Truman Reassesses CIA Role

Ex-Pres. “Disturbed” By Agency He Founded

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | June 1, 2024                   

U.S. President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)

With the signature of President Harry S. Truman on July 26, 1947, the National Security Act became law and with it, four new government departments, including the Central Intelligence Agency, were born.

Drawn from the remnants of the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIA was designed to supply the Chief Executive with reliable intelligence pertinent to the Cold War and beyond.

Over a decade after leaving office, Truman was still receiving CIA intelligence briefings. Over the years, however, seeing how the CIA became an instrument of “cloak and dagger” operations, the former President was having second thoughts. He expressed these misgivings to his biographer, and in 1963, a month after the assassination of JFK, in a syndicated newspaper article.

Apparently playing it safe, Truman did not indicate which covert operations he most had in mind in his criticism. His Republican successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had weaponized the CIA to overthrow three legitimate foreign governments. The disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was also a recent memory.

What is certain is that while the CIA’s controversial activities became more well known, leading to the Church Committee hearings in 1975, it has never heeded Truman’s original vision for the agency. Ditto for President Eisenhower’s farewell warning on the “military industrial complex”.

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December 21, 1963

Harry Truman Writes:

Limit CIA Role To Intelligence
By Harry S. Truman
Former President of the United States

INDEPENDENCE, MO., Dec. 21 — I think it has become necessary to take another look at the purpose and operations of our Central Intelligence Agency—CIA. At least, I would like to submit here the original reason why I thought it necessary to organize this Agency during my Administration, what I expected it to do, and how it was to operate as an arm of the President.

I think it is fairly obvious that by and large a President’s performance in office is as effective as the information he has and the information he gets. That is to say, that assuming the President himself possesses a knowledge of our history, a sensitive understanding of our institutions, and an insight into the needs and aspirations of the people, he needs to have available to him the most accurate and up-to-the-minute information on what is going on everywhere in the world, and particularly of the trends and developments in all the danger spots in the contest between East and West. This is an immense task and requires a special kind of an intelligence facility.

Of course, every President has available to him all the information gathered by the many intelligence agencies already in existence. The Departments of State, Defense, Commerce, Interior and others are constantly engaged in extensive information gathering and have done excellent work.

But their collective information reached the President all too frequently in conflicting conclusions. At times, the intelligence reports tended to be slanted to conform to established positions of a given department. This becomes confusing and what’s worse, such intelligence is of little use to a President in reaching the right decisions.

I have seen instances where the Army, Navy and the State Department were duplicating their intelligence coverage — which resulted in inaccurate conclusions. I have always felt that the Pearl Harbor disaster was partly the result of that kind of intelligence confusion. It seemed to me that much of the intelligence gathered failed to reach the top levels in the government—and that when it did — it was not in proper form. In critical times certain important bits of information came too late, thus preventing the adoption of a course of action necessary to protect our security.

In this new kind of world in which the United States occupies a position of leadership among the free nations, faulty information, careless intelligence or unintelligent reports on intelligence, or unintelligible conclusions, can prove very damaging to our policy-making decisions and to the conduct of foreign relations which is the personal responsibility of the President.

Therefore, I decided to set up a special organization charged with the collection of all intelligence reports from every available source, and to have those reports reach me as President without department “treatment” or interpretations.

I wanted and needed the information in its “natural raw” state and in as comprehensive a volume as it was practical for me to make full use of it. But the most important thing about this move was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or to lead the President into unwise decisions—and I thought it was necessary that the President do his own thinking and evaluating.

Since the responsibility for decision making was his—then he had to be sure that no information is kept from him for whatever reason at the discretion of any one department or agency, or that unpleasant facts be kept from him. There are always those who would want to shield a President from bad news or misjudgments to spare him from being “upset.”

