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The Army Counter Intelligence Corps: The Original "Men in Black"

By Brad Stockham

With the announcement that U.S. Army Counterintelligence (ACI) Special Agents will once again be apart of a separate element of U.S. Army Military Intelligence--as its own command--it is worthwhile to look back on the history of the last time ACI operated as an independent agency, as the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC).


Officially designated in 1942 at the beginning of World War II, the CIC was a direct evolution of the Corp of Intelligence Police (CIP), formed in 1917 during World War I. At the time of this re-designation, the U.S. government had limited intelligence operations in foreign countries. With this knowledge, and after the intelligence failure that was the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the war, it was recognized that a better-funded, independent intelligence & law enforcement agency was needed to protect U.S. secrets, investigate acts of sabotage & terrorism, and to thwart enemy intelligence networks. It didn't take long to realize that the CIP would be ideal for this, seeing as it already possessed a majority of the required mission-set, so expanding its capabilities would be far easier than creating a new organization from the ground up. The CIP became the CIC, the organization grew in size & scope, and CIC agents received some of the highest level of training the U.S. government could offer--rivaling education only seen in today's elite law enforcement and special operations forces.


Often symbolized simply by their crest of a golden sphinx, CIC agents were crucial to the war effort and to the success of countless operations--ranging from overt to clandestine--much like the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). However, unlike the OSS, many of whose operations are now well-known, CIC operations may not be common knowledge. This appears largely due to the fact that CIC agents truly operated in the shadows, investigating and operating with the greatest level of secrecy -- which continued within the ranks of many CIC personnel long after their service to the country. To this day, the CIC's exploits can only be discovered in a handful of historical texts, and a few non-fiction books, such as "America's Secret Army: The Untold Story of the Counter Intelligence Corps" written by Ian Sayer & Douglas Botting, and "Case by Case: A U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent in World War II" written by Ib Melchior.


Even after WWII, the CIC continued in secrecy, hunting down Nazis at large, assisting the war crimes trials at Nuremberg and Tokyo, transporting German scientists to the U.S. under Operation Paperclip, and covertly running operations against the Soviet Union in the early days of the Cold War. This activity continued until the U.S. Army began trying to consolidate all of its collection disciplines, which ultimately saw the end of the CIC in 1961. However, this was not the end of ACI, as many CIC agents continued in the service, only now under a more broadly focused military intelligence apparatus. While the CIC no longer exists, the historical accounts and personal stories of those agents assigned to it continue to be uncovered as more information is declassified. If one is lucky enough, one may even have heard one of these rare stories from an actual CIC agent, although this is quickly becoming less likely, as those veterans of the greatest generation are becoming more scarce every day.


As Associated Press writer Dana Kennedy wrote in 1989 while reporting on a former CIC agent convention in Boston: CIC has been a largely unknown, secret organization that was involved in the hunt for Japan’s General Tojo, security for D-Day and the Manhattan Project, and also in bringing to justice many Nazi & Japanese war criminals. Even through controversy, CIC agents have been mostly silent on the activities they conducted. Such was the case surrounding the capture of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie in Bolivia and his subsequent extradition to France. Information had publicly leaked that the CIC had used Barbie as a paid informant. Even over forty years later, former CIC agent Jack Brockway would only say on the matter, ″You people forget we were at war... It was kill or be killed. I’m loyal to the United States. We had to pay Barbie; he turned in a bunch of Nazis.″


As noted by several authors and military historians, the CIC was one of the most secretive yet effective organizations during WWII and the early Cold War, maintaining a low-profile in juxtaposition to the OSS and other groups at the time. Could having a more public image have allowed the CIC to endure into the present day? Perhaps. However, it cannot be understated how important the CIC was to the success of the U.S. during WWII, while also being the only intelligence organization to operate abroad after the war during a critical period in history before the CIA was founded. As ACI transitions to an independent law enforcement & intelligence entity in the form of a new command, it is important to remember those veteran agents who got us to this point.

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