The Central Intelligence Agency was created by Congress with the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. It is the descendant of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) of World War II, which was dissolved in October 1945 and its functions transferred to the State and War Departments. Eleven months earlier, in 1944, William J. Donovan, the OSS’s creator, proposed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create a new organization directly supervised by the President: 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.

CIA personnel have died on duty, some in accidents and some by deliberate hostile action. On the memorial wall at CIA headquarters, some of the stars have no name attached, because it would reveal the identity of a clandestine officer. Both the OSS and its British counterparts, as do other agencies worldwide, struggle with finding the right organizational balance among clandestine intelligence collection, counterintelligence, and covert action.

Immediate predecessors, 1946–47

The Office of Strategic Services, which was the first independent US intelligence agency, created for World War II, was broken up shortly after the end of the war, by President Harry S. Truman, on September 20, 1945 when he signed an Executive Order which made the breakup ‘official’ as of October 1, 1945. The rapid reorganizations that followed reflected the routine sort of bureaucratic competition for resources, but also trying to deal with the proper relationships of clandestine intelligence collection and covert action (i.e., paramilitary and psychological operations). In October 1945, the functions of the OSS were split between the Departments of State and War:

New Unit Oversight OSS Functions Absorbed Strategic Services Unit (SSU) War DepartmentSecret Intelligence (SI) (i.e., clandestine intelligence collection) and Counter-espionage (X-2)

Interim Research and Intelligence Service (IRIS) State Department Research and Analysis Branch (i.e., intelligence analysis)

Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) (not uniquely for former OSS) War Department, Army General Staff Staff officers from Operational Groups, Operation Jedburgh, Morale Operations (black propaganda)

This division lasted only a few months. Despite opposition from the military establishment, the United States Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), President Truman established the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) in January 1946 which was the direct predecessor to the CIA. The CIG was an interim authority established under Presidential authority. The assets of the SSU, which now constituted a streamlined nucleus of clandestine intelligence was transferred to the CIG in mid-1946 and reconstituted as the Office of Special Operations (OSO)

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