A Look Back … Roscoe Hillenkoetter as DCI
After World War II, the United States found itself in the middle of the Cold War and President Harry Truman recognized that gathering intelligence on the activities of other countries — in particular the Soviet Union — was of vital importance to national security. In January 1946, he established the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) and the post of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). In 1947, as the Cold War intensified, President Truman selected Rear Adm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter to become the third DCI.
Serving in the Navy
Hillenkoetter was born in St. Louis, Miss., on May 8, 1897. He attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and graduated in 1919.
During his time in the Navy , Hillenkoetter gained extensive experience with intelligence. He served four tours as Assistant Naval Attaché in France. In December 1941, Hillenkoetter’s duty station battleship, the USS West Virginia, was homeported at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Hillenkoetter was wounded when the Japanese attacked the harbor on December 7. He was the senior surviving officer of the crew. With the United States’ entry into World War II, he became the Officer in Charge of Intelligence on Adm. Chester Nimitz’s Pacific Fleet Staff.
In 1946, then Captain Hillenkoetter became the commanding officer of the USS Missouri. He was promoted to rear admiral in November 1946. Hillenkoetter was on his fourth tour in France when he was recalled by President Truman to become DCI.
An Officer and an Agency
Hillenkoetter took over as DCI on May 1, 1947, amid negotiations of what would become the National Security Act of 1947. When the Central Intelligence Agency came into being on 18 September 1947, he became the first person to lead the new Agency.
Hillenkoetter served during a very turbulent time for the nation and the newly established CIA. During 1947-49, the Soviets were extending their control over eastern Europe and Mao Tse-tung’s Communist revolution was underway in China. These events increased the demand for intelligence gathering and analysis.
In March 1948, the US Military Governor of Germany, Lt. Gen. Lucius Clay, sent a cable noting a perceived change in Soviet attitude and expressing the fear that war with the Soviet Union could come suddenly. The Clay cable generated a crisis atmosphere in Washington, and DCI Hillenkoetter established an ad hoc, interagency committee to prepare estimates of Communist capabilities and likely actions. Although CIG and CIA had already prepared a number of estimates, this marked the first time that the estimative process was a true interagency effort.
Two years later, in the spring of 1950, President Truman and U.S. government were stunned by North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. The events in Korea contributed to Hillenkoetter’s departure from CIA.
After his three years as DCI, Hillenkoetter returned to the Navy, commanding a cruiser division in the Korean War. He was promoted to Vice Admiral and served as Inspector General of the Navy before his retirement in 1957. Hillenkoetter died on June 18, 1982. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
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