Harry Truman on the CIA

“The CIA was set up by me for the sole purpose of getting all the available information to the President. It was not intended to operate as an international agency engaged in strange activities.” — Harry Truman in a letter to the editor of Look magazine, May 1964.

From the files of the Truman Library, courtesy of a reader.

21 comments

  1. JSA says:

    I was unaware of this LOOK Magazine piece from 1964. I had heard about Truman’s Washington Post OP/ED, from late 1963, which only ran briefly before it was yanked by the editorial staff, under then newly in charge Kay Graham, since her husband had committed suicide the previous summer (1963).

    LOOK was a liberal mouthpiece at that time, but I have to wonder: Did Dulles or anyone else try to stop or discourage the magazine from publishing this Truman piece?

    • mitch says:

      Check out Jim DiEugenio’s recent edition of “Destiny Betrayed” for more information about the Truman Editorial. Dulles decided to talk to Truman about the piece, then seems to have lied about this meeting for the CIA’s record. Bizarre.

    • Mike says:

      Just a guess, but since they tried to control all media, I would say hell yes!

  2. Bill Clarke says:

    I like Truman but I think his views on the importance of an intelligence agency were outdated and simplistic. Evidence of this is shown by the swift disbanding of the OSS ordered by Truman and his reluctance to form the CIA. For a while we were without an intelligence agency, much as we were at the beginning of WWII.

    All the information in the world isn’t much good unless you are prepared to act on it. To act on it you have to have an organization.

    • Fearfaxer says:

      We were not without an intelligence agency when Truman disbanded the OSS. The sections that dealt with intelligence matters were kept intact and assigned to different parts of the government bureaucracy. What Truman was afraid of was the rather substantial military component that Bill Donovan had given the OSS, especially it’s paramilitary units, which had numerous turf battles with the Army and Navy during the war. Donovan, a much-decorated Army officer in WWI, couldn’t resist the urge to organize his own combat units and attempt to insert them into all the theatres of combat. To Truman’s mind, an outfit like this was all too reminiscent of the SS.

      Douglas Waller’s “Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage” gives a good description of what actually happened when the OSS was disbanded. There’s a link below. BTW, the Army and Navy weren’t the only foes Donovan had during the war. Nelson Rockefeller had organized an intelligence gathering operation in Latin American during the 1930s, and he fought successfully to keep the OSS out of his domain. Waller mentions this too.

      http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Bill-Donovan-Spymaster-Espionage/dp/1416576207

      • JSA says:

        That looks like an interesting book, Fearfaxer. I will check that one out!

      • Bill Clarke says:

        Fearfaxer July 14, 2014 at 8:22 am

        While true that these people were kept in government service they were scattered to the wind. The organization was broken up and was not replaced until the CIA was formed.

        • Fearfaxer says:

          They were not “scattered to the winds.” They were put to work doing pretty much what they’d been doing previously. How do you think the CIA was organized a few years later? They took the old OSS sections and regrouped them under the CIA umbrella. You really think we had no spooks on the ground in Europe to counter the Soviets from 1945-47? Check out this description of James Angleton’s career immediately after WWII:

          “Angleton remained in Italy after the war, establishing connections with other secret intelligence services and playing a major role in the victory of the US-supported Christian Democratic Party over the USSR-supported Italian Communist Party in the 1948 elections.”

          Obviously, the man was not just blowin’ in the wind. Or twiddling his thumbs.

      • Jordan says:

        Donovan,along with a lot of CIA’a upper echelon, can all be linked back to Camp X, the original “Farm”.

        Believe it or not, Kim Philby helped write the training manuals for Camp X, along with Paul Dehn.

        http://www.princegeorgecitizen.com/entertainment/television/camp-x-secret-agent-school-traces-cia-roots-to-canadian-spy-school-1.1202413

    • JSA says:

      Truman was in charge of investigating (as a Senator) the lack of intelligence that led to our being caught by surprise at Pearl Harbor, so I don’t think he was naive about the need for intelligence. And if he disbanded OSS, he also oversaw the creation of its replacement, CIA. I don’t see Truman as anti-intelligence, just cautious about giving too much covert power to a police organization, especially when that organization posed a potential threat to our own democratic institutions.

      I don’t know if you read about Roman history, but the Roman Senate was once worried about the same power, and sought not to let their foreign army legions enter Rome because of the threat that the military would disband the Senate and establish a dictatorship. The Founders in Philadelphia however were WELL aware of this, and that is why they were reluctant to give too much power to the military. Granted, when the USA became a world power after the “limited government, States Rights” South was defeated, in 1865, the USA moved toward more bureaucratic, permanent military with bases abroad, etc. like the Romans. But Truman (and Kennedy) saw the dangers of relying too much on police state apparatuses like CIA to do our “dirty work” (Patrice Lamumba, Iran 1953 coup, etc.). The USA is supposed to be a democracy, not a corrupt, police state. Therefore checking the power of CIA and limiting its role to just intelligence gathering (so we don’t get a surprise like Pearl Harbor again) is important. We don’t need to flush democracy down the toilet however either with too much concentrated power in one agency.

      • Fearfaxer says:

        The CIA had wanted to take out Mossadegh in Iran, and Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in Guatamala for years before they were finally able to in 1953 and ’54. The reason was almost certainly Truman. Then again, he did allow them to rig elections in Italy and Greece in the late ’40s, which I guess demonstrates he didn’t mind fixing elections, but drew the line at coups d’etat against elected governments.