Now, this at best was a most difficult requirement to meet, and the only thing I could think about that would give it some reasonable assurances of success is that the people placed in charge of this new intelligence facility for the President were men of the highest integrity and would possess the capacity to work on the highest level of government responsibility and to have no involvements of any kind in partisan politics.

I wanted to make sure that it was not to be another over-lapping facility. Quite to the contrary — it was intended to prevent it. As I visualized it it was to coordinate and consolidate the flow of information so that it would reach the President with no intervening steps in that process. It was to be directly under the President and solely responsible to the President. In this way, the Central Intelligence Agency would function as a source of continuing vital information, unedited and uninterpreted for the use of the President, thus enabling him to be informed on everything current and without the usual procedural delays.

No President has the right to abdicate his responsibility for administering the operations of the executive branch of the government. He can delegate but he cannot escape the personal responsibility for anything that may go wrong. If there is any job in the world that calls for the kind of unremitting drudgery of never-ending homework, it is the presidency of the United States.

It is not only the loneliest job in the world — it is one of continual soul-searching and of deep and sustained thought. A President is in the grip of events that never seem to let go. He is in every sense the captive of the most exacting office in the gift of a free people. But with all that, it is a wonderful and indescribable experience. It is a moment in history that enables a man to serve mankind in a broad and comprehensive way and to shape the course of the world towards a happier existence and its hope for a life in peace.

For some time I have been disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas.

I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue—and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.

With all the nonsense put out by Communist propaganda about “Yankee imperialism,” “exploitive capitalism,” “war-mongering,” “monopolists,” in their name-calling assault on the West, the last thing we needed was for the CIA to be seized upon as something akin to a subverting influence in the affairs of other people.

I well knew the first temporary director of the CIA, Adm. Souers, [Sidney W. Souers] and the later permanent directors of the CIA, Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg and Allen Dulles. These were men of the highest character, patriotism and integrity—and I assume this is true of all those who continue in charge. [Allen Dulles epitomized the CIA excesses he was calling out]

But there are now some searching questions that need to be answered. I, therefore, would like to see the CIA be restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President, and that whatever else it can properly perform in that special field—and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.

We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.

• Truman’s article ran in numerous papers under different titles on Dec. 21-22, 1963, and was syndicated by North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA). It generally ran as an Op-Ed or sometimes on the front page. The truncated Washington Post version, as preserved by the CIA below, was about half the entire length. The second one is complete.

• See also Truman On CIA by CIA analyst Thomas F. Troy, Sept. 22, 1993.

Front page of The Ventura County Star (Ventura, California), Dec. 21, 1963

Ad in The Chattanooga Times (Tennessee), Dec. 20, 1963

The Charlotte News | December 26, 1963

The CIA’s Real Function

When Harry Truman says that the Central Intelligence Agency has been diverted from its original assignment and that there is cause for worry, we worry. Mr. Truman created the CIA to coordinate the intelligence functions of government and to eliminate duplication. Now that all has been thoroughly centralized, the former President wonders if the resulting Leviathan has not appropriated an exclusively executive function.

“It (the CIA) has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas,” Mr. Truman writes.

Has the CIA become a policy-making force? Mr. Truman’s complaint that the agency is being widely interpreted as “a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue” is certainly justified. Whatever the CIA means to Americans, it has taken on cloak and dagger aspects to many foreign observers.

This is not in itself bad. Intelligence is tough work, mean work, clandestine work — even sinister work. It has to be done all the same. It is the ClA’s job to do this work, not to win popularity contests overseas.

The CIA’s function, however, is ferreting out information, not translating it into action or policy. Allen Dulles, in his book “The Craft of Intelligence” argues that the value of the CIA is that it is not a policy making body and therefore cannot fall into the error of trying to suit the facts to the policy.

The danger is perhaps the reverse of this proposition: Given what it takes to be the salient facts, can the CIA resist acting in a way to set policy in Washington? Isn’t it tempted to use its fact-producing apparatus to generate policy? Harry Rowe Ransom in his study, “Central Intelligence and National Security” reminds us that the danger is that a secret intelligence operation can become “a vehicle for conspiracy or a suppressor of the traditional liberties of democratic self-government.”

