources:

Archangel: CIA's Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft


A Look Back … OXCART: "The Bird Should Leave Its Nest"

Aug 26, 2014 Project AZORIAN: The Conclusion

glomarimageAlmost immediately after the recovery effort, planning began for a second mission to recover the lost section. A bizarre and totally unforeseen occurrence, however, had already started a chain of events that would ultimately expose the Glomar Explorer’s true purpose and make another mission impossible. In June 1974, just before the Glomar set sail, thieves had broken into the offices of the Summa Corporation and stolen secret documents, one tying Howard Hughes to CIA and the Glomar Explorer. Desperate to recover this document, CIA called in the FBI, which in turn enlisted the Los Angeles Police Department. The search drew attention, and by the autumn of 1974 the media began to pick up rumors of a sensational story.

Director of Central Intelligence William E. Colby personally appealed to those who had learned about AZORIAN not to disclose the project. For a while they cooperated, but on February 18, 1975 the Los Angeles Times published an account that made connections between the robbery, Hughes, CIA, and the recovery operation.  Journalists flooded into the Long Beach area where the Glomar was preparing for its second mission.  The Ford Administration neither confirmed nor denied any of the stories in circulation, but by late June, the Soviets were aware of the Glomar's covert mission and had assigned a ship to monitor and guard the recovery site. With Glomar’s cover blown, the White House canceled further recovery operations.

The Glomar's brief covert career was now over, and it was mothballed for over a quarter century. Then in the late 1990s, a US petroleum company restored the ship and used it for deep-sea oil drilling and exploration.

Although Project AZORIAN  did not meet its full intelligence objectives, CIA considered the operation to be one of the greatest intelligence coups of the Cold War. Project AZORIAN remains an engineering marvel, advancing the state of the art in deep-ocean mining and heavy-lift technology

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Aug 21, 2014 Project AZORIAN: The Recovery

glomarrecoverySailing from Long Beach, California, the Glomar Explorer arrived over the recovery site on July 4, 1974 and conducted salvage operations for more than a month under total secrecy—despite much of the time being monitored by nearby Soviet ships curious about its mission. During the operation, many small things went wrong but were quickly corrected. However, during the lift when the submarine was a third of the way up, it broke apart, and a section plunged back to the ocean bottom. Crestfallen, the Glomar crew successfully hauled up the portion that remained in the capture vehicle.

Among the contents of the recovered section were the bodies of six Soviet submariners. They were given a formal military burial at sea. In a gesture of good will, Director of Central Intelligence Robert Gates presented a film of the burial ceremony to Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1992.

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Aug 20, 2014 Project AZORIAN: The Ship

The Glomar Explorer
The ship would be called the Glomar Explorer, a commercial deep-sea mining vessel ostensibly built and owned by billionaire Howard Hughes, who provided the plausible cover story that his ship was conducting marine research at extreme ocean depths and mining manganese nodules lying on the sea bottom. The ship would have the requisite stability and power to perform the task at hand.

Constructed over the next four years, the ship included a derrick similar to an oil-drilling rig, a pipe-transfer crane, two tall docking legs, a huge claw-like capture vehicle (known as Clementine), a center docking well (called the “moon pool”) large enough to contain the hoisted sub, and doors to open and close the well’s floor. To preserve the mission’s secrecy, the capture vehicle was built under roof and loaded from underneath the ship from a submerged barge. With these special capabilities, the ship could conduct the entire recovery under water, away from the view of other ships, aircraft, or spy satellites.

The heavy-lift operation was complex and fraught with risk. While moving with the ocean currents, the ship had to lower the capture vehicle by adding 60-foot sections of supporting steel pipe, one at a time. When it reached the submarine, the capture vehicle then had to be positioned to straddle the sunken submarine, and its powerful jaws had to grab the hull. Then the ship had to raise the capture vehicle with the submarine in its clutches by reversing the lift process and removing supporting pipe sections one at a time until the submarine was securely stowed in the ship’s docking well.

