1947: The first issue of the anti-Communist periodical Plain Talk is published under the editorial direction of Isaac Don Levine. It is financed by San Francisco businessman Alfred Kohlberg. A weekly called Counterattack follows shortly, published by the American Business Consultants — a group founded by a trio of ex-FBI agents, dedicated to uncovering Reds who have infiltrated company unions.
Spring 1947: Athens (Greece) becomes one of the biggest American intelligence posts in the world.
April 9, 1947: Demonstrations take place in Bogata (Columbia) at the Conference of American States. Among the activists is a young Cuban radical named Fidel Castro.
April 18, 1947: Financier Bernard Baruch addresses the South Carolina legislature. He warns: “Let us not be deceived — today we are in the midst of a Cold War.”
May 1, 1947: Rear Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter is sworn in as Director of the Central Intelligence Service, replacing General Vandenberg. He is the third man to hold the post in 15 months.
May 13, 1947: The Senate approves the Taft-Hartley Labor Act, requiring labor leaders to take an oath stating that they are not Communists.
June 5, 1947: Recently appointed Secretary of State George Marshall gives a speech at Harvard advocating major economic aid for struggling European countries to keep communism from gaining a foothold. The $12 billion Marshall Plan dovetails with the Truman Doctrine, implementing the policy of containment advocated by George Kennan. As LaFeber says, they are Two Halves of the Same Walnut. For his vision, Marshall is named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.
June 20, 1947: The Senate votes to override the veto of the Taft-Hartley Act registered by President Truman on that same day.
June 27, 1947: A congressional committee holds secret hearings that lead to the formal creation of the CIA at summer’s end. Allen Dulles — not Hillenkoetter — is selected to conduct a secret intelligence seminar for a few select members of Congress. Dulles, the OSS Chief in Switzerland, had a carefully cultivated reputation as an American master spy. He was regarded by the Republican leadership as the director of central intelligence in exile. A duplicitous man, Dulles wasn’t above misleading Congress or his colleagues or even his commander in chief.
July 26, 1947: President Truman signs the National Security Act of 1947, giving birth to the Central Intelligence Agency on September 18. The agency faces fierce and relentless opponents within the Pentagon and the State Department (the agencies whose reports it was supposed to coordinate). It has no formal charter or congressionally appropriated funds for 2 more years. Also, its secrecy conflicts with the openness of American democracy.
The CIA’s stated mission is to provide the president with secret information essential to the national security of the United States.
The National Security Act says nothing about secret operations overseas. It instructs the CIA to correlate, evaluate, and disseminate intelligence — and to perform “other functions and duties relating to intelligence affecting the national security.” Hundreds of major covert actions will take advantage of this loophole.
September 26, 1947: The new National Security Council (also created by the National Security Act) holds its first meeting. The NSC, at this time, is comprised of President Truman, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, and the military chiefs. It seldom convenes and — when it does– President Truman is rarely in attendance. Interestingly, the conduct of covert action requires the direct or implied authority of this group.
September 27, 1947: George Kennan sends (the first) Secretary of Defense James Forrestal a detailed paper calling for the establishment of a “guerilla warfare corps.” Forrestal agrees. Together Kennan and Forrestal set the American clandestine service in motion.
October 1947: The Comintern, now called the Cominform, is revived.
October 20, 1947: The House Un American Activities Committee (HUAC) holds Hollywood hearings under the stewardship of J. Parnell Thomas. Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor, Ronald Reagan, and Robert Montgomery testify as cooperative witnesses, along with studio executive heads Jack Warner, Walt Disney, and Dore Shary. Ginger Rogers’ mother is another cooperative witness.
October 21-23, 1947: The Hollywood Ten — Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Larson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbull — testify before HUAC. They repeatedly cite the Fifth Amendment in answer to the question, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?”
October 24, 1947: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Groucho Marx, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Ronald Reagan, John Huston, Danny Kaye, and dozens of other Hollywood actors, directors, and screenwriters band together under the name Committee for the First Amendment in protest of HUAC’s handling of the Hollywood Ten. Several of the stars charter a plane they call the Star of the Red Sea. The plane touches down in St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, and, finally, Washington DC, giving a press conference at each stop.
