CIA began its statutory existence in September 1947 with its creation validating, in a sense, a series of decisions taken soon after the end of the Second World War in regard to centralising intelligence services. The conflict surrounding this ended in the summer of 1945 with Washington decision-makers in broad agreement that the United States needed to reform the intelligence establishment that had grown so rapidly and haphazardly during the national emergency that was World War II. When President Truman dispersed the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in September 1945 he had no clear plan for constructing the peacetime intelligence structure that he and his advisers believed they needed in an atomic age. President Truman wanted the reforms to be part and parcel of the “unification” of the armed services, but the overhaul of the military that the President wanted would take time to push through Congress. In the intermediary period, he created a Central Intelligence Group (CIG) to screen his incoming cables and supervise activities left over from the former OSS. The CIG was the direct forerunner of the CIA and provided the CIA a framework for its structure.
In early 1946, the White House authorised CIG to evaluate intelligence from all parts of the government, and to absorb the remnants of OSS’s espionage and counterintelligence operations. Initially these distinct components of the new CIG shared little in common except an interest in foreign secrets and a sense that both strategic warning and clandestine activities abroad required “central” coordination. Indeed, these two missions came together in CIG almost by accident. Under the first two Directors of Central Intelligence, however, CIG and the Truman administration came to realise how strategic warning and clandestine activities complemented one another.
The first DCI, Sidney Souers, recalled in 1954 that he had been part of the collective effort (leading to CIG’s establishment) to create “a central intelligence agency” that would ensure that national security policymakers “all would get the same intelligence—in contrast to the system that had prevailed, where the OSS would give one bit of intelligence to the President and not any to the secretaries of the military departments and the State Department, who had some responsibility to advise the President.”
Intelligence reforms however were not the main concern in Congress or the White House, with the military “unification” issue overshadowing intelligence reform in deliberations. In the middle of 1946 the President again called on Congress to unify the Armed Services. In April of 1946 the Senate’s Military Affairs committee had passed a unification bill that contained a central intelligence agency but the draft had been held up in the hostile Naval Affairs committee. In May the Secretary of War Robert Patterson and Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal agreed that a defence reorganisation bill should include a role for a central intelligence agency. In June President Truman sent Congress the result of the two Secretaries’ accord (with modifications of his own), repeating his call for lawmakers to pass a unification bill...