Does everything you know about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) come straight from the movies? If so, you're not alone -- many Americans don't realize exactly what the CIA does. The CIA's job is to collect, analyze and distribute information gathered about foreign governments and groups [source: CIA]. Don't worry about being spied on personally, because CIA officers don't seek intelligence regarding Americans in America -- at least not legally.
In addition, the president may request that the CIA engage in clandestine action in foreign countries, such as providing weapons or training to groups that the U.S. supports. In performing these tasks, the CIA provides intelligence that informs the president and other policymakers in their decisions about national security and international relations. The CIA doesn't determine policy, although its staff can advise on such decisions.
Four teams work together to make up the CIA:
- The National Clandestine Service (NCS) is made up of CIA "spies" who gather information in foreign countries. They often pose as employees of U.S. government agencies or various corporations, and not even their families know what they're really doing. NCS operatives may recruit local agents to pass information to them.
- The Directorate of Science and Technology (DST) collects overt intelligence, particularly from the media of other countries. Additionally, this team uses satellite and electronic photographs to pinpoint places and activities.
- The Directorate of Intelligence synthesizes information from the NCS and DST and writes reports on the findings.
- The Directorate of Support includes all the people who help the other directorates function. These employees range from finance and personnel officers to specialists in a variety of fields who can help understand the intelligence gathered [source: CIA].
Overall, the CIA's main aim today is to protect the United States, its citizens and its interests from terrorist threats.
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