Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
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With shocking revelations that made headlines in papers across the country, Pulitzer-Prize-winner Tim Weiner gets at the truth behind the CIA and uncovers here why nearly every CIA Director has left the agency in worse shape than when he found it; and how these profound failures jeopardize our national security.

Customer Reviews:

  • Defective Perspective
    The CIA serves the President through the NSC - National Security Council. It does not invent its own action agenda. Its shortcomings are those of the administrations it serves and their conflicted political and economic agendas. The present administration's antagonism to the CIA and attempts to blame it for its own failures suggests that it is one of the few governmental organizations it fears.
    This book with its pretentious title, "The History ... ", begins by glossing over the founding of the agency. Take a look at "Desperate Deception" by Thomas Mahl for better perspective....more info
  • A competent, objective historian will make the facts here a better history
    Some day a competent, objective historian will take the results of Tim Weiner's meticulous and thorough research and turn it into a genuine history. As it stands, Weiner has turned out not so much a history as a tabloid style expose of the CIA laced with overwhelming evidence of a bad case of Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS).

    Weiner really did a bang-up job of research. There are no heroes in this book. In Weiner's view, virtually every director of the CIA was an incompetent buffoon. But so was almost every other employee of the CIA many of whom, according to Weiner were not only incompetent, but alcoholics, psychotics and more. The United States is an evil empire supporting evil people. It becomes wearisome after a while, since Weiner never allows for the fact that many of these people may have acted out of patriotic motives and love of nation. But Weiner seems to have an animus toward the United States, a not at all uncommon attitude among those who work for the New York Times.

    Much to my surprise, Weiner castigates all those who were President during the existence of the CIA. Shockingly he even tells the truth about the Cuban Missile Crisis, confirming what many knew of the myth about Kennedy. He also details the determination of the brothers Kennedy to assassinate Fidel Castro and their utter disregard of the Constitution.

    In sum, Weiner does a good job of cataloging the CIA's failures over the past 60 or so years - and it is a very long list. He also details the dishonesty of many at the CIA who lied to Presidents. Congress also comes in for criticism for failing to exercise oversight of the CIA.

    What mars the book are a typical left-wing slant: the United States is always the bad guy. Weiner, for example, is almost a cheerleader for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, never once mentioning their depredations against the people of South Vietnam. But he whines about the way Communists were treated. Weiner has apparently never met a terrorist movement he didn't like or perhaps even admire. Weiner also has a really bad case of BSD. He invokes George W. Bush throughout the book, which is rather silly because Bush obviously had nothing whatsoever to do with the CIA for most of his life. But Weiner seems to want to make sure the reader understand that he is a card-carrying member of the "Bush haters" club. It's really weird. He also buys into and propagates numerous left-wing canards, such as the Supreme Court "declaring" Bush the victor of the 2000 Presidential election. The Supreme Court actually told the Florida Supreme Court that any recount had to cover all of the state's counties and not just the four that Gore wanted. Big difference that Weiner ignores. There are many other such falsehoods in the book as well, which act as distractions.

    Overall, if you know your history well and can navigate Weiner's political biases and falsehoods, this is a pretty good history. As noted, Weiner is a skilled researcher and he has done well.

    But someday I hope to read a history of the CIA that very well might incorporate some of what Weiner has found in the archives, but spare the reader Weiner's relentless negativism toward the United States, his penchant for left-wing bromides and his willingness to engage in falsehoods.

    Jerry...more info
  • Savage indictment of CIA incompetence
    This is a gripping -- and incidentally most amusing -- compilation of the greatest mistakes made by the CIA, which (if you believe the author) is an organisation that sucks up billions of dollars a year and is almost totally useless. Virtually everything the CIA touched turned into a disaster and its much vaunted analysts missed many historic and important developments. I gave this four stars rather than five because (a) I can't believe there weren't at least some successes along the way and (b) the author keeps telling us that whenever a new director took over, he had to deal with the fact that all the top talents had left. By rights this means that these days the CIA is staffed only by people who can barely tie their shoes. I'm not sure I quite believe that is the case....more info
  • Liberal Junk
    I was looking for an accurate history of the CIA. What I read was liberal propaganda. Most everything written is negative in this book, which indicates immediately a strong bias.

