CIA at 75: After debacles and scandals, a return to a focus on Moscow

by | Jul 26, 2022 | Top Stories

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CIA Director William Burns testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in March. Burns has focused the agency more on U.S. rivalries with Russia and China. He’s been involved in the public release of U.S. intelligence on Russia’s military plans in Ukraine, and he’s established the China Mission Center at CIA headquarters.

Susan Walsh/AP

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Susan Walsh/AP

At its creation in July 1947, the CIA delivered briefings to President Harry Truman that would still sound current in today’s news feeds.

The many examples include American citizens who couldn’t get exit visas to leave the Soviet Union. Moscow’s financial and trade disputes with Europe. And intrigue over Soviet dealings with Iran.Here’s CIA Director William Burns just last week at the Aspen Security Forum:- “These are awful and shameful steps, (for Russia) to hold American citizens for political leverage.” – Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s “bet is that winter’s coming, so he can strangle the Ukrainian economy and wear down European publics and leaderships.” – “Russians and Iranians need each other right now. But if they need each other, they don’t really trust each other.”So the storylines are familiar. But it’s often been a turbulent journey since Truman signed the National Security Act that created the spy agency. Truman’s explicit goal was to centralize the multiple and sometimes contradictory intelligence streams coming into the White House from separate U.S. military branches, law enforcement and the State Department.

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President Harry Truman signs the National Security Act on July 26, 1947. The measure created the CIA, the National Security Council and the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

National Archives

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National Archives

Over the decades, CIA successes included keeping close watch on the Soviet Union with spy planes, satellites and human agents so Cold War tensions didn’t spiral out of control. Failures often involved military adventures gone awry, such as the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation in 1961, just one of many unsuccessful attempts to oust Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

“You have that constant schizophrenia in CIA history,” said Tom Blanton, who heads the National Security Archive, a private research group in Washington that studies the U.S. intelligence community. “The great successes the CIA has had have been the way in which it reduced the possibility of confrontation in a nuclear age,” he said. “You really enhanced American national security over all those years by giving us much better information about the world.” But Blanton is quick to add, “the places where the CIA has gone wrong has been in its handling of agents, its covert operations, its paramilitary, which raised the possibilities of confrontation, raised the danger.”

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This April 1961 photo shows Cuban exiles captured at the Bay of Pigs when they returned to the island in an attempt to oust Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The CIA-orchestrated operation was one of the worst fiascos ever for the U.S. spy agency.

MIGUEL VINAS/AFP via Getty Images

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MIGUEL VINAS/AFP via Getty Images

One of the agency’s darkest periods was the early 2000s. First came the failure to foresee the al-Qaida attacks on 9/11. This was followed …

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