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Hollywood Myths vs. the Real CIA

When you think about the CIA, does a famous British super spy come to mind? Are images of shootouts and high speed chases running through your head? Do you imagine CIA officers chasing terrorists through the American heartland, as seen on popular TV shows?

While the CIA may have cool spy tools that even James Bond would be proud to use, such as a robot fish that samples water and insect-sized listening devices, the CIA is a lot different than Hollywood portrays it to be. wants to share some of the facts with you.

Myth: Everyone at the CIA is a spy.
: The case officers commonly depicted in Hollywood are just one specialized occupation in the CIA. These officers recruit people in foreign countries who have access to valuable information (spies), but the officers themselves are not spies.

To carry out its mission of collecting and analyzing foreign intelligence, the Agency has a diverse workforce that includes analysts, case officers, support staff and technology experts. This breadth of expertise is one of many things that make the CIA unique.

Myth: The CIA spies on US citizens.
Reality: The Federal Bureau of Investigation has the lead on intelligence matters in the United States, especially those directed against US citizens. However, the CIA and the FBI work together as needed to protect the interests of US national security. The CIA does not collect information concerning the domestic activities of US citizens, but its foreign intelligence collection mission can be conducted anywhere.

Myth: The CIA is above the law.
The National Security Act of 1947 and multiple Executive Orders provide the authority for CIA activities. The CIA reports to two Congressional oversight committees, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), which ensure that the Agency operates legally and within the scope of its charter.

In addition, the CIA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) provides independent oversight of the CIA. The OIG performs independent audits, inspections, investigations and reviews of CIA programs and operations.

Myth: The CIA arrests people who break the law.
:  The CIA, unlike the FBI, has no law enforcement authority. The Agency’s mission is foreign intelligence collection and analysis. If you have a law enforcement issue, contact your local police department or the US Department of Justice.

Myth: The CIA makes foreign policy.
Reality: The CIA informs foreign policy. It works with other members of the Intelligence Community to produce objective analysis on intelligence issues. The president and policymakers make all US policy decisions, not the CIA.

The CIA’s mission is exciting in its own right, but different from the caricature Hollywood portrays.

To read more about common myths about the CIA, check out this article:

Fact vs. Fiction: Debunking Some Myths

Historical Document
Posted: Dec 27, 2012 06:56 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 01:03 PM