The Central Intelligence Agency... The Agency.
After World War II, the OSS was disbanded. With the onset of the Cold War, it was decided that a new intelligence agency was needed. The name "Central" reflects that it was originally supposed to be a clearinghouse among various other agencies. However, it became effectively a new OSS and acquired many veterans from that previous service. Originally the agency hired people from Ivy League agencies with agents that had a Foreign Culture Fetish for England. They dressed, talked, and acted like the English. In this period of desk gathering intelligence, the pipe-smoking professor was seen as the ideal agent.
The CIA has been controversial, having at times been accused of incompetence, immoral actions, or both. Notably, the Church Committee hearings of 1975 revealed a long history of abuses, from domestic espionage to assassination plots against foreign leaders, which cemented its often-negative portrayal in the media - later scandals like Iran-Contra and its failure to predict either the fall of the Soviet Union or the 9/11 terror attacks did nothing to assuage this. In some fictional portrayals, they are often regarded as being The Men in Black or an omnipotent "secret government" that pulls the strings on American foreign policy behind the senes. This portrayal is undoubtedly an exaggeration, as if the CIA was really that skillful, we might ask why it took us so long to win the Cold War. Of course, maybe that's what they wanted.
Nonetheless, the CIA has had its successes. For instance, a large part of the reason for the United States succeeding in the gigantic Death Glare contest during the Cuban Missile Crises was that America had a mole telling the U.S. government that the Soviets had less capacity than they claimed. Then again, said mole, Oleg Penkovsky, was later ratted out and executednote , and was first discovered and contacted by MI6.
The typical depiction of the CIA in both fiction and the more speculative forms of conspiracy theory, usually portrays them as being somewhere between spies and assassins, as well as at times being allegedly responsible for the overthrow of foreign governments, democratic or not, in the name of American interests.note Liam Neeson's portrayal of a possible former CIA man in Taken is very standard, as is Harrison Ford's portrayal in Patriot Games. The Agency's adventures in Nicaragua, among other places, can also make for particularly interesting reading; as can Peter Joseph's interview with John Perkins. It is at times implied that they are additionally a research organization of sorts, with an interest in experimental tactics that would usually be considered impossible by the mainstream public. (Such as MK-Ultra, the Psychic Warrior program(s), etc) The CIA, or at least many of its personnel, is also usually depicted as having a severe case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, with agents and administrators constantly betraying each other for various reasons, both good and bad.note This of course means agents have to live with the constant fear of betrayal.
Although it says "The Agency" up top here, actual CIA employees (and those in the know) tend to call it "The Company"; calling it "The Agency" is acceptable, but calling it "The CIA" in anything except perhaps first reference is considered incorrect. Other federal government types might call it the "Other Government Agencies" (OGA), typically when its involvement in something or other is an open secret. In exceptionally double-cross-intensive stories you might see "The Company" and "The Agency" used to represent different factions of the CIA. "Langley"note is another informal name that shows up often, because the CIA is headquartered in Langley, Virginia, just a few miles west of Washington, D.C.. Another colloquial name that often comes up is "The Farm", used for the covert training facility at Camp Peary.
When they appear in fiction alongside the FBI, America's other famous intelligence agency, the CIA Evil, FBI Good trope often comes into play, although the reverse (FBI Evil, CIA Good) is not unheard of.
A lot of fiction has references to the CIA. Here are just some:
- One of the main employers of Golgo 13.
- Appears in Case Closed investigating the Black Organization.
- Eda from Black Lagoon is secretly a CIA agent.
- Jormungand prominently features the CIA, especially in the latter half of the series. It tends to play up the negative associations and clichés of the agency, with some operatives being manipulative, sadistic and jingoistic, though most factions presented in the story are little better. The CIA may oppose our heroes, but in this case those are greedy arms dealers and dangerous mercenaries.
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the American Empire has an identical espionage agency also called the CIA that fits all the tropes. They are most prominently featured in the episode "A Perfect Day for a Jungle Cruise", assisting Section 9 in tracking a serial killer. Turns out they trained him for use in a Phoenix Program-style operation in Latin America and are only co-operating with Section 9 in the hopes they would kill him and they could cover it all up. They don't.
- The Punisher Presents Barracuda miniseries has several covert ops agents meeting to discuss Barracuda's actions. The CIA agents are actually represented as competent, if somewhat fixed in the past, especially compared to the NSA guy, who's a moronic Armchair General.
- The CIA created The Boys to monitor superheroes, and eliminate those who have gone rogue.
- Fire, an early graphic novel by Brian Michael Bendis, sits firmly on the "never trust the CIA" side of the fence.
- Charlie Wilson's War: Although Gust insists he works for the Department of Agriculture.
- The Good Shepherd chronicles the transition from the OSS to the CIA.
- The Recruit: The entire film is about the recruitment and training of a new CIA operative, seen alongside a group of other potential candidates. Just based on that premise it has plenty of twist and turns as you are never sure if you can trust the scenario you are given.