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Aug 15, 2014 Project AZORIAN 40th Anniversary

glomarimageAugust marks the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest intel coups of the Cold War: Project AZORIAN, also known as #Glomar.

The story began in 1968 when K-129, a Soviet Golf II-class submarine carrying three SS-N-4 nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, sailed from the naval base at Petropavlovsk on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula to take up its peacetime patrol station in the Pacific Ocean northeast of Hawaii. Soon after leaving port, the submarine and its entire crew were lost.  After the Soviets abandoned their extensive search efforts, the U.S. located the submarine about 1,500 miles northwest of Hawaii on the ocean floor 16,500 feet below. Recognizing the immense value of the intelligence on Soviet strategic capabilities that would be gained if the submarine were recovered, the CIA agreed to lead the recovery effort with support from the Department of Defense. CIA engineers faced a daunting task: lift the huge 1,750-ton, 132-foot-long wrecked submarine intact from an unknown ocean abyss more than three miles below—under total secrecy.

In 1970, after careful study, a team of CIA engineers and contractors determined that the only technically feasible approach was to use a large mechanical claw to grasp the hull and heavy-duty winches mounted on a surface ship to lift it.

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Aug 14, 2014 CIA’s Diversity & Inclusion Efforts Featured on

diversitypubcoverThis week, CIA’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts were highlighted in two featured articles on Check out the articles below:

Six Officers on Coming Out in the CIA

Meet an Officer who Transitioned at the CIA

The CIA has made positive strides toward a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Learn more about the Agency’s commitment to diversity and inclusion by downloading the latest publication released by the Office of Public Affairs, Diversity & Inclusion at the CIA.

Aug 01, 2014 #HISTINT: Aug. 1, 1974: CIA Turns U-2 Program Over to U.S. Air Force

U2_sliderThe CIA partnered with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) from the very start of the U-2 program in 1954. Although the CIA was in charge of development and operations, USAF personnel served throughout the program. The Air Force provided U-2 engines and pilots, and U-2 operations relied upon USAF mission planners, weather forecasters, and support personnel.  From the autumn of 1969 on, the CIA U-2 program was under review to determine if it should continue alongside the larger USAF U-2 program.  In June 1973, then-CIA Director James R. Schlesinger advised that the Agency’s program could be terminated. On Aug. 30,  1973, an interagency committee approved the CIA plan to end the U-2 program effective  Aug. 1, 1974. On that date, the Air Force assumed funding responsibility and took possession of the Agency’s four remaining U-2 aircraft.

Jul 24, 2014 A Look Back: The First Director of Central Intelligence

SouersBefore the National Security Act of 1947 established the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a small organization known as the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) was charged with consolidating intelligence reports into daily summaries for President Harry Truman.  The CIG was CIA’s immediate predecessor organization, formed in January 1946, shortly after the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was dissolved following World War II.


Jul 24, 2014 #HISTINT: The National Security Act of 1947

truman_histintOn July 26, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 (P.L. 80-235, 61 Stat 496), which later  became the charter of the U.S. national security establishment.  The National Security Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of December 2004 significantly altered the National Security Act, creating the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

This landmark legislation of 1947 reorganized and modernized the U.S. armed forces, foreign policy, and the Intelligence Community apparatus. It directed a major reorganization of the foreign policy and military establishments of the US government. It also created many of the institutions that U.S. presidents would find useful when formulating and implementing foreign policy, such as the National Security Council (NSC), the US Air Force, and the National Military Establishment(renamed the Department of Defense in 1949).  In the intelligence field, the act ratified President Truman's creation (in 1946) of the post of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), and transformed the Central Intelligence Group into the statutory Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the nation’s first peacetime intelligence agency.

The proposed act generated sharp debates in the Executive Branch and Congress. Several compromises were struck in order for it to win passage. These compromises would have far-reaching implications for the Intelligence Community.

Once passed, the National Security Act established:

  • that CIA would be an independent agency under the supervision of the NSC;
  • that CIA  would conduct both analysis and clandestine activities, but would have no policymaking role and no law enforcement powers;
  • a line between foreign and domestic intelligence and assigned these realms, in effect, to the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, respectively;
  • that the DCI would be confirmed by the Senate and could be either a civilian or an officer on detail from his home service.

