The National Clandestine Service (NCS) (known as the Directorate of Plans from 1951 to 1973 and as the Directorate of Operations from 1973 to 2005) is one of the four main components of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Created in 2005, the NCS "serves as the clandestine arm of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the national authority for the coordination, de-confliction, and evaluation of clandestine operations across the Intelligence Community of the United States".[1] The current Director of the NCS is John D. Bennett.[2]

Creation of the National Clandestine Service[edit | edit source]

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, a report by the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the 9/11 Commission Report released by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States identified serious shortcomings in the HUMINT capabilities of the US Intelligence Community ranging from the lack of qualified linguists to the lack of information sharing within the IC. These efforts resulted in the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act in 2004 which created the position of the Director of National Intelligence and tasked the CIA Director with developing a "strategy for improving the human intelligence and other capabilities of the Agency."[3]

Going even further, in 2004, Senator Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, drafted the 9/11 National Security Protection Act[4] in which he proposed that the Directorate of Operations be removed from the CIA and established as an independent agency known as the National Clandestine Service. The creation of the National Clandestine Service was also recommended by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, the "WMD Commission".[5] The investigation by the WMD Commission found that HUMINT capabilities had been severely degraded since the end of the Cold War and were ill-suited to targeting non-state actors such as terrorist organizations. The WMD Commission also noted that HUMINT operations were poorly coordinated between the various federal entities who conducted them and encouraged the development of better methods of validating human sources, in light of the revelations about the source known as Curveball.

Beginning its study of the Intelligence Community in 1995, a non-governmental group[who?], which included former Director of the National Security Agency Lieutenant General William Odom, former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lieutenant General Harry E. Soyster, former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and current Director of National Intelligence Lieutenant General James Clapper, and former General Counsel for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, issued a report, first in 1997 and in an updated form in 2002, which recommended the creation of the National Clandestine Service.[6]

The CIA announced the creation of the National Clandestine Service in a press release on October 13, 2005.[7] Contrary to Senator Roberts' proposal, the National Clandestine Service would be a component of the CIA, rather than an independent executive branch agency.

Historical Predecessors of the NCS[edit | edit source]

The Directorate of Operations (DO) was the branch of the CIA that ran covert operations and recruited foreign agents. The DO reportedly employed 1,000–2,000 people[citation needed] and was headed by a deputy director for operations (DDO). This directorate consisted of, among other subdivisions, a unit for political and economic covert action (the Covert Action Staff, or CAS), for paramilitary (PM) covert action (the Special Operations unit), for counterintelligence (the CI staff, or CIS), and for several geographic desks responsible for the collection of foreign intelligence. It was created August 1, 1952, as the Directorate of Plans and was renamed the Directorate of Operations on March 1, 1973.[8]

The Directorate of Operations also housed special groups for conducting counterterrorism and counternarcotics, for tracking nuclear proliferation, and other tasks. Administrated by the DO, the paramilitary (PM) operations officers from the legendary Special Operations Group (or SOG, no relation to the Vietnam era CIA group) are maintained in the elite Special Activities Division (SAD). They are highly skilled in weaponry; covert transport of personnel and material by air, sea, and land; guerrilla warfare; the use of explosives; assassination and sabotage; and escape and evasion techniques. They are prepared to respond quickly to myriad possible needs, from parachute drops and communications support to assistance with counter narcotics operations and defector infiltration. Special Activities maintains a symbiotic relationship with the Joint Special Operations Command, and is run largely by former members of JSOC.[9]

SAD/SOG is a special operation force, along with the military's four special mission units:

In the 2003 book, Special OPS: America's elite forces in 21st century combat, the author states:

"Highly classified, the SAD is regarded as the preeminent special operations unit in the world. Members are the elite of the elite; "the best period." This results from the sources from which the organization recruits its members: Special missions units (SMUs); such as Delta Force and NSWDG (United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group)..." [10]

For special operations missions and its other responsibilities, the Special Operations staff attempted to recruit people with the appropriate specialized skills, although the geographic desks remain the principal units involved in the recruitment of personnel in so-called denied areas (Libya, Iraq, Iran, etc.). Special operations also provided special air, ground, maritime and training support for the Agency's intelligence gathering operations.

