The CIA: An instrument of the U.S. foreign-policy

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, we had the privileged of welcoming Ambassador Derek Shearer, Chevalier Professor of Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He served as an economics official in the Commerce Department, and then as US Ambassador to Finland (1994-97). He is the author of several books and a frequent writer on and contributor to public policy discussions; recent lecture venues have included Oxford and Auckland, and his articles have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and International Herald Tribune. He delivered an interesting speech on “Foreign Policy & the U.S. Presidential Election”. I found this discussion quite thought-provoking as he explored the relationship between the U.S. and the international community. However, some questions remain.

What kind of relationship are we really talking about? Is it a diplomatic relationship, a military one, or a relationship based on the sharing of intelligence? As a matter of fact, the current American foreign policy is a concept the U.S. Government uses to promote its vision and protect the interests of the American people around the world. The international community seems a bit sidelined in this process and the United Nations today seems to suffer from the lack of sufficient resources required to play such a decisive role in protecting the citizens of its member States. The impact of the U.S. agencies in the diplomatic arena then becomes quite important. 


I am questioning myself. Why having an International Organization such as the United Nations if one of its member State already plays the role that was primarily assigned to this organization? To me, all of these facts raise a number of issues, especially on the nature of devices used by the U.S. Government/Congress to promote the American policy around the world. One of those instruments might well be the CIA. In the course of my readings, I think I found some answers, but I guess I am not 100% satisfied. I left the last question for you to help me have a better understanding of the U.S. foreign policy.

What are the origins of the CIA & its relationship with the international community? We know that the United States have carried out intelligence activities since the days of George Washington, but only since World War II have they been coordinated on a government-wide basis. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed New York lawyer and war hero, William J. Donovan, to become first the Coordinator of Information, and then after the US entered World War II, head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1942. The OSS – the forerunner to the CIA – had the mandate to collect and analyze strategic information. After World War II, however, the OSS was abolished along with many other war agencies and its functions were transferred to the State and War Departments.

It did not take long before President Truman recognized the need for a postwar, centralized intelligence organization. To make a fully functional intelligence office, Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 establishing the CIA. The National Security Act charged the CIA with coordinating the nation’s intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating and disseminating intelligence affecting national security. On December 17, 2004, President George W. Bush signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act which restructured the Intelligence Community by abolishing the position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (DDCI) and creating the position the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (D/CIA). The Act also created the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which oversees the Intelligence Community and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). Found on the CIA’s website.

What is the purpose of the CIA then? Officially, the mission of the CIA is to preempt threats and further U.S. national security objectives by collecting intelligence that matters, producing objective all-source analysis, conducting effective covert action as directed by the President and safeguarding the secrets that help keep our Nation safe.  Interesting, isn’t it?

In this case, what role does the CIA play in foreign policy? The CIA seems to play a threefold role in foreign policy:

  • collects and distributes intelligence analysis to policymakers
  • conducts covert operations abroad to further U.S. interests
  • serves as the intelligence liaison between Congress, the executive branch, and the intelligence community. I am not that satisfied, and you?

Does this mean that the real agenda of the CIA is implementing U.S. policy outside of U.S. borders? According to multiple readings, the CIA’s role is large to protect American corporate interests in various parts of the world. It is one of the best-known agencies that sets foreign policy, gathers, analyzes, and transmits information from other countries that might be important to the security of the nation. As a matter of fact, one question remains: is the CIA an INTERNATIONAL agency? At the service of the American foreign policy? What about the interests of the rest of the world?

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