Mr. Truman and Mr. Dulles agree on one point: Only the president can see to it that the CIA does not overstep its bounds. President Johnson is much closer to what is happening now than either Mr. Truman or Mr. Dulles. He ought to make the CIA’s business his business. He ought to see to it that the CIA’s contribution to setting policy is getting the facts, just the facts and nothing more.

• This editorial in The Charlotte News (North Carolina) is shown here as archived by the CIA.

The San Francisco Chronicle | December 27, 1963

Truman Blasts CIA

FORMER PRESIDENT Harry S. Truman, who was founder of the Central Intelligence Agency, is publicly expressing alarm over the CIA’s departure from its original purpose and incursion into fields where it was never meant to trespass.

In a copyright article printed by the San Francisco Examiner, the former President recites that he established the CIA purely as a means of collecting and consolidating information from all available sources and delivering it to the President directly and without comment.

Now, he complains, the CIA has become “operational” and at times a policy-making arm of the Government and he is deeply disturbed by certain of its activities that have caused trouble and compounded difficulties in dangerously explosive areas.

THESE ACCUSATIONS are plainly deserved. The dangerous and frequently inept meddling of the CIA—as at the Bay of Pigs and in Vietnam—has been frequently noted and decried by this newspaper. With President Truman, we insist that it abandon its mischievous adventures in espionage and intrigue and confine itself to its original assignment—the collection of undoctored information.

• This editorial in The San Francisco Chronicle (California) is shown here as archived by the CIA.

The Berkshire Eagle | December 27, 1963

The CIA Needs Surveillance

When it comes to discussing the proper role of the Central Intelligence Agency, ex-President Harry Truman has impressive qualifications. He was after all, the one who first proposed establishing the CIA, and it was during his administration that the necessary legislation was enacted.

It is therefore of some significance that Mr. Truman, in an article written for North American Newspaper Allance, now contends that the cloak-and-dagger activities which have embroiled the CIA in so much controversy since the U2 fiasco of 1960 are completely at odds with the role which the agency was originally designed to fulfill.

That role, says Mr. Truman, was simply and solely to serve as an information agency for the White House collecting reports from various sources (principally the Army, Navy and State Department intelligence units) and correlating them for the President’s use. There was never any intention of making the CIA an operational agency, let alone a policy-making arm of the government. This, in Truman’s opinion, is a role which it should never have been allowed to assume and which should be terminated before it creates serious trouble for the nation.

As a matter of fact, it has enmeshed us in some extremely uncomfortable situations already. The U2 affair was one case in point. The Bay of Pigs misadventure was another. In a number of other situations — most recently, in South Viet Nam, where it apparently financed the Diem regime’s secret police organization — the CIA’s role has been risky and ill-advised, at best.

No doubt it is in the nature of an intelligence operation to arrogate power to itself. The secrecy of its operations makes administrative control difficult. In the case of the CIA, the agency’s budget and the number of persons it employs are closely guarded secrets, known only to a few members of Congress and the executive branch. For all practical purposes, it is completely a law unto itself.

This is bad business. It has made the CIA an easy target for damaging anti-American propaganda abroad. It is sharply at odds with our own democratic traditions. And it has created a continuing risk of involving us in perilous situations which could and should be avoided.

Obviously the work of intelligence agencies must be clandestine, even in relatively “open” societies like ours. The fault with the CIA is not that it operates in secret, which it must, but rather that it has been diverted from an information arm of the President to the status of a virtually independent operational agency.

The CIA needs its cloak. It doesn’t need a dagger, and it shouldn’t have one.

• Editorial in The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), shown here as archived by the CIA.