The National Security Act of 1947 went into effect on September 18, 1947.

Jul 18, 2014 CIA Museum Featured on Yahoo! News

artifactoftheweek_slider.jpgThis week, the CIA Museum opened its doors to Yahoo! News. Toni Hiley, the CIA Museum Director, provided a rare look inside the museum, which includes artifacts from key moments in CIA's history.


Jul 16, 2014 How We Remember Our Fallen

40th AnniversaryEach year, near Memorial Day, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employees gather before the marble face of the Memorial Wall in the Original Headquarters Building (OHB) lobby to honor fellow employees who have died in the line of duty. The families, whether their loved one died long ago or just that year, are invited to attend the ceremony; many come year after year.

While the Memorial Wall was carved in 1974, the idea for an Annual Memorial Ceremony did not come about until 1986, when a counterintelligence officer suggested that a ceremony be held annually in front of the Wall because “the majority of our employees, particularly the younger generation, are barely aware of the existence or the significance of this memorial.” The officer said this custom would result in “rising morale and pride in our achievements which, in turn, would greatly contribute to our continuing effort to achieve excellence.”

On May 27, 1987—with the Agency in its 40th year and with 50 stars on the Wall—then-Deputy Director Robert Gates presided at the first annual CIA memorial ceremony.

This year CIA Director John Brennan spoke with a CIA public affairs officer about the significance of the CIA's Annual Memorial Ceremony, which was held on May 19, 2014. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Jul 15, 2014 The Stars on the Wall

40th AnniversaryThe CIA Memorial Wall is one of the first things visitors see when entering the Original Headquarters Building lobby. The wall stands as a silent memorial to those CIA employees “who gave their lives in the service of their country.” Currently, there are 111 stars carved into the marble of the CIA Memorial Wall.

The Book of Honor lists the names of 80 employees who died while serving their country. The names of the remaining 31 employees must remain secret, even in death; each of these officers is remembered in the book by an individual star.

Who Receives a Star?

The men and women remembered on the Memorial Wall all lost their lives while serving their country in the field of intelligence. To receive a star the following criteria must have be met:

  • Death may occur in the foreign field or in the United States.
  • Death must be of an inspirational or heroic character while in the performance of duty;
    • or as the result of an act of terrorism while in the performance of duty;
    • or as an act of premeditated violence targeted against an employee, motivated solely by that employee’s Agency affiliation;
    • or in the performance of duty while serving in areas of hostilities or other exceptionally hazardous conditions where the death is a direct result of such hostilities or hazards.

How is a Star Created?

The current carver creates a star by first tracing the new star on the wall using a template. Each star measures 2¼ inches tall by 2¼ inches wide and half an inch deep; all the stars are six inches apart from each other, as are all the rows. The carver uses both a pneumatic air hammer and a chisel to carve out the traced pattern. After he finishes carving the star, he cleans the dust and sprays it black, which as the star ages, fades to gray.

While we are not able to tell all 111 stories, here are some we can share:

Jul 14, 2014 The CIA Memorial Wall

40th AnniversaryEvery day CIA employees risk their lives to keep the nation safe. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives for the mission. On the smooth, white marble walls of the CIA Original Headquarters Building lobby, a field of stars serves as a somber, silent memorial for fallen CIA officers. This July marks the 40th anniversary of the Memorial Wall.

In February 1973, Agency officers proposed that a memorial plaque be placed at CIA Headquarters to honor employees who had died in Southeast Asia, primarily in Laos and Vietnam. The idea was expanded to recognize all officers who had fallen in the line of duty.

Master Stone Carver Harold Vogel designed the CIA Memorial. Vogel’s goal was to make the memory of the fallen an integral part of the building. His vision of the CIA’s Memorial emphasized the unity of the stars on the wall, standing as a field. His concept was approved in November 1973; Director William E. Colby approved the 31 original stars in April 1974.

