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The historical experiences of Cuba, Chile, Turkey, and even the Iran Contra affair fueled the discussions over a tighter control exercised over the Agency's structure and strategies. However, the Cold War demanded for secret operations especially taking into account the high degree of uncertainty that characterized the political environment at the time. The ideological confrontation between the West and Communist forces was often defused on the territories of third parties and the advantage of information and influence played a crucial role.
The period following the Watergate scandal weighted heavily on the evolution of the CIA. Richard Nixon, along with his Secretary of State, Kissinger was the proponents of an increased power given to the CIA because the presidential control could thus be exercised without any legislative hindrance from the Congress. The 1971 presidential decision to gather the budgets of all national intelligence services under a single unitary one was just a sign of the attempt to hand over the control of intelligence to the Director of the Intelligence Community who was accountable to the President. However, the failures of the 60s and 70s, along with the scandals that touched on the presidential credibility as a pole of reference for the just morality of the foreign policy conducted from the White House led to the degrees in the authority of the CIA and the increase of the control of the Congress. Therefore, it is fair to say that the actions taken to limit the scope of intelligence operations was one taken as a reacting measure to the events taking place at the time. In this sense, for most of its history the CIA in particular was molded by the effects the historical background had on the evolution of events, and was less the result of pro-active measures or forth-seeing decisions.
The end of the Cold War changed the perspective on intelligence activities in a decisive manner. This was largely due to the fact that the main threat the U.S. had to deal with, the U.S.S.R., no longer represented an issue in the framing of foreign policy. It was even considered at the time that covert operations and espionage actions were dissolute seeing that the main challenge, the red threat, ceased to exist. In this sense, recent articles point out that "The cold war and the Soviet threat generated the rules that historically governed the use of covert action. But the end of the cold war and the dissolution of the Soviet Union have made the need for covert action less demonstrable and should prompt a reexamination of every aspect of these activities."
The 1996 Aspin-Brown Commission on the Role and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community concluded on a series of important issues regarding future activities in the intelligence field. These included the extensive need for the maintenance of intelligence services because the "U.S. intelligence has made, and continues to make, vital contributions to the nation's security, informing its diplomacy and bolstering its defenses." However, the Commission underlined the need for a more coherent policy which would integrate the entire intelligence community resources and foster better cooperation among its members. Even more, covert operations were considered to remain an important tool in foreign affairs in the situations in which the diplomatic means of resolution of conflicts were not available or failed. Finally, concerning the CIA in particular, the Commission considered that a new improved system of recruitment of personnel and staff would increase the efficiency of the Agency and would enable it to better conduct its activities.
Throughout the years the historical background changed and along with it the traditional challenged labeled as threats to the national security of the state. The Oklahoma terrorist attacks, along with the Embassy bombings of Kenya and Tanzania put to the forefront a new type of challenge, terrorism. The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon came as the peak of what would trigger "the fight against terrorism." Unlike the traditional enemies that were visible and identifiable, terrorism is seen as the most difficult to deal with issue from the perspective of the damage it can produce at the level of the national security. In this sense, following 2001, a new Security Strategy was set in place, one that gave the intelligence community an increased role in defending the interests of the American state.
The National Security Strategy of 2002 stressed the importance of the shift from the Cold War approach of deterrence, therefore reacting measures, to preemption, thus underlining the need for preventive measures. In this context, the role of the intelligence Community became even more important because the agencies making up the Community were attributed the task of gathering and dissemination of information related to all matters concerning national and international security to the extent to which these would affect the national interest of the U.S.
The Strategy was further strengthened by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. This piece of legislation appointed the Director of National Intelligence the head of the intelligence Community directly accountable to the Presidential office. This enabled again an increased control of the President over the intelligence community's activities and at the same time offered a more coherent structure of information handling inside the system. The Act led the way to the precise delimitation of the attributions of each of the intelligence services inside the government and underlined the need for cooperation among them. In relation to the CIA, it became an independent body, inside the Intelligence Community, directly accountable to the President. However, there were some changes made in the way the Agency would conduct its activities in the future. In this sense, at this time, the body is considered to be engaged in "collecting intelligence, principally through human means, and providing comprehensive, all-source analysis related to national security topics for national policymakers, defense planners, law enforcement officials, and the military services." Thus, actions conducted on the ground, through surveillance activities and secret missions still represent an important tool in the activities of the CIA; however, the emphasis now lies on a more collaborative attitude towards the rest of the agencies making up the Intelligence Community, such as the one inside the Department of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, inside the Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice with the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
One of the most recent developments concerning the intelligence environment is the Protect America Act of 2007 which offers even more legitimacy to actions related to surveillance activities. The initiative tries to curtail the bureaucratic process of approval of surveillance operations conducted by the secret services. In this sense, a court order is no longer necessary for undergoing secret surveillance operations in foreign countries, should these operations serve the interests of the American national security. Moreover, protection is given to those that cooperate with the American authorities in intelligence gathering related to terrorist activities. This measure is meant to insure an increased cooperation with people holding possible valuable information. It can be said therefore that in this case the actions taken are oriented more towards the possible future developments of the international scene and have a stronger sense of anticipation.
The recent evolution of the legal framework under which the Intelligence Community would conduct its activities can be seen as an important step in identifying and countering the new challenges facing the United States. If in the early stages of the CIA, the focus was to create tools that would deal with the situations resulting from previous developments, at this point the new legislative framework enables the Intelligence Community to act in preventing possible negative developments.
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