    I don't recommend this book at all....more info
  • A Valuable Piece Of Scholarship.
    Tim Weiner's "Legacy Of Ashes" is a valuable work of scholarship that dives into the complex history of the CIA and in the process also gives us a valuable set of histories of our country and its role in the world. Some have accused Weiner of being "biased" or promoting some sort of "liberal agenda," this is far from the truth, Weiner is simply processing and creating a narrative culled from thousands of declassified documents and known facts. This is not the latest work from Al Franken or Keith Olbermann, this is a historical document. The reactions a few right-wing reviewers have posted on this page says more about them than about Weiner's work.

    Weiner starts from the top, from the early days following World War II when President Truman replaced the OSS with the CIA which he at the time considered to be a more efficient, precise, official form of "newspaper" for the commander and chief to consult to be aware of the state of the world. However it didn't turn out this way, as the history progresses we see how the agency turned more into some sort of militant force that was eventually used more for the purpose of influencing or altering history instead of recording it. In clear, fluid detail, Weiner documents the first laboratories for covert operations that the CIA used, mainly Iran and Guatemala. In Iran the CIA helped the British overthrow the elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh because his nationalization of the country's oil was seen as a grave nationalist threat, the Shah was then re-installed and given military aid for decades. Latin America followed with a coup against the elected government Jacobo Arbenz, who challenged foreign corporate dominance of his country and paid for it with his presidency which was replaced by a brutal military junta. This was only the beginning however, of a longer, sadder story that would extend into countries like Vietnam, Chile and Greece.

    "Legacy Of Ashes" has supposedly made headlines with some stunning revelations found in the new documents, but some the histories explored here are already well-known, such as the CIA-backed coup against the elected Allende government in Chile or the botched Bay Of Pigs invasion. What Weiner does so well is put these and lesser-known events in a greater context, he details how ignorance and arrogance have created an intelligence community that puts our security at greater risk. He provides a record of lying and plotting that is a peek into the dark corners of government. Consider the sections on Iran where we learn the CIA had a four-man, FOUR-MAN team in Tehran at the time of the Islamic Revolution, with none of them even speaking Farsi. It turns out CIA operatives failed to foresee the revolution because they were too busy dining with the Shah, the same as in Cuba where CIA agents miscalculated Fidel Castro's popularity because they spent more time indulging in the Batista regime's decadence than actually gathering solid intel on Cuban life, the status of the country and what led to the rise of Castro. This of course then led to lying and deception that guided the U.S. into the disastrous idea of launching an invasion on Cuba at the Bay Of Pigs.

    Other revelations in the book are more insideous and intriguing such as the possible connection between the Kennedy White House and the assassination of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, the assassination of president Diem in Vietnam and the many unanswered questions surrounding JFK's own murder, the investigation becoming a further mess because director Richard Helms wanted to keep CIA covert ops in areas such as Cuba away from the public eye. There are also fascinating, disturbing moments of lesser-known history like Richard Nixon receiving thank you funds from the fascist Greek junta the U.S. helped install in 1967.

    Weiner goes on the cover some of the CIA's most notorious scandals like Iran-Contra and more importantly, recent intelligence failures that could have contributed to 9/11. "Legacy Of Ashes" covers all this and more in an accessible, very readable and clear style where Weiner compiles a massive amount of information, facts, figures, events, names and dates but never confuses the reader and never muddles the presentation. This is one of the best recent works on the workings of American government and the best book available on the workings of the CIA. Weiner never takes a sensationalist tone and is very professional and objective, he is simply presenting the information as it is and draws conclusions and observations from hard facts, there is never a sense of Weiner theorizing or jumping into unknown territories. Anyone who takes the time to process the information can see clearly why Weiner comes to certain conclusions as to the status of American intelligence services.

    "Legacy Of Ashes" is a great record of some 50 years of American history, this is the kind of book Americans should be looking into to understand our past and to better understand where we are now. And Weiner presents it in a way where the average reader can indulge and come away better informed and aware. Reading this you realize the works of authors like Newt Gingrich are just political junk food, here is a vital, important resource.

