November 3, 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the ceremony in which President Dwight D. Eisenhower laid the cornerstone of CIA’s Original Headquarters Building, located just outside Washington, D.C. The 1959 milestone represented a major achievement after more than 12 years of aspiration, struggle, and persistence to acquire a suitable workplace for the Agency.
The Cornerstone Laying Ceremony
Considerable preparation went into planning for the ceremony where Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Allen W. Dulles would assist President Eisenhower in laying the cornerstone of the Headquarters Building. Dignitaries and other special guests received engraved RSVP invitations. Programs included pictures of President Eisenhower and DCI Dulles, an artist’s concept and a description of the new building, a list of the contents of the time capsule to be sealed within the cornerstone, and a photo of the cornerstone. Enough programs were printed for the ceremony attendees and for employees to keep as souvenirs. Dulles directed that women employees be prominently visible at the ceremony “to highlight the vital role which women play in the Agency.”
Dulles gave introductory remarks, highlighting this important stage in the CIA’s history and quoting the motto taken from the Gospel according to St. John — which was inscribed on the building’s face — “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
- DCI Dulles watches as President Eisenhower begins to lay the cornerstone.
President Eisenhower told Dulles and the crowd of some 5,000 assembled near the partially completed structure that, “No task could be more important” than gathering intelligence. He publicly affirmed the need for intelligence, both in peacetime and in war.
On November 3, 1959, President Eisenhower, assisted by DCI Dulles, then ceremonially sealed within the cornerstone a time capsule containing carefully selected documents and materials of historic interest relating to the newly created CIA. CIA Museum holds engraved, silver-plated trowels used by Eisenhower and Dulles.
The cornerstone laying ceremony was largely symbolic, however, as the “cement” used to secure the cornerstone was actually a mixture of water, sand, and sugar. Immediately after the ceremony, the cornerstone and capsule were removed for safekeeping and permanently installed a year later.
The Cornerstone Time Capsule
Sealed behind the cornerstone was a time capsule containing the following carefully selected documents and other materials of historical value:
- Memorandum for President Franklin D. Roosevelt from Major General William J. Donovan, Director of the Office of Strategic Services, dated November 18, 1944, regarding the establishment of a permanent centralized intelligence service; and memorandum from President Roosevelt to General Donovan, dated April 5, 1945, directing that General Donovan discuss his plan with the appropriate officials of the Government
- President Harry S. Truman's Executive Letter of January 22, 1946, establishing the National Intelligence Authority and the Central Intelligence Group
- Statement of General (then Lieutenant General) Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Director of Central Intelligence, before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, on April 29, 1947, in support of the sections of the proposed National Security Act of 1947 to establish the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
- Text and Explanation of Statutes and Executive Orders relating specifically to the Central Intelligence Agency, including Enabling and Appropriations Acts for the construction of the new CIA building
- Reproduction of the CIA seal and its official description
- "William J. Donovan and the National Security," a speech by Allen W. Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence, to the Erie County Bar Association, Buffalo, New York, May 4, 1959
- An aerial photograph of the CIA building site
- Drawings of the CIA building as it will appear when completed
- Mementos from the Cornerstone Laying Ceremony: invitation, program, tape recording, and photographs
- Microfilm copies of daily and weekly newspapers of November 3, 1959
- A National Security Medal, Distinguished Intelligence Cross, Distinguished Intelligence Medal, Intelligence Star, Intelligence Medal of Merit, Certificate of Merit with Distinction, and Certificate of Merit.
After the ceremony, when the press asked Dulles what was in the box, he smiled and said, “It’s a secret.” Despite his joke, everything in the box was unclassified.
To assure proper long-term preservation of the capsule’s contents, CIA had the National Bureau of Standards design and construct containers. They made an inner box of steel plate to shield the magnetic tape recording of the ceremony and an outer box of 8th-inch-thick copper to hold the inner box and all other materials. Both the steel and copper boxes were welded shut. The Bureau conducted tests to verify each container’s air-tight design and to make sure that the welding processes would not harm the contents.
The Present CIA Headquarters Campus
The Original Headquarters Building now shares its larger 258-acre campus with the additional New Headquarters Building, which was completed in 1991. DCI Dulles' vision of a location where intelligence officers could work near the policymakers in a secure and secluded environment had become a reality that is thriving 50 years after President Eisenhower laid the cornerstone.
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