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A Look Back … Walter Bedell Smith Becomes DCI

The fourth Director of Central Intelligence, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith (1950-53), was one of CIA’s most successful and influential directors. A forceful manager with decided ideas about running CIA, Smith:

  • Established a permanent system for daily intelligence reporting to the President
  • Reorganized CIA missions at a crucial time in its history—the period of the Korean War—and
  • Fostered cooperation within the emerging U.S. Intelligence Community.

A generation of Agency leaders following his tenure, and historians since, regard him as having “put CIA on the intelligence map” in terms of visibility and impact.

Walter Bedell Smith
Bedell Smith (center) with top Agency leaders, including outgoing DCI Hillenkoetter (to Smith’s left, in light suit), 7 October 1950.

Smith made significant and durable changes in CIA that substantially improved the effectiveness of operations, support and analysis.

  • Within CIA, Smith instituted the directorate structure that endures today.
  • He resolved a debilitating conflict between foreign intelligence collectors and covert action operators (who also reported to the State Department) by merging their components into the Directorate of Plans,* whose leader reported directly to the DCI.
  • He combined a collection of uncoordinated support functions into the Directorate of Administration.*
  • To provide daily and topical intelligence analysis, Smith established offices dealing with current, military, economic and scientific analysis as part of a new Directorate of Intelligence.
  • Lastly, to increase accountability in the new structure, he appointed the Agency’s first inspector general.


Smith Establishes Intelligence Bulletin for the President

Smith also established a permanent system for providing intelligence support to the White House.  Besides the Office of Current Intelligence (OCI), which prepared material for Smith’s weekly briefings of President Truman, he launched the new Current Intelligence Bulletin and the Current Intelligence Weekly Review. He tailored these publications for the President and senior policymakers.

After President Truman received the first Bulletin, he wrote, “Dear Bedel [sic], I have been reading the intelligence bulletin and I am highly impressed with it. I believe you have hit the jackpot with this one.” The OCI and these publications continued largely unchanged for 25 years.  Smith also established the precedent of providing intelligence briefings to presidential candidates and presidents-elect.


Central Oversight of National Intelligence

Three months after the North invaded the South, Smith created a Board and Office of National Estimates (BNE and ONE). These groups reported to the DCI. This change assured central oversight of national intelligence. This structure was responsible for producing and coordinating national intelligence estimates for a quarter century and was the forerunner of today’s National Intelligence Council.

Smith was especially determined that CIA should cooperate with Army intelligence in collecting and analyzing information about the conflict in Korea. In 1951, he requested that the National Security Council review how disparate military entities were handling COMINT (communications intelligence), an initiative that led to the creation of NSA.

DCI Smith with President Truman
DCI Smith with President Truman

By the time Smith left the CIA to become President Eisenhower’s Under Secretary of State, the Agency had consolidated the operational and analytical responsibilities it received under the National Security Act of 1947 and had assumed a preeminent status in the Intelligence Community.

According to Walter Pforzheimer, CIA’s original Legislative Counsel,

Smith was the greatest director [but] he doesn’t get the credit . . . General Smith was unbelievable. He really got the Agency firmly established . . .  I think others would agree that he was a great Director, but he's not as well known as some others . . . It was very hard to have affection for General Smith, because he was so frosty and so chilly, but he was a very, very great man.

*The Directorate of Plans, established on Aug. 1, 1952, was the forerunner of today’s National Clandestine Service. The Directorate of Administration was established in 1950 and lasted until 2001. In 2001, the Directorate of Administration was replaced with the offices of the Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, Global Support, Human Resources and Security Mission Support.

Historical Document
Posted: Oct 02, 2008 10:45 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:07 PM