CIA authorised to carry out covert operations (1948)




On June 7th 1948, the United States National Security Council sent the following directive to the newly-created Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This directive authorised the CIA to form an internal agency tasked with carrying out covert operations in support of US foreign policy. This was, in effect, a license to engage in Cold War espionage:



“The National Security Council, taking cognisance of the vicious psychological efforts and covert operations of the USSR, its satellite countries and Communist groups to discredit and defeat the aims and activities of the United States and other Western powers, has determined that, in the interests of world peace and US national security, the overt foreign activities of the US Government must be supplemented by covert operations.

The Central Intelligence Agency provides the legal structure within which all covert activities can be conducted and it is already charged… with the conduct of covert psychological operations abroad. In addition, the Central Intelligence Agency is already charged by the National Security Council with conducting espionage and counter-espionage operations abroad. These latter operations are, by their very nature, closely related to covert operations.

It therefore seems desirable, for legal as well as operational reasons, not to create a new agency for covert operations but to place the responsibility for this mission within the legal structure of the Central Intelligence Agency and closely relate it to espionage and counter-espionage operations under the overall control of the Director of Central Intelligence. Therefore, under the authority of… the National Security Act of 1947, the National Security Council hereby directs that:

a. Responsibility for the conduct of covert operations, including covert psychological operations conducted in peacetime, and for planning for such operations in time of war or national emergency, shall be placed in a new Office of Special Services to be created within the Central Intelligence Agency.

b. The Office of Special Services shall have, for security reasons, a considerable measure of autonomy within the Central Intelligence Agency.

c. A highly qualified person recruited from either inside or outside the Central Intelligence Agency, nominated by the Director of Central Intelligence and approved by the National Security Council, shall be appointed to head the Office of Special Services.

d. The Director of Central Intelligence shall be responsible for ensuring that covert operations are consistent with US foreign and military policies and with overt activities, and that plans for wartime covert operations are consistent with and complement Joint Chiefs of Staff approved plans for military operations…

As used in this directive, ‘covert operations’ are understood to be all activities (excluding armed conflict by recognised military forces, espionage and counter-espionage) which are conducted or sponsored by this Government against hostile foreign states or groups, or in support of friendly foreign states or groups, but which are so planned and executed that any US Government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorised persons, and if uncovered the US Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.

Specifically, such operations shall include any covert activities related to propaganda; preventive direct action including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups; and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.”

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