The Washington Post | December 28, 1963

Truman and the CIA

Former President Truman speaks with unique authority about CIA inasmuch as the agency was organized in his Administration. When he writes, as he did in this newspaper last Sunday, that there “is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position” we can rightly sit up and take notice. Mr. Truman is concerned that the agency’s operational functions have gotten out of hand. So are many Americans.

The President makes perfectly clear that a central intelligence agency was an urgent requirement when the CIA was formed. The Chief Executive is virtually blanketed by intelligence documents from many existing agencies. He needs a central organization charged with the duty of assembling various estimates and presenting the facts without the tincture of special pleading. The intelligence reports of the various armed services obviously must reflect, consciously or unconsciously, the institutional bias of services with their own policies to defend.

The trouble is that over the years the CIA has become increasingly entangled in its own operations. It has seemed less an objective interpreter of events than a rival policy arm with a very sharp axe to grind. As Mr. Truman remarks:

I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peace-time cloak and dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassments that I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue—and a subject for enemy cold war propaganda.

President Truman emphasizes his confidence in the patriotism and ability of CIA officials. That is not in dispute. What is at issue is the wisdom of combining within the CIA functions that should be separate. Moreover, there is real doubt whether any arm of the United States Government should be involved in subversion of another government. Experience suggests this is an area in which Americans do not excel. Morality suggests that it drains this country’s professed principles of meaning when a shadowy arm of the Government appears to practice the same subversion that we condemn in others.

• Editorial in The Washington Post, shown here as archived by the CIA.

Letter to the Editor | December 28, 1963

Backs Truman on CIA

To the Editor: Ex-President, Truman’s article, “New Look at CIA’s Function,” deserves the full attention and thoughtful consideration of every loyal American who has the interest of America’s security at heart. He should be highly commended for the courage of his convictions. Even though he may have sanctioned the creation of that agency, presented to him on a more or less salutary premise which time has shown to be false, his noble soul failed to see the Trojan horse hidden in it.

I presume he knows more about that agency than anybody in the United States. With this knowledge he can serve the American cause more gloriously now than ever. More power to him. He has started a good, patriotic work and we want to see him do something about it.


• This letter to a Detroit newspaper, the name of which was cut off but was possibly The Detroit News, is shown here as archived by the CIA.

CIA Memo | Undated

SUBJECT: Analysis of Column by Former President Harry S. Truman Dated 21 December 1963

1. Truman claims that CIA has been diverted from its original intended role as an intelligence agency to “an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government.” He recommends that CIA be “restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.”

2. He states that he organized CIA to provide the President with timely, unbiased, all-source intelligence. This intelligence was to be supplied in its “natural raw state,” “unedited and uninterpreted.” The appointment of outstanding non-partisan intelligence chiefs was to provide the primary assurance that the concept was executed.

3. CIA, says Truman, has now been diverted from this original task and has undertaken operation and has undertaken operation and at times made policy. Although CIA was never intended to be used for “peace-time cloak-and-dagger operations,” it is now an embarassing target of enemy propaganda. Because of “complications and embarassment” in part attributable to CIA operations, CIA’s operational duties should be “terminated or properly used elsewhere,” thus removing a “shadow” from our historic position as a free and open society.

5. Truman is correct in stating that CIA does conduct operations, although he is incorrect in stating that CIA “makes policy.” He chooses to ignore the fact that CIA continues its positive intelligence functions on a vastly expanded scale. CIA’s operational responsibilities in support of national security policy are undertaken in addition to its intelligence functions.

6. CIA first became engaged in “cloak-and-dagger operations,” including both espionage and covert action, under the Truman administration. On 2 April 1946 the National Intelligence Authority (NIA) directed that the former OSS Strategic Services Unit (SSU) be placed under the orders of the DCI. The SSU, then in the War Department, had been responsible for both espionage and counterespionage. The DCI was to determine, in conjunction with the War Department, what personnel, facilities, equipment, and records were to be transferred to the Central Intelligence Group (CIG). The personnel and material thus acquired by CIG passed to CIA under the go provisions of the National Security Act of 1947. On 12 December 1947, the National Security Council (NSC) approved the Fifth Directive of the NIA, giving the DCI authority to conduct “all organized Federal espionage and counterespionage abroad.”