Three months later, Vogel carved the memorial. It was done without fanfare. No ceremony was held; no pictures were taken.  The stars and inscription - “In honor of those members of the Central Intelligence Agency who gave their lives in the service of their country”- simply appeared.

Jul 10, 2014 #HISTINT: July 11, 1941: Coordinator of Information Created

COIphotoWhen World War II began in Europe in 1939, the United States had limited intelligence capabilities. To remedy this shortfall, President Roosevelt created the Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) on July 11, 1941.

COI – led by General William “Wild Bill” Donovan – was established to organize analysis, espionage, propaganda, subversion, and commando operations as a unified and essential feature of modern warfare, a “fourth arm” of the military services. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, COI had grown to include some 600 employees.

American entry into World War II prompted Donovan and his staff to reconsider COI’s size, organization and missions. At Donovan’s suggestion, Roosevelt transformed COI into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) on June 13, 1942.

Jul 09, 2014 Imagine the Impossible, then Prepare to be Amazed

ciaseal_whatsnewThe use of science and technology originated with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – CIA’s predecessor organization – during World War II. During the Cold War, it was critical for the clandestine and analytical officers abroad to have the latest scientific advances, specifically with technical collection.

In the early 1950s and 1960s, the CIA’s forward-thinking officers assumed a dominant role in the development of state-of-the-art aerial, space-based, and ground technical collection systems and devices. Recognizing the important role of science and technology in this new aerospace age, the CIA created a single CIA entity responsible for all of the Agency’s technological needs. In August 1963, Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) John A. McCone established the Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T).

The DS&T solves national intelligence problems with effective targeting and bold technology. We create, adapt, develop, and operate technical collection systems and apply enabling technologies to the collection, processing, and analysis of information.

To spend a day with the DS&T is to spend a day inside the imagination of CIA.  All DS&T employees are technical intelligence officers, but work in many different disciplines ranging from computer programmers and engineers to scientists and analysts.  The DS&T partners with many other organizations in the Intelligence Community, the military, academia, the national laboratories, and the private sector to achieve mission success.  The DS&T brings distinctive tools, capabilities, and expertise to our most difficult national security challenges

Learn more about the DS&T:

Jul 09, 2014 Director Brennan Hosts General Stanley McChrystal at CIA Headquarters

Brennan_McChrystalOn July 7, CIA Director John Brennan sat down with General Stanley McChrystal (Ret) in the CIA Headquarters Auditorium for a candid discussion about the issues facing the Intelligence Community (IC) today.  In his remarks to the CIA workforce, GEN McChrystal shared insights on his leadership style and the importance of collaboration among the IC and the military.

Jul 03, 2014 CIA Feeds Families

brennanfedsfeedfamiliesThis summer, CIA employees are participating in the annual government-wide “Feds Feed Families” food drive. Donations will benefit the Capital Area Food Bank, a charity that provides non-perishable items to hundreds of soup kitchens, food pantries, and other service organizations throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. CIA has contributed to the Feds Feed Families program since 2009.

This morning, Director Brennan joined a food transfer ceremony in support of the effort.


Jul 02, 2014 #HISTINT: U-2 Makes First Flight Over USSR

U-2's First Flight of USSROn July 4, 1956, 58 years ago this Friday, a CIA pilot made the first successful over-flight of the Soviet Union in a U-2 on a photo reconnaissance mission.

Alarmed by the development of the Soviet “Bison” bomber, which could fly round-trip bombing strikes against the United States, President Dwight Eisenhower needed to know whether the U.S. was at a strategic disadvantage (soon to be known as the “bomber gap”). The Agency’s U-2 program would provide the answer for him. Flying at 70,000 feet, the aircraft had cameras mounted aboard to capture images of Soviet strategic sites.  Within months of the first flyover, the bomber gap theory had been disproven by the U-2’s hard evidence.

The U-2 fleet flew 23 additional missions over the Soviet Union.  Eisenhower personally approved these flights and reviewed the resulting photography along with analysis from CIA’s Photo-Intelligence Division.

