Well, it’s not an anniversary you are likely to be invited to celebrate, but the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley is turning 75-years-young on Tuesday, July 26. Light the candles and pop the corks!
That’s right, the CIA was born on that day when President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 into law and created not just the clandestine agency we know and love today but also several other organizations we count on for protection. Here’s what the act did:
- Created the United States Air Force and declared the Marine Corps an independent service as part of the U.S. Navy.
- Merged the Departments of the Army, Navy, and the new Air Force into the National Military Establishment, effectively creating what is now the Department of Defense.
- Created the National Security Council to advise the White House on intelligence matters.
And, the Act spelled out how to “centralize” all the intelligence that was vital to keeping peace in the aftermath of World War II. Until then, the War Department, the State Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Post Office were competing with the remains of the recently disbanded Office of Strategic Services — the OSS, an early covert spy agency — to be the conduit of intelligence to the president’s ear.
Everyone was happy about having a CIA, right? You could sleep better at night knowing that the U.S. had something equivalent to Russia’s KGB, right? Wrong! Americans feared an agency that could spy on them, despite the rules of the CIA specifically saying they could only spy on foreign adversaries (the FBI, on the other hand …). But as the Cold War heated up, the idea of a CIA gained acceptance.
In the early days the Central Intelligence Agency wasn’t so centralized. It was scattered around Washington, DC, until 1961, when the Original Headquarters Building was built on 258 acres of some pretty prime real estate in Fairfax County, near the Potomac River in McLean.
These days Langley, as the CIA headquarters is colloquially known, is officially called the George Bush Center for Intelligence (before that it didn’t have a formal title), named for #41, who served as CIA director for a year in 1976.
Not everyone was happy McLean was chosen as the location for the headquarters. Northern Virginians pushed back at the powers that be to the point that they considered building it where the Kennedy Center is now. President Dwight Eisenhower adamantly rejected that idea and insisted on the Langley site. The General won. Eisenhower spoke at the laying of the cornerstone on November 3, 1959.
The 1.3 million-square-foot building was budgeted at $54,500,000, with some $8.5 million going to the National Park Service to extend the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which is why it looks so nice. CIA officers began working there in 1961.
Happy birthday, CIA!
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