In order to protect the nation, military forces and intelligence organizations must work together and share information, especially during times of war. To designate clearer lines of authority and responsibility between the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. military during wartime—a problem that caused significant tensions during World War II and much of the Korean War—the Agency entered a Command Relationship Agreement (CRA) with the Department of Defense on January 27, 1953.
OSS and the Military
U.S. military concern with civilian control of intelligence and paramilitary activities dates back to World War II, when members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) also worked in military operational areas. The OSS organized covert paramilitary activities and fought behind enemy lines.
Some military officers believed that the presence of civilian OSS units in combat theaters would hamper military operations unless the civilians were tightly controlled by the local or theater commanders. OSS Director William J. Donovan resisted that control.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to these concerns by placing the OSS above the theater commanders and directly below the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Recognizing military tradition--and mindful of the views of some very powerful generals and admirals--the JCS stated that OSS “will not engage in any activity which had not been approved by the commander concerned.”
For the remainder of the war, the OSS operated under the full knowledge of theater commanders in Europe and Southeast Asia and worked as part of a highly coordinated and effective team.
CIA and the Military
After CIA’s founding in September 1947, the National Security Council (NSC) gave the Agency responsibility for conducting covert action, clandestine collection, and paramilitary activities “in times of peace.” CIA’s covert capabilities included propaganda and economic warfare, sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures, and subversion against hostile states through assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas, and liberation groups.
The NSC specifically stated that “Such operations shall not include armed conflict by recognized military forces ... or cover and deception for military operations.” Although the NSC ordered CIA to place its paramilitary activities under theater commanders in combat areas, it made no mention of subordinating the Agency to the JCS in wartime as had been done with the OSS during World War II. Nor did the NSC and JCS resolve the question of when and how a “theater of war” would be formally designated for purposes of operational control.
The CIA-Military Relationship During the Korean War
The Korean War first tested this arrangement. Both CIA and the U.S. Army created units for special operations and paramilitary activities in the months following the North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950 and continued those activities until the July 1953 Armistice. CIA trained thousands of Koreans for infiltration into the North, where they conducted guerrilla warfare and established escape and evasion networks.
In early 1951, then Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Walter Bedell Smith asked the NSC to broaden CIA’s control over guerrilla movements in theaters of war, including Korea. This move met staunch resistance from the JCS, which countered by proposing that CIA be put under military control in Korea, as had been done to the OSS in Europe and Asia. President Harry S. Truman, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall rejected the JCS proposal, preserving the status quo as established by the NSC in 1948: the DCI could create and run guerrilla forces as long as his orders went through the theater commander with JCS coordination.
This Presidential decision is known as the Command Relationship Agreement (CRA). The basic authorities and responsibilities delineated in the CRA have remained much the same since, with modifications being made when new situations arise in new conflicts.