Intelligence Organizations and Foreign Policy: Case Study of the Role of CIA in US Foreign Policy

Friday, February 3, 2012

Author: Mehdi Mir-Mohammadi
Ph.D. in International Relations and Expert on Security and Strategic Issues

Publisher: Tehran International Studies & Research Institute (TISRI)
Date of Publication: October 2011
ISBN: 978-964-526-160-1
Language: Persian
Pages: 275


All human societies have been unwilling and reluctant about bringing issues related to their intelligence agencies into the open. In most societies, people’s attitudes toward intelligence agencies are usually vague, secretive, and often negative. Apart from a few developed states where intelligence work has been demystified in the course of a few decades, in most other countries, doubts and suspicions still surround intelligence matters. Academics have also been reluctant about entry of intelligence matters into academic courses. Perhaps, the most important reason for the reluctance of universities to focus on such issues is secrecy and ambiguity which naturally surrounds the intelligence work. On the other hand, academic circles have been unwilling to be in contact with secret services, perhaps, because they feared them.

Anyway, intelligence is indispensable to modern human societies. Just as universities have been studying political, international, social, and economic aspects of human life for a variety of physical and spiritual reasons; intelligence-related aspects of human life need academic studies as well. Many of our scientific achievements in Iran in such areas as history, politics and international relations have been incomplete because of inattention to their intelligence aspects. Recognizing the role of intelligence in history (evolution and narration of historical events), as well as in political, international and social developments, can make up for this shortcoming and provide a new outlook for breaking new cognitive grounds with regard to human problems. Therefore, it is imperative for academic studies in such areas as social and political sciences and international relations as well as in such related fields as foreign policy analysis to show more interest in intelligence agencies as a subject for academic studies and pay due attention to intelligence as an independent variable affecting the evolution and change of political phenomena. Therefore, the present book will try to consider intelligence as an “independent variable” in a bid to analyze its role in foreign policymaking and foreign policy analysis.

The makeup of any country’s foreign policy is influenced by a variety of factors and variables. Apart from variables which have their roots in culture, norms and national ideals of any country and are, thus, unique, other variables affecting the making of all countries’ foreign policies are more or less the same. An effective factor influencing this trend is intelligence entities in any country.

It is certainly very difficult in today’s fluid world to formulate and implement a desirable foreign policy as coordination and cooperation among various institutions and organizations in a country is needed. Therefore, two approaches have been taken by decision-making structures in all country’s foreign policy apparatuses to solve this problem.

1. To obtain necessary information about other countries through a government’s embassies in those countries. Of course, since the lion’s share of information necessary for making foreign policy decisions is usually kept secret by other countries, and official diplomatic missions cannot have easy access to that information, governments usually use other ways to solve this problem.

2. The second means of obtaining information is through intelligence bodies. As said before, due to inability of conventional channels like foreign ministries, for obtaining information necessary to a country’s foreign policymaking, intelligence bodies of various countries enter foreign policymaking process in order to use their unique capacities and abilities to help the governments to formulate more accurate and optimal policies.

It is noteworthy that since all countries’ national interests have many aspects to them, other institutions and variables also affect those countries’ foreign policymaking trends either directly, or indirectly. Political parties, pressure groups, industrial and military facilities, market forces, and religious leaders are few examples of those variables.

Today, as anytime before, inattention to role and position of intelligence is considered one of the main reasons for faulty understanding of policymaking trends in a country’s foreign policy apparatus. Meanwhile, some of the most important developments in international system as well as historical turning points in foreign policies of most countries, especially superpowers, have been influenced by the role played by intelligence organizations. Examples include the United States’ foreign policy toward the Iranian government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953, in Guatemala in 1954, during Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and many other cases. On the other hand, in many countries (especially developing countries) correct understanding of the role of intelligence services and their capacities for the growth and promotion of the country’s national interests and all-out development is still lacking. On the one hand, intelligence organizations are simply considered tools to implement a country’s domestic policies, the most important of which is their function in carrying out secret police missions to suppress domestic dissent. On the other hand, politicians and political analysts are unaware of the role of intelligence organizations in making foreign policy decisions and think these two areas of decision-making are totally independent.

Product Description

The present book focuses on the role of intelligence agencies in the foreign policymaking process. However, since study of all intelligence agencies in the world is not possible, the author uses case study method to review role of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in influencing the United States’ foreign policies. The reason that this country has been chosen is abundance of sources and documents to allow study of its foreign policymaking process in order to analyze role and functions of intelligence agencies in that process. It also aims to explore the impact that US policymaking methods have had on other countries in order to increase generality of research results.