      • Bill Clarke says:

        JSA July 14, 2014 at 10:15 am

        And the French didn’t allow their Foreign Legion inside France and it is against the law for the CIA to operate inside the United States. Rather difficult to set up a police state if you can’t operate there.

        But why set up another collection agency? Military intelligence should have prevented our surprise at Pearl Harbor. The State Department is suppose to know what goes on in the world. Why another agency?

        • Fearfaxer says:

          “And the French didn’t allow their Foreign Legion inside France and it is against the law for the CIA to operate inside the United States.”

          Oh yeah, the CIA has never conducted any kind of intelligence gathering or covert operation within US territory because, just like the Nazis in the movie “Casablanca,” they are so intimidated by those Letters Of Transit, they are just so law abiding.

          Are you really naive enough to believe that? Or simply disingenuous?

          • Bill Clarke says:

            Fearfaxer July 14, 2014 at 6:09 pm

            I didn’t say the law had never been broken. I simply stated the law.

            I am neither naive nor disingenuous.

          • Fearfaxer says:

            @Bill Clarke

            Well, your idea that the OSS was “scattered to the wind” and “[f]or a while we were without an intelligence agency” is not supported by the historical record.

          • JSA says:

            @Bill,

            Maybe I’m just cynical, having grown up in the shadow of JFK’s assassination, Vietnam, Watergate, etc.—but I don’t think CIA always follows the law to the letter, if they think they can get away with breaking it. If you look at what NSA has done, and what Senator Frank Church found CIA to have done when he investigated CIA in the 1970s, I think my cynicism is perhaps a bit justified. I’m not saying that everyone is a crook, but when you have secret power, and it’s concentrated in one place, there’s always the possibility of corruption. I think James Madison and some of the other Framers would probably agree with me on that.

          • Bill Clarke says:

            Fearfaxer July 15, 2014 at 7:43 am

            Truman dissolved the OSS in September of 1946. The Central Intelligence Group (CIG) was created in January of 1946. During this interim can you tell me the name of our intelligence agency that had a covert ability as well as plausible denial ability?

            I stand corrected; I should have said the OSS was scattered to the State and War Department and not to the winds. My apology.

        • Bill Clarke says:

          JSA July 15, 2014 at 10:01 am

          We certainly share common ground here. A tour of duty in Vietnam made me cynical and distrustful of my government then and the distrust remains today. Perhaps even stronger. This crap the NSA and IRS pulled is plainly un-American. I bitterly resent it.

          The record shows that the CIA has plainly not always followed the rules and laws that are meant to serve as our safeguard against a police state. Heads should have rolled as a result and I regret that they often didn’t.

          I realize the CIA isn’t a bunch of Boy Scouts. They are involved in a bad business. However, I think they are necessary for a president’s foreign policy. And I think the present should also be investigated to determine if they are involved in any illegal activity of the CIA. That happens more than we would think, I believe.

          • Ronnie Wayne says:

            Like withholding the files Jeff has been suing the CIA for over 10 years?
            FREETHEFILES.

  3. Gary Sellars says:

    “I’m not saying that everyone is a crook”

    Well, then I will. Exactly how many elected representatives have held news conferences stating that the man “elected” as President is:
    an illegal alien, or
    a communist, or
    a liar, or
    a muslim, or
    a British citizen, or
    a felon who posted a forged birth certificate on whitehouse.gov AND
    a possessor of a stolen Social Security # AND
    a pawn of International Bankers to whom he gave over seven trillion dollars.

    Isn’t one of the tactics of disinformation to include some aspects of truth with lies to point at them and mock both parts as one?

    Hasn’t Hollywood (euphemism for monopoly media) been including in their movies for many, many years the very things that occur behind the scenes so that people will say, “you watch too many movies!” when the subterfuge and fraud is brought out?

    With the revelation of the government’s copying our emails and our phone messages, isn’t it already far past proved that our government *IS* the enemy? How does one justify in one’s own mind the “missing” of nine trillion dollars, the “supporter of the common man” giving away over seven trillion dollars to “rich white men” and the appearance of hundreds of what are obviously detention facilities all over the nation while obviously wanting illegal aliens who have no loyalty to our historical legacy and values, to flood this nation?

    Is the number of camps really 800? If it is, I don’t think that we have nearly as much money “missing” as was announced the day before 911, which announcement doesn’t seem to me like a coincidence, but a deliberate choice so that there would be a plausible reason for not discussing it in the news media following 911.

    I marvel that everyone isn’t up in arms over the deceit of the news media, which is controlled by the same men who control the corporations who were given the trillions of dollars of taxpayer money while most of the states claim they can’t pay their bills.

    Is it really not obvious that the strong push for gun laws is a deliberate ploy to make Marshall Law very easy to enact so that our Constitution can be declared obsolete and no one can do anything about it?

    From what I observe, it looks like over a third of this nation (and I’ve talked to people who think it’s over 50%, but I’m not sold on that) suspects something is very seriously wrong but *because the news media* is the ‘perpetrator-in-chief’ of maintaining the deceit and deception, people are led to believe that “a few fringe wackos who see ‘conspiracy’ behind everything” are a single digit minority and “God willing, law-abiding citizens will help the authorities deal with them.”

    I really would like to see more people acknowledge that criminals rule our government and have ever since JFK was murdered. After all, is it not perfectly clear that the government is never going to tell the truth about the assassination or reveal that LBJ and JEH were very evil criminals?

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