Landscapes of Secrecy: The Central Intelligence Agency and the contested record of US foreign policy, 1947-2001.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick


Since 1947, American espionage and covert operations have enjoyed a uniquely high profile. This is partly because of a taste for 'covert' interventions that were often impossible to keep hidden from public view (for example the Bay of Pigs fiasco). Frequent revelations also reflected a written constitution that guaranteed investigative journalists relative immunity. Throughout this period, the US government sought to cope with the appearance of unauthorised accounts of intelligence operations. It developed a forward strategy of 'information management' intended to limit the release of damaging material and to place positive historical information in the public domain. Academics, journalists and many CIA retirees then developed counter-strategies of resistance.

Our project seeks, not only to provide a detailed account this struggle, but also to embed it within the broader history of American foreign policy. It will demonstrate the way in which CIA activity has often been redolent of wider issues. These include a long-standing oscillation between interventionism and isolationism, between presidential leadership and democratic foreign policy, and also between exceptionalism and univeralist approaches to human rights. Public moves by both the President and Congress after 1975 to restrict - and then unleash - the CIA underline its symbolic importance.

The project is organised into three main 'strands'. The first focuses on the struggle over the appearance of the CIA in the State Department's respected series of published historical documents. A high profile battle between academics, the State Department and the CIA prompted legislative intervention by Congress in 1991. Thereafter, the CIA developed its own 'forward strategy' in the field of history, including a large on-site museum.

The second stream constitutes an analysis of the production and role of CIA memoirs by retired CIA officers. More than ninety CIA memoirs have been published. Because of the uneven nature of primary historical documentation concerning the intelligence, memoirs have exercised a disproportionate influence upon the construction of CIA history. Controversially, some retirees published 'renegade' memoirs that were uncensored.

The third stream explores the realm of 'spy-faction', or lightly fictionalized accounts of real events. This popular form of CIA 'history' has achieved a wide reception as the result of transfer to the cinema screen. The CIA now co-operates with film companies to enhance their 'reality' and recently assisted with the film 'The Good Shepherd'.

These three strands have been selected for their importance within the overall construction of American foreign policy. They have also been chosen because pilot projects have identified excellent, and hitherto unused, archival material at the US National Archives as well at other repositories at Texas and Stanford. The chosen subjects also lend themselves well to interview.

The project team represents a multi-disciplinary collaboration between the Universities of Warwick and Nottingham. It comprises academics experienced in the fields of the American studies, diplomatic history and the history of intelligence, together with Cold War literature and film. A balance of senior scholars and younger researchers will combine strong direction with excellent progression opportunities for new entrants.

This is a subject that will interest not only scholars of American foreign policy, but also policy-makers and the general public. Accordingly, the findings will be widely disseminated. There will be four books, seven journal articles and a conference.

Public understanding is important for this project. A web-site will host online documents, articles and advertise the end of project conference. Engagement with the serious press and pod-casting will be a key aspect of dissemination. Three valued American partners and an expert advisory board will ensure balanced output.


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Description All nineteen panels and plenaries were recorded by Backdoor Broadcasting and the conference, including the post-panel discussions, can be 'attended' for free via a dedicated web-site. According to statistics provided by Backdoor Broadcasting Company, this website has received 4.51 million 'hits' since its launch in May 2011. The number of downloads from the website currently stands at 34,800 (July 2013). The intelligence resources pages at Warwick created by Aldrich and Moran have received over 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2011 
Impact This complex online broadcast was intedned to address public engagement and the enhancement of cultural understandings of espionage. It brough in may additional stakeholders and collaborators. As a result, between 2011-12, Chritopher Moran, a member of the team, served as principal historical consultant to the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, working on the exhibition 'Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of James Bond Villains'. The Museum's chartered responsibility is to inform the public abo 
Description In 1979, Ronald Reagan was campaigning for the American presidency. On the electoral platform he promised that if he was elected he would "unleash the CIA" upon America's enemies. This underlines our main finding, namely that the CIA was much more than an intelligence agency, it became symbolic of all that is contested in American foreign policy.

From Christopher Hitchens to Noam Chomsky, no public intellectual has discussed American foreign policy without referencing the CIA. The CIA is symbol for American in the world. It stands for interventionism rather than isolationism. It stands for a secret presidential foreign policy rather than congressional control. Most importantly, it stands for national security imperatives triumphing over democratic core values, including human rights. The CIA is about American in the world.

The main focus of the ongoing project has been struggles over declassification and they way in which the struggle over the historical representation of the CIA has affected the wider view of post-war of American diplomacy. We have explored the public reception of intelligence as a subject through the memoirs, historical declassification, film and fiction. The addition of a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow to the project allowed us to expand out range to address journalism. We have been able to show that, over the last two decades, the history of the CIA itself has constituted something of a Cold War 'battleground'.

A major focus of our project has been the official and unofficial processes through which secret information became public. We have shown that the media had a complex relationship with the CIA. Some journalists acted as outriders, believing it was their patriotic duty to assist the CIA. Other saw themselves as renegades seeking to expose or retard the activities of the CIA. Still others conceived of themselves as overseers, seeking to assist political oversight and accountability. We were surprised to find journalists moving fluidly between these categories.

