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The CIA vs. Hollywood myths

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In conjunction with Hollywood's new thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the Central Intelligence Agency is stepping forward to put distance between itself and the film and dispelling myths about its operations:

MythEveryone at the CIA is a spy.


: The case officers commonly depicted in Hollywood are just one specialized occupation in the CIA. These officers recruit people in foreign countries who have access to valuable information (spies), but the officers themselves are not spies.

To carry out its mission of collecting and analyzing foreign intelligence, the Agency has a diverse workforce that includes analysts, case officers, support staff and technology experts. This breadth of expertise is one of many things that make the CIA unique.

MythThe CIA spies on US citizens.

Reality: The Federal Bureau of Investigation has the lead on intelligence matters in the United States, especially those directed against US citizens. However, the CIA and the FBI work together as needed to protect the interests of US national security. The CIA does not collect information concerning the domestic activities of US citizens, but its foreign intelligence collection mission can be conducted anywhere.

Myth: The CIA is above the law.

Reality: The National Security Act of 1947 and multiple Executive Orders provide the authority for CIA activities. The CIA reports to two Congressional oversight committees, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), which ensure that the Agency operates legally and within the scope of its charter.

In addition, the CIA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) provides independent oversight of the CIA. The OIG performs independent audits, inspections, investigations and reviews of CIA programs and operations.

Myth: The CIA arrests people who break the law.

Reality:  The CIA, unlike the FBI, has no law enforcement authority. The Agency’s mission is foreign intelligence collection and analysis. If you have a law enforcement issue, contact your local police department or the US Department of Justice.

MythThe CIA makes foreign policy.

Reality: The CIA informs foreign policy. It works with other members of the Intelligence Community to produce objective analysis on intelligence issues. The president and policymakers make all US policy decisions, not the CIA.

The CIA’s mission is exciting in its own right, but different from the caricature Hollywood portrays.

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