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The Origin and Development of the CIA in the Administration of Harry S. Truman–A 1994 Conference Report

Conference held in March 1994; this conference report was originally published in March 1995.


The conference on “The Origin and Development of the CIA in the Administration of Harry S. Truman” was held on 17-18 March 1994, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. Jointly sponsored by the Harry S. Truman Library and Institute and CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, it brought together roughly 200 scholars, government officials, and representatives of the media and public interest groups to explore how CIA came to be established in 1947 and how the Agency evolved through the end of the Truman Administration in 1953.

Panels of distinguished scholars and government officials addressed Truman’s relations with the first four Directors of Central Intelligence; CIA’s origins in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS); the Cold War in Europe and Asia during the Truman years; the development of intelligence collection, covert action, and analysis during CIA’s early years; and records and research associated with these topics. CIA Director R. James Woolsey addressed the conference during a session at CIA Headquarters at the end of the first day.

The report contains material which is or may be copyrighted by the panelists and other speakers to whom each presentation is attributed. Unless a speaker was a US Government employee at the time of presentation, permission to copy or further disseminate any or all of this report must be obtained from the individuals concerned. Works of US Government employees are deemed to be in the public domain.

Hosting such public conferences is one aspect of the efforts of CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence to implement the Agency’s policy of increased openness to the public. The Center’s mission also includes conducting research on intelligence; writing intelligence history; declassifying historical documents on intelligence; and publishing books, monographs, and Studies in Intelligence, a quarterly journal.


Gen. Donald S. Dawson, President, Truman Library Institute for National and International Affairs David Gries, Director, Center for the Study of Intelligence, CIA

“This conference is about the Central Intelligence Agency, why it came into existence and how it grew,” Donald Dawson declared in welcoming the conferees. He said Harry Truman noted in his memoirs that when he became President, “I found that the needed intelligence information was not coordinated in any one place and that the information often conflicted.” Truman took steps to improve the system, and, after CIA came into being, he began to receive a daily digest of information from abroad and conferred each morning with the Director of Central Intelligence.

David Gries, in his opening remarks, showed the assemblage the plain three-ring notebook that held the briefing papers that routinely were passed to President Truman by CIA’s Meredith P. Davidson, who was in the audience and was subsequently introduced. Gries also cited the inscription Truman wrote on his photographic portrait in the main corridor at CIA headquarters: “To the CIA, a necessity to the President of the United States, from one who knows.”

Observing that it was 47 years since Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 that established the Central Intelligence Agency, Gries sought to put its enactment in context by recalling major historical events of that period. The President sent the act to Congress on February 26, signed it on July 26, and it took effect on September 18. During that seven-month period, “five defining events of the Cold War” occured: The Truman Doctrine involving aid to Greece and Turkey was initiated; groundwork for the NATO Alliance was laid in Europe; the Communist coup in Hungary occurred; the Marshall Plan for European recovery was announced; and George Kennan, “Mr. X,” enunciated the containment policy in Foreign Affairs.

Gries pointed out that hundreds of documents relating to CIA and the Truman Administration were assembled in the book the Center for the Study of Intelligence had released that morning entitled CIA Cold War Records: The CIA Under Truman, and copies were available for all attendees.

Download PDF for complete conference report. (90 pages)