7. The CIA also acquired responsibility for covert action programs under the Truman administration. This responsibility was given to CIA by the President and the NSC over the objection of the DCI, who had reservations about its legality and feasibility. CIA’s analysis of the intent of Congress in the Act of 1947 did not support a grant of authority, even under the provision that CIA should undertake “such other functions and duties relating to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct.”

8. The DCI was charged with planning and conducting black propaganda abroad under NSC 4-A of 17 December 1947. On 22 December 1947 the DCI directed the Assistant Director in the Office of Special Operations (espionage and counterespionage) to establish a “foreign information branch,” later known as the Special Procedures Group (SPG). The SPG was authorized to use “all measures of information and persuasion short of physical,” including black publications and radio, forgeries, and poison pen letters. The CIA was active during [redacted part here] earning a commendation for the DCI from President Truman in front of the NSC. SPG was also active in planning other operations, including the balloon program and what later became Radio Free Europe.

9. On 18 June 1948 NSC 10-2 created the Office of Special Projects (OSP) from the SPG, and added to the list of activities in NSC 4-A. The OSP was authorized to conduct sabotage, antisabotage., demolitions, evacuations, aid to guerillas, and support for anti-communist groups in addition to the black propaganda activities. OSP was not, however, to engage in armed conflict by recognized forces, espionage and counterespionage, or cover and deception for military operations.

10. On 1 Sept 1948, the OSP became the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), with responsibility for psychological warfare using black press and radio; political warfare, including the exploitation of refugees and defectors; economic warfare, including fiscal and monetary operations; and “preventive direct action” such as guerilla support, sabotage, and support for anti-communist groups.

11. Thus, it is clear that under the direct urging and guidance of President Truman and the NSC, CIA was given responsibility for conducting operations, starting with black propaganda and then expanding to include other types of covert action including sabotage, guerilla warfare, and covert political action.

12. The propaganda attacks on CIA for operations are serious, but Truman does not make a case that CIA’s positive intelligence mission has been hampered. In fact, he does not conclude that operations should not be conducted but merely that they should either be terminated or transferred elsewhere. So long as operations are conducted by the US--and perhaps even if they are not--some part of the government (CIA, DOD, USIA, etc.) will be subject to propaganda attack. In addition, clandestine intelligence collection activities will also be attacked as they are now.

• This top secret CIA memo, undated and with no byline, was declassified December 15, 2004.

CIA Memo | December 31, 1963


Tuesday, December 31, 1963

1. The Executive Committee Meeting was particularly notable due to the fact that Dick Helms presided as Acting Director. [Richard Helms] Those of us who were seated when he arrived formally rose to our feet and said, “Good morning, Sir.” (General Carter is making a hurried trip to brief ex-President Truman on the background of covert action in the Agency as a result of an article by Mr. Truman which appeared in the 22 December Washington Post. A copy of this is in your reading file.)

2. [Redacted] came in to discuss BOB Circular A-22 which is the new economy directive regarding the use of automobiles by Government officials. If complied with literally, this would eliminate the Director’s limousine and General Carter’s Lincoln and all but one medium sedan which would allocated to the Director. We agreed that before going forward with this drastic change the OGC should be consulted as to what must be done under A-22 in view of our special legislation in Public Law 110, etc. [Redacted] will also send a copy of the circular to Logistics for preliminary study. We further agreed that before any steps are taken to implement A-22 we should be directed to do so by Mr. Kirkpatrick or General Carter.


• Declassified by the CIA on August 27, 2000

The Evening Outlook | January 2, 1964

CIA Government Unto Itself

A congressional watchdog committee for the Central Intelligence Agency would be in the national interest, for there is strong evidence to suggest that the CIA has become the master of American foreign policy, not its servant.

