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A Kid's Guidebook on the CIA

April 21, 2010 Lowell Bradford Blog, News & Articles 0 Comments


The Central Intelligence Agency, CIA for short, is a U.S. government agency that provides intelligence information to policy makers, including the President, to help them make decisions about national security issues. The CIA also conducts covert or secret missions at the direction of the President, who is the only person who can request such activities.

The CIA was created on September 18, 1947, by provisions of the National Security Act of 1947, which President Harry S. Truman signed in July of that year. The Act was intended to establish a centralized organization that would coordinate the country's intelligence collection activities and pull together important information that might affect the security of the United States, evaluate it and distribute it to people whose job is to make decisions to keep America safe.


This question is not easy to answer and, depending on who you ask, you may get different answers. But most people agree that intelligence is information needed by our nation's leaders, also known as policy makers, to keep our country safe.

Policy makers, like the President, do not have time to read all the other countries' newspapers . . . there are just too many of them. Also, there is information that other countries will not share with the United States, called secrets. All this information is very important to our nation's leaders.
The intelligence puzzle begins when the President, National Security Council or Cabinet members have questions that need answering. Just as there are different types and sizes of puzzles, there are different categories of intelligence:

  • Current Intelligence looks at day-to-day events.
  • Estimative Intelligence looks at what might be or what might happen.
  • Warning Intelligence gives notice to our policy makers that something urgent might happen that may require their immediate attention.
  • Research Intelligence is an in-depth study of an issue.
  • Scientific and technical intelligence is information on foreign technologies.

Once a question is asked and we determine what type of "puzzle" it is, we then set out to solve it for the policy maker. The answers to these questions is intelligence.

  • About the CIA: Find out about the Central Intelligence Agency and its history. Click on K-5th Grade for younger kids.
  • Interview with an Agent: Learn about the work of a CIA agent in this Amazing Kids! interview.
  • National Security Council: Archived White House website that has an extensive history of the National Security Council, from 1947 to 1997. Included is information about important security-related events in each presidential administration from President Truman to President Clinton.
  • The President & National Security: A concise overview of the current relationship of the President to national security, with a bit of history.
  • National Security & the State Department: How the National Security Act of 1947 affected the Department of State.
  • U.S. Intelligence Community: Loyola University site with links to the different United States government departments related to intelligence.


Every government agency has a seal that represents who they are and what they do. The Central Intelligence Agency has a seal that tells who we are, what we stand for, and that we are an agency of the United States of America. On February 17, 1950, President Harry Truman approved this as the official CIA seal.

  • World Factbook History: Explains how important the CIA's World Factbook came to be. The information from the Factbook is available online so kids and adults can get the facts about the countries of the world.
  • CIA Seal Established: Executive Order 10111 that established the Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency.
  • CIA Seal Picture: Mouse over this image of the CIA seal, to learn about each part of the emblem.


To know where you're going, you have to know where you came from and where you've been. The history of intelligence dates back to early times and offers a treasure trove of stories, people, and events. Read about some famous and a few not so famous people and the role they played in the history of intelligence.

James Armistead Lafayette

I was born James Armistead. Out of admiration for General Lafayette, I adopted his name. Although I'm not as famous as others, I'm proud of my role in American history. When Americans were fighting for independence from England, I was a slave in Virginia. When they say spies come from the most unlikely places, they are right. I got permission to join General Lafayette at Yorktown. I had a feeling Yorktown was going to be important to the war, a turning point or an ending.

  • Armistead: How he became a spy, includes the relationship between James Armistead and General Lafayette.

Morris "Moe" Berg

Intelligence officer, linguist, lawyer, and baseball player? OK, maybe my credentials list isn't as long as Benjamin Franklin's, but you have to admit it's full of variety! I was born in New York City on March 2, 1902, and I was fortunate enough to grow up and do two things in life I really enjoyed, playing baseball and being an intelligence officer! I majored in modern languages at Princeton University, where I played on a championship baseball team. I graduated in 1923 and got to play professionally for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a first baseman. Later, while I was attending Columbia Law School, I joined the Chicago White Sox as a catcher. You might ask, "how could he do both at the same time?" Well, it was tough, but then they didn't call me the "brainiest man in baseball" for nothing! I think if you enjoy what you do and you work hard at it, you can do anything.

