The CIA and Congress: The Untold Story from Truman to Kennedy / Edition 1

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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 agency's first fifteen years, Congress often monitored the CIA's actions and plans, sometimes aggressively.

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 CIA's 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 agency's 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 Iraq's pro-American government in 1958. He also explores how Congress viewed the CIA's handling of Senator McCarthy's charges of communist infiltration, the crisis created by the downing of a U-2 spy plane, and President Eisenhower's 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 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Political scientist Barrett (Uncertain Warriors: Lyndon Johnson and His Vietnam Advisers) spelunks through obscure archives for insights into the agency's relations with the congressional subcommittees charged with its oversight. He finds that, while only a few key legislative leaders had detailed knowledge of CIA activities, Congress was still a firm, if not always wise, taskmaster. The CIA was repeatedly criticized for intelligence failures, harassed by budget cutters and McCarthyite witch hunts, and pressured by legislators to slant intelligence on such issues as the alleged "missile gap." And a fervently anticommunist Congress, Barrett contends, often pushed harder for covert paramilitary operations than the CIA itself; such controversial adventures as the 1954 overthrow of the Guatemalan government and the later Bay of Pigs fiasco proceeded with the prior knowledge of congressional leaders and the vocal urging of other members of Congress for action. 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. (Sept. 6) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The war on terrorism has made critical the timely and accurate collection of secret intelligence in order to prevent another 9/11. These two informed works demonstrate that since the CIA's founding in 1947 intelligence gathering has often been neither. Barrett (political science, Villanova Univ.; Uncertain Warriors: Lyndon Johnson and His Vietnam Advisers), offers the first book about the CIA's relationship with Congress from 1947 to 1961, a period that he calls "intelligence oversight's dark ages." This is a fascinating, scholarly appraisal of the interaction between the directors of Central Intelligence (DCI) and Congress. Tensions were often inflamed because legislators were asked to support the CIA's covert operations with only limited knowledge due to necessary secrecy and because subsequently many of these actions ended in failure. Allen Dulles, DCI under presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, receives much attention. During his tenure, intelligence breakdowns in Guatemala and Hungary and the CIA's failure to predict the Soviet Sputnik satellite all diminished the agency's reputation. In 1961, following the Bay of Pigs fiasco-Kennedy's worst diplomatic embarrassment-Dulles was forced into retirement. Turner (Terrorism and Democracy), DCI under President Carter, shows that Dulles was not the only DCI overwhelmed by the office's demands. This book offers perceptive, if sometimes dry, views of the relationship between the DCIs and the presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush. Turner shows that several presidents, notably Truman, Nixon, and Clinton, were skeptical about the intelligence agencies. He reveals how dealings between these agencies and the departments of State and Defense deteriorated frequently into jealous squabbles. Included is a fascinating account of the Iranian hostage crisis, in which Turner played an important role. He concludes that the 9/11 intelligence failure is a good reason to place a less autonomous CIA under the control of the director of National Intelligence, a position created in the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004. Turner's personal account is recommended for public libraries and Barrett's exhaustive study is strongly recommended for academic collections.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700614004
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 9/28/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 542
  • Product dimensions: 6.66 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.78 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Acronyms


Introduction: First Hidden, Then Lost

Part 1. The Truman Era, 1947-1952

No "American Gestapo, " But "No More Pearl Harbors"

Initial Oversight: Budgets and Covert Action

"A South American Pearl Harbor"

The Soviet A-Bomb: "We Apparently Don't Have the Remotest Idea"

Communists and "Perverts" in the CIA

Korea: "No Better Today Than on December 7, 1941"


The "Dirty Business"


CIA Subcommittees, Intelligence Roles, and Budgets

"We Don't Let Just Anybody Look at Our Files"

"There Will Be No Changes"

Part 2. The Eisenhower Era, 1953-1960


Getting "Taberized"

Guatemala: "Sterilizing the Red Infection"

Mr. Mansfield Goes to the Senate

Joseph McCarthy: The CIA's Other Would-Be Overseer

"You, Who Championed Our Cause"

Barons Restored

"Dodging Dead Cats"

"They Have to Have a Building"

The New Mansfield Resolution: Two Surprises

"We Have a History of Underestimation"

Hungary and the Suez: "We Had a Very Good Idea, Senator"


An Early "Year of Intelligence"?

"I Cannot Always Predict When There Is Going to Be a Riot"

Iraq: "Our Intelligence Was Just Plain Lousy"

Return to the Missile Gap

From the Pforzheimer Era to the Warner Era

Subordinating Intelligence?

In and Out of Hearing Rooms

"Who Are Our Liquidators?"

"I'd Like to Tell Him to His Face What I Think about Him"

U-2: "We Have Felt These Operations Were Appropriate"

Pouring Oil on Fire

"Their Answer to That Demand": Congressional Paternity?

"My Opinion of the CIA Went Skyrocketing"

Part 3. Cuba, the CIA, and Congress: 1960-1961

Castro: "This Fellow Is Bad and Ought to Go"

"What is the Rationale behind That?"

"I Agree That You Had to Replace Dulles"

Afterword: Alarms


Selected Bibilography


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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2006

    New Insights and Enjoyable to Read

    The 2006 D.B. Hardeman Prize for the best book on Congress published in 2005 has been awarded to 'The CIA and Congress'. Don Bacon, a member of the award committee, says: 'David Barrett has given us an engrossing account of the highly secret, often contentious relationship between Congress and its post-World War II creation, the Central Intelligence Agency. Thoroughly researched, rich in fascinating detail, 'The CIA and Congress' focuses on the spy agency's early years, when the Cold War was at its peak. The author relies heavily on previously hidden official records and his own insightful interviews to show that our lawmakers worried more about the new agency's potential for mischief and kept it on a shorter leash than has been previously known.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2005

    Here's what the 'Washington Post' said...

    Barrett's /The CIA and Congress/ is a triumph of research. Writing any history of the CIA is problematic because the documentation will never be close to complete some official and private papers have been destroyed or 'misplaced,' others remain classified 50 years or more after being written, and many important discussions and decisions were never committed to paper. Faced with such endemic incompleteness, Barrett, a political scientist at Villanova University, persevered, found widely dispersed research materials and displayed sound analytic sense and balance in their use. Having done so much fine detective work, Barrett can present 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 (a notoriously hard target) from 1947 to 1961. His research is made more impressive by his frankness in admitting on several occasions that he cannot tell the whole story because the documents are not available. Barrett's analysis of the relationship between the long-established Congress and the infant CIA (founded only in 1947) turns not only on documents but also on his superb portraits and assessments of the key players: The thoughts, actions and characters of senators, congressmen, presidents and CIA officials are front and center in the book. The human pageant Barrett presents is not all that different from that which exists today.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2005


    This book is a necessary read if you are into the history and political analysis of the American government from the 1940s through the 60s. It's a fascinating read. Dr. Barrett has gone to incredible lengths of archival research to write a book that is a truly original voice on the period. As someone who came across the book looking for material on Joe McCarthy, I was amazed at how enjoyable the book was to read just in general. Dr. Barrett has found material to support stories that were merely rumors before. For example, letters from a military officer who was 'propositioned' by Senator McCarthy and memos supporting the fact that meetings occurred between the CIA Director and a Congressional subcommittee prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion. And Hubert Humphrey talking about 'Liquidators'?! Really enjoyable stories. This is truly a groundbreaking book that should be required reading for anyone interested in the CIA or Congress.

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