The CIA and Congress
The Untold Story from Truman to Kennedy
David M. Barrett
Winner: D.B. Hardeman Prize
From its inception more than half a century ago and for decades afterward, the Central Intelligence Agency was deeply shrouded in secrecy, with little or no real oversight by Congress—or so many Americans believe. David M. Barrett reveals, however, that during the agencys first fifteen years, Congress often monitored the CIAs actions and plans, sometimes aggressively.
“Barrett’s study is both fascinating and provocative, and it is unquestionably one of the most important books ever published on the early history of the CIA. . . . I sincerely hope that this book finds an audience outside of academic circles. Members of the intelligence committees in the House and Senate would benefit from reading this cautionary tale of what can go wrong when leaders fail to ask tough questions and demand openness.”
“A significant contribution to the history of the Cold War; to the cause of scholarly access to vital material; and to the current debate on intelligence, executive power, and democratic values.”
“Makes major contributions to the literature on ties between Congress and the CIA during this period. . . . What Barrett’s book shows clearly is that congressional overseers were not as detached, uninterested, uninformed, and therefore unimplicated in U.S. intelligence activities as we thought. Which means that the democratic moorings of early Cold War intelligence work ran deeper than we have tended, and perhaps preferred, to believe.”
—Perspectives on Political Science
“Crisp prose, apt quotations, telling anecdotes,and deft character portraits make Barrett’s nearly 500 page book a deeply satisfying and memorable narrative.”
—American Historical Review
“An unprecedented and often colorful account of relations between American spymasters and Capitol Hill. . . . Provides a much-needed historical perspective for current debates in Congress and beyond concerning the agency’s recent failures and ultimate fate. In our post-9/11 era, it shows that anxieties over the challenges to democracy posed by our intelligence communities have been with us from the very beginning.”
—Cold War Times
“A thorough treatment of an important subject in American Cold War history. . . . An extremely valuable book that will hopefully inspire future scholars to take up Barrett’s challenge of integrating the legislative branch into our understanding of American Cold War history.”
—Journal of American History
“Succeeds in demonstrating how oversight shaped the trajectory of an agency on the receiving end of some of the tensest scrutiny in all of the federal bureaucracy.”
—Political Science Quarterly
“Not often does a book come along that alters our understanding of history, but David M. Barrett’s The CIA and Congress does just that. . . . Thanks to Barrett’s prodigious effort, what has been considered the ‘dark ages’ of congressional oversight now seems much more real—and, indeed, much closer to the present day—than we had imagined.”
—Studies in Intelligence
“This fine new book should be read by all those stalwart investigators who found no one responsible for two recent intelligence disasters: 9/11 and Iraq's nonexistent WMD programs. . . . A triumph of research. . . . Not only a gripping review of leadership dynamics among the CIA, the White House and Congress but also a coherent view of the development and oversight of the CIA's budgets from 1947 to 1961. . . . Superb portraits and assessment of the key players: the thoughts, actions, and characters of senators, congressmen, presidents, and CIA officials are front and center in the book. . . . Barrett’s scholarly and precise book . . . shows that people—especially senior leaders—are responsible for intelligence failures, whether they occurred on December 7, 1941 or Septmeber 11, 2001.”
—Washington Post Book World
“Barrett assiduously mined Congressional papers and agency documents now in the National Archives for what should stand as the landmark study of his subject.”
“A fascinating, scholarly appraisal of the interaction between the directors of Central Intelligence (DCI) and Congress.”
“This trenchant study of congressional oversight during the CIA's formative decades sharply revises the popular image of the CIA as a rogue agency prone to running amok. Barrett’s scholarly but very readable account clarifies an important aspect of Cold War policymaking and Congress’s role as an overseer of covert foreign policy.”
“A truly groundbreaking, eye-opening descent into secret budgeting, espionage, and covert actions.”
—Louis Fisher, author of Military Tribunals and Presidential Power
“Barrett reveals a CIA that made its own rules, wrote its own budget, classified its own secrets, and persuaded the Congress to like it. A rich and fabulous story that sheds new light on just about every significant episode in the first decades of the Cold War and confirms what many have long suspected—secrecy is the great enemy of democracy, and vice versa.”
—Thomas Powers, author of Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda
“A riveting story that helps to untangle one of the Cold War’s most tangled webs.”
—Richard H. Immerman, author of The CIA in GuatemalaSee fewer reviews...
Drawing on a wealth of newly declassified documents, research at some two dozen archives, and interviews with former officials, Barrett provides an unprecedented and often colorful account of relations between American spymasters and Capitol Hill. He chronicles the CIAs dealings with senior legislators who were haunted by memories of our intelligence failure at Pearl Harbor and yet riddled with fears that such an organization might morph into an American Gestapo. He focuses in particular on the efforts of Congress to monitor, finance, and control the agencys activities from the creation of the national security state in 1947 through the planning for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
Along the way, Barrett highlights how Congress criticized the agency for failing to predict the first Soviet atomic test, the startling appearance of Sputnik over American air space, and the overthrow of Iraqs pro-American government in 1958. He also explores how Congress viewed the CIAs handling of Senator McCarthys charges of communist infiltration, the crisis created by the downing of a U-2 spy plane, and President Eisenhowers complaint that Congress meddled too much in CIA matters. Ironically, as Barrett shows, Congress itself often pushed the agency to expand its covert operations against other nations.
The CIA and Congress provides a much-needed historical perspective for current debates in Congress and beyond concerning the agencys recent failures and ultimate fate. In our post-9/11 era, it shows that anxieties over the challenges to democracy posed by our intelligence communities have been with us from the very beginning.