It is significant that a strong plea to rein in the CIA has come from former President Harry S. Truman, the man who created the cloak-and-dagger organization. Mr. Truman in a recent newspaper article pointed out that the CIA has long since departed from its intended function — the gathering of unvarnished and objective intelligence information for the nation’s chief executive.

Many members of Congress have echoed Mr. Truman’s plaint. Most recently, Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn, writing in the Saturday Evening Post, had this to say:

“It (the CIA) has taken on the character of an invisible government answering only to itself. This must stop. Wrapped in its cloak of secrecy, the CIA modestly hints it has overthrown foreign governments. The CIA must be accountable for its activities, not only to the President but also to Congress.”

It is well documented that the CIA has been at cross-purposes with the U.S. military and diplomatic missions in South Viet Nam. The cloak-and-dagger boys were caught short by the November coup, and they must share much of the blame for supplying the misinformation on which U.S. policy in that country has been built.

Certainly, the watchdog committee works well with the Atomic Energy Commission. The AEC has functioned superbly in keeping Congress in instant touch with the U.S. nuclear program, and it has done so without any of the leakages of information which the CIA brass fears would result from a Congressional group charged with overseeing their activities.

There is no sound reason why the in CIA, alone of all federal agencies, should not be responsible to Congress. The Balkan-like chaos in which it operates is inexcusable. It exists because Congress has refused to insist on being told enough about CIA’s operations so it can reach conclusions as to whether they are in the national interest.

• Editorial in The Evening Outlook (Santa Monica, California), shown here as archived by the CIA.

The Milwaukee Journal | January 4, 1964

Truman: CIA Off Track

Former President Truman has added his doubts to many others about the operations of the Central Intelligence Agency. And he speaks with authority, for the CIA was organized during his presidency to serve the needs of his office.

As organized, Truman says, the CIA was to bring together intelligence information available to all branches of Government, valuate and interpret it for the President. It was never meant, Truman says, to “be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations.” It was never meant to make policy.

CIA activities have frequently been embarrassing to this country in the last decade. In numerous instances the Agency actually has worked counter to our foreign policy. Certainly we need no agency to work to subvert foreign governments — yet the record indicates that the CIA has done that very thing.

Truman is quick to acknowledge the patriotism and the dedication of CIA officials. He just thinks they have been off the track. The Agency, he says, should return to its basic job of gathering and assessing intelligence for the use of the policymakers.

In connection with this, the proposal that the CIA be audited by a special committee of Congress, just as the Atomic Energy Commission is, deserves congressional approval. The CIA is too much a law unto itself. For its own good, and the country’s, it should be curbed and put under constant check.

• Editorial in The Milwaukee Journal (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), shown here as archived by the CIA.. The Chicago Sun-Times reprinted it on Jan. 18, 1964.

Allen Dulles letter to Truman | January 7, 1964

January 7, 1964


The Honorable Harry S. Truman

Dear Mr. Truman:

I am deeply appreciative of the kind comments on my book on “The Craft of Intelligence” in your letter of November 19. The book is having a far better sale than I had anticipated. It makes no pretense of being a “thriller”.

A few days ago I read in The Washington Post (December 22, 1963) your article of the 21st; and subsequently I noted an editorial in the Post of December 28, of which I enclose a copy. I would not be candid if I did not tell you that I was deeply disturbed by the concluding paragraphs of your article.

