You are Who You Fight: The CIA, Covert Action, and National Security




Huntzinger, Charissa

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Hollywood thrillers, conspiracy theories and political discourse, often depict the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an uncontrollable, enigmatic organization populated by James Bonds. The agency’s mandate, set out in the National Security Act of 1947, tells a different story that is often overlooked. In essence, the US government designed the CIA as a center of intelligence analysis and not a cloak and dagger outfit. Nevertheless, the CIA did develop a covert action branch and from the Cold War to the War on Terror, the CIA has increasingly relied on this operational component. But where did this branch come from and how and why has it adapted or failed to adapt to changes in the international environment? Through two case studies, this thesis evaluates the efficacy of bureaucratic, organizational cultural, and realist theories for explaining the evolution of covert action within the CIA. The conclusion finds imitation, a component of realist theory, to have the strongest explanatory power.