  • Berg: All about this mysterious man of baseball and how he became a spy.

George Herbert Walker Bush

During my career, I have had the rare opportunity to serve on both sides of the coin in the intelligence cycle--producer and consumer. As the Director of Central Intelligence, I advised the President and the National Security Council on foreign intelligence matters, and I have been recipient of that intelligence as President of the United States!

I was born in Milton, Massachusetts, and when World War II broke out, I joined the Navy and became a Naval aviator. It was tough and risky business flying off aircraft carriers during the war. I think it strengthened my ability to meet the challenges that lay ahead. I was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals. I was discharged with the rank of lieutenant (junior grade). I went to Yale University, graduated in 1948, and eventually started (with a partner) an oil company, Zapata Petroleum Corporation. I was director and later president of the Zapata Off Shore Corporation.

Gen. William "Wild Bill" Donovan

They might call George Washington "the First DCI," but they refer to me as "the Father of American Intelligence." Now why do historians call me that? Well, it's because I started the Office of Strategic Service which was the CIA's predecessor. It was the first time this country had a centralized agency to collect foreign intelligence and conduct covert action in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. What with being a lawyer, a diplomat, public official, and army officer, I'd say that I've had a pretty full life for a boy born New Year's Day 1883, in Buffalo, New York.

I wanted to be a lawyer and pursued my goal, graduating from Columbia University in 1905 and Columbia Law School in 1907. I came back to Buffalo to practice law, but I was restless--I wanted more excitement and the chance to serve my country. In 1912 I formed my own cavalry troop and fought in Mexican border skirmishes. When World War I came, I was there with the US Army's 165th Infantry in France. I was wounded three times during that war and was awarded many medals, including the Medal of Honor, for my service. I was a colonel when discharged.

  • Donovan: Lots of information about the “father of American intelligence”.

Benjamin Franklin

Inventor, writer, publisher, diplomat, statesman and . . . spy! Although many people can list most of my accomplishments, few know that "spy" was among them. I was born in Boston in 1706 and, like George Washington, had little formal education. But I was curious about the world around me, so I taught myself what I wanted to learn. That included many subjects, all of which would come in handy later on for what I consider one of my most important contributions, serving in the Second Continental Congress. I was on many committees in that Congress; the three most important ones drafted the Declaration of Independence, handled secret correspondence, and secretly obtained military supplies for the Revolution.

  • Franklin: Colonial Williamsburg website offers a lot of information about intelligence operations during the time of the American Revolution, including the part Benjamin Franklin played.

Nathan Hale

Some say intelligence gatherers or spies come from the most unlikely backgrounds, and I guess that applies to me. Throughout history you will see men and women from many backgrounds step forward to serve their country in this particular way, and I was no exception.

I was born June 6, 1755, in Coventry, Connecticut, to a family with 12 children! I was good at athletics and scholarship, and I entered Yale at 14 with the intent of being a schoolteacher. I graduated in 1773 and taught school for two years, but a greater calling then took me elsewhere. On July 6, 1775, I was commissioned a lieutenant in the Seventh Connecticut militia and later joined the Continental Army in the Nineteenth Continental Regiment and was stationed in Boston.

  • Hale: Learn how Nathan Hale, a regular citizen, became a hero.

Virginia Hall

Some have known me as "Marie Monin," "Germaine," "Diane," "Camille," and even "Nicolas" while I served as an intelligence agent during World War II, but you can call me Virginia. I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 6, 1906, and I always had a love of languages. Little did I know my interest would lead me to faraway lands and grand adventures. I studied languages at Radcliffe, then Barnard College during 1924-26, finishing my studies in Paris and Vienna. I came home in 1929 to study French and economics at George Washington University, my sights set on a career in the US Foreign Service.

  • Hall: The story of the "Limping Lady" and how she became a spy.

