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George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government sponsored the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security on October 13th, 2022, to celebrate the 75th anniversary and history of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Introducing the event was Mark Rozell, Dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at GMU, and General Michael Hayden, former CIA director and founder of the Hayden Center. The night’s moderator, David Priess, publisher and chief operating officer of Lawfare, led the conversation with two noted US intelligence historians, Sarah-Jane Corke, professor at the University of North Brunswick, and Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, professor emeritus at the University of Edinburg. Dr. Corke is also co-founder and ex-President of the North American Society for Intelligence History and author of US Covert Operations and Cold War Strategy: Truman, the CIA, and Secret Warfare. Dr. Jeffreys-Jones is also the author of several publications pertaining to US intelligence history, including the recently published A Question of Standing: The History of the CIA.

The event’s experts sought to detail the history of the CIA and how it informs the Intelligence Community and lives worldwide today and moving forward. Dr. Corke explained how the start of the CIA was intertwined with President Truman’s era in office following the Second World War. Dr. Jeffreys-Jones noted its unique foundation in that the US approved the first intelligence agency with a legislative consensus with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in mind, versus the common thought of the looming Cold War. He argued that if the CIA was created for the threat of communism, it would have dissolved towards the end of the 20th century.

The discussion moved into the role and operations of the CIA. Dr. Jeffreys-Jones stated how analysts were brought to the CIA from various academic disciplines to broaden the scope and understanding of states outside the US. Secondly, he claimed that clandestine initiatives successfully countered the Soviet Union’s technological advances in satellite, missile, and nuclear weapon enterprises. Dr. Corke furthered the argument by stating how analysts had to deal with politicization, and despite rigorous training, the issue has not been eliminated. Moreover, the misconceptions and fictional tales of intelligence and CIA mechanisms had changed the way Americans view their own history.

Dr. Corke and Dr. Jeffreys-Jones, however, did agree on one thing: the failure of the CIA and the larger Intelligence Community to disseminate appropriate information about responsibilities and actions within. Both panelists remarked on how the shift in public opinion towards intelligence had changed with social climate and change in administrations.

The discussion moved towards navigating some of the hidden successes of the CIA. Dr. Corke mentioned the Cuban Missile Crisis and the efforts of John McCone who served as Director between 1961 and 1965. Meanwhile, Dr. Jeffreys-Jones adds that the Cuban Missile Crisis was seen as successful from the public perspective and CIA operations and analyses were successful when the public viewed them as such. Dr. Priess also mentioned popular stories such as the operation that took place to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1979. He explained there is an inherent bias to the success or failure because of the framing and covertness of certain analytics or operations.

Later Dr. Priess redirected the topic to the organization and structures of intelligence. Dr. Corke named several policies and acts that not only refocused intelligence but also expanded it. Dr. Jeffreys-Jones stated how this expansion and the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) was “demoralizing” as it made the CIA a scapegoat in government action.

Among other questions from viewers within the session, the event ends with reflections on learning from our past, relationships within and outside the CIA regarding information sharing, and finally, the future of engagement between intelligence and the rest of the United States.

A full video of the event can be found on the Hayden Center’s YouTube channel.

Greta Roberson is a George Mason undergraduate in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Global Affairs program. Additionally, she works as a Research Officer for the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution’s Mary Hoch Center for Reconciliation and plans to pursue a graduate degree in International Relations following her time at GMU.