Cold War Intelligence Essay

Cold War Intelligence Essay

From George Washington to the beginning of The Great War, the function and structure of U.S. Intelligence grew erratically and without great collaboration or structure. Though many advances were made to increase the productivity and usefulness of intelligence, it was World War II that saw the creation and establishment of a true intelligence community in America. Donovan, who some see as the true founder of our current intelligence system, birthed the OSS that would serve during WWII but ultimately find itself cast away at war’s end. But, as he would argue, “national policy …is influenced and determined by knowledge,” the necessity of a centralized intelligence structure would be realized. (Andrews, pg 159) The United State’s intelligence community would grow, strengthen and prove integral to success in the Cold War, even through a gambit of changes, revisions and presidents.

Death of a dream

There is always an epilogue in any great story, the story of the CIA starts with the establishment and decimation of a dream. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) served as the forerunner to today’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and was the creation of Donovan, President Roosevelt’s handpicked lead in the structuring of a foreign intelligence organization. Prior to WWII, intelligence was primarily used for military applications, and was not organized in a centralized or controlled manner. Most intelligence studies were ad-hoc in nature, Donovan’s OSS looked to end such practices, and give government and military leaders a consistent, dependable source of information.

Though the OSS was used and celebrated success in WWII, in the end it could not overcome the desires of the new presidency to do away with peacetime intelligence agencies for fear of creating our own “Gestapo’s.” (Andrews, pg 156) This desire was further compounded when Colonel Richard Park exposed the misuse by the OSS of funding to include fraud waste and abuse, poor training and added his own fear of a “Gestapo scheme.” Donovan would counter and make argument to support the need for a centralized intelligence organization stating that every other major power has an intelligence service reporting to their government on the status of other countries. Donovan’s arguments were correct and the strongest to that point, but were to no avail as Executive Order 9621 would seal the fate of the OSS and his dream of a central intelligence agency. (Andrews, pg 159-160) The intelligence that the OSS provided was not all lost in its dismantling. Its remains were divided between the Department of War and State, and the pre-WWII scattering of intelligence functions resumed.


It did not take long for Truman to realize that Donovan was correct as the Cold War began. In fact, there were many who had ideas for a centralize intelligence and Truman heeded the advice. On January 22, 1946, the National Intelligence Authority (NIA) was established and it was to over-see a Central Intelligence Group (CIG) which was to provide strategic warning and to conduct important clandestine activities. ( In 1947, further morphing occurred with the creation of the National Security Council, a merging of all branches of the military into the Department of Defense (including the new United States Air Force), and the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency. Truman “accepted, without enthusiasm, the case for a foreign espionage agency.” (Andrews, pg 169)

The Mission

With a solid foreign intelligence program and a restructuring into the department of defense, Truman was better prepared to face the challenge of the communist threat. The CIA was created to “… 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.” (Factbook on Intelligence, pp. 4–5) and “such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the national security council may from time to time direct.” (Andrew, pg 171) Truman would make it clear what he wanted from the CIA. In the same year as it was created, the CIA went to work on its first big assignment, containment of the spread of communism. The Truman Doctrine would become the definition of the Cold War push by the US and its allies and the CIA would be the tool.

The mission would grow from collecting, analyzing and presenting intelligence to the James Bond like espionage cloak and dagger operations out of Hollywood. The country needed a vessel to conduct covert and clandestine operations, and the CIA was the perfect fit. Much debate was had over the role of the CIA but with justification found, directive NSC 10/2 directed the CIA to conduct “covert” rather than merely “psychological” operations that the US government could plausibly deny. Over the next few decades, the Intelligence Community as a whole would have minor changes made by each president, giving more power to the DCI or changing the responsibilities thereof. These changes mostly stopped with President Ronald Reagan, who issued Executive Order 12333, which is still in effect today, and lays out our current IC structure. (

Being Resourceful

The capability of the Intelligence Community through the outset of the Cold War was limited and though funding was provided to support intelligence efforts, it was not until Eisenhower took office that the IC would get the funding it needed. Besides the clandestine operations of the CIA, SIGINT operations had been ongoing through the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA) the predecessor to the National Security Agency (NSA). “The creation of NSA resulted from a December 10, 1951, memo sent by Walter Bedell Smith to James B. Lay, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council. The memo observed that “control over, and coordination of, the collection and processing of Communications Intelligence had proved ineffective” and recommended a survey of communications intelligence activities. The proposal was approved on December 13, 1951, and the study authorized on December 28, 1951. The report was completed by June 13, 1952. Generally known as the “Brownell Committee Report,” after committee chairman Herbert Brownell, it surveyed the history of U.S. communications intelligence activities and suggested the need for a much greater degree of coordination and direction at the national level. As the change in the security agency’s name indicated, the role of the NSA was to extend beyond the armed forces.” (The National Security Agency Declassified)