The main question posited before starting this study was “what is the function of intelligence agencies in foreign policymaking process and what role is played by these entities in that process?” In response, three hypotheses have been put forth which form the basis on which this book has been organized. Those three hypotheses include:

1. Intelligence agencies play a cognitive role in foreign policymaking as a state-run institution;

2. Intelligence agencies are a means of supervision over foreign policy approaches by a country’s politicians;

3. Intelligence agencies are a means in the hands of statesmen and play an executive part in foreign policymaking process.

The cognitive role means that such agencies “meet the policymakers’ need to information and news in the process of policymaking.” The supervisory role means “supervision by executive officials and foreign policymakers on suitable implementation of decisions taken by politicians and compliance of countries which have entered into treaties with a respective country with the contents of those treaties and contracts.” According to this definition, it is clear that supervisory role of an intelligence organization is measured by its ability to generate information, which is equivalent to cognition. In fact, intelligence agencies carry out their supervisory role by collecting information about performance of a country’s foreign policymakers, or measures and plans made by other countries with regard to their obligations. Therefore, the first and second hypotheses are compatible with the second hypothesis being a subset of the first. As such, only the first hypothesis is discussed here. The executive role means the use of intelligence agencies as a means of implementing every government’s decision or special policy. Out of the aforesaid hypotheses, the first hypothesis, that is, cognitive role of intelligence agencies in the process of policymaking is the main hypothesis with other hypotheses being its rivals.

A review of the existing literature on intelligence agencies aimed at finding an answer to this study’s main question shows that most studies carried out thus far, have reviewed role of intelligence agencies in foreign policymaking indirectly and as a marginal issue. Secondly, there are few studies which have analyzed foreign policymaking process with special emphasis on intelligence agencies and even these studies have merely focused on the role of such agencies in covert operations in line with a country’s national interests. Another weakness of the existing studies is absence of a theoretical framework and theorization on function of intelligence agencies and quality of their influence on foreign policymaking process.

Sections & Chapters

The present book has been organized in three sections. The first section has two chapters which provide a theoretical framework before starting the main discussion. The first chapter explains the concept of intelligence and functions of intelligence agencies, the theory of role and missions of intelligence agencies, agenda of intelligence agencies, as well as domestic and foreign policies and role of intelligence missions. Since role of intelligence agencies is explained in the context of foreign policymaking process, the second chapter entitled “approaches to analysis of foreign policy and intelligence agencies” tries to review role of intelligence agencies by taking advantage of theoretical viewpoints of foreign policy analysis (decision-making models) and professional functions of the intelligence. In this chapter, role of intelligence agencies has been studied from viewpoint of such decision-making models as rational actor, cybernetics, bureaucracy, and cognitive approach.

The second part of this research is a case study of CIA and its role in the United States’ foreign policy. The section starts with the third chapter which introduces the US intelligence community and various methods used by US intelligence agencies to collect information before explaining the position of CIA. In the fourth chapter, a historical review of the role of CIA from World War II is used to study the main hypothesis, that is, CIA’s cognitive role in the US foreign policy. In this part, the role of CIA in creating a gap between military capabilities of the United States and the Soviet Union, its role in establishing relations between the United States and the Communist China, CIA and the Islamic Revolution in Iran, CIA and terror attacks on September 11, 2001, as well as CIA’s role in the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are discussed. The rival hypothesis is detailed in the fifth chapter. After review of the role played by CIA in different developments of various countries, including its role in Iran, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Lebanon, this organization has been introduced as the United States’ foreign policy tool. The third section of the book consists of the conclusion. The sixth chapter lays out in three parts the hypotheses, the conclusion and the general theoretical framework related to the role of intelligence agencies in foreign policy of different countries.

According to the main hypothesis of this study, the most important role played by CIA in the United States’ foreign policy is providing cognitive support for the country’s policies. Although data presented here attest to correctness of this hypothesis and provide no ground for its rejection, comparison of data in the third and fourth chapters shows that, at least, according to accessible data, CIA has been a powerful arm of the American policymakers rather than being their watchful eye. Also, although National Security law of 1947 considers collection and analysis of information as the main duty of CIA, practical procedure adopted by the organization in its intelligence missions proves that secrecy is the first priority of American intelligence agencies when interacting with the foreign policy apparatus. As a result, the Americans politicians mostly use this organization to carry out covert operations in order to implement their views in other countries.

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