Harry S Truman

When I was a farmer and later a shopkeeper, little did I know that I would become President of the United States and that one of the things I would be remembered for would be establishing an intelligence agency. You just never know in this country, and I guess that's what makes it such a special place. I was born in Lamar, Missouri, in 1884. Like a lot of the other people you've been reading about in this history section, I didn't have much fancy education. I grew up on a farm and, outside of all the reading I did, that was the only world I knew. Fighting in World War I helped prepare me for the different battles I would face later in life.

  • President Truman: Site that explains the legacy of the president who established the CIA and left his stamp on the country and the world.

George Washington

People in the intelligence world have called me "the First DCI" (Director of Central Intelligence). I was born in Virginia on February 22, 1732. I had little formal schooling, but I had a desire to learn so I studied numerous subjects. It was hard, but I knew I had to do it.

My first job was as a surveyor in Culpeper County, Virginia. As an officer in the British Army during the French and Indian War, I began my espionage career as a military spy for the British. I had firsthand experience with what happens when intelligence fails. In 1755, at age 21, I was almost killed in the massacre of General Braddock's troops.

Later, while serving in the House of Burgesses in Virginia, I realized that our country needed its independence. So I sided with the Patriots that were beginning to organize. My experience as an officer during the French and Indian War came in handy when I was selected in June 1775 as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. I knew our army was going to need more than a leader, it was going to need good military intelligence in order to defeat the British Army, which was larger and better equipped than our own.

  • President Washington: Timeline that includes information about his role in intelligence. See the Ben Franklin link above, this website also includes lots of information on President Washington.


355? Don't I have a name? Well, heavens yes, but because of my work I can never be identified even to this day. This is a way of life for many people in the espionage profession. I guess you could say I was one of the first women to serve as an undercover operations officer--a hidden Daughter of the American Revolution!

I was a member of the famous Culper Ring, a secret intelligence network based around New York City and Long Island during the American Revolution. Major Benjamin Tallmadge formed this group as a way to supply General Washington with military intelligence on the British forces led by General Henry Clinton that occupied New York City.

  • 335 Biography: An overview of the work of the spy from National Women's History Museum.


This bibliography provides a wide spectrum of views on intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency. The readings cover history, technology, and opinion, and also tell about some of the key personalities associated with intelligence. The list offers the reader a variety of perspectives in order to better understand intelligence, its role in national security, and the forces that have shaped it over the years. This is not intended to be a complete list of works on intelligence, nor does inclusion of a work imply endorsement by the US Government.

  • Factbook on Intelligence
  • Intelligence in the War for Independence
  • Spies of the Revolution
  • Confederate Spy Stories
  • The U.S. Frogmen of World War II
  • The Central Intelligence Agency
  • The First Book of Codes and Ciphers
  • The Magnet Book of Spies and Spying
  • Spies
  • How to Keep a Secret: Writing Talking in Code
  • Espionage
  • Covert Action
  • Women in Espionage: a Biographical Dictionary
  • All About Ciphers
  • How Spies Work
  • Famous Spies
  • Secret Messages, How to Read and Write Them
  • The Spy's Guidebook
  • The Know-how Book of Spycraft
  • The Ultimate Spy Book
  • Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage
  • The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg
  • The Encyclopedia of American Intelligence and Espionage
  • Women in Espionage - A Biographical Dictionary


  • Spy Training: Spy X Spy Academy and Training for kids.
  • Codebreaker: Use the Codebreaker to solve mysteries and play games.
  • Undercover Agent: Creating disguises for undercover work.
  • Secrets of the Spies: All about spying with a timeline and list of espionage terminology.
  • CryptoKids: Learn ciphers and codes, along with lots of other games and activities.
  • Top Secret: Secret messages of all kinds can be found here.
  • Terry & Friends: Learn about geospatial intelligence and play Image Ace!
  • National Reconnaissance: Join Ollie to play games and learn all about spying and satellites.
  • CIA Games: Puzzles, word-finds, code-breakers, world exploration and analysis challenges from the CIA.
  • GeoSpy: Agents-in-training take on more world exploration with the GeoSpy Agency.
  • Virtual Tour: Interactive tour of Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters, includes a gallery of the CIA directors.
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