Monday, January 25, 2010

Who Does the CIA Report To / Work For / Answer To?

The Central Intelligence Agency for all of its history has remained an instrument of the Executive Branch (i.e., the President of the United States). Its mandate is to implement policy, not to formulate it. Details of CIA covert actions are usually decided through the President's National Security Council, the current structure of which is as follows:


Chair Barack Obama (President of the United States)
Statutory Attendees Joe Biden (Vice President of the United States)
Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State)
Robert M. Gates (Secretary of Defense)
Military Advisor ADM Michael Mullen (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)
Intelligence Advisor Dennis C. Blair (Director of National Intelligence)
Regular Attendees James L. Jones (National Security Advisor)
Rahm Emanuel (Chief of Staff to the President)
Thomas E. Donilon (Deputy National Security Advisor)
Howard Schmidt (White House Cybersecurity Coordinator)
Additional Participants Tim Geithner (Secretary of the Treasury)
Eric Holder (Attorney General)
Janet Napolitano (Secretary of Homeland Security)
Greg Craig (Counsel to the President)
Lawrence Summers (Assistant to the President for Economic Policy)
Susan Rice (Ambassador to the United Nations)
Peter Orzag (Director of Office of Management and Budget)


With this structure in place, CIA actions are almost always the direct result of presidential orders. Thus, it can be said that the phrase "the CIA did the following action" is shorthand for "the President ordered the CIA to carry out this action." The main purpose for the CIA's existence on the covert action side is the plausible deniability it provides the President (i.e. the U.S. government can deny any action took place, since the CIA's actions are secret) and that CIA actions are subject to minimal (and usually retroactive) oversight from Congress, giving the President nearly free rein to implement any number of covert actions in countries across the globe.

CIA insiders briefly explain the CIA's role in foreign policy in the film clip below:

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