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CIA Cold War Records: The CIA Under Harry Truman, 1945–1952

A collection of essays and 81 documents bearing on the formation of CIA and its missions during the Truman years edited by CIA Historian Michael Warner and published in 1994.


The History Staff is publishing this new collection of declassified documents in conjunction with the Intelligence History Symposium, “The Origin and Development of the CIA in the Administration of Harry S.Truman,” which CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence cosponsored in March 1994 with the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and its Institute. This is the third volume in the CIA Cold War Records series which was launched with the 1992 publication of CIA Documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, and continued with the publication in 1993 of Selected Estimates on the Soviet Union, 1950-1959. These three volumes of declassified documents and more will follow result from CIA’s new commitment to greater openness, which former Director of Central Intelligence Robert M. Gates first announced in February 1992, and which Director R. James Woolsey has reaffirmed and expanded after taking office in February 1993.

The Center for the Study of Intelligence, a focal point for internal CIA research and publication since 1975, established the Cold War Records Program in 1992. In that year the Center was reorganized to include the History Staff, first formed in 1951, and the new Historical Review Group, which greatly extended the scope and accelerated the pace of the program to declassify historical records that former Director William J. Casey established in 1985.

Dr. Michael Warner of the History Staff compiled and edited this collection of documents and all of its supporting material. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Dr. Warner took a history M.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1984 and received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago in 1990. Before joining the History Staff in August 1992, Dr. Warner served as an analyst in CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence.

As with the previous volumes in this series, we are grateful for the abundant skill and help of the Historical Review Group, which persuaded a host of overburdened declassification reviewers in CIA and other agencies and departments not only to release these records, but also to do it without delay. We again thank our History Assistant, Ms. Diane Marvin, and all those talented members of the Directorate of Intelligence’s Design Center and Publications Center and of the Directorate of Administration’s Printing and Photography Group whose professional contributions made this new volume possible.

—J. Kenneth McDonald

—Chief CIA History Staff



Emerging from World War II as the world’s strongest power, the United States was hardly equipped institutionally or temperamentally for world leadership. In the autumn of 1945 many Americans, in and out of government, were not at all eager to wield their nation’s power to bring about some new global order. Indeed, many—perhaps most—Americans thought that victory over the Axis powers would in itself ensure peace and stability. In any event, Americans remained confident that the United States would always have enough time and resources to beat back any foreign threat before it could imperil our shores. America’s wartime leaders, however, knew from experience that the nation could never return to its prewar isolation. President Truman bore the full weight of this knowledge within weeks of the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In July 1945, as he discussed the future of Europe with Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Clement Attlee at Potsdam, Truman secretly authorized the use of atomic bombs on Japanese cities. The unexpectedly rapid defeat of Japan and the growing tensions between the United States and the USSR over occupation policies in Germany and Eastern Europe persuaded many observers that the wartime Grand Alliance of the United States, Britain, and Russia was breaking up, and that the United States might soon confront serious new dangers in the postwar world.

In responding to this challenge, the Truman administration in 1946 and 1947 created a new peacetime foreign intelligence organization that was not part of any department or military service. The early history of that new body, which became the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), offers a window on the Truman administration’s foreign policy—a window that this volume seeks to open a little wider. By describing American plans and actions in founding and managing the nation’s new central intelligence service, this volume should help scholars to identify the key decisions that animated the CIA, and to fit them into the context of the Cold War’s first years.

The CIA’s early growth did not follow a predestined course. Two historical events—one past, the other contemporary—were uppermost in the minds of the Truman administration officials who founded and built CIA. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor demonstrated that the United States needed an effective, modern warning capability. Soon after this disaster it was clear that the intelligence failure at Pearl Harbor was primarily one of coordination—that analysts had failed to collate all available clues to Japanese intentions and movements. The second event, Stalin’s absorption of Eastern Europe, occurred before the worried eyes of the Truman administration. The war in Europe was barely over when American and foreign reports on Soviet conduct in the occupied territories began to trouble observers in Washington, London, and other capitals. Although the lessons of Pearl Harbor were perhaps upper most in the minds of the President and his advisers in 1946 and 1947, their concern over Soviet conduct eventually dominated the organization of a postwar intelligence capability.