I thoroughly agree with your basic premise that the primary mission of CIA is to provide the President with the intelligence which he requires in the formulation and guidance of our foreign policy. This should be done faithfully and fearlessly. Nothing should be allowed to divert the agency from fulfilling this function, which you had primarily in mind when you sought and obtained the CIA legislation in the 1947 National Security Act, as so well described in your book; and thereby you became in many senses the “father” of our modern intelligence system. The country owes you a great debt of gratitude for this as one of the many important accomplishments of your years as President. I respectfully differ, however, from what you have written toward the conclusion of this article, particularly what you say about CIA being injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations and your admonition that CIA should terminate “its operational duties”, which you suggest are “sometimes akin to a subverting influence in the affairs of other people”; also I differ with your comment that CIA has become “at times a policy-making arm of the government”.

To you belongs the lasting credit of having enunciated in 1947 the Truman Doctrine: the first official and public recognition of the grave dangers of Communist subversive action against free governments. You will also recall that about a year after the Truman Doctrine declaration of April 1947, you also were the first to take stock of the fact that the Communist subversive threat could not be met solely by the overt type of assistance which you were able to render to the beleaguered countries of Greece and Turkey. This peril was evidenced by events early in 1943, with the take-over of Czechoslovakia by secret subversion, the Communist threat to Italian independence in the elections of 1948, and the communizing of Poland, Hungary and the other “Satellite” countries. It was then, in June 1948, that you, through National Security Council action, approved the organization within CIA of a new office to carry out covert operations directed against secret Communist subversion.

It was provided in the NSC directive that these covert activities of the CIA should be subject to appropriate policy and guidance at the highest level, including also State and Defense. At that time long and careful consideration was given to where these covert functions should be located and how the work should be carried out. You then determined, and I believe wisely determined, that CIA, which already had certain secret functions in the intelligence gathering field and secret funds appropriated by the Congress, was the appropriate place in government where this function of coping with secret Communist subversion should be placed.

The administration which followed your own, re-affirmed the need for this type of activity. [The CIA during the Eisenhower years helped depose three foreign governments] While the charter that you initially gave the CIA in this field has been slightly modified over the years by NSC action, it remains substantially as you had approved it. It was during ‘Beedle’ Smith’s directorship and again under your directive that the responsibility of the Director of Central intelligence for covert operations was established, subject of course to the high policy guidance it has always had and to which it has faithfully adhered, despite newspaper reports to the contrary. [Walter Bedell Smith was nicknamed “Beetle”, not “Beedle”]

Despite the co-existence formula of Khrushchev, there is no evidence that the Communists have abandoned their policy of “wars of liberation”, which Khrushchev, in his dramatic speech of January 6, 1961, so clearly defined. [Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev] I feel sure are in basic agreement with me on this point and also that the need exists today, as it fifteen years ago, to continue operations to combat Communist subversion.

I do not believe that these operations, as your article suggests, present any danger to our free institutions so long as they are subject to high policy guidance. These institutions should indeed be endangered if we did not strive to meet the Communist threat and attempt to ferret out and to counter by covert means their attempts at take-over, in those situations where covert operations through State and Defense cannot for one reason or another be called into play or cannot alone do the job.

Over the years since 1948 when this program was initiated by you, there have been a whole series of quiet successes and a certain number of public failures. Throughout this period the Soviets have endeavored by every form of attack to drive us out of the business of countering their subversive operations.

Unfortunately here and there the press, which inherently dislikes what they are not told about, have voiced disapproval. I feel sure that if I had an opportunity of describing to you, point by point, what has been accomplished since your approval of this program, you would have reason to be proud of your initiative in this field. To destroy the expertise which has been developed over the last decade and a half since 1948, to try to re-institute this work somewhere else — and no one can suggest where else to do it — would, I fear, seriously prejudice our national security.

