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Dennis Brack/European Pressphoto Agency

Updated: Aug. 24, 2009

The Central Intelligence Agency was created in 1947 to continue the intelligence work carried out during World War II by the Office of Strategic Services. For the next 57 years, its director was preeminent among the many intelligence-related services that sprung up and flourished across the government. That changed, at least on paper, in 2004, when Congress reorganized the nation's intelligence services along lines suggested bythe 9/11 Commission. But in 2009, the C.I.A. remained the center of attention, as revelations dribbled out about brutal interrogation techniques approved by the Bush adminstration and questions were raised about whether the agency had failed to properly brief members of the Congressional intelligence committees. In July 2009, officials disclosed that since 2001 the agency had developed plans to send small teams overseas to assassinate senior Qaeda leaders.

During the Cold War, the C.I.A. had established itself as key, if clandestine, element in America's foreign policy apparatus, promoting coups in countries like Iran, Guatemala and others seen as sliding toward the embrace of the Soviet Union. Its biggest debacle in that era was the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, in which a C.I.A.-trained band of Cuban exiles were cut down on the beaches after President John F. Kennedy refused air support for a military operation that was generally regarded afterward as poorly planned and unrealistic. But the next year it was the C.I.A. that provided the intelligence that tipped American officials off to the Soviet effort to install missiles in Cuba -- missiles that were removed after President Kennedy stared down Nikita Krushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the mid-1970's, a series of Congressional investigations uncovered a history of assassinations, bribery and other untoward acts by the agency over the decades, resulting in new limits on its power and a new level of oversight. Its power expanded again under President Ronald Reagan, but the 1990s saw a series of embarrassments, including the case of the high-level Soviet mole, Aldrich Ames, and the failure to detect progress in nuclear weapons programs in India and Pakistan.

The years since 9/11 have seen a new urgency in the agency's work, as well as new rounds of criticism, first over the failure to detect the Sept. 11th plot, and later over the handling of intelligence on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

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In 2004, acting on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, Congress enacted sweeping changes to the organization of the nation's intelligence system. As part of the changes, the C.I.A.'s directorship lost its preeminent position to a newly created post, director of national intelligence, who is supposed to oversee the C.I.A. and other intelligence groups.

The agency and its defenders say it has many successes to point to in recent years: the capture of a number of al Qaeda leaders, including Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the mastermind of the Sept. 11th plot; the disruption of a number of unspecificied plots against American interests, and the hiring and training of a new generation of operatives and analysts better suited to the war on terror. Close to half of the agency's employees have served there for five years or less.

At the same time, the C.I.A.'s role in pursuing terrorists raised questions around the secret prisons run by the agency around the world for "high-value'' terror suspects, and the use of coercive interrogation techniques. On his second day in office, President Obama issued a directive banning brutal interrogation techniques that had been approved by the Bush administration Justice Department, and ordering the permanent closing of the secret prisons.

In April 2009, the Obama administration released detailed memos that described interrogation techniques used between 2002 and 2005, including keeping detainees awake for up to 11 straight days, placing them in a dark, cramped box, forced nudity, the slamming of detainees into walls or dousing them with cold water and waterboarding.

When Mr. Obama released the memos about interrogation he said there would be no prosecutions of agency officers who had acted with Justice Department approval. But by July, officials said that Attorney General Eric Holder was close to assigning a prosecutor to look into whether prisoners in the campaign against terrorism were tortured. They said that Mr.Holder began to think more seriously about a torture investigation recently after studying the 2004 C.I.A. inspector general's report, which describes how waterboarding and other methods sometimes went beyond the legal guidelines the Justice Department had approved.

And an 18-month-old criminal investigation of the C.I.A.'s destruction of videotapes of waterboarding and other brutal treatment during interrogation is still under way, with a number of former C.I.A. officials called to testify before a grand jury and at least the possibility of indictments.

In early July, officials revealed that Leon E. Panetta, the new director of the agency, told the Congressional intelligence committees the previous months that the C.I.A. withheld information from them about a secret counterterrorism program on direct orders from then Vice President Dick Cheney, leading to new calls from Democrats for a broad investigation into the C.I.A.'s role under Mr. Bush.

The program was designed in the frantic weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks when President George W. Bush signed a secret order authorizing the C.I.A. to capture or kill operatives of Al Qaeda around the world. To be able to kill Osama bin Laden or his top deputies wherever they might be -- even in cities or countries far from a war zone -- struck top agency officials as an urgent goal, according to people involved in the discussions. But in practice, creating and training the teams proved difficult. Yet year after year, according to officials briefed on the program, the plans were never completely shelved because the Bush administration sought an alternative to killing terror suspects with missiles fired from drone aircraft or seizing them overseas and imprisoning them in secret C.I.A. jails. Eventually, it was shut down by Mr. Panetta when he learned of it.