We have shown that the CIA has itself sought to engage with its own past through publication programmes, and the declassification of significant new sources - including memoirs. We have demonstrated that cautious steps toward greater openness have, paradoxically, generated fresh controversy, since major episodes in the CIA's history remain inaccessible to researchers. Some of America's most prominent historians have engaged in these struggles over declassification. Battles have been fought over the intelligence content of the State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States series of published documents. This troubled declassification process provided a fascinating microcosm of efforts to balance operational secrecy and historical openness within a democratic society.

We would add that development of early career researchers was a key aim of our project. We are happy to report that the two RAs have moved on to distinguished fellowships with British Academy and University of Nottingham, while the project Ph.D. student completed his dissertation on time and was appointed to a permanent lectureship at the University of Hull one month later. The Leverhulme Early Career Fellow now has a permanent academic post at UEA.
Exploitation Route There is considerable scope for policy transfer and 'lessons learned'. Indeed this is under-way as the result of successful bid for follow-on funding.

Clear opportunities for policy transfer arise because American officials have been managing the challenges involved in mediating between openness and secrecy for much longer than in the UK. Officials have expressed interest in the opportunity to examine case studies that capture both successes and failures over several decades. For example: The USA has declassified intelligence records at an earlier stage than the UK and has used adventurous electronic formats to achieve this. The CIA has been an avowed public organization in the USA since 1947, while the equivalent UK agency was not avowed until 1994. The USA opened a press office for foreign intelligence in the late 1970s, while the equivalent UK agency still does not boast a formal press office.

Public understanding and academic understanding were identified as high priorities in this project. Neveertthless, we sought to achieve policy input, typically attracting many officials from government and records advisory groups to our end of project conference.

As a project team we were surprised by the level of interest expressed by practitioners working in the area of information management and corporate memory. To give but two examples, we were called upon to present evidence to the recent Pilling Review on the future of official history. The Cabinet Office Knowledge and Information Management Unit recently invited the PI to join their Consultative Group on Security and Intelligence Records.

There has also been international interest. Three members of the project were invited to provide a panel at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of Security and Intelligence Studies and we have also been invited to The Hague. Practitioners saw value in both workshops and policy briefs that would draw out lessons for government.

Declassification is an especially challenging area for policy-makers. Across Europe, new legal frameworks for intelligence and security that arrived in the 1990s have placed a stronger duty on government in terms of both accountability and public understanding. There is public pressure for declassification of historical records relating to the intelligence and security agencies. Yet at the same time, the growing burden of security issues, especially transnational threats, has placed a greater premium on state secrecy.

Accordingly, we feel there are eight areas where non-academic use can be explored:

a) Improving the public explanation of the role of intelligence and security services

b) Declassifying the historical records of the intelligence and security services

c) Defining the role of intelligence and secret services within official history

d) Managing the challenge of retirees writing memoirs, history and 'faction'

e) Developing public affairs competence for the intelligence and security services

f) Engaging with museums and other areas of cultural production

g) Dealing with the issues of electronic declassification of security records

h) Addressing the challenge of a shift from a 30 year to the 20 year rule

The main policy interest has come from UK government departments that are seeking to promote better public understanding of security and intelligence agencies, or else are managing their records, or are interested in issues of declassification generally. However there is also Third Sector interest from those who are seeking to promote international best practice in this area as part of security sector reform activity.
Sectors Security and Diplomacy

Description Museum exhibition - please other section
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural

Description British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship as mentor for Dr Christopher Moran
Amount £277,724 (GBP)
Funding ID 'Politics, Partnership and Paranoia: Nixon, Kissinger and the US Intelligence Community', 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2011 
End 08/2014
Description Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship as mentor for Dr Kaeten Mistry
Amount £58,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 'Framing Covert Action in US Politics and Cultures', 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2010 
End 04/2012
Title CIA Resources 
Description The Landscapes of Secrecy team have created a number of web-based resources to disseminate data from their project. These are hosted on the project web-page. Typically, there is a remarkable world literature on the CIA, but it is little known. Each region of the world grew its own literature on this subject and this was especially true of the global south, with South Asia and South America producing many books. Between 1953 and 1973 there were somewhere over thirty books with a strong CIA focus 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The main impact has been invitaitons to particpate in other large-scale projects as partners, both nationaly and internationally. 
Description Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) 
Organisation Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces
Department National Intelligence Services
Country Switzerland 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have held a number of workshops in Geneva arranged at DCAF to explore to policy applicaiton of our work. These were attended by Parliamentary oversight bodies that conduct accountablity of their national intelligence services. The purpose was to identify practical prescriptions arising out of our academic work that will improve transparency and audit in the context of democratic machinery. This assited us in preparing for our engagement workshop in Whitehall, Washington and The Hague
Collaborator Contribution DCAF have used members of our team on a number of training course for practitioners, most recently an OSCE funded course for the intellgence community of Kosovo, focusing on the challenge of parliamentary oversight held in Ljubjana. DCAF's partner, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy have invited members of our team to particiapte in six training events for diplomats and military professionals in Geneva DCAF have recerntly commissioned the team to produce is currently "Toolkit 10" which will incorporateadvising on incorporating our findings into theira security reform handbook Overseeing Intelligence Services: A Toolkit, to ameliorate professional practice.
Impact Academic conferences with DCAF to distil policy advice - [multidisciplinary: history, american studies, film. literature, IR] Training events with GCSP in Geneva - [multidisciplinary: history, american studies, film. literature, IR] Training events with DCAF in country - [multidisciplinary: history, american studies, film. literature, IR]
Start Year 2008