The People of the CIA...The First Community DCI: Walter B. Smith
Fifty-seven years ago, Lt. Gen. Walter B. Smith began his tenure as the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). While he was actually the fourth DCI, Smith was the first to see himself as the leader of the nation's intelligence community. His legislative counsel, the late Walter Pforzheimer, recalled Smith saying to his staff on Oct. 7, 1950, "Someone should take a picture. It will be interesting to see how many of us are left in a month."
Assuming the Role of DCI
President Harry S. Truman ordered Smith to assume the post of DCI shortly after North Korea invaded the South in the summer of 1950.
Born in 1895, Smith was a plain-spoken Midwesterner who never earned a college degree. He joined the Indiana National Guard as a private in 1916 and rose to be a key aide to Gen. George C. Marshall early in World War II. He then went on to be General Eisenhower's chief of staff in Europe. After the war, President Truman named Smith as Ambassador to Moscow, where he served until 1949.
Recasting the Role of CIA
As DCI, Smith soon made an indelible mark. By the time he stepped down in early 1953, he had reorganized the CIA (which still retains his organizational scheme) and recast the CIA's place in the overall intelligence structure. He set clear missions and roles for the departmental elements of that system, particularly in the realm of analysis.
Largely at his instigation, the State Department and Joint Chiefs of Staff yielded their operational intelligence roles to the CIA and the Secretary of Defense. The capstone of Smith's effort was the reform of the signals intelligence structure through the creation of the National Security Agency in late 1952.
Under his leadership, the nation's disparate intelligence agencies took on a shape recognizable as an Intelligence Community--a term first used that same year.
Smith received his fourth star in 1951 but resigned his commission when he left CIA to serve as Under Secretary of State two years later. He died in 1961.
Learn more about all the CIA directors through our publication, “Directors and Deputy Directors of Central Intelligence.” See the CIA Directors’ Portrait Gallery in our Headquarters virtual tour.