To continue reading the preface and to see remainder of the front matter, which also includes notes on sources and declassification, a guide to acronyms and abbreviations, a list of persons mentioned, and a chronology use the link below to download a PDF of the front matter.

Download front matter of The CIA under Harry Truman

Part I: From OSS to CIA

The documents in Part I run from the last days of OSS in 1945 to the debate in 1947 that led to the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency.

During World War II the United States developed a capable intelligence arm—the Office of Strategic Services, which was not part of any department or military service. Its Director, William Donovan, was not alone in arguing that the nation needed something like OSS after the war. Disagreeing, President Truman dissolved OSS soon after Japan’s surrender, gave several OSS units to the State and War Departments, and asked State to take the lead in forming a new interdepartmental organization to coordinate intelligence information for the President. After several months of bureaucratic wrangling, Truman stepped in to establish a small Central Intelligence Group (CIG) principally to summarize each day’s cables for the White House. The fledgling CIG had powerful friends, however, and a politically astute chief, RAdm. Sidney Souers, the first Director of Central Intelligence. Within a few months CIG agreed to adopt the Strategic Services Unit—the former OSS espionage and counterintelligence staffs that the War Department had absorbed. By mid-1947, the acquisition of SSU and the maneuvering of an aggressive new Director, Lt. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, had built CIG into the nation’s foremost intelligence organization, which Congress soon provided with a legislative mandate and new name—the Central Intelligence Agency—in the National Security Act of July 1947.

Download PDF of Part I: From OSS to CIA (29 documents, 128 pages)

Part II: The CIA under DCI Hillenkoetter

The documents in Part II cover the period from the enactment of the National Security Act in July 1947 to the opening months of the Korean war in 1950.

RAdm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter succeeded General Vandenberg in May 1947 and served for three years as the Cold War mounted in intensity. Soviet expansionism in eastern Europe and Mao Zedong’s victory in China increased demands for CIA intelligence analysis and prompted the administration to assign CIA a covert action mission. The formation of the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) for covert operations was a watershed event, which completed the reassembly in CIA of the authority and responsibilities of the wartime OSS. Admiral Hillenkoetter, however, had little control over the new OPC, and CIA drifted. By mid-1949 two men, both OSS veterans, had gained substantial influence over CIA: Frank Wisner, the aggressive chief of the well-funded and quasi-autonomous OPC, and Allen Dulles. Although Dulles did not yet work for CIA, his survey of the Agency for the new National Security Council (NSC) sharply criticized Hillenkoetter and persuaded the NSC to press the Director to carry out significant reforms. Hillenkoetter knew his time was up, but the Truman administration took months to choose his successor.

Download PDF of Part II: The CIA under DCI Hillenkoetter (33 documents, 209 pages)

Part III: The Smith Years

The documents in Part III cover the period from Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith’s August 1950 appointment as DCI to President Truman’s farewell visit to CIA in late 1952.

General Smith swept into office in October 1950 with a mandate and an inclination to bring about major change in CIA. As the fourth Director of Central Intelligence, he inherited an Agency that lacked clear direction even as it braced itself for the outbreak of a third world war. Smith began by implementing most of the program that the NSC had recommended to DCI Hillenkoetter in 1949. Moving swiftly, he reorganized CIA’s analytical and support functions, exercised tighter control of clandestine activities, and insisted on high-level political approval for covert operations. The war in Korea and the threat of its spread dominated Smith’s tenure as DCI. Covert operations in East Asia soon consumed an enormous proportion of CIA’s growing but still limited resources. The wartime emphasis on the clandestine services steadily enhanced the profile and influence of Smith’s new deputy and ultimately his successor, Allen Dulles.

Download Part III: The Smith Years (19 documents, 134 pages)

Supplemental Readings about DCI’s During the Truman Years

Dr. Bianca Adair, “The Quiet Warrior: Rear Admiral Sidney Souers and the Emergence of CIA’s Covert Action Authority,” in Studies in Intelligence 65, No. 2 (June 2021)

Richard E. Schroeder, “The Intelligence Education of the First Head of CIA: Roscoe Hillenkoetter,” in Studies in Intelligence 60, No. 1 (March 2016)

Walter Pforzheimer, compiler, “In Memoriam: General Walter Bedell Smith, 5 October 1895–9 August 1961,” in Studies in Intelligence 5, No. 4 (1961)