- Burn After Reading: A farce by the Coen Brothers. The CIA here isn't exactly portrayed as inept, but they have no idea what's going on. Justified in the fact that there really was nothing going on in the first place.CIA Superior: Report back to me when ... I don't know ... when it makes sense.
- Three Days of the Condor: Mild-mannered researcher Joe Turner (Robert Redford) works for the CIA reading book after book to review their plots to see if they either contain elements that may be similar to ongoing covert operations or else be useful ideas for the CIA to employ.
- Argo is a drama/thriller directed by Ben Affleck and focused on a fictionalized account of a CIA operation in 1979 to extract six employees during the height of the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
- In Mission: Impossible Film Series, the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) is an unofficial branch of the CIA. Vanessa Redgrave even says "Are you another Company man?" to Tom Cruise.
- The Company Man is about a man who pretends to be a CIA agent to gain the respect of his in-laws. But a high-profile Soviet dancer decides to defect and approaches the the man believing his lies. The CIA actually make him an agent just so they can get the credit and send him somewhere quiet...Cuba.
- In American Ultra, just about every government-related character is CIA (except for the military troops). The titular program was a CIA experiment to create Super Soldier field agents. There are even a few scenes set at the headquarters in Langley.
- The CIA are Jack McClane's employers in A Good Day to Die Hard.
- The main guys in Central Intelligence quite obviously work for the agency.
- The Blackford Oakes series by William F. Buckley is a series of tales about the adventures of the CIA operative Blackford Oakes.
- Much of Tom Clancy's work, particularly the Jack Ryan series.
- In The Bourne Series, the agency is what created and ran the program that made Jason Bourne into what he is.
- The Assignment series (every book has the word assignment in the title), features CIA agent Sam Durell.
- Alias begins with main character Sydney Bristow recruited by the CIA and and assigned to a black ops unit called SD-6. Except that SD-6 isn't actually part of the CIA at all, it's a cell of a powerful terrorist group that tricks its own agents into thinking they're CIA. Sydney discovers this and is recruited as an agent of the real CIA, tasked with taking down SD-6.
- Burn Notice
- Main character Michael Westen himself was a CIA agent, considering remarks made in the pilot he was under unofficial cover until he was burned. The titular "burn notice" is a document sent out to intelligence agencies that an agent is unreliable or even traitorous. The show has a retired CIA agent Michael Wilson as a consultant.
- Season 5 has Michel working with the CIA again after providing ironclad evidence of the organization that burned him existing and assisting in dismantling it. Thus after 4 seasons of helping random people around Miami you see Michael and crew actually participate in matters of government security.
- The Company, a mini-series that tracks the career of an intelligence officer as the CIA and KGB repeatedly clash throughout the Cold War.
- Covert Affairs: Actually set at a rather fictionalized version of the CIA.
- Homeland: The main character is a CIA agent and intelligence and counter-terrorism is the main focus of the series.
- Castle and Kate got tangled with the CIA, who shanghaied them to help them with a case of theirs which could trigger world war III.
- One episode of Deadliest Warrior featured CIA agents versus those of the KGB.
- On Person of Interest, Reese was a CIA assassin; a couple of his old coworkers were recurring antagonists in the first two seasons.
- M*A*S*H dealt with CIA interference a few times. The first was when an unexploded bomb landed in the main compound and the Navy commander helping disarm it identified it as "one of theirs". It was actually a propaganda bomb filled with leaflets encouraging North Korea's surrender. CIA agent Col. Flagg was also a recurring antagonist in later seasons, sneaking into the camp for a number of anti-Communist witch hunts the staff blew off as frivolous at best.
- The CIA plays a key role in Narcos, often becoming a rival of the DEA due to its own agenda, more concerned with the poltical side of the conflict in Colombia than with law enforcement.
- The CIA frequently appears in Delta Green. Due the secretive nature and conspiratorial nature of the eponomyous organization and the vast resources and know-how, Delta Green recruits a lot of CIA agents. CIA Player Characters are from a vast range of professions, ranging from Intelligence Analysts, Case Officers, Clandestine agents, SAD/SOG and SAD/PAG operators.
- One of various factions described in the d20 Modern Menace Manual. They obviously are no saints, but it's up to the Game Master whether or not they are flat-out evil.
- Call of Duty
- They get a mention in Alpha Protocol, though the main group is a Government Agency of Fiction.
- The CIA is heavily featured in the Big Boss prequels of the Metal Gear series.
- Rico in the Just Cause series is a CIA operative who overthrows anti-American regimes. In the first game, he uses drug lords to help overthrow a Caribbean nation. In the second game, he enlists the help of Dirty Communists, The Mafia, and a brutal ethnic gang to overthrow the local dictator of a South East Asian Island called Panau, which amusingly has a large reserve of oil.
- One of the factions in Spec Ops: The Line, playing an Agent Provocateur role.
- Julia reveals herself to be an agent for the CIA about halfway through Aconcagua.
- Phantom Doctrine is a Cold War / Spy Fiction game set in 1983, and one of its campaigns features a CIA operative codenamed "Deadpan" as the player's avatar.