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The CIA: A Founder’s Vision

In response to:

How They Got Their Bloody Way from the May 27, 2010 issue

To the Editors:

In reference to Thomas Powers’s interesting piece [“How They Got Their Bloody Way,” NYR, May 27], I believe the CIA was politicized, if there is such a word, from the start. That is what the men who founded it intended.

My father, Ferdinand Eberstadt, was the man who drew up the original bylaws for the CIA. His vision was a purely academic organization that never took any action besides gathering data and analyzing them. No politics, certainly no cloak and dagger. His guiding principle was the conviction that any action contaminates the integrity of observation.

As is widely known, the CIA was an outgrowth of the OSS run by “Wild Bill” Donovan, David Bruce, Allen Dulles, and others. I believe that John Foster Dulles was the one who asked my father to do this job. It was grueling work and incidentally at one point, when he was staying in a suite at the Wardman Park Hotel, someone stole his briefcase. I now believe it was done by “interested parties.”

At any rate what happened is that the government was very pleased with his work and accepted his organizational plans more or less completely. However, to his dismay his central point vanished. He did not see this as a betrayal; he simply felt they were too shortsighted and they did not get it. He saw it as a want of common sense. It seems strange to me that in the six decades since, as we have had so many intelligence failures, no one in power has had the common sense to understand the problem this way.

I guess my conclusion is that the sort of people who seek political power in whatever branch of government or even in the press are loath to take a chance that they may give up any of it. Power and ambition trump reasonable action as we see all too often.

Too bad for the rest of us.

Frederick Eberstadt
Key West, Florida

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