The results of the Brownell committee stated that, “the COMINT agencies today are in poor position to compete for the people they need.” These findings stated that essentially money was needed in order to obtain the proper personnel to achieve mission success. Eisenhower listened and began in earnest, to support the NSA through increased funding. With a $35 million headquarters building, nearly nine thousand employees and the “biggest most sophisticated computer complex in the world,” the United States was well on its way to having the capabilities it needed to be successful against its Cold War adversaries. (Andrews .pg 216)

To Infinity and Beyond

The projects, experiments and technological advances during the Cold War, produced some of the greatest results the US could have ever dreamed. Project Lightning gained the US a technologic advantage in the Cold War. In 1957, a budget of $25 million was used to support the computer research program. The goal of the project was far exceeded with the extending of circuitry capability by 1,000 percent. The NSA continued to receive incredible funding, and overtook Great Britain as the SIGINT superpower. COMINT Communications Relay Centers were set up in Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, Morocco, Okinawa, the Philippines, Taiwan, Turkey, the UK, and West Germany. With so many ears pointed towards the Iron Curtain, the US had the edge in the Cold War. (Andrews, pg 217) The SIGINT piece of the puzzle was handled, but intelligence for the US would need more than just decrypting communications.

The next great project that would propel the United States was not another advance in SIGINT that had proved so critical to success through WWII and into the Cold War, but IMINT. The new president Eisenhower desired imagery intelligence of the Soviet Union through aerial reconnaissance. Arial photography had been used through WWI and WWII from the hot air balloon to bomber and fighter planes taking snaps of the battle field. Good imagery of the Iron Curtain was an issue at best; the US was losing aircraft while conducting penetration runs of the fringes of Soviet airspace. Eisenhower said in his frustration, “Our relative position in intelligence, compared to the Soviets, could scarcely have been worse. The Soviets enjoyed practically unimpeded access to information of a kind in which we were almost wholly lacking.”

The aircraft of choice was the use of a modified bomber to take imagery shots over the USSR. The RB-47 was equipped with cameras and a special system for detecting Soviet Early Warning Radar. The planes would skirt the airspace until a gap in radar coverage was found and then zoom inland as far as they could go. On one occasion they were able to collect on the city of Igarka, 450 miles inland! (Pedlow, pg 3) By 1950 the Soviets tightened up their airspace and began to shoot down US craft. Richard S. Leghorn had an idea for a “pre-D-Day” reconnaissance aircraft that could view the enemy before hostilities broke out. Later recalled to active duty due to the Korean War, Leghorn would have his chance at seeing his idea become a reality while serving in the Reconnaissance Systems Branch of the Wright Air Development Command at Dayton, Ohio. Leghorn’s primary idea was for high altitude flight. Over flight of the Soviet Air Defense would be the only way to get the IMINT that would be necessary. (Pedlow, pg 4)

Time would pass and competition for a high altitude spycraft would commence. Eisenhower specifically requested that president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, James R. Killian, to study ways to prevent a surprise attack. “Increasing our capacity to get more positive intelligence about the enemy’s intentions and capabilities” was his first order of business. (Andews, pg 221) The design that finally won was by Clarence Johnson from Lockheed Martin. Johnson’s design, called the CL-282, married long glider-like wings to the fuselage of another of his designs, the F-104 Starfighter. To save weight, his initial design didn’t even have conventional landing gear, taking off from a dolly and landing on skids. The design was rejected by the Air Force, but caught the attention of several civilians on the review panel, notably Edwin Land, the father of instant photography. Land proposed to CIA director Allen Dulles that his agency should fund and operate this aircraft. After a meeting with President Eisenhower, Lockheed received a $22.5 million contract for the first 20 aircraft. It was renamed the U-2, with the “U” referring to the deliberately vague designation “utility”. (Huntington) With the U-2’s first flight on July 4, 1956 the solution to the gap in intelligence to observe the enemy before an engagement came with the high altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

Though met with challenges entering the Cold War, The United State’s intelligence community grew, strengthened and indeed proved integral to success in the Cold War. We are faced today with the finding ways to adapt to the adversary of the week. Americans and allies have and continue to think outside the box, develop new tactics and create more effective means to conduct intelligence collection and exploitation. We cannot keep the status quo, but must always be ready to face out failures, change our behavior and continue to achieve success.


Andrew, Christopher, For the President’s Eyes Only. Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush. New York: Harper Perennial, 1996.

Central Intelligence: Origins and Evolution. CIA History Staff. 2001.

History of the CIA. Apr 15, 2007.

Factbook on Intelligence. Central Intelligence Agency. December 1992. pp. 4–5

Huntington, Tom. “U-2.” Invention & Technology Magazine, Volume 22, Number 3.

The National Security Agency Declassified. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 24. January 2000.

Pedlow, Gregory et al. The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954 – 1974. Central Intelligence Agency. 1998

Prados, John. Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Ivan R Dee, 2006.

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