    ...more info
  • Blunder after blunder
    The citizens of our wonderful Country need to say their prayers everyday thanking the Good Lord that we, as a Nation, were able to survive as long as we have in spite of the worst decisonmakers and leaders in the Intelligence and Security arena of the world. Shame on the CIA!!...more info
  • Useful
    Written by an experienced journalist, Legacy of Ashes is simultaneously a serious effort at a compreshensive narrative of the CIA's history and a scathing indictment of the agency's performance. Weiner's account is based on analysis of an extensive amount of documenation, including once classified CIA internal histories, and a large number of interviews of former CIA personnel, including several former Directors. Organized chronologically in a series of short chapters, Weiner traces the Agency's vissicitudes from its inception into the post 9/11 period.
    Like many other National Security insitutions, the CIA was improvised at the onset of the Cold War. Its impetus came from Truman's need for reliable intelligence about the Soviets. What emerged, however, was qutie different from what Truman desired and contained systemic flaws that would haunt the CIA througout its history. While Truman wanted an intelligence service, the CIA rapidly became dominated by covert action operations. The emphasis on covert action not only came at the expense of intelligence gathering but often undercut the efforts of the State Dept. and other foreign policy actors. The agency was enmeshed in inter-departmental rivalries with the Pentagon, the FBI, and the State Department. A creature of the Preident, the CIA depended on Presidential support to maintain its bureaucratic position. This gave rise to a sometimes disastrous propensity to tell the President what he wanted to hear rather than the actual facts.
    Weiner describes a remarkable number of often disastrous misadventures. Many of these are well known. The Bay of Pigs debacle, the consistent failure to assess Soviet capabilities accurately, the devastating effects of the paranoia of the long-time Counter-Intelligence Chief, James Angleton, the almost slapstick of the Iran-Contra scandel, the devastating failure to be honest in the leadup to the Iraq war, are all laid out well. What Weiner particularly well, however, is to show that this miserable performance was the agency's norm. Weiner describes a large number of horrifyingly incompetent covert operations and intelligence failures. Even apparent successes, like the overthrow of the Mossadegh regime in Iran, had adverse long-term consequences.
    This book is very informative but is really high quality journalism as opposed to rigorous history. Legacy of Ashes is mainly a history of the agency's covert operations. There is little description and no analysis of the agency's intelligence analysis and no discussion of why this was such a failure. While this is a fairly long book, there is little effort to provide context. Many of the strategic failures of the CIA, particularly its role in supporting corrupt and authoritarian regimes in the developing world, were really the result of basic American policy failures during the Cold War.
    Weiner makes the basic point that the CIA never fulfilled the basic purpose of an intelligence agency, to provide reliable information about the capabilities and intentions of America's foes. This lamentable fact remains true to this day. ...more info
  • Exceedingly well documented
    A book which may change you read the daily news. Thoroughly researched and indexed, which very much adds to its value as a reference book. Gives a panoramic view of US behind-the-scenes involvement (at home as well as abroad) over the last half century and more on more fronts than one would have believed possible. One absolutely cringes at some of the crasser examples of "undercover" work. One certainly ends up wondering what the future will hold....more info
  • Plausible Overview - is it the Whole Story?
    I very much enjoyed this book. It is well written, easy to read and, as far as I can tell, well researched. Most of the events depicted in this book happened in my life time or just before. As someone interested in the world around me and an avid reader of history I know something about most of the events discussed in the book. The advantage to me from reading this work is the behind the scenes description of what was happening in the American intelligence community as these events unfolded.

    My knowledge of the CIA is limited to what I read in the newspapers or see on the news so it is almost impossible for me to comment on any biases this book may have. Several, apparently informed reviewers, have touched on this and I suggest you read their comments before purchasing. Clearly the author has relied heavily on declassified CIA documentation and it is more than possible that anything the CIA releases into the public domain could be doctored. However, this data is balanced with many corroborating interviews and other sources. Ultimately, unless you were there when the events occured, you must make up your own mind on the veracity and bias of the author's interpretation.

    Despite these doubts this is well worth reading if you are interested in post-WWII history and current affairs. My own conclusion from the book and the recent evidence around the Iraq debacle is the CIA is a dysfunctional, mildly incompetent, politically motivated tool of the ruling party and not an independent intelligence agency. You should draw your own conclusions....more info
  • The Worst of The CIA
    I had really high hopes for this book, having had it suggested to me by so many people, but alas, it just doesn't live up to the hype. Like any Best of/Worst of album the book is long on slick cuts, short on substance. So, Weiner hates the CIA. He regards everything that they did as being flawed by lies, deception, incompetence, folly, drunkeness. Ok. He feels that vast amounts of humna and other capital have been squandered to no good end. Ok. BUT in terms of writing the whole thing falls flat & gets lost in weird time-skips -Weiner starts to get into something interesting, then he drops it to run after a new shiny horror 3 years later, only to MAYBE come back to where he started pages and pages later, or maybe not.If you want some quick fast thin overview of CIA foulups, then probably this will be just fine. If you REALLY want any sort of informed reporting you will have to go to books that focus on particular incidents, accidents, or spheres of influence. I imagine that this book was quite the talk of the Georgetown High Drinking Set (Weiner seems obsessed with his villains' alcohol intake) for about a week, and then forgotten....more info
  • Weiner never says: How would HE have fought the Cold War?
    It seems odd to say, but the biggest problem with this lengthy, detailed, heavily researched book, is what it leaves out. Weiner's book repeatedly raises questions it fails to answer.

