The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) lost a true exemplar of the analytic profession with the passing of Russell “Jack” Smith this spring at his home in McLean. Smith had a long and stellar career from the CIA’s early days as an analyst, estimator, and head of the Directorate of Intelligence (DI); he ended his service with a prestigious foreign assignment.
From Teaching to the OSS
Jack Smith, as he was known throughout his career, was born on July 4, 1913, into a working class Michigan family. He grew up with an appreciation for hard physical labor and was gifted with a brilliant mind, especially for writing.
Smith graduated with distinction from Miami University of Ohio in 1937. He attended graduate school at Cornell University on a full scholarship and earned a Ph.D. in English Literature. After graduating, Smith taught at Williams College until the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
With the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War II, Smith signed on with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the predecessor of today’s CIA. He worked for the OSS as a researcher and writer for the last six months of the war.
Beginning a Career in Intelligence
After World War II, the OSS was abolished and its functions were transferred to the State and War departments. It wasn’t long before President Harry S. Truman realized that the nation needed a central intelligence organization, and in January 1946 he issued an Executive Order establishing the Central Intelligence Group (CIG). The creation of the Central Intelligence Agency followed in September 1947, as ordered by the National Security Act.
After a teaching stint at Wells College in New York State, Smith was offered a position in the fledgling CIG and soon was editing the Daily Summary—an analytic publication that CIG and then CIA prepared for President Truman.
Smith had many qualities that contributed to his quick rise in the Agency, including:
- the ability to research and write and edit clearly,
- insistence on quality, and
- leadership skills.
From 1957 to 1962, Smith served on the Board of National Estimates, an arm of the Office of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), which was responsible for preparing estimates of foreign intentions. As a member of the elite Board—the predecessor to today’s National Intelligence Council—Smith worked closely with Sherman Kent. Kent—often called the “father of intelligence analysis”—is an Agency legend and is credited with developing the techniques and methods used in intelligence analysis today.
Kent praised Smith as an officer of distinction:
“He has the qualities which I believe are of greatest importance to a Board member: a lot of knowledge, a clear head, a judicious nature, drafting skill, and excellent presence … He has my full confidence as a man fitted for a wide range of most responsible positions in the Agency.”
Stepping into Leadership
Smith attributed his success in the Agency to personal connections. For example, a colleague from Smith’s OSS days helped him obtain his first leadership role in the Agency.
In the early 1960s, then-Deputy Director of Intelligence (DDI) Ray Cline made Smith the director of Current Intelligence and then his deputy. During this time period, Smith faced many challenges, including the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Smith as DDI
In 1966, Richard Helms—an alumnus of Williams College and then deputy to DCI William Raborn—recommended Smith to succeed Cline as DDI. Smith served as DDI from 1966 to 1971, a period that included the Arab-Israel Six-Day and Vietnam wars. During both wars, Smith was responsible for the analysis and dissemination of intelligence.
One of Smith’s first achievements in the position was the establishment of the Office of Strategic Research (OSR). CIA analysts in OSR would produce all-source, independent, strategic assessment of military developments and trends.
Another practice Smith instituted as DDI was saying “no” to low-priority requests for analysis. Smith established a review of such requests but found the directorate culture so accustomed to saying “yes” that he held staff meetings in which he would have his officers practice, “Now all together, say no. No.”
In 1971, Smith was ready for a change. DCI Helms sent Smith to an important field post in the Middle East, where he was highly regarded by U.S. ambassadors for his candor and judgment.
When Smith retired in late 1973, colleagues described him as one of the best all-round substantive analysts in the Intelligence Community. He received the Distinguished Intelligence Medal for a career of significant contributions to the Agency and the analytic profession.
Life after the CIA
In retirement, Smith continued to write and eventually produced more than a dozen books. His greatest contribution was his memoir, The Unknown CIA (1989). The book is now out of print; many historians agree that it is the best reflection on and explanation of a career in intelligence analysis.
Smith’s other books included spy novels, The House That Jack Built, and Rosemary: A Memoir. He was wrestling with the plot of yet another novel when he passed away on April 27, 2009.
Smith’s wife, Rosemary, died in 2004. He is survived by three sons and five grandchildren.
Reflecting on his career long after he retired, Smith was asked which job was most satisfying. He responded immediately, “I must say, I enjoyed it all.”