Improvising Tradecraft: The Evolving U.S. Intelligence Regime and the Chinese Communist Party in the 1940s Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Castro, Sara
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • The activities of U.S. intelligence officials in China’s Communist base areas in the 1940s reveal that the underdevelopment of the U.S. national security bureaucracy before World War II impeded the ability of accurate and timely intelligence about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to reach U.S. policymakers. Structural deficiencies in U.S. intelligence practices affected U.S. foreign relations, including U.S.-China relations, in ways historians have failed to appreciate. Because widespread anti-Communist sentiment had significant consequences for postwar U.S. strategic behavior, historians of twentieth-century U.S.-China relations have generally assumed anti-Communism was the most important factor shaping U.S. intelligence about the CCP in the 1940s. Actually, inefficiency in the U.S. intelligence process as a result of inexperienced personnel, interagency friction, and abrupt expansion under the Truman administration were equally, if not more, influential on the content of U.S. intelligence on the CCP. American intelligence collection about the CCP in the 1940s, particularly at Yan’an, where the United States maintained a delegation of intelligence personnel known as the “Dixie Mission,” showcases inherent vulnerabilities in U.S. bureaucratic processes. Interagency rivalry, politicization, and logistical challenges regularly influenced the information that U.S. intelligence officers in Yan’an disseminated to policymakers. The activities of the Dixie Mission, from the collection of information in the field to dissemination of reports in Washington D.C., illustrate the extreme malleability of procedural norms for intelligence operations during World War II in the absence of a cohesive U.S. intelligence regime. Based on intelligence successes in the European theater, the National Security Act of 1947 inadvertently preserved problems that U.S. intelligence officials encountered in China in the design of the postwar U.S. national security regime. By illustrating the development of flawed bureaucratic procedures that were built into the postwar U.S. intelligence community, this study has implications for understanding the structural causes of so-called “intelligence failures” that have plagued the U.S. intelligence community since the late 1940s. It also helps correct a Eurocentric bias in the historiography of twentieth-century U.S. national security, which currently lacks empirical studies of intelligence collection in non-Western countries prior to the Cold War.
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  • In Copyright
  • Tsin, Michael
  • Hunt, Michael H.
  • King, Michelle
  • Caddell, Joseph
  • Lee, Wayne
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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