    Detail is devoted to the drunks, the screw-ups, the mediocre and the out-of-control cowboys who best seem to fit his thesis, as well as his New York Times-reporter view of reality. But frequently some CIA official is introduced to the reader as sterling, as one of the best, as a rock of espionage with much to his credit.

    Detail is devoted to every secret failure and public fiasco and, no doubt, there were many. But, if there were so many sterling agents, what were they doing all that time? If they had successes - could we hear a little more about them? Weiner pays lip service to a few things that go right in the CIA's tormented history, but frames them repeatedly as exceptions that prove the rule. Were there more of them? If so, why didn't he write more evenhandedly? If there weren't - then how were so many of his characters sterling, upright figures of espionage? Or is he just buttering up his sources? It certainly didn't hurt the Bob Gateses and Dick Helmses to get so cozy with Weiner. They come off sounding pretty good as a result.

    One aspect of the book, and of one major dilemma faced by the CIA for six decades, reminds me of an old doctor joke:

    Surgeons know nothing and do everything.

    Internists know everything and do nothing.

    Psychiatrists know nothing and do nothing.

    The endless rivalry and competition for the CIA's identity between covert operations, on the one hand, and on classic espionage, intelligence gathering and analysis on the other, is a lot like this. The covert ops guys are seen as cowboys who know nothing about foreign countries but go in and overthrow their governments. The analysis guys, meanwhile, are people with much information at their fingertips, but biased against action because it may jeopardize sources, or tip delicate balances that only they and a few State Department mandarins understand.

    His real unanswered questions are these. Is the CIA doing the right or wrong things, and ineptly or competently? Is it wrong to overthrow a government, as lots of liberal New York Times readers would tend to think? Or only wrong to fail and get caught, as those on the right might think? Weiner wants it both ways; he finds them both inept and evil, but if they're ineptly evil - wouldn't that be a good thing?

    He faults the agency for its Cold War delivery of big bags of money to friendly politicians in key countries, like Italy. But this seems to me like a fundamental weapon, highly preferable to wars or coups, and delivering major bang for the buck in terms of keeping Italy from going Communist when it mattered.(I know Weiner is used to writing for New York Times readers, who may not comprehend that that's actually a good thing.)

    In hammering the agency particularly hard for the Dulles years of the early Cold War, Weiner doesn't cut it enough slack for the daunting task it faced. They had to start an agency from scratch; develop the kind of intelligence one might generally expect only after working patiently planting the seeds for ground sources for decades; and meanwhile do all this at a time when the world was seen as falling to an alien and dangerous ideology, which was gaining ground everywhere. The Soviets took Eastern Europe in 1945. Spent the next couple of years subverting any return to democracy and installing Communism. China fell to Mao in 1949. North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. The Communists, thanks to Klaus Fuchs, Julius Rosenberg and Ted Hall, had the bomb. The entire underdeveloped world was in play with homegrown socialists, communists and revolutionaries consuming most of the oxygen. Was it unreasonable to think they'd end up creating hostile, anti-American, one-party states whenever they had the chance?

    It is less unfair to criticize the agency for its failures to develop deep sources over time. It doesn't sound like they didn't try; there's only so much one can do spying on a closed society locked down tight; but they failed to predict nearly every major development on the world scene.

    It is fashionable to attack James Angleton as paranoid, to fault him for singlehandedly destroying our ability to spy on the Soviets for two decades. But he'd been the closest unwitting ally of the worst double agent in history, Kim Philby. He obviously had abiding respect for the KGB's abilities to double people and to play very subtle spy games. Proof of this is scattered richly throughout this very book - like all the blown efforts to insert anti-Communist agents into Eastern Europe, given away by Philby as well as traitors in their own ranks.

    Countless good agents continuing into the present day are blown by moles, by double agents, by warlord collaborators out on the frontier who turn out to be working for both sides, and so on. Weiner wants the CIA to learn from experience, but faults them for doing exactly that. Angleton may have been an extreme example, but Weiner never answers how the CIA should instead be deciding which walk-in Soviet spies to trust, and which to distrust. He doesn't answer how we can better spy on closed countries, better prevent foreign intelligence from cleaning our clocks or better influence other countries, particularly if our spies need to become Boy Scouts.

