Throughout the history of intelligence the military has played a large role, especially when it comes to leaders. Maj. Gen. William Donovan, the head of the Office of Strategic Services — America’s first civilian intelligence organization — was a great military leader. Since the creation of the Central Intelligence Group and later the CIA, several Directors of Central Intelligence (DCI) and Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency (DCIA) have come from military backgrounds, including the Navy, Army, and Air Forces. All of the directors mentioned in this article were on active duty during their term, except for Vice Adm. William Raborn.
- Rear Adm. Sidney Souers, U.S. Naval Reserve
- Lt. Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, U.S. Army Air Forces
- Rear Adm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter, U.S. Navy
- Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, U.S. Army
- Vice Adm. William Raborn, U.S. Navy
- Adm. Stansfield Turner, U.S. Navy
- Gen. Michael V. Hayden, U.S. Air Force
Rear Adm. Sidney Souers (January – June 1946)
In 1929, Sidney Souers became a commissioned lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Souers volunteered for active duty in July 1940. After the war, he was promoted to rear admiral and named deputy chief of Naval Intelligence. During his time with Naval Intelligence, Souers became known as an intelligence expert. After World War II, many suggestions were put forth for the creation of a national intelligence system. The competing plans came to a deadlock. President Harry S. Truman called in Souers for his input and the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) was created. Truman then selected Souers to serve as the first Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) of CIG. Souers helped create the DCI’s authorities and organized CIG. He also authorized CIG’s acquisition of the OSS’s operational and analytic elements.
Lt. Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg (June 1946 – May 1947)
After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy and the Army War College, Hoyt Vandenberg became a pilot in the Army Air Corps from 1924 – 1936. During World War II, Vandenberg commanded the 9th Air Force in Europe. In 1945, Vandenberg was appointed the assistant chief of Air Staff at the Army Air Forces Headquarters. He also served as the director of intelligence on the War Department general staff. In 1946, President Truman appointed Vandenberg as DCI. Vandenberg is credited with building CIG’s analytical and operational offices and increasing its workforce by threefold.
Rear Adm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter (May 1947 – October 1950)
In 1919, Roscoe Hillenkoetter graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Hillenkoetter traveled on many tours with naval intelligence, serving as assistant naval attaché to France. President Truman convinced Hillenkoetter to serve as DCI. Soon into his tenure, Congress passed and President Truman signed into law the National Security Act. The legislation replaced the Central Intelligence Group with the CIA, effective September 18, 1947. During Hillenkoetter’s time with the Agency, North Korea invaded South Korea. Hillenkoetter established a task force to provide analytic reports of communist behavior on the Korean peninsula. It was so successful that his successor, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, institutionalized the group.
Gen. Walter Bedell Smith (October 1950 – February 1953)
With the outbreak of World War I, Walter Bedell Smith was commissioned into the U.S. Army. During the war, Smith was posted to France, eventually serving as Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff in the European theater during World War II. In 1950, President Truman selected Smith to serve as DCI.
His term as DCI took place during a time of transition for the CIA. DCI Smith pushed through reforms at the CIA to reduce duplicative efforts and integrate collection and analysis. For example, he created the Board and the Office of National Estimates, as well as a current intelligence office to produce the President's daily bulletin, and also a research office to perform analysis not done elsewhere in the Community. Smith bequeathed a much stronger agency — both internally and externally — to Allen Dulles in 1953.
Vice Adm. William Raborn (April 1965 – June 1966)
In 1928, William Raborn graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. During World War II, Raborn served in the Pacific on aircraft carriers. In 1955, Raborn was appointed director of special projects at the Bureau of Weapons. He was part of the team that developed the Polaris missile. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Raborn DCI in 1965. He was known for being a competent manager of military programs but had no experience in intelligence.
Adm. Stansfield Turner (March 1977 – January 1981)
As another U.S. Naval Academy graduate Stansfield Turner was commissioned into the U.S. Navy in June 1946. Turner served as president of the Naval War College from 1972 – 1974. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Turner as DCI. Under Turner, the CIA focused more on technical and signals intelligence than human intelligence.
Gen. Michael V. Hayden (May 2006 – February 2009)
Michael Hayden is a graduate of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program. He entered active military service in 1969. During his time with the U.S. Air Force, Hayden served as commander of the Air Intelligence Agency, a defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, and on the National Security Council. He was also the Director of the National Security Agency (1999 – 2005) and the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (April 2005 – May 2006). In May 2006, Hayden was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as DCIA. After 41 years of military service, Hayden retired from the Air Force on July 1, 2008. Hayden instituted the Strategic Intent initiative to encourage and accentuate the Agency’s core values of service, integrity, and excellence.
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