The United States has carried on foreign intelligence activities since the days of George Washington, but only since World War II have they been coordinated on a government–wide basis.
Even before Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned about American intelligence deficiencies. He asked New York lawyer William J. Donovan to draft a plan for an intelligence service. The Office of Strategic Services was established in June 1942 with a mandate to collect and analyze strategic information required by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to conduct special operations not assigned to other agencies.
During the War, the OSS supplied policymakers with essential facts and intelligence estimates and often played an important role in directly aiding military campaigns.
But the OSS never received complete jurisdiction over all foreign intelligence activities. Since the early 1930s, the FBI had been responsible for intelligence work in Latin America, and the military services protected their areas of responsibility.
In October 1945, the OSS was abolished and its functions transferred to the State and War Departments. But the need for a postwar, centralized intelligence system was clearly recognized. Eleven months earlier, Donovan, by then a major general, had submitted to President Roosevelt a proposal calling for the separation of OSS from the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the new organization having direct Presidential supervision.
Donovan proposed an "organization which will procure intelligence both by overt and covert methods and will at the same time provide intelligence guidance, determine national intelligence objectives, and correlate the intelligence material collected by all government agencies."
Under his plan, a powerful, centralized civilian agency would have coordinated all the intelligence services. He also proposed that this agency have authority to conduct "subversive operations abroad," but "no police or law enforcement functions, either at home or abroad."
Donovan's plan drew heavy fire. The military services generally opposed a complete merger. The State Department thought it should supervise all peacetime operations affecting foreign relations. The FBI supported a system whereby military intelligence worldwide would be handled by the armed services, and all civilian activities would be under FBI's own jurisdiction.
In response to this policy debate, President Harry S. Truman established the Central Intelligence Group in January 1946, directing it to coordinate existing departmental intelligence, supplementing, but not supplanting, their services. This was all to be done under the direction of a National Intelligence Authority composed of a Presidential representative and the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy. Rear Admiral Sidney W. Souers, USNR, who was the Deputy Chief of Naval Intelligence, was appointed the first Director of Central Intelligence.
Twenty months later, the National Intelligence Authority and its operating component, the Central Intelligence Group, were disestablished. Under the provisions of the National Security Act of 1947 (which became effective on 18 September 1947), the National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were established.
Most of the specific assignments given to the CIA by the National Security Act, as well as the prohibitions on police and internal security functions, closely follow the Presidential directive creating the Central Intelligence Group and were influenced by Donovan's 1944 plan.
The 1947 Act charged the CIA with coordinating the nation's intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence which affects national security. In addition, the Agency was to perform such other duties and functions related to intelligence as the NSC might direct. The Act also made the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) responsible for protecting intelligence sources and methods.
In 1949, the Central Intelligence Agency Act was passed, supplementing the 1947 Act by permitting the Agency to use confidential fiscal and administrative procedures and exempting CIA from many of the usual limitations on the expenditure of federal funds. It provided that CIA funds could be included in the budgets of other departments and then transferred to the Agency without regard to the restrictions placed on the initial appropriation. This Act is the statutory authority for the secrecy of the Agency's budget.
In order to protect intelligence sources and methods from disclosure, the 1949 Act further exempted the CIA from having to disclose its "organization, functions, names, officials, titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed."
The office of Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (DDCI) evolved gradually. Until 1953, Deputy Directors were appointed by the Director, and it was General Walter Bedell Smith, the fourth DCI, who established the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence in the role he has since played in CIA. Congress recognized the importance of the position in April 1953 by amending the National Security Act of 1947 to provide for the appointment of the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. This amendment also provided that commissioned officers of the armed forces, whether active or retired, could not occupy both DCI and DDCI positions at the same time. The DDCI assists the Director by performing such functions as the DCI assigns or delegates. The DDCI acts for and exercises the powers of the Director during his absence or disability, or in the event of a vacancy in the position of the Director.
Under these statutes, the Director serves as the principal adviser to the President and the National Security Council on all matters of foreign intelligence related to national security. CIA's responsibilities are carried out subject to various directives and controls by the President and the NSC.
Today the CIA reports regularly to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as required by the Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980 and various Executive Orders. The Agency also reports regularly to the Defense Subcommittees of the Appropriations Committees in both houses of Congress. Moreover, the Agency provides substantive briefings to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Armed Services Committees in both bodies, as well as other committees and individual members.