    We don't trust Arab Americans to work intelligence if they have families in the Middle East? Maybe this is a lesson learned the hard way during the Cold War. Their relatives are vulnerable to threats and violence in most Middle Eastern countries. Why wouldn't ruthless adversaries use this to squeeze our agents?

    I can't fault Weiner's research, or bringing the agency's whole history into perspective. The agency use of secrecy to cover up its history of failure is probably the book's greatest single contribution.

    I can, however, fault his wiseass, know-it-all tone, and his failure to offer answers for the questions he raises about the Agency.

    You know so much, smart guy? Then tell us: How would YOU have fought the Cold War?...more info
  • Misleading Information
    If the author spent 20 years preparing this book, then there is no excuse for him to give us false information about G.H.W. Bush, saying "Bush was...not a spy. He knew almost nothing about intelligence. He was a politician pure and simple." How could Weiner so be incredibly wrong? Is he just afraid of retrobution from Bush? The reality is that Bush (41) was and is an agency man through and through. George HW Bush was the CIA man written about by J Edgar Hoover when Hoover stated that Bush was in Dallas the day JFK was shot. Bush was asked about this letter during a Presidential campaign by a reporter, and Bush said Hoover must have been talking about "another George Bush". He wasn't. Bush has given at least 3 different public accounts of his whereabouts at the time JFK was shot. Seriously, who doesn't remember where he was on Nov 22, 1963? Bush was the point man for the Iran Contra affair. Bush was scheduled to have breakfast with John F. Hinkley's brother the morning that Reagan got shot, because the Bush and Hinkley families had been friends for a long time. George HW Bush has had an on-going relationship with the bin Laden family for generations. Bush started working for the CIA in 1960 or 1961, and used his oil business as his cover. Bush's company name "Zapata" was used by the CIA as the code name for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Later, Bush recruited men from the invasion group to work on the Watergate scandal, and then again with the coverup of the Iran-contra affair. Bush made sure his inept son W became President by throwing his weight around at the Supreme Court. And if his power continues, then his latest words that his son Jeb will be the next president, will unfortunately come to pass as well.

    Since Tim Weiner claims that everything he writes in the book is "true" and yet he claims that Bush was by no means a CIA man, shows that Weiner is either lying or very inept in his research of one of the most pivotal men in the history of the CIA....more info
  • Overpowering
    No exagerations and no fabrications.
    That's the way it is with the CIA.
    A profound digging into the mechanism and operational structure of the agency.
    A great deal of information.
    Hot!...more info
  • The omitted organizations
    The omitted organizations

    Tim Weiner's book on the CIA is excellent, so is Ron Suskind's "one percent doctrine", they are in fact too good. Why has it suddenly become possible to write such self critical books? It seems, they would have been impossible a few years ago. We must ask what has happened that make them possible, and who profits from them. I am not suggesting a conspiracy, certainly not on the part of these two authors, but I am asking why it suddenly has become possible to find all these excellent sources in such large numbers. The answer is in part found by looking at what and who are not criticized. People of influence feel they can talk more freely.

    Weiner's book, besides delivering a crushing critic of the CIA, has little critic of all other parties and organizations involved, other intelligence organizations, the previous presidential administrations and the multinational companies, almost to the point where he gives the picture of a CIA operating in a vacuum, all by itself, like a dog which has run away from home. The book has a message which is shared by many power centers in the US: the CIA has not been worth the money and must be redone (human rights are secondary in the book).

    Suskind's book has the same accusing, almost prosecuting, form as Weiner's. This is clearly the expression of a US ready to deal with two organizations in its centre; in the first case the CIA, in the other the Bush administration. The US sense of crises has been strengthened by the failure in Iraq and now with the ongoing financial crises. Americans have always been good at detecting problems and making changes, even if it means doing the same failures again.

    Will these processes lead to actual prosecutions in the case of members of the Bush administration? Probably not, at least not in the US. (Cheney like Kissinger may avoid personal trips to Europe). Will they lead to a fundamental change in US foreign policy, less aggressive? Probably not, no leading power regardless of its nationality has been willing to let go of an upper hand. The weakness lies in part in human nature in part in the nation state logic. It is not a typical American problem, or even a Rebublican. unfortunately not, it would have been so much easier.