The DO has been subject to harsh criticism in the media, and due to its covert and independent nature did not, or could not, effectively respond. Its capabilities had been in decline since the public outcry resulting from the revelations of highly questionable actvities by the Church Committee. Furthermore, the DO fought frequent "turf" battles amongst the Executive Branch bureaucracies, most prominently with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, State Department and the Department of Defense. This was one of the principal reasons that the NCS was formed.

Organization[edit | edit source]

The current structure of the National Clandestine Service, under the Director of the NCS, is as follows, according to the Official CIA Organizational Chart:[11]

  • Deputy Director of the NCS
    • Counterproliferation Division
    • Counterterrorism Center
    • Counterintelligence Center
    • Regional & Transnational Issues Divisions
    • Technology Support Divisions
  • Deputy Director of the NCS for Community HUMINT
    • Community HUMINT Coordination Center

A major headquarters element was the Counterintelligence Staff, most powerful when headed by James Jesus Angleton. It was the principal US organization responsible for vetting potential new clandestine HUMINT assets, and for US offensive counterespionage and deception.

Under an assortment of names, such as Special Activities Division, there is a paramilitary function that may enter and prepare an area of operations before United States Army Special Forces enter in a more overt military role. This may or may not include psychological operations, especially black propaganda; paramilitary and psychological functions have split and joined under various historical reorganizations.

Various groups provide support services, such as cover documentation and disguise.[12] A technical services unit, sometimes in the clandestine division and occasionally in the Directorate of Science and Technology, contained both espionage equipment development and sometimes questionable research, such as the MKULTRA mind control program.

Directors[edit | edit source]

See Director of the National Clandestine Service for a full list of Directors since 1951.

NCS Officers[edit | edit source]

The National Clandestine Service consists of six different types of officers[13] :

Below are brief descriptions of these six types of officers. For a more detailed description, visit the CIA website.

1) Operations Officers:

Operations Officers (OOs) are focused full time on clandestinely spotting, assessing, developing, recruiting, and handling individuals with access to vital foreign intelligence on the full range of national security issues.[14]

2) Collection Management Officers:

Core Collector-certified Collection Management Officers (CMOs) oversee and facilitate the collection, evaluation, classification, and dissemination of foreign intelligence developed from clandestine sources. CMOs play a critical role in ensuring that foreign intelligence collected by clandestine sources is relevant, timely, and addresses the highest foreign policy and national security needs of the nation.[15]

3) Staff Operations Officers:

Based out of CIA Headquarters in Washington, DC, Staff Operations Officers (SOOs) plan, guide and support intelligence collection operations, counterintelligence activities and covert action programs.[16]

4) Targeting Officers:

Officers in this career track will directly support and drive complex worldwide NCS operations to develop actionable intelligence against the highest priority threats to U.S. national security.[17]

5) Paramilitary Operations Officers:

Qualified candidates can expect to focus on intelligence operations and activities for U.S. policymakers in hazardous and austere overseas environments.[18]

The National Clandestine Service's primary action arm is the Special Activities Division (SAD), which conducts direct action-like raids, ambushes, sabotage, assassinations, unconventional warfare (e.g. training and leading guerrillas), and deniable psychological operations, the latter also known as "covert influence." While special reconnaissance may be either a military or intelligence operation, these usually are executed by SAD officers in denied areas.[9][19] Paramilitary operations officers are chosen mainly from the ranks of United States special operations forces.[9] SAD operatives are the most specialized because they combine the best special operations and clandestine intelligence (spy) capabilities in one individual. They operate in any environment (sea, air, or ground) and with limited to no support. They originate in the Special Operations Group (SOG) of SAD, considered one of the most elite special operations units in the world.[20] Paramilitary operations officers are the primary recipients of the coveted Distinguished Intelligence Cross and the Intelligence Star, the two highest medals for valor in the CIA. Not surprisingly, the majority of those memorialized on the Wall of Honor at CIA headquarters were covert operatives.[21]

6) NCS Language Officers

Performing a critical and dynamic function within the National Clandestine Service (NCS), the Language Officer applies advanced foreign language skills, experience, and expertise to provide high-quality translation, interpretation, and language-related support for a variety of NCS clandestine operations.[22]

Covert action[edit | edit source]

A covert action is defined as "an activity or activities of the United States Government to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly".[23] A covert operation differs from a clandestine operation in that emphasis is placed on concealment of the identity of the sponsor rather than on concealment of the operation.[19]

Covert operations include paramilitary and psychological activities. See Psychological Operations (United States) for a more general discussion of US psychological operations, including those operations for which the CIA is responsible and those that belong to other agencies.