On Aug. 24, it was revealed that the Justice Department's ethics office, the Office of Personal Responsibility, had recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing C.I.A. employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects.

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Related: C.I.A. Interrogation Tapes

Highlights From the Archives

Panetta Is Chosen as C.I.A. Chief, in a Surprise Step

Panetta Is Chosen as C.I.A. Chief, in a Surprise Step

By MARK MAZZETTI and CARL HULSE

The choice of Leon E. Panetta, a former White House chief of staff, to head the intelligence agency raised questions about his relevant experience.

January 6, 2009usNews

After Sharp Words on C.I.A., Obama Faces a Delicate Task

By MARK MAZZETTI and SCOTT SHANE

The president-elect must take charge of the agency in what is proving to be one of the more treacherous patches of the transition.

December 3, 2008usNews

Justice Dept. Sets Criminal Inquiry on C.I.A. Tapes

By MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID JOHNSTON

An inquiry into the agency’s destruction of interrogation tapes was elevated to a formal criminal investigation.

January 3, 2008washingtonNews

C.I.A. Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations

By MARK MAZZETTI

Despite requests and amid scrutiny about its secret detention program, the C.I.A. did not give the videotapes to a federal court hearing or to the Sept. 11 commission.

December 7, 2007washingtonNews

C.I.A. Lays Out Errors It Made Before Sept. 11

By MARK MAZZETTI

George Tenet, the agency’s former director, failed to fully prepare for the threat of Al Qaeda, a report said.

August 22, 2007washingtonNews

Files on Illegal Spying Show C.I.A. Skeletons From Cold War

Files on Illegal Spying Show C.I.A. Skeletons From Cold War

By MARK MAZZETTI and TIM WEINER

Long-secret documents provide details about how the Central Intelligence Agency illegally spied on Americans decades ago.

June 27, 2007washingtonNews

ARTICLES ABOUT THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

Newest First | Oldest First

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | Next >>

The Vietnam War We Ignore

By LEWIS SORLEY

How the successful post-1967 strategy applies to Afghanistan.

October 18, 2009

MORE ON CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY AND: VIETNAM WAR, UNITED STATES DEFENSE AND MILITARY FORCES, AFGHANISTAN WAR (2001- ), AFGHANISTAN, VIETNAM, JOHNSON, LYNDON BAINES, OBAMA, BARACK, KARZAI, HAMID, NIXON, RICHARD MILHOUS

C.I.A. Is Still Cagey About Oswald Mystery

By SCOTT SHANE

The agency is fighting to keep secret documents about an anti-Castro group that clashed with Lee Harvey Oswald.

October 17, 2009

MORE ON CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY AND: CLASSIFICATION OF INFORMATION, ASSASSINATIONS AND ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATIONS, UNITED STATES POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT, ESPIONAGE, KENNEDY, JOHN FITZGERALD, OSWALD, LEE HARVEY

Britain: High Court Approves Releasing U.S. Intelligence Documents on Torture

By JOHN F. BURNS

A panel of the High Court ruled that American intelligence documents containing details pertinent to torture allegations by a former detainee at Guantánamo Bay should be made public.

October 17, 2009

MORE ON CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY AND: INTELLIGENCE SERVICES, TORTURE, DETAINEES, GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE (CUBA), SECURITY SERVICE, MOHAMED, BINYAM

What Torture Never Told Us

What Torture Never Told Us

By ALI H. SOUFAN

The newly released C.I.A. memos confirm that harsh interrogation was pointless at best.

September 6, 2009

MORE ON CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY AND: DETAINEES, CLASSIFICATION OF INFORMATION, TORTURE, INTERROGATIONS, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, AL QAEDA, NASHIRI, ABD AL-RAHIM AL-, PADILLA, JOSE, ATTASH, WALID MUHAMMAD SALIH BIN, MOHAMMED, KHALID SHAIKH, ZUBAYDAH, ABU

Dick Cheney’s Version

The government owes Americans a full investigation into the orders to approve torture, as well as the twisted legal briefs that justified those policies.

September 3, 2009

MORE ON CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY AND: DETAINEES, EDITORIALS, INSPECTORS GENERAL, INTERROGATIONS, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT, CHENEY, DICK

The C.I.A. in Double Jeopardy

The C.I.A. in Double Jeopardy

By JOSEPH FINDER

A list of Web sites about the C.I.A. as selected by editors of The New York Times.

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/ti...?inline=nyt-org

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