November 24, 1947: All of the Hollywood Ten are indicted for contempt of Congress, and they’re fired from their jobs the next day.
December 14, 1947: The National Security Council issues its first top secret orders to the CIA. The agency is to execute “covert psychological operations designed to counter Soviet and Soviet-inspired activities.” Specifically, the CIA sets out to beat the Reds in the Italian elections set for April 1948. Congress never gives a go-ahead. The mission is illegal from the start. The agency is going beyond their charter.
Millions of dollars are delivered to Italian politicians and the priests of Catholic Action, a political arm of the Vatican. Suitcases of cash change hands in the four-star Hassler Hotel. Italy’s Christian Democrats win by a comfortable margin and form a government that excludes communists. A long romance between the party and the agency begins.
The CIA’s practice of purchasing elections and politicians with bags of cash is repeated in Italy — and many other nations — for the next 25 years.
December 27, 1947: The Civil Service Loyalty Review Board begins testing the loyalty of federal employees.
March 5, 1948: General Lucius D. Clay, chief of American occupation forces in Berlin, sends a cable to Washington saying he has a gut feeling that a Soviet attack on Berlin could come at any minute. The Pentagon leaks the cable.
March 6, 1948: President Truman goes before Congress warning that the Soviet Union and its agents are threatening disaster. He demands and wins immediate approval of the Marshall Plan.
The plan offers billions of dollars to the free world to repair the damage done by war and to create an American economic and political barricade against the Soviets. The US will help rebuild 19 capitals — 16 in Europe and 3 in Asia — using an American blueprint. George Kennan and James Forrestal are among the plan’s principal authors. Allen Dulles serves as a consultant.
A secret codicil gives the CIA the capability to conduct political warfare. It lets the agency skim uncounted millions of dollars from the Marshall Plan. But how?
After Congress approves the Marshall Plan, it appropriates about $13.7 billion over 5 years. In addition, any nation receiving aid from the plan has to set aside an equivalent sum in its own currency. Five percent of those funds — $685 million — are made available to the CIA through the plan’s overseas offices. This guarantees that wherever the plan flourishes in Europe and in Asia there will be a fertile environment for American spy craft.
Secret funds are the heart of secret operations. The CIA now has an unfailing source of untraceable cash. The scheme remains secret until after the cold war ends.
March 31 – April 1, 1948: The Russians give the first orders forbidding the entrance of military trains into — and the exporting of freight out of — Berlin without their approval.
May 4, 1948: George Kennan sends a top secret paper to about 20 people in the State Department, the White House, and the Pentagon. He proclaims “the inauguration of organized political warfare” and calls for the creation of a new clandestine service to conduct covert operations worldwide. He states clearly that the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, and the CIA’s covert operations are all interlocking parts of a grand strategy against Stalin.
The money that the CIA siphons from the Marshall Plan will finance a network of false fronts to recruit foreign agents. These foreigners, under CIA control, are to create underground political groups in the free nations of Europe. The underground is to spur “all-out liberation movements” behind the Iron Curtain.
May 19, 1948: Congressmen Richard M. Nixon’s and Karl Mundt’s bill to “protect the United States against un-American and subversive activities” — the Mundt-Nixon Bill — passes in the House by a vote of 319 to 58. The bill, also known as the Internal Security Act, makes it a crime to attempt to establish a totalitarian dictatorship by any means. In effect, this makes the existence of th Communist Party a violation of the law.
June 1948: Washington Witch Hunt by Bert Andrews, decrying the recent abuses of civil liberties by Red hunters, is published by Random House.
June 18, 1948: Kennan’s plans are approved in a secret order from the National Security Council. NSC Directive 10/2 calls for covert operations to attack the Soviets around the world. The strike force Kennan conceives to carry out the secret war is called the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). It’s a cover placed within the CIA. Its chief, though, is to report to the secretaries of defense and state because the director of central intelligence is so weak.
State and Defense differ in their objectives. State wants to carry out “rumor-spreading, bribery, the organization of non-communist fronts.” Forrestal and the Pentagon want “guerilla movements . . . underground armies . . . sabotage and assassination.”
June 23, 1948: At Frank Wisner’s urging, the Western powers institute a new German currency. In immediate response, the Soviets blockade Berlin. The United States mounts an airlift to beat the blockade.