    Weiner's book is a clear message to the next administration to redo the CIA (again). To make this transmission easier he has, intentionally or not, omitted many of the organizations which work in symbiosis with the CIA. This is the book's biggest weakness as a critical piece of work.
    ...more info
  • Weiner's bias doesn't surface until you are already sucked in
    For the first two thirds of Legacy, the author applies an agnostic and universal critique of the OSS and CIA. This bumbling agency never really did any intelligence gathering, they were wrong more than right and they were always infiltrated by counter spies. The reader begins to trust Weiner as a fair and balanced historical critic of every Presidential administration until James Earl Carter.

    Unlike earlier presidents, Carter used the CIA for socially pure purposes. He sided with the Communists to remove imperialist white governments in Africa. Weiner praises Carter - our nation's worst president - even though the African countries he "saved" are now in economic ruin. He gives Carter a pass on the hostage taking in Iran. Iranians were only expressing their anger over the matter of the Shah, after all.

    The one President who stood down the Soviet Union is portrayed as a senile old bafoon who "fell asleep during CIA briefings after eating some jelly beans". The condemnation continues under GHWB and GWB as the reader would expect at this point. Weiner rightly attacks recent Preidents for focusing on Communism while the Soviet Union was already in collapse. He doesn't seem to accept the premise that anything the US or CIA did during the cold war had any positive impact on fostering that collapse.

    Weiner used his book as an opportunity to skewer Oliver North and Reagon over Iran Contra after he'd earned the reader's confidence by appearing to be "fair and balanced" for the first 300 pages.

    The author seems to have done a well researched and factual report of events. His interpretation is, however, open to criticism in my mind....more info
  • I just attended Weiner's lecture on "Legacy..." in Portland, Oregon
    Conclusion - the book is a limited hangout and Weiner is a rich asset - he says, in so many words: stupidity always trumps conspiracy - in essence the official cover for the 9/11 coup and the Global War Of Terror: it's blowback and incompetence that's to blame - in light of this, 2 things to never forget:

    1. "Deception is a state of mind and the mind of the state." - James Jesus Angelton - Director of CIA Counter Intelligence (1954-74)

    2. "The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media." - William Colby - Director of the CIA (1973-76)...more info
  • Spectacular Failures at Impossible Tasks
    This is an important book because of the insight it provides about the nature and history of the CIA's work. It's hard to read, partially because it is so repetitive. According to this book, throughout its history the CIA has failed spectacularly at essentially every major task it has undertaken. And, in so doing, it has caused thousands of deaths, wasted billions of dollars, operated lawlessly and shown total disregard for the wishes of the presidents it has "served". It's not a pretty picture.

    The more failures that are chronicled, the more a reader almost has to conclude that the job of gathering good, actionable intelligence is essentially impossible. There's no place for CIA operatives to go to learn how to do their jobs effectively. They have talent and drive, at least at the beginning of their CIA careers, but they are not superhumans and are overwhelmed by their tasks.

    I wish there could have been an appendix or a companion book in which another author might take issue with the way this book presents the CIA's history - saying it's not really this dismal and here's why. Maybe that book is out there and I should look for it, but meanwhile I'll never think very highly of the CIA after reading this one....more info
  • More Bile from the Grey Lady
    Tim Weiner's unrelentingly critical and scabrous account of the CIA is occasionally interesting from a chronological standpoint; he outlines the history of the outfit. The book is in the tradition of Seymour Hersh et al, supposedly a revelation, but mainly a rehash of leftist crit-think.
    Frankly not worth the paper it is printed on. ...more info
  • Excellent Catlogue History of the CIA
    This is not a heavy detailed analysis of the CIA but a great over view of the CIA with brief chapters broken in periods of time, by presidents or a certain activity thus it reads like a catalogue of CIA adventures including an excellent telling of its origins under Wild Bill Donovan. Thus, this is a very fast paced read and the reason why I give it 5 stars is because it serves the purpose of giving a broad history of the CIA with reasonable detail without great depth so it is an enjoyable read that serves as an excellent primer for the evolution of the CIA from the beginning to the end. The documentation; however, is excellent thus it was well researched. The only negative is that the author records so many notable negative events such as the Bay of Pigs, failures to get a leg up on the Russians during the cold war to the recent "slam dunk" proclamation that one does have to wonder if the leaders of the CIA were quite frequently a bunch of blithering idiots. However, failures are most likely more notable and many of the unknown successes may be a product of the service's secrecy. The one theme that is very note worthy, and probably fueled by the real paranoia of the cold war and spread of communism during the 40s and 50s, was the preoccupation with interfering with the governments in other countries as opposed to sheer espionage. That is the greatest part of the author's history as more than once our government sided with a harsh dictator that in retrospect cost the US friends in the future. Probably, the biggest weakness of the book is to properly put in perspective what it was like during those times that perpetuated the need to get involved with the politics of another country. The one serious element brought forth was the fact that heads if the CIA, and sometimes rogue station chiefs, were less than truthful within the organization and to the Presidents themselves, the latter being the biggest disappointment. ...more info
  • Hilarious Hatchet Job.
    This is the blooper reel of the CIA for the last 50 years. Embellishments, yes, Biases, yes, entertaining? yeah, Enjoyed candid admission by former CIA director he had a harder time getting "facetime" with the President, then the President's mistress. ...more info
  • dwelling on the negative?
    This books purports to report the failures of the CIA - the so-called secret history of the CIA. A better book would be a history of the CIA that included both the failures and the seemingly fewer successes. A CIA enthusiast may be interested in this book simply due to the fact that a lot of recently unclassified information is revealed in it. Evidently the unclassified information contained a lot of the mistakes and failures of the agency.

