Covert Operations and the Emergence of the Modern American Presidency, 1920-1960

Author: Carter, John J.
This study offers a series of vignettes of covert operations undertaken by presidents from Harding to Eisenhower. It explores how the interaction of presidential personalities, their political environments and the evolving American intelligence community combined to shape America’s covert foreign policy agenda. It examines the struggle of American political leaders to reconcile the democratic imperative of government by the people with the political need to pursue certain foreign policy objectives by covert means during the critical period from the end of WWI to the Bay of Pigs.


“As he did in his first volume, Dr. Carter sheds invaluable light on covert operations as little-understood yet profoundly important instruments of American foreign policy, and on the presidents who initiated them. He thereby contributes shrewd insights into all the presidencies of the period covered – not only the more well-known presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower, but the more obscure presidencies of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover as well. Dr. Carter also makes an important contribution to the study of the evolution of the modern presidency as an institution…. His insight is shrewd, sophisticated, and original; other presidential scholars would be wise to include it and expand upon it in their own analyses of the origins of the modern presidency…. Carter takes a rigorous, imaginative, eclectic, interdisciplinary approach combining political science, history, biography, and psychology to develop his arguments. He thereby again produces an exceptionally strong hybrid combing the intellectual rigor of the social sciences with the drama of a well-written narrative history.” – Dr. Malcolm L. Cross, Tarleton State University

“It is an excellent history, but not simply a history; it is a careful analysis of the development and evolution of the office of the modern presidency, and of the particular presidential tenures of the period…. A strength of the particular book, as well as the overall project, is that the information is presented in such a manner that it shows clearly the relationships between the presidents, the growing bureaucracy of the intelligence community, the congress and world borders…. As a former member of the community, I find Dr. Carter’s comments to be fair and accurate. This book will be valuable to members of the community, historians, scholars concerned with the American Presidency, and even to lay persons…. An excellent and well documented history as well as clear analysis of the forces and individuals involved.” – Dr. O. A. Robinson, Central Methodist College

“Dr. Carter has not only provided an excellent sequel to his previous work… but has produced an important reference point for researchers and historians to examine the drastic failure of U. S. intelligence on September 11, 2001. This failure has its roots in the conflict between William Donovan, the director of the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This foremost and ultimately disastrous interagency conflict, along with other minor schisms between the two agencies and military intelligence, are fully explained in Chapter 6 and serves as an important contribution to the study of modern intelligence. In addition, Dr. Carter provides a unique insight into the past use of intelligence tradecraft that emblazons modern new headlines…. The current literature on intelligence lacks the level of scholarly research provided by Dr. Carter…. Carter’s two works on the history of U. S. Intelligence are splendid contributions to the study of modern intelligence and they both belong on the bookshelves of any professional or amateur research of intelligence history.” – Wayne Madsen

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Part I: Foreign Policy in the Shadows
1. Covert Operations as a Tool of Presidential Foreign Policy
2. Covert Operations and the American Presidency
Part II: The Presidency in Retreat
3. Covert Operations in the Harding Administration
4. Calvin Coolidge and the Hands-Off Presidency
5. The Hoover Administration Expands Domestic Covert Operations
Part III: The Rise of the Imperial Presidency and the Resurgence of Covert Action
6. The Presidency Refurbished (Roosevelt)
7. Knowing Your Friends
8. Targeting the Axis
Part IV: Covert Operations in the Early Cold War
9. Truman Reorganizes for a Troubled Peace
10. Covert Action and the Truman Doctrine
11. Covert Aerial Operations by the Truman Administration
Part V: Covert Operation of the Eisenhower Administration
12. The Struggle for Control of Covert Operations
13. Covert Aerial Operations by the Eisenhower Administration
14. Covert Paramilitary Operations by the Eisenhower Administration
15. Conclusions
Bibliography; Index