Roscoe Henry Hillenkoetter (1897-1982) was the third
Director of Central Intelligence
, and the first to also head up the Central Intelligence Agency
, which came into existence following the National Security Act
of 27th July, 1947, about three months into his tenure.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri on the 8th May, 1897,
he was a military careerist, graduating from the
U.S. Naval Academy in 1919, and going on to take
several tours of duty as Assistant Naval Attache (later
Naval Attache) in France during 1933-1935, 1938-1940, 1940-1941 (serving at Vichy) and 1946-1947. During late 1942 and early 1943 (September-March) he was Officer in Charge of Intelligence for Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Area (he was wounded in action at Pearl Harbour.) He was promoted to Rear Admiral on 29th November, 1946.
After his tenure as DCI, he returned to his naval career,
serving as the commander of the Navy Task Force during the
Korean War (from November 1950 till September 1951), became a Vice Admiral on 9th April 1956, and then Inspector General of the Navy on 1st August, 1956. He retired on 1st May, 1957, and took up a career in business. He died on the 18th June, 1982.
When he took over as DCI from Hoyt S. Vandenberg on May 1st, 1947, he inherited a bunch of troubles. The legislatory
framework that was about to create the CIA was being put
through Congress, and, though popular in most places,
was meeting some stiff opposition, not least from J. Edgar Hoover, who could see his empire being threatened by the upstart agency. Hoover was also concerned about the CIA as a security weakness. Stories about the incompetence of the CIA were common amongst Washington insiders and the press (commonly thought to have been leaked to the press by Hoover, in many cases) - as for example the story of two ex-OSS contract agents for the CIA in Rumania, during late 1947, whose clumsy efforts at contacting an anticommunist group there lead to the whole group being detected and exectuted, a story which appeared in the New York Times on July 23, 1948. Because of stories like these, Hillenkoetter was obliged to spend much of his time running around between congressmen and the White House insisting that there were no major problems and everything was perfectly OK at CIA.
To make matters more difficult, as a newly created, and civilian, intelligence agency, the CIA met with some hostility from its more military counterparts. Hillenkoetter had the task of establishing working relations with agencies such as the ONI, with whom he was supposed to be working, as DCI. Under his predecessor, these agencies had often simply refused to pass on information! As if this was not bad enough, there was widespread disagreement and confusion amongst the non-military parts of the Washington
beaurocracy as to what the exact role and status of the CIA and
it's DCI were to be. Intelligence requirements were effectively defined by the State Department and the Defense Department, and they sometimes disagreed about it, leaving poor Hillenkoetter in a muddle. For example, in response to President Harry S. Truman's growing fears about the communist menace in Russia (and George Marshall's wish to see the State Department dominate certain areas of intelligence) the carefully misnamed "Office of Policy Coordination" was created to engage in political subversion abroad. This entirely replicated the intended area of action of the CIA's Office of Special Operations, leaving everyone confused about who should be doing what. (That they couldn't tell each other what they were doing doubtless added to the confusion.)
These factors all made it difficult for Hillenkoetter to even appear to be doing his job well. CIA General Counsel, Lawrence Houston (who'd retained his role as spook-lawyer in chief from his initial appointment by Sidney W. Souers at the inception of the CIG) said:
Hillenkoetter [...] was by no means stupid, as people very often implied [...] Hillenkoetter had found it very difficult to get the backing he needed. It was the time when Secretary of State Acheson and Secretary of Defense Johnson weren't talking to each other, and they were the key people on the NSC as far as intelligence was concerned. And as long as they weren't getting on, Hillenkoetter found it very difficult to get resolved.
Hillenkoetter's conscience probably didn't help him out in his job either. Initially conceived as a purely intelligence-gathering organization, the CIA's role was soon expanded, as Cold War
hysteria gripped the nation, and became a tool for those wishing to seek, and grant, extraordinary powers. The NSC
directive of December 19, 1947 (actually, also the date of the NSC's inauguration),
NSC 4, entitled "Coordination of Foreign Intelligence Measures", instructed the Secretary of State
to wage a propaganda war on communism
, and had a secret annex (NSC 4A) authorising the fledgling CIA to conduct covert psychological warfare on the evil reds (not just in Russia, but in countries, such as Italy
where the Party had a strong following - concern about the Italian communists had lead Secretary of Defense George Forrestal
to add the annex, in fact.)
Perhaps surprisingly, wishing to be in accordance with the law at all points, Hillenkoetter enquired with CIA General Counsel Lawrence Houston about the legal propriety of NSC 4A. Houston wrote back his opinion that there was "nothing in the specific language of the legislation that specifically gave us authority for such activities. Section 5 of the 'powers and duties' clauses of the act was not sufficient". Under further prompting from Hillenkoetter,
Lawrence provided a second opinion that "if the President gave us the proper directive and the Congress gave us the money for those purposes, we had the administrative authority to carry them out."
This was, in fact, the start of the modus vivendi between
President, CIA and Congress concerning CIA covert ops. The
fact is, of course, that since the operations are covert, it's not really possible to tell Congress what the money they are approving will be spent on, except in the most general, useless, terms. In this fashion the traditional congressional oversight was bypassed, and a real operational capability was added to the executive branch of government.
This arrangement was enshrined in law with the Central Intelligence Act of 1949, which made vague references to congressional oversight of CIA covert operations, but explicitly excluded the CIA from adherence to the usual laws:
The sums made available to the Agency may be expended without regard to the provisions of law and regulations relating to the expenditure of Government funds, and for objects of a confidential, extraordinary or emergency nature, such expenditure to be accounted for solely
on the certificate of the Director.
This was a shot in the arm for the President's executive branch, and of course the CIA itself, which was, effectively, given complete discretion to do what the hell it wanted. An operations officer from the period immediately following was to say:
If the director of the CIA wanted to extend a present, say, to someone in Europe--a Labour leader--suppose he just thought, This man can use fifty thousand dollars, he's working well and doing a good job--he could hand it to him and never have to account to anybody.
Hillenkoetter testified before the House Armed Services Committee
in favour of this legislation, on April 18, 1948, raising the spectre of the Red Menace in traditional, if coded, fashion when he said:
It was thought when we started back in 1946, that at least
we would have time to develop this mature service over a period of years--after all, the British, who possess the finest intelligence in the world, have been developing their system since the time of Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately the international situation has not allowed us the breathing space we might have liked, and so, as we present this bill, we find ourselves in operations up to our necks, and we need the authorities contained herein as a matter of urgency.
Perhaps the phrase 'up to our necks' was, though honest, a little unfortunate, given that it would enter the historical record (he's probably referring to the election-skewing in Italy
that was taking up so much of the Agency's resources at that time.) In any case. it can be plainly seen from this testimony that the bill in fact just gave a legal shape to the modus vivendi which was already in place 'on the ground'. On October 6th, 1950, Hillenkoetter left the office of DCI to take up his navy career again, and was replaced by Walter Bedell Smith
Information and quotes from John Ranelagh's quasi-official apologia for the CIA: The Agency