Executive Order 12333 bans assassinations by persons employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government.[24]

Clandestine Collection of HUMINT[edit | edit source]

Legal Authorities

A number of statutes, executive orders, and directives assign the task of conducting HUMINT operations to the CIA:

1) By federal statute, the Director of the CIA is tasked with the collection of intelligence through human sources and by other appropriate means.[25]

2) Executive Order 12333[26] states that:

The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency shall coordinate the clandestine collection of foreign intelligence collected through human sources or through human-enabled means and counterintelligence activities outside the United States.

3) National Security Council Intelligence Directive No. 5 (NSCID 5)[27] provides that:

The Director of Central Intelligence shall conduct all organized Federal espionage operations outside the United States and its possessions for the collection of foreign intelligence information required to meet the needs of all Departments and Agencies concerned, in connection with the national security, except for certain agreed activities by other Departments and Agencies.

4) Intelligence Community Directive Number 340 designates the Director of the CIA as the National HUMINT Manager.[28]


Techniques for the clandestine collection of HUMINT are collectively known as tradecraft. A discussion of many of these techniques can be found at Clandestine HUMINT operational techniques.

Very few statutes and publicly available regulations deal specifically with clandestine HUMINT techniques. One such statute forbids the use of journalists as agents unless the President of the United States makes the written determination to waive this restriction based on the "overriding national security interest of the United States.".[29] In the Intelligence Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2002, Congress directed the CIA Director to rescind what Congress viewed as overly restrictive guidelines regarding the recruitment of foreign assets who had a record of human rights violations.[30]

Camp Peary, often referred to as "The Farm", near Williamsburg, Virginia is purportedly a CIA training facility for clandestine operatives.

Clandestine technical collection[edit | edit source]

The Agency also may be responsible for developing communications systems appropriate for clandestine operations. In 1962, the Central Intelligence Agency, Deputy Directorate for Research (now the Deputy Directorate for Science and Technology), formally took on ELINT and COMINT responsibilities.[31] "The consolidation of the ELINT program was one of the major goals of the reorganization... it is responsible for:

  • ELINT support peculiar to the penetration problems associated with the Agent's reconnaissance program under NRO.
  • Maintain a quick reaction capability for ELINT and COMINT equipment."

"CIA's Office of Research and Development was formed to stimulate research and innovation testing leading to the exploitation of non-agent intelligence collection methods....All non-agent technical collection systems will be considered by this office and those appropriate for field deployment will be so deployed. The Agency's missile detection system, Project [deleted] based on backscatter radar is an example. This office will also provide integrated systems analysis of all possible collection methods against the Soviet antiballistic missile program is an example."

Sometimes in cooperation with technical personnel at other agencies such as NSA when the collection discipline is SIGINT, or DIA when the techniques come MASINT, or other appropriate agencies such as the United States Department of Energy for nuclear information, CIA may work to place technical collection equipment in denied territory. They have also cooperated in placing such equipment into US embassies. Emplacing and servicing such equipment is another form of clandestine operation, of which the adversary should not be aware.These include:[31]

  • Research, development, testing, and production of ELINT and COMINT collection equipment for all Agency operations.
  • Technical operation and maintenance of CIA deployed non-agent ELINT systems.
  • Training and maintenance of agent ELINT equipments
  • Technical support to the Third Party Agreements.
  • Data reduction of Agency-collected ELINT signals.

See MASINT from clandestinely placed sensors. CIA took on a more distinct MASINT responsibility in 1987.[32] The National Security Archive commented, "In 1987, Deputy Director for Science and Technology Evan Hineman established... a new Office for Special Projects. concerned not with satellites, but with emplaced sensors – sensors that could be placed in a fixed location to collect signals intelligence or measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) about a specific target. Such sensors had been used to monitor Chinese missile tests, Soviet laser activity, military movements, and foreign nuclear programs. The office was established to bring together scientists from the DS&T’s Office of SIGINT Operations, who designed such systems, with operators from the Directorate of Operations, who were responsible for transporting the devices to their clandestine locations and installing them".

