Formed in 1963, the Supreme Headquarters for International Espionage, Law Enforcement Division was the world's first truly international secret intelligence service. A board of directors (including the prominent businessman Howard Stark) acted as an oversight committee, creating and implementing policy, guiding SHIELD's philosophy and goals, while the day-to-day business of running the agency and its field operations was assigned to a public director, who would be the face of SHIELD in the law enforcement and intelligence communities.
Established to counter the technologically advanced, neo-fascist subversive organization HYDRA, SHIELD faced the Hydra threat in a prolonged series of bloody and costly battles, until the enemy leader, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, was presumed dead after he was exposed to the Deathspore Virus and sealed within an atomic reactor in the remains of Hydra's Island base, shortly before its destruction. With the passing of the era of the megalomaniac tyrant, SHIELD's UN charter was revoked and all surviving operatives were debriefed and discharged in 1983.
The United Nations commissioned the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage and Logistics Directorate to face a resurgence of the earlier global terrorists in 1993. The bulk of SHIELD's operations are covert, but a number involve public activities. The organization's policy prohibits it from usurping the role of the nation's armed forces by engaging in warfare on enemy soil. Domestic matters falling under the jurisdiction of the militia are coordinated jointly, with SHIELD generally taking an auxiliary role. All covert operations are automatically SHIELD's province, making unnecessary coordination with the armed forces. Unlike the various national intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, Mossad and M-16, SHIELD is international in membership, scope and jurisdiction. Most of the world's free countries participate in S.H.I.E.L.D. and sanction its activities on their soil.
SHIELD's founders remain anonymous; its advisers include renowned heads of state and corporate leaders. HYDRA assassins killed the organization's first director, whose identity remains classified. His replacement oversaw daily administrative affairs and served as supreme field commander. The organization's Executive Board of Directors, whose seven members maintain their anonymity by communicating with personnel via video screen, determines SHIELD policy and directives.
SHIELD's greatest drawback is that it has become so complex in its organization and vast in its operations that a single person cannot personally oversee all its activities.