CIA and U-2: A 50-Year Anniversary

Remembering CIA's Heroes: Agency Pilots in the U-2 Program

The CIA and the U-2 Program

Jun 09, 2014 CIA to Host National Security Conference at Georgetown University


georgetownconferenceThe CIA and Georgetown University are hosting their first joint public conference on national security on Wednesday, June 11, featuring scholars and experts from across the U.S. government, academia, private sector and the Intelligence Community. The all-day conference is titled “The Ethos and the Profession of Intelligence” and will be held in Georgetown’s historic Gaston Hall.

The conference, sponsored in partnership with Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, will serve as a platform to discuss a variety of topics important to 21st century national security.   CIA Director John Brennan will deliver the keynote address, while former FBI Director Robert Mueller III will provide opening remarks for the conference.

“The CIA and Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program are natural partners for this important conference given our mutual focus on the key national security challenges facing the United States,” said CIA Director John Brennan. “By bringing together leaders from across the government, private sector, academia, policy institutes and the media, I believe this joint conference will generate fresh ideas for the future of our country and the Intelligence Community.”

The conference panels will examine the following topics:

  • Intelligence and Technology: Emerging Threats and Collection
  • Intelligence and the Private Sector
  • The Role of Intelligence in the 21st Century
  • Balancing Secrecy and Transparency:  Accountability and the Public

The conference will be streamed live on the CIA and Georgetown University websites. Follow the conference on Twitter at #intelcon.

To learn more about the conference line up, click here.

Jun 06, 2014 CIA Goes Social

ciagoessocialThis week, the CIA moved deeper into the world of social media with the launch of official social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook.


Jun 06, 2014 Intelligence and D-Day #histint

VirginiaHall.jpgIn preparation for the Normandy invasion, Secret Intelligence "Sussex" teams dropped into France and transmitted critical intelligence to London about German troop movements and targets for Allied bombers.

Special Operations (SO) teamed with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Free French to form the Jedburgh teams that parachuted into France in the summer of 1944 to aid the Normandy landings. They did this by coordinating airdrops of arms and supplies and conducting hit-and-run attacks and sabotage raids. One of SO's best known operatives was Virginia Hall, who first worked for the SOE in unocccupied Vichy France.

After the Germans occupied southern France, she fled to Spain, and in March of 1944 she returned to France as a member of the Office of Strategic Services (CIA's predecessor). Despite the fact that she had been seriously injured and now used a wooden leg, Hall helped organize drop zones for paratroopers in Normandy and worked with the French Resistance.

Jun 05, 2014 CIA Artifact of the Week: William J. Donovan's Desk

donovansdeskGeneral William J. Donovan used this desk when he served as Director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II.


May 29, 2014 Spotlight on Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month

timchildhoodphotoEvery CIA officer has a unique path to the Agency. In honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, is highlighting Tim, a Cambodian American CIA officer who had a particularly unique—and remarkable—journey to the CIA.



May 29, 2014 CIA Artifact of the Week: Memorial Wall Star Carving Tools

starcarvertoolsThese tools are used by Tim Johnston to create the stars found on the CIA Memorial Wall. The tools shown were used from 1992-2003.


May 23, 2014 Director Brennan Reflects on Annual Memorial Ceremony

Earlier this week, CIA Director John Brennan sat down with a CIA public affairs officer to talk about the significance of the CIA's Annual Memorial Ceremony, which was held on May 19, 2014. Below are excerpts from the interview.


May 15, 2014 Spotlight on CIA's Wounded Warrior Program

ciaseal_whatsnewFor more than six years, CIA has worked closely with the Operation Warfighter Program to provide injured service members the opportunity to gain work experience during their recovery.


May 09, 2014 CIA Participates in USA Science & Engineering Festival

Technology has become an integral part of modern life and is critical to CIA’s ability to achieve its mission. For CIA to continue to succeed, we depend upon scientists and engineers to develop innovative and imaginative solutions to the daunting challenges we face.