June 28, 1948: Yugoslavia’s Communist Party, under Marshal Tito, is expelled from the Cominform, becoming the first Soviet satellite nation to break free of Moscow’s rule.
June 28, 1948: The total blockade of West Berlin begins. Over the next 11 months, the United States and Britain will airlift food, medicine, and fuel to help maintain the city and the well-being of its occupants.
July 20, 1948: After a 13 month investigation, a New York grand jury returns indictments against 12 members of the National Board of the Communist Party, who are charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States.
July 28, 1948: Elizabeth Bentley, known as the Red Spy Queen, testifies before a Senate subcommittee and, 3 days later, to HUAC. She concedes that she was a courier to a Washington-based Soviet spy ring during the war. She also implicates Whittaker Chambers, the man she replaced.
August 25, 1948: In what has become known as Confrontation Day, Whittaker Chambers testifies before HUAC regarding his earlier acquaintance with Alger Hiss. Hiss looks on.
September 1, 1948: Frank Wisner takes charge of American covert action. His mission is to roll the Soviets back to Russia’s old boundaries and free Europe from Communist control. Covert operations become the agency’s dominant force, remaining so for 20 years.
December 15, 1948: Former State Department official Alger Hiss is indicted on 2 counts of perjury for denying his role in passing classified documents to the Russians. His first trial ends on July 8, 1949 with a hung jury.
Late 1948-Early 1949: Planning begins for Radio Free Europe.
Start of 1949: The CIA lacks the legal authority to carry our covert action against any nation. It has no constitutional charter from Congress and no legally authorized funds for covert missions. When engaging in covert action, the agency is operating outside the laws of the United States.
January 1949: Chinese Communist forces enter Beijing.
January 1949: Allen Dulles presents the results of a top secret investigation into the structural weaknesses of the CIA to President Truman. The report asserts:
the CIA is churning out reams of paper containing few (if any) facts on the communist threat
the agency has no spies among the Soviets and their satellites
the CIA is not yet “an adequate intelligence service” and it will take “years of patient work to do the job” of transforming it.
The report remained classified for 50 years. The implicit argument that the agency needs a bold new leader is disregarded. The National Security Council orders Director Hillenkoetter to implement the report but he never does.
Dulles begins telling his friends in Washington that unless something drastic is done at the CIA, the president faces disaster abroad.
February 1949: Hillenkoetter, the Director of Central Intelligence, meets privately with Carl Vinson, a Georgia Democrat and the chair of the House Armed Services Committee. He warns that Congress must pass formal legislation blessing the CIA and granting it a budget as soon as possible. He argues that the agency needs legal cover. Hillenkoetter submits the Central Intelligence Act of 1949 to Congress for their consideration.
May 12, 1949: The Berlin Blockade is lifted. Great Britain and the US have flown 272,000 missions, airlifting 2,325 million tons of supplies to West Berliners.
May 27, 1949: The CIA Act is rammed through Congress. Congress gives the agency the widest conceivable powers. The act gives the agency the ability to do almost anything it wants as long as Congress provides the money in the annual package. Approval of the secret budget by a small armed services subcommittee was understood to constitute a legal authorization for all secret operations.
A key clause of the 1949 Act allows the CIA to let 100 foreigners a year into the US in the name of national security, granting them “permanent residence without regard to their inadmissibility under the immigration or any other laws.”
By 1949, the US was willing to work with almost anyone against Stalin.
June 13, 1949: The Hollywood Ten, cited for contempt of congress, learn their convictions have been upheld by the US Circuit Court of Appeals. Eight of them serve one year in prison. Herbert Biberman and Edward Dmytryk serve 6 months. Each of the Ten is assessed a fine of $1,000. All are blacklisted upon their release.
July 1949: Under pressure from the army, the CIA takes over the Gehlen Group, an intelligence agency established in June 1946 by US occupation authorities in the United States Zone of Germany
July 1, 1949: Judith Coplon is sentenced to prison on charges of espionage. Judith is an alleged KGB spy whose trials, convictions and successful appeals have a profound influence on espionage prosecutions during the McCarthy era.
July 18, 1949: Baseball star Jackie Robinson testifies before HUAC, addressing the question of whether people of color in the US will be willing to fight against Russia if war is declared. He thinks they will.
