This article was reprinted, with some minor editing, in September 2022 as a contribution to reflections on CIA’s history 75 years since its creation in September 1947. CIA’s community functions defined in the National Security Act of 1947 and its analytical organizations have evolved substantially since then, but the core missions of intelligence analysis have remained, notwithstanding changes over the years.
As originally published, the article was an adaptation of the preface to a declassified document collection Dr. Kuhns edited in 1997, Assessing the Soviet Threat: The Early Cold War Years (available at https://cia.gov/resources/csi/books-monographs/assessing-the-soviet-threat/.
The intelligence documents cited in this essay can all be found there.
During World War II, the United States made one of its few original contributions to the craft of intelligence: the invention of multisource, nondepartmental analysis. The Research and Analysis (R&A) Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) assembled a talented cadre of analysts and experts to comb through publications and intelligence reports for clues to the capabilities and intentions of the Axis powers. R&A’s contributions to the war effort impressed even the harshest critics of the soon-to-be dismantled OSS. President Truman paid implicit tribute to R&A in late 1945 when he directed that it be transplanted into the State Department at a time when most of OSS was being demobilized. The transplant failed, however, and the independent analytical capability patiently constructed during the war had all but vanished when Truman moved to reorganize the nation’s peacetime intelligence establishment at
the beginning of 1946.
“Current” Intelligence Versus “National” Intelligence The Central Reports Staff, home to the analysts in the Central Intelligence Group (CIG), was born under a cloud of confusion in January 1946. Specifically, no consensus existed on what its mission was to be, although
the president’s concerns in creating CIG were clear enough. In the uncertain aftermath of the war, he wanted to be sure that all relevant information available to the US government on any given issue of national security would be correlated and evaluated centrally so that the country
would never again have to suffer a devastating surprise attack as it had at Pearl Harbor. How this was to be accomplished, however, was less clear.
The president himself wanted a daily summary that would relieve him of the chore of reading the mounds of cables, reports, and other papers that constantly cascaded onto his desk. Some of these were important, but many were duplicative and even contradictory. In the jargon of
intelligence analysis, Truman wanted CIG to produce a “current intelligence” daily publication that would contain all information of immediate interest to him.
Truman’s aides and advisers, however, either did not understand this or disagreed with him, for the presidential directive of 22 January 1946 authorizing the creation of CIG did not mention current intelligence. The directive ordered CIG to “accomplish the correlation and evaluation of intelligence relating to the national security, and the appropriate dissemination within the government of the resulting strategic and national policy intelligence.” Moreover, at the first meeting of the National Intelligence Authority (NIA) on 5 February, Secretary of State Byrnes objected to the president’s idea of a current intelligence summary from CIG, claiming that it was his responsibility as secretary of state to furnish the president with information on foreign affairs.