Overt HUMINT[edit | edit source]

In addition they may produce HUMINT from overt sources, such as voluntary interviews with travelers, businesspeople, etc. Some of the latter may be considered open source intelligence OSINT and be performed by other agencies, just as reports from diplomats are another form of HUMINT that flows into the Department of State.

At times, this function may be assigned to CIA, because its counter-intelligence staff has biographical indexes that let them check the background of foreign citizens offering information. For example, there may be a name check on a business or scientific contact who meets either with CIA representatives or staff of the National Open Source Enterprise

Approval of clandestine and covert operations[edit | edit source]

The Directorate of Plans (DDP) was created in 1952, taking control of the Office of Policy Coordination, a covert action group that received services from the CIA but did not go through the CIA management. The other main unit that went into the Directorate of Plans was the Office of Special Operations, which did clandestine intelligence collection (e.g., espionage) as opposed to covert action.

Approval of clandestine and covert operations came from a variety of committees, although in the early days of quasi-autonomous offices and the early DDP, there was more internal authority to approve operations.[33] After its creation in the Truman Administration, the CIA was, at first, the financial manager for OPC and OSO, authorized to handle "unvouchered funds" by National Security Council document 4-A of December 1947, the launching of peacetime covert action operations. NSC 4-A made the Director of Central Intelligence responsible for psychological warfare, establishing at the same time the principle that covert action was an exclusively Executive Branch function.

Early autonomy of OPC[edit | edit source]

At first, the supervision by committee allowed the OPC to exercise

"early use of its new covert action mandate dissatisfied officials at the Departments of State and Defense. The Department of State, believing this role too important to be left to the CIA alone and concerned that the military might create a new rival covert action office in the Pentagon, pressed to reopen the issue of where responsibility for covert action activities should reside. Consequently, on June 18, 1948, a new NSC directive, NSC 10/2, superseded NSC 4-A.

NSC 10/2 directed CIA to conduct "covert" rather than merely "psychological" operations, defining them as all activities "which are conducted or sponsored by this Government against hostile foreign states or groups or in support of friendly foreign states or groups but which are so planned and executed that any US Government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the US Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them".

NSC 10/2 defined the scope of these operations as: "propaganda; economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberations [sic] groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world. Such operations should not include armed conflict by recognized military forces, espionage, counter-espionage, and cover and deception for military operations." [34]

Guerrilla warfare was outside this statement of scope, but such operations came under partial CIA control with NSC 10/5 of October 1951. See "Psychological Strategy Board" below. To implement covert actions under NSC 10/2, OPC was created on September 1, 1948. Its initial structure had it taking "guidance from the Department of State in peacetime and from the military in wartime, initially had direct access to the State Department and to the military without having to proceed through CIA's administrative hierarchy, provided the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) was informed of all important projects and decisions. In 1950 this arrangement was modified to ensure that policy guidance came to OPC through the DCI. During the Korean War the OPC grew quickly. Wartime commitments and other missions soon made covert action the most expensive and bureaucratically prominent of CIA's activities.

"Concerned about this situation, DCI Walter Bedell Smith in early 1951 asked the NSC for enhanced policy guidance and a ruling on the proper "scope and magnitude" of CIA operations. The White House responded with two initiatives. In April 1951 President Truman created the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) under the NSC to coordinate government-wide psychological warfare strategy."

Putting special operations under a "psychological" organization paralleled the military's development of United States Army Special Forces, which was created by a Pentagon unit called the Psychological Warfare Division. "NSC 10/5, issued in October 1951, reaffirmed the covert action mandate given in NSC 10/2 and expanded CIA's authority over guerrilla warfare"[35] The PSB was soon abolished by the incoming Eisenhower administration, but the expansion of CIA's covert action writ in NSC 10/5 helped ensure that covert action would remain a major function of the Agency.[33]

As the Truman administration ended, CIA was near the peak of its independence and authority in the field of covert action. Although CIA continued to seek and receive advice on specific projects group or officer outside of the DCI and the President himself had authority to order, approve, manage, or curtail operations.