    One can take away from the reading that the CIA is a paradoxical institution in a democracy since it depends almost exclusively on deception and lack of transparency. It had been a history of pulling the strings to initiate democracies and terminating obstacles to such governments whether the people will it or not.

    While our government decries terrorism, one cannot but wonder if the CIA's actions have occassionally bordered on such actions. Also, one's faith in the CIA is shattered when you read of such operations as Operation Northwoods which was a false-flag operation that would endanger American citizens.

    I thought the book concentrated heavily on the early days of the CIA and I would have liked to see more coverage of the CIA ante-911 and Iraq War....more info
  • CIA Insight
    I've followed the CIA and the many missteps for some time. Weiner gives us a comprehensive report on the machinations of the CIA - some successes, many failures. He details the personalities of many of the characters that inhabited the agency, some weird souls indeed. The extensive note section ( 170 pages) supports the depth of his research. His account differs from some other reports, particularly the involvement of Jack and Robert Kennedy. Much of this information has remained hidden until very recently. This readable book sheds some much needed light on the operation of spook city....more info
  • The Unofficial Version of Official CIA History, told Unofficially
    For those of us who have followed the 60 years of CIA missteps, errors and failures, serially, this heavy-handed tome of a book offered up unofficially as "official CIA defense of its failures" has to be a big disappointment. For although it admits to failures at every turn, it does so in a clinically neat and minimalist way that glosses over every single caper, and in a way that guarantees that this, the details of the CIA's official admissions of guilt, have already been uncovered and better told elsewhere. In short, this is not the "Come to Jesus" version of CIA history that we were all looking for but the "forced admission" version that has actually come about only after everyone of the Agency failed capers have consistently been exposed elsewhere.

    This is the sanctioned, authorized and official version of guilt, "told minimally and unofficially."

    In this sense, it is more akin to the reporting of football scores when the visitors have beaten the home team by a very wide margin: The winner is given credit for being the better team; the reasons for losing are glossed over; and the overall implications of the lost to the team's future mission and to the morale of the fans are either ignored completely, or, are just buried deeply on the inside pages of the report. In other words, this is the "officially sanctioned propaganda," "hangout defense" version of the CIA'S sordid history.

    That it took so many pages to give this minimalist rendition is very unfortunate indeed since the "cat has long since been out of the bag." To admit guilt without showing the taxpayers where the skeletons are buried is not contrition, but hope that the rules of the game will still be altered in ones favor so that the game can continue at a later time under more favorable conditions. And equally important, it also means that evidence uncovered elsewhere, by other more novel means, will continue unchallenged by the official version and will thus remain the standard of reliability and proof about what actually goes on inside the agency's walls.

    Wisner's Story

    The agency came into being as a political fluke at the prodding and instigation of a handful of Eastern establishment elitist cowboys and ex-soldiers of fortune. It began several steps behind the best intelligence agencies in the world and had to rely on two of them: the British, and by default of circumstances, the German Abwehr (through Reinhart Gelen) to get fully into the post WW-II game. Because it was forced to evolve through trial and error, the CIA was destined to never quite catch up to its competition. This was true in part because it was poorly served by all of its directors, and because it never completely embraced what was its only important mission: to be able to see over the horizon and give the President information on what was happening in the World. On this most important of missions the agency failed miserably and repeatedly throughout its history: It missed all of the seminal events of our era: Castro's take over of Cuba, the fall of Communism, the 911 terror threat, and Saddam's WMD, just to name the most spectacular of a very long list. Somehow, the CIA maintained a great reputation even though it continued to have a terrible record of repeated failures.

