Over half a century later, some people believe that Truman’s letter was more than just a warning; it was a glimpse into the future.
It was during Truman’s administration that the CIA was first organized. The TSW article titled “A Brief History of the CIA” describes how Truman signed the National Security Act that allowed the creation of the 1947 “civilian intelligence agency responsible for intelligence on matters of national security” – Central Intelligence agency (CIA) (1).
The CIA was the new improved version of its World War II predecessor – the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The covert nature of the OSS, an authentic spy organization, operated behind enemy lines and its legacy shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone when the CIA evolved into a military asset.
As for the creation of the CIA, the agency’s website doesn’t give Truman much credit, “…the former President [Truman] does deserve some credit, but not as much as he gives himself. He wholeheartedly supported the war-born movement for a permanent American central intelligence organization but, new to the presidency and certainly hard-pressed by events, he had difficulty fashioning an intelligence policy for his administration” (2).
Truman’s Open Letter
Those hard-pressed events included few meetings with Roosevelt, no briefings about the development of the atomic bomb, subsequently using the atomic bomb in an effort to end the WWII Japanese Theater, facing down the Soviet Union after WWII, bolstering the economy and a slew of other world issues. Truman remarked about his first few weeks as President, “I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”
The CIA website sums up Truman’s credit for establishing the CIA, “Truman did establish CIA, but in doing so he was very largely — however unknowingly — returning to the Donovan plan of 1944. He really only put the capstone on the work done by Donovan (and Stephenson) and Roosevelt.”
With all the ensuing changes and chaos in the wake of WWII, Truman’s vision for the CIA and what it became were clearly on opposite ends of the vision spectrum.
In his open letter, Truman explains why he felt it necessary to create such a clandestine American agency but he emphasizes the CIA was supposed to be an arm of the President, not the controlling entity it evolved into decades later (3).
Truman describes how, “For some time I have been disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government.”
The former President wrote, “But there are now some searching questions that need to be answered. I, therefore, would like to see the CIA be restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President, and that whatever else it can properly perform in that special field— and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.”
CIA Living Up to Truman’s Warnings?
In a January 2015 USA News & World Report article, Truman’s warning about the CIA is examined, especially the CIA’s use of torture in the wake of 9/11 (4).
The article references the 1975 Church Committee investigation into the CIA and how it resulted in prohibiting “our intelligence agencies” from such activities as “assassinating foreign leaders and illegally spying on Americans”.
In addition, the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was created to further ensure prevention of unreasonable searches and seizures.” Along with these measures the “permanent congressional oversight committees were established to do just what Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s, D-Calif., committee did last year to investigate the CIA on torture.”
The article points out various chronological CIA actions, such as the 1950s beginnings of overthrowing foreign governments, the 1960s attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro, and the secret torture prisons in the 2000s.
US News states, “…the pattern is truly disturbing; in some cases, it was so disturbing that the CIA conducted internal reviews of its own actions.”
In July 2004, the BBC reported on the 1989 origins of Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden’s organizing the “anti-Soviet jihad”. During this timeframe, “Bin Laden and his fighters received American and Saudi funding. Some analysts believe Bin Laden himself had security training from the CIA” (5).
In June 2015, The Guardian stated that certain reports claimed in 2012 after the Gaddafi regime fell that MI6 and the CIA operated a ‘rat line’ of “arms transfers from Libyan stockpiles to the Syrian rebels” (6).
In September 2014, the NY Times reported from Baghdad that most of the people, including “the highest levels of Iraqi government” believed that the extremists (ISIS) were backed by the CIA (7).
The NY Times reported that just the week before the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr known to be “close to Iran” had openly in public “blamed the CIA for creating the Islamic State.” The article further stated that “the theory is popular there [Iran] as well.”
An October 2015 TSW article titled, “US Government Claims to Fight Terrorists While CIA Provides Them Weapons” explored a CNN report about how the CIA vetted the Syrian Arab Coalition and then armed them with ammunition and grenades. In the past, such arming of fighters often ended up with the arms being confiscated when the groups were defeated by their enemies or more often the fighters changed sides or simply sold the American weapons to the enemy (8).
Truman Letter a Warning or Prediction?
Truman’s words prove haunting to those who believe the CIA is behind the pitting of jihad groups against each other.
“I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue— and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.”
Truman’s final warning seems to many more of a prediction, “We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.”
References & Image Credits:
(1) TSW: A Brief History of the CIA
(4) US News
(6) The Guardian
(7) New York Times
(8) TSW: US Government Claims to Fight Terrorists While CIA Provides Them Weapons