When The C.I.A. Is Formed In 1947 (Established By President Truman)

By | September 15, 2020

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(Harry S. Truman Library & Museum)

The C.I.A. has long loomed large in the minds of tinfoil hat–wearers and fans of police procedurals alike, but its formation was born out of the need for oversight. Following World War II, the U.S. government was desperate to prevent another Pearl Harbor, which would require a new agency that could gather information on threats to national security and keep it all in one place. A central intelligence agency, if you will. At the time, President Truman was iffy on the creation of a new agency, but at the onset of the Cold War, he changed his mind and brought the C.I.A. to life.

Before The C.I.A.

Brave spies willing to risk life and limb for covert operations in the federal government have always been around, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Office of Strategic Services was born. Headed by General William J. Donovan, the upstart group was put together to investigate "strategic information" to use during the war, frequently venturing behind enemy lines to lead disinformation campaigns and upend enemy military installations in both Japanese and German territories. With around 13,000 agents working in the field and at home, this specialized group played a major part in bringing down the Axis from the inside. When the war came to an end, President Truman didn't really see a need for a super secret government operation to continue moving through the shadows, so he shut it down.

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(National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons)

The National Security Act

Truman immediately had second thoughts about dissolving the O.S.S. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was ironically heating up, and he needed to know what was happening on the other side of the iron curtain. It's not like everyone in the O.S.S. got out of Washington in 1945; they were government lifers, so most of the higher ups were still around and looking for work.

Initially, Truman put together the Central Intelligence Group to gather and coordinate the information coming from the various branches of the military, but by signing the National Security Act in 1947, Truman created the Central Intelligence Agency, a group that was separate from the military. In addition to gathering information, they were freed up to take part in their own missions overseas without being hindered by a different government agency.