In Chapter XV of my book “The Craft of Intelligence”, which deals with the role of intelligence in the cold war, I have outlined my views on this subject insofar as I felt this highly secret matter could be publicly discussed. I would welcome an opportunity to give you further details which I could not put in my book or write in this letter and give you my own experience covering the decade of the 50s. Others are more competent than I to deal with the last two years since I retired from the Agency. From what I know of this, I feel sure there has been no major change either in the method of operations or in the strict policy controls to which they are subordinated. In fact, President Kennedy, on October 9, 1963, a few weeks before his tragic death, at a public press conference re-affirmed his confidence in CIA. In reply to a question regarding alleged CIA “independent” operations in Vietnam, President Kennedy said “I can find nothing — and I’ve looked through the record very carefully over the last nine months, and I could go back further — to indicate that the CIA had done anything but support policy.” The full text of the question and answer is attached. [John F. Kennedy, Oct. 12, 1963]

I have written you with great candor and with complete frankness. The subject is one on which I have strong feelings. I can say equally frankly that I feel that there are parts of your article of December 21 which might be interpreted as a repudiation of a policy which you had the great courage and wisdom to initiate fifteen years ago.

With deep respect and appreciation for all the confidence you have extended to me, I remain

Faithfully yours,

Allen W. Dulles

P.S. I expect to be travelling to Dallas (February 3) and to the West Coast in the second week of March. If by any chance, at either time, I could stop by at Independence and pay you my respects, it would be a great pleasure to do so. This would also afford the opportunity to talk over in confidence some points in this letter which, for obvious security reasons, I cannot send by open mail.


• Allen Dulles wrote a lengthy letter to Truman on January 7, 1964. He subsequently met with Truman on April 17th. Declassified by the CIA on November 29, 2004. [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

CIA Memo | June 13, 1967

13 June 1967


SUBJECT: President Truman’s Alleged Remarks About CIA

1. On 9 June 1964, Lt. General Marshall S. Carter, DDCI, accompanied by his assistant, Enno H. Knoche, briefed President Truman at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. From his notes which he kept of the meeting, Mr. Knoche has dictated the following extract.

“General Carter opened the meeting by referring to President Johnson’s request that President Truman be briefed periodically. [Lyndon B. Johnson] President Johnson had wanted to ensure that President Truman was kept up-to-date on the world situation. Mr. Truman expressed great appreciation of this and said it was the nicest thing that any President had done for any ex-President.

“President Truman referred to the great importance of CIA. He said he had been the founder of the Agency and had established it in order to get as total and as objective a view of developments as possible. He said that prior to the establishment of CIA, too much importance to the Presidency was kept bottled up in the State and Defense Departments. The primary purpose of the CIA, as he envisaged it, was to collect such information and make it available to the President. General Carter reminded the President of the decisions made during the Truman administration for covert actions in Italy, Greece and Turkey. The President agreed. that this had been necessary.

“The session then turned to the text of a formal briefing given to President Truman by General Carter.”

Prior to going into see President Truman, General Carter and Mr. Knoche chatted briefly with David Noyes, who had been, I believe, a White House assistant when Truman was President and continued to serve him in various capacities in retirement. Noyes evidently drafts Mr. Truman’s statements and articles and admitted quite-freely the authorship of the Truman article on CIA which was published on 22 December 1963 in various newspapers, including the Washington Post. It is highly doubtful whether President Truman ever saw the article prior to its publication as he was already beginning to age considerably at that time. [Why not just ask Truman?]

Walter Pforzheimer
Historical Intelligence Collection

• Declassified by the CIA on December 15, 2004 [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• This memo casts doubt on not only whether Truman actually wrote the 1963 CIA article, but if he had even read it. Yet according to the CIA internal history Truman On CIA, former CIA chief Sidney Souers wrote Truman on Dec. 27th to congratulate him on the piece, adding that Allen Dulles had caused the agency to “wander far from the original goal established by you...” Truman responded on Jan. 17th that he was “happy ... that my article rang a bell with you because you know exactly why the organization was set up — it was set up so the President would know what was going on.”


Related links:

The CIA Crisis | The Washington Post editorial, Dec. 24, 1974

Young Bernie Sanders in 1974: “Dangerous” CIA “Has Got To Go”

“We quarantined Mr. Arbenz” — Richard Nixon Cites Guatemala (1960)

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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