United States: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

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World’s Largest

The world’s largest intelligence service, the CIA advises the president via a daily briefing and the National Security Council and conducts clandestine operations outside the United States.  These activities include: espionage, counterintelligence, cyber attacks,  paramilitary action and targeted assassination via drone warfare.

Gina Haspel CIA director speaks
Gina Haspel, CIA director

The director is Gina Haspel, a career operations officer who was nominated  and confirmed after Mike Pompeo became the Secretary of State. In 2013, CIA’s budget was $15 billion. Haspel has said the agency employs 20,000 people.

Founded in 1947, the CIA has intervened in the affairs of other countries for its entire seven-decade  existence. One scholar’s study found U.S. interventions in the elections of 81 countries between 1946 and 2000, with the CIA playing a leading role in most instances.

The CIA’s most notorious operations include the overthrow of governments of Guatemala and Iran, assassination conspiracies against foreign leaders in the 1950 and 1960s, the MKULTRA mind control experiments, and, with the FBI, the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) targeting liberals, leftists, and civil rights leaders at home and abroad.

The agency leads the United States’ so-called “war on terrorism.”  CIA officials warned President George W. Bush that Osama bin Laden was “determined to strike in U.S”   just five weeks before September 11, 2001. After the attacks, the CIA paramilitary forces led the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

At the behest of President George W. Bush, the agency also established a global system of rendition, black sites and torture. The agency played a leading role in the capture of Khalid Sheik Muhammed, planner of the 9/11 attacks, and other terror suspects. When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the agency renounced “extreme interrogation techniques;” Haspel reiterated that policy in 2018.

The agency’s most famous mistake came in a December 2002 National Intelligence Estimate asserting that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The estimate proved to be almost completely wrong.

The agency has become a target of President Trump who likened it leaders to “Nazis” before he took office. In response, former CIA directors Michael Hayden and John Brennan have been harshly critical of the president.



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