Increasing control by CIA management[edit | edit source]

Main article: Oversight of United States covert operations

After Smith, who was Eisenhower's World War II Chief of Staff, consolidated of OSO, OPC, and CIA in 1952, the Eisenhower administration began narrowing CIA's latitude in 1954. In accordance with a series of National Security Council directives, the responsibility of the Director of Central Intelligence for the conduct of covert operations was further clarified. President Eisenhower approved NSC 5412 on March 15, 1954, reaffirming the Central Intelligence Agency's responsibility for conducting covert actions abroad". A series of committees, containing reprresentatives from State, Defense, CIA, and sometimes the White House or NSC, reviewed operations. Over time and reorganizations, these committees were called the Operations Coordinating Board (OCB), NSC 5412/2 Special Group or simply Special Group, Special Group (Augmented), 303 Committee, and Special Group (Counterinsurgency).[33]

Controversy[edit | edit source]

Former Director of the NCS Jose Rodriguez was criticized for his role in the 2005 CIA interrogation tapes destruction.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Mission of the National Clandestine Service". CIA Website. Retrieved April 28, 2011. 
  2. By Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, Associated Press Writers (2010-07-21). "Retired spy hired to run CIA clandestine service". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2010-11-23. 
  3. "Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Section 1011". PL 108-458. 
  4. "9-11 Act". 9-11 Act National Security Protection Act. 
  5. "Unclassified Version of the Report of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction". 
  6. "Moderning Intelligence: Structure and Change for the 21st Century". Modernizing Intelligence: January 2002 Edition. National Institute for Public Policy. Retrieved April 29, 2011. 
  7. "Establishment of the National Clandestine Service" (Press release). Central Intelligence Agency. 2005-10-13. Retrieved 2008-11-14. 
  8. "CIA Celebrates 60 Years". Central Intelligence Agency. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Waller, Douglas (2003-02-03). "The CIA Secret Army". TIME (Time Inc).
  10. Special OPS: America's elite forces in 21st century combat, Fred J. Pushies, MBI Publishing, 2003, page 20.
  11. Organizational Chart. Central Intelligence Agency. 
  12. Mendez, Antonio J. (1999). Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA. William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 0-06-095791-3 
  13. "NCS Career Opportunities". Clandestine Service Fields. 
  14. "Operations Officers". Core Collectors. 
  15. "Collection Management Officer". Core Collectors. 
  16. "Staff Operations Officer". Headquarters-based Officers. 
  17. "Targeting Officers". Headquarters-based Officer. 
  18. "Paramilitary Operations Officer". Paramilitary. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Joint Publication 1-02 Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. United States Department of Defense. 12 July 2007. JP 1-02. Retrieved 2007-11-21 
  20. Waller, Douglas (2003-01-25). "The CIA's Secret Army". TIME Magazine.,9171,1004145,00.html. Retrieved 2008-11-13. 
  21. Gup, Ted (2000). The Book of Honor: Cover Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA.[page needed]
  22. "NCS Language Officers". Language Officers. 
  23. "50 U.S.C. § 413b(e)". Title 50, United States Code, Section 413b Presidential approval and reporting of covert actions. 
  24. "E.O. 12333 (2.11) Ban on Assassination". E.O. 12333. 
  25. "50 U.S.C § 403–4a". United States Code. 
  26. "Executive Order 12333, as amended". Executive Order 12333, as amended. 
  27. "NSCID 5". National Security Council Intelligence Directive No. 5. 
  28. "ICD 304". Intelligence Community Director No. 304. 
  29. "50 U.S.C. § 403–7". Title 50, United States Code. 
  30. "Intelligence Authorization Act 2002". Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002. 
  31. 31.0 31.1 Central Intelligence Agency (May 1998). "Deputy Director for Research". CIA-DDR. Retrieved 2007-10-07 
  32. Central Intelligence Agency (July 21, 1988). "Organization chart, mission and functions of the Office of Special Projects". Retrieved 2007-10-07 
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 "U.S. Covert Actions and Counter-Insurgency Programs". Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume XXIV. 
  34. "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945–1950, Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment". U.S. Department of State. pp. Document 292, Section 5. Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  35. Warner, Michael, ed. (October 23, 1951). "NSC 10/5, Scope and Pace of Covert Operations". The CIA Under Harry Truman. Central Intelligence Agency 

Sources[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]


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