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Frequently Asked Questions

What does the Central Intelligence Agency do?

The Central Intelligence Agency's primary mission is to collect, evaluate, and disseminate foreign intelligence to assist the President and senior U.S. Government policymakers in making decisions relating to the national security. The Central Intelligence Agency does not make policy; it is an independent source of foreign intelligence information for those who do. The Central Intelligence Agency may also engage in covert action at the President's direction in accordance with applicable law.

Who works for the Central Intelligence Agency?

The CIA carefully selects well-qualified people in nearly all fields of study. Scientists, engineers, economists, linguists, mathematicians, secretaries, accountants and computer specialists are but a few of the professionals continually in demand. Much of the Agency's work, like that done in academic institutions, requires research, careful evaluation, and writing of reports that end up on the desks of this nation's policymakers. Applicants are expected to have a college degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 and must be willing to relocate to the Washington D.C. area. Selection for Agency employment is highly competitive and employees must successfully complete a polygraph and medical examination and a background investigation before entering on duty. The Agency endorses equal employment opportunity. For further information, see the employment page of the CIA website at www.cia.gov.

How many people work for the Central Intelligence Agency and what is its budget?

Neither the number of employees nor the size of the Agency's budget can, at present, be publicly disclosed. A common misconception is that the Agency has an unlimited budget, which is far from true. While classified, the budget and size of the CIA are known in detail and scrutinized by the Office of Management and Budget and by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Defense Subcommittees of the Appropriations Committees in both houses of Congress. The resources allocated to the CIA are subject to the same rigorous examination and approval process that applies to all other government organizations.

In 1997, the aggregate figure for all U.S. government intelligence and intelligence-related activities—of which the CIA is but one part-—was made public for the first time. The aggregate intelligence budget was $26.6 billion in fiscal year 1997 and $26.7 billion for fiscal year 1998. The intelligence budget for fiscal year 1999 has not been publicly released.

Does the Central Intelligence Agency give public tours of its Headquarters buildings?

No. Logistical problems and security considerations prevent such tours. A virtual tour is available on the CIA website.

Does the Central Intelligence Agency release information to the public?

Yes, the CIA declassifies and releases information to the public under the auspices of several specific public mandates. Under the provisions of Executive Order 12958 (a Presidential order outlining a uniform system for handling national security information), the CIA each year systematically reviews and releases to the National Archives and Records Administration (see page 35) millions of pages of documents that are available there for public review. This same E.O. also provides a mechanism whereby anyone can specifically request that a classified document be reviewed for declassification and release.

The Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act (the latter statute provides U.S. citizens and Permanent Resident Aliens access to U.S. Government information about themselves) are two Public Laws that also provide possible access to CIA information in general or, in the case of the Privacy Act, to information that the CIA may hold on the requester. In response to the FOIA, the Agency also maintains the CIA Electronic Document Release Center at www.foia.cia.gov which contains previously released information of broad interest to the public as well as in order to provide guidance on how to request information under the FOIA or the Privacy Act. Specific copies of any previously declassified records, that are not available on the CIA website, are available directly from the CIA FOIA office.

The Agency frequently releases items of more general interest on its website at www.cia.gov. The website provides unclassified current publications, speeches, press releases, congressional testimony, employment information, and basic references, including the CIA World Factbook. Documents and maps available in hard copy are listed in CIA Maps and Publications released to the Public, which is on the website and is available from the Office of Public Affairs. Publications on the list may be purchased from the Government Printing Office, the National Technical Information Service, and the Library of Congress (see page 35). Most CIA publications are classified, however, and are not publicly available.

For more information, contact the Chief, Information Review and Release Group, Office of the Chief Information Officer, Information Management Services, CIA, Washington, D.C. 20505 at (703) 613-1287 or the Office of Public Affairs at (703) 482-0623.

Does the CIA spy on Americans?

Law specifically prohibits the CIA from collecting foreign intelligence concerning the domestic activities of U.S. citizens. Its mission is to collect information related to foreign intelligence and foreign counterintelligence. By direction of the President in Executive Order 12333 of 1981 and in accordance with procedures issued by the Director of Central Intelligence and approved by the Attorney General, the CIA is restricted in the collection of intelligence information directed against U.S. citizens. Collection is allowed only for an authorized intelligence purpose; for example, if there is a reason to believe that an individual is involved in espionage or international terrorist activities. The CIA's procedures require senior approval for any such collection that is allowed, and, depending on the collection technique employed, the sanction of the Attorney General and Director of Central Intelligence may be required. These restrictions on the CIA have been in effect since the 1970s.

Who decides when CIA should participate in covert actions, and why?

Only the President can direct the CIA to undertake a covert action. The National Security Council (NSC) usually recommends such actions. Covert actions are considered when the NSC judges that U.S. foreign policy objectives may not be fully realized by normal diplomatic means and when military action is deemed to be too extreme an option. Therefore, the Agency may be directed to conduct a special activity abroad in support of foreign policy where the role of the U.S. Government is neither apparent nor publicly acknowledged. Once tasked, the Director of Central Intelligence must notify the intelligence oversight committees of the Congress.

What is the Central Intelligence Agency's role in combating international terrorism?

The Central Intelligence Agency supports the overall U.S. Government effort to combat international terrorism by collecting, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence on foreign terrorist groups and individuals. The CIA also works with friendly foreign governments and shares pertinent information with them.

The CIA has been accused of conducting assassinations and engaging in drug trafficking. What are the facts?

The CIA does neither. Executive Order No. 12333 of 1981 explicitly prohibits the Central Intelligence Agency from engaging, either directly or indirectly, in assassinations. Internal safeguards and the congressional oversight process assure compliance.

Regarding recent allegations of CIA involvement in drug trafficking, the CIA Inspector General found no evidence to substantiate the charges that the CIA or its employees conspired with or assisted Contra-related organizations or individuals in drug trafficking to raise funds for the Contras or for any other purpose. In fact, the CIA plays a crucial role in combating drug trafficking by providing intelligence information to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the State Department.

Who oversees the CIA? Does it act on its own initiative?

Both the Congress and the Executive Branch oversee the Central Intelligence Agency's activities. In addition, the CIA is responsible to the American people through their elected representatives, and, like other government agencies, acts in accordance with U.S. laws and executive orders. In the Executive Branch, the National Security Council—including the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense—provides guidance and direction for national foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities (see page 16). In the Congress, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as well as other committees, closely monitor the Agency's reporting and programs (see page 17). The CIA is not a policymaking organization; it advises policymakers on matters of foreign intelligence, and it conducts covert actions only at the direction of the President.