Public Organization Review

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 169–198 | Cite as

How Security Agencies Control Change: Executive Power and the Quest for Autonomy in the FBI and CIA



The US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency gain autonomy when they exercise executive power, performing tasks that are so urgent, secretive, or forceful that they cannot be anticipated by law. The FBI exhibited a clear instance of autonomy when, with a view to its long term responsibilities, it resisted remaking itself as a counterterrorism agency to the degree that politicians requested. The second case, involving the CIA, produced more mixed results. The agency appeared to exhibit autonomy by exercising its powerful security tasks, including control over information and covert operations, and by resisting a consensus for major organizational change. Nevertheless, its large number of administrative and analytical rather than executive tasks prevented the agency from developing the coherent, independent perspective necessary for a high degree of true autonomy.


Intelligence National security Public administration Policy history Autonomy Organizational change 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Public Administration and Policy, School of Public and International AffairsVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA

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