August 6, 1949: Secretary of State Dean Acheson announces that the US is withdrawing support of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese government.
August 27, 1949: Famed singer, actor, and Soviet supporter, Paul Robeson, participates in a concert in Peekskill, NY. The music is disrupted when a riot breaks out. Robeson and Pete Seeger, among other stars, return a week later to give a second concert. That one also ends when an ugly riot ensues.
August 29, 1949: Russia detonates its first atomic bomb. Americans don’t learn of this until President Truman announces the fact at a September 23 press conference.
September 1949: An air force crew flying out of Alaska detects traces of radioactivity in the atmosphere.
September 5, 1949: A team of Ukrainian dissidents sponsored by the CIA lands near the city of LVOV in the Ukraine, penetrating the Soviet Union, but “the Soviets quickly eliminated the agents.” Still, the operation sets off a huge wave of enthusiasm at CIA headquarters.
The CIA dispatches dozens of Ukrainian agents by air and land. Almost every one is captured. Soviet intelligence officers use the prisoners to feed back disinformation. Then they kill them.
After 5 years of “abortive missions, CIA discontinued this approach.” In the long run, “the Agency’s effort to penetrate the Iron Curtain using Ukrainian agents was ill-fated and tragic.”
Still, Frank Wisner starts new paramilitary adventures all over Europe.
September 20, 1949: The CIA confidently declares that the Soviet Union won’t produce an atomic weapon for at least another 4 years.
September 21, 1949: The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) is founded.
September 23, 1949: Truman announces to the world that Stalin has the bomb.
September 29, 1949: The CIA’s chief of scientific intelligence reports that his office lacks the talent to track Moscow’s efforts to build weapons of mass destruction. He reports that the agency’s work on Soviet atomic weapons has been an “almost total failure” at every level.
The Pentagon frantically commands the CIA to place its agents in Moscow in order to steal the Red Army’s military plans. Richard Helms reflects: “ the possibility of recruiting and running any such sources was as improbable as placing resident spies on the planet Mars.”
October 1949: Four weeks after the first flight into the Ukraine, Wisner teams up with the British to run rebels into communist Albania, the poorest and most isolated nation in Europe. He sees Albania as fertile ground for a resistance army formed from exiled royalists and impoverished loyalists in Rome and Athens. There are many failed missions. The agents who survive were taken prisoner, and their messages back to the Athens station are controlled by their captors.
The flights go on for 4 years. Roughly 200 of the CIA’s foreign agents die. Almost no one in the American government knows.
October 7, 1949: The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) is formed.
October 14, 1949: Eleven leaders of the American Communist Party are convicted of advocating the violent overthrow of the US government, a violation of the 1940 Smith Act. Their 9 month trial generates 21,157 pages of testimony and costs the government a million dollars to prosecute. The trial is held in NY City under Judge Harold R. Medina. After sentencing the Red Eleven to 5 year prison terms, Medina is celebrated on the cover of Time Magazine (October 24, 1949). Among those who testify: FBI counterspy Herbert A. Philbrick, a Boston-based agent who had spent the last 9 months infiltrating Communist organizations, and Matt Cvetic, whose undercover activities took place in Pittsburg. Their escapades would soon be dramatized in autobiographical books, radio shows, a television series, and a movie.
December 7, 1949: China officially becomes a Communist country after Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist army flee to Formosa (Taiwan), leaving Beijing to the forces of Mao Zedong.
December 18, 1949: Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin meet for the first time — in Moscow. They will meet only once more, on January 22, 1950.
December 18, 1949: Nikita Khruschev relocates from the Ukraine to Moscow, where he is appointed a secretary of the All-Union Central Committee.
Early 1950: Frank Wisner dreams up a new assault on the Iron Curtain under the leadership of Bill Coffin with the support of the Solidarists, a Russian ultra right wing group. The CIA and the Solidarists first smuggle leaflets into Soviet barracks in East Germany. Then they launch balloons bearing thousands of pamphlets. Then they send 4 man parachute missions in unmarked planes flying as far east as the outskirts of Moscow. One by one the Solidarist agents float down to Russia and are captured and killed. The CIA is delivering its agents to the Russian secret police.
