The nation’s federal international spy agency was established the same year that aliens were reported to have crashed a spaceship in Roswell, New Mexico. Perhaps coincidence or perhaps not, but until 1947 what is today known as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was known as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
The OSS came into being directly as a result of America’s entry into World War II. Having quickly become apparent that intelligence gathering under war conditions was hopelessly inefficient and unreliable, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt mandated the creation of the OSS precisely to address the ineffectual lack of an organized government agency charged with gathering reliable intelligence (Oettinger, 2011). President Harry Truman’s decision to create the CIA as a replacement for the OSS and the Congressional mandate establishing the agency a year later was directly inspired by the necessity for an intelligence agency that was more centralized than the OSS, thus its name.
The problem facing Truman in the post-war reality of the Cold War was that he inherited an intelligence system relying on various independent sources within the federal government and each was certain they should become the overseer of it all. Thus, both to quash the inter-agency positionioning for power and to streamline the inherent inefficiency of multiple sources providing duplicate information, the need to create an entirely new “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” (Pike, 1996).
That goal resulted in the agency which today bears the following mission on their official government website: “Preempt threats and further US national security objectives by collecting intelligence that matters, producing objective all-source analysis, conducting effective covert action as directed by the President, and safeguarding the secrets that help keep our Nation safe” (“CIA Vision, Mission, Ethos & Challenges”, 2007).
While that mission has proven comforting during times of peace and in recognition of intelligence gathered and collected that prevent potentially disastrous attacks by foreign agents against the country, it is precisely the furtive and stealthy ambiguity in the wording of that mission of statement which also makes the CIA a perpetual symbol of fear for many law-abiding Americans. The suspicion about how the CIA is collecting intelligence, its definition of national security objectives and the extent it will go to pre-empt threats has proven well-founded in the decades since 1947. The practice of safeguarding those secrets to keep the nation safe often read more like the secrets of an agency given unrestricted license to operate without regard to human rights or international law.
From establishment and long-term maintenance of despotic regimes in Haiti to a plot to undermine the Castro government in Cuba that became a spectacular failure to revelation of the existence of the domestic surveillance program known as Operation CHAOS which existed in direct opposition to the CIA’s mandate to operate only as a foreign intelligence gathering agency, the history of the agency has been unrelenting sordid. The question that the continued existence of the Central Intelligence Agency in a relatively unchanged state throughout each new revelation of its abuse of power raises is whether it is long since past the time when an alternative should be devised to replace its inefficient and ineffectual practices in the way that the CIA addressed those same concerns about its predecessor, the OSS.
While national security is more important than ever, it is not difficult to imagine that many millions of Americans are shuddering at the thought of the agency subject to the abuse to suit the ambitions of an unstable billionaire whose direction to conduct effective covert action it must follow as part of its stated mission.
“CIA Vision, Mission, Ethos & Challenges.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 4 Apr. 2007. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/cia-vision- mission-values
Kangas, Steve. “A Timeline of CIA Atrocities.” Global Research. Center for Research for Globalization, 17 May 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. http://www.globalresearch.ca/a- timeline-of-cia-atrocities/5348804
Oettinger, Callie. “Goodbye OSS and Hello CIA: National Security Act of 1947.” The History Reader. St. Martin’s Press, 26 July 2011. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. http://www.thehistoryreader.com/contemporary-history/goodbye-oss-hello-cia-national-s ecurity-act-1947/
Pike, John. “Central Intelligence Agency History.” Federation of American Scientists. N.p., 23 Sept. 1996. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. http://fas.org/irp/cia/ciahist.htm