During the 1950s, hundreds of the CIA’s foreign agents are sent to their deaths in Russia, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and the Baltic States. No accounts are kept and no penalty is assessed for failure. The missions are seen as a matter of national survival for the United States.
Years later, the CIA learns that the Soviets had known every aspect of the operations from the start. The training camps in Germany had been infiltrated.
Note: After leaving the CIA Coffin becomes known as William Sloane Coffin. He is the chaplain of Yale and one of the most passionate antiwar voices in American during the 1960s. Regarding his years in the CIA, he says: “We were quite naive about the use of American power.”
January 21, 1950: The 2nd trial of Alger Hiss ends when he is convicted of perjury. He is sentenced to 5 years in federal prison.
February 9, 1950: Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin), a former Marine tail-gunner, gives a speech before the Women’s Republican Club of Wheeling, West Virginia. He charges that the State Department “is thoroughly infested with Communists.” He waves a piece of paper that he claims (in some reports) bears the names of 205 employees in the State Department who are either “card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party.” The following day he delivers a similar speech in Salt Lake City, but now the number has been lowered to 57. He later says that this is the number he meant all along.
March 1, 1950: Klaus Fuchs, German-born atomic research physicist who worked at Los Alamos before relocating to England, pleads guilty to violating the Official Secrets Act by giving the Russians atomic secrets. This activity dates back to 1942. He is sentenced to 14 years in prison.
April 10, 1950: The US Supreme Court upholds the power of congressional committees to compel witnesses to state whether or not they are now, or ever have been, Communists.
June 1950: Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television is published by a team of ex-FBI agents who published the newsletter Counterattack. A pamphlet 213 pages long, it lists 151 names, 130 organizations, and 17 publications with suspicious ties to Communist Doctrine.
June 1950: The one true source of intelligence on the Far East from the final days of WWII until the end of 1949 is American signals intelligence. On the eve of the Korean War, William Wolf Weisband, a Soviet spy, penetrates the code breaking nerve center. A linguist who translates broken messages from Russian into English, Weisband was recruited as a spy by Moscow in the 1930s. He single-handedly shatters the ability of the US to read Soviet secret dispatches. The result is the creation of the National Security Agency (NSA), the signals-intelligence service that grows to dwarf the CIA in size and power.
June 25, 1950: The US faces a surprise attack that looks like the start of World War III when the People’s Democratic Republic of North Koreas invades the Republic of South Korea.
The Korean War is the first great test for the CIA. It gives the agency its first real leader: General Walter Bedell Smith. Bedell Smith became the 4th Director of Central Intelligence in 4 years. His task is to learn the secrets of the Kremlin.
In his first days in office, Bedell Smith discovers that Frank Wisner reports to the State Department and the Pentagon, not to the Director of Central Intelligence. In a fit of fury, he informs Wisner (the Chief of Covert Operations) that his freewheeling days are over.
August 1950: Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada sees his Internal Security Act passed into law. It requires any “Communist action” or Communist front” organization to register with the attorney general. The officers of such ‘subversive’ organizations must also register. President Truman is alarmed by the broad powers of the law and calls the bill “unnecessary, ineffective, and dangerous.” His veto is overridden by both Houses of Congress. In effect, this makes the act of registration an admission of guilt in belonging to an illegal organization, while the failure to register is also a crime.
October 11, 1950: President Truman leaves for Wake Island to meet with General Douglas MacArthur. The general hates the CIA and does his best to ban its officers from the Far East. He insists that the communist Chinese would never enter the Korean War. The CIA more or less concurs, assuring Truman that it sees “no convincing indications of an actual Chinese Communist intention to resort to full-scale intervention in Korea . . . barring a Soviet decision for total war.”
Early November 1950: 100,000 Chinese troops attack and almost push the Americans into the sea.
The CIA has misread every global crisis over the past year: the Soviet atom bomb, the Korean War, the Chinese invasion.
December 1950: President Truman declares a national emergency and recalls General Dwight David Eisenhower to active duty.
December 1950: The Senate creates their own version of the McCarran Act, the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Thanks to Red Scared a book by Michael Barson and Steven Heller, for the information presented in this post.
Photograph by SarahTz on Flickr.
Barbara F Johnson says
Great Timeline! Thanks.