    But it was also true because, even in the face of its repeated failures, in order to close the "appearance gap," the agency had learned to promote itself: Early on it had learned how to be a "political player" before it had learned how to become a "spy agency." "Kow-towing" to its political authorities by giving them "shaded intelligence" because that was what they wanted to hear, rather than what was true, became a part of the agency's professional signature. In addition to "kow-towing," it also learned a slew of other bad habits: such as how to cover-up its shortcomings through lies and exaggeration, how to play by its own rules, and most importantly, how to remain accountable to no one.

    The Agency was eventually saved from itself by the advent of electronic and technological intelligence, which have made the old spy games anarchic if not completely obsolete. Sixty years on, and when we needed a finally airing of the CIA dirty laundry, all we get here are carefully "vetted" cover stories. I am very disappointed.

    Three Stars....more info
  • Time to start over with a new intelligence service?
    Tim Weiner's exhaustive history of the CIA is not only comprehensive but also very well-written. Each claim is backed by reliable primary sources, putting this work beyond the reach of paid Agency apologists and knee-jerk political hacks. Republicans, Democrats and Independents will be equally appalled by the revelations in this book.

    The CIA's waste of human life, money and international goodwill over the last 60 years is truly staggering. Even if you fully supported the objective of each covert operation, you'd have to conclude that CIA's top leaders were often massively incompetent -- from Wisner and Dulles to Casey and Tenet. Thousands of well-meaning foreign volunteers and hundreds of patriotic Americans were sacrificed on the altar of myopic planning by the over-confident elitists who thought they could control the world.

    What Weiner doesn't say, however, is equally compelling: The United States desperately needed an intelligence service of SOME KIND in the aftermath of World War II. The Soviet Union was on the march in a big way, and the Soviet intelligence services were decades ahead of most democratic countries.

    Yes, Virginia, Communism was an evil system. I traveled extensively in four Communist countries during the 1980s -- Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Poland -- and there's no doubt in my mind that it was a disaster on almost every level (personal freedom, environmental health, living standards, justice process, etc.) To resist the spread of Communism, we desperately needed an effective and reliable system for gathering intelligence around the world.

    What we got with the CIA was a 60-year train wreck, as Weiner documents. The fault lies both with the flawed structure of the CIA and with specific individuals who refused to accept reasonable oversight and criticism. The complicity of the U.S. media during the first 30 years of CIA activity is equally upsetting, as Weiner explains, with dozens of top journalists doing CIA favors on a routine basis (Newsweek, Time, CBS News, etc.). Pravda didn't have a corner on the propaganda market.

    With the CIA's recent massive intelligence failures (9/11, Iraq WMDs) this raises a very important question: Is it time to start over? Should we dismantle this dysfunctional bureaucracy and build something that works -- something that's ALSO in line with our national values? I'm no expert, just a longtime student of American history, but here's what I'd propose:

    1. The CIA should be abolished in its present form over a period of about three years. A new agency, with a new name and a new mandate should take its place.

    2. The new intelligence service should focus on information gathering (human and otherwise), followed by rigorous analysis and reporting that leaves plenty of room for dissent.

    3. All covert operations should be run by the military.

    4. All intelligence activities should have stated, measurable goals up-front that can be reviewed and evaluated objectively after the fact.

    5. The actual amount of money spent on intelligence activities (at all 16+ agencies) should be clearly stated in the national budget each year. (Hint: We aren't getting our money's worth right now.)

    6. Intelligence agency leaders at top levels (e.g., DDI and up) should be subject to Congressional inquiry and dismissal.

    7. A clear definition of torture should be established immediately. Any use of torture at any level should be grounds for prosecution.

    8. Each agency should publish quarterly and annual reports that are delivered to key White House and Congressional leaders for review. Any falsification of those reports would be grounds for immediate prosecution.

    9. Intelligence officers and leaders who succeed should be rewarded handsomely.

    Read Weiner's book and come to your own conclusions....more info
  • 'Must Reading'
    This book or tapes should be read by anyone who recognizes the critical importance of Intelligence to those who are responsible for leading our country in the perilous enviornment we must navigate in. Unhappily, on balance, we appear to have done a pretty inadequate job to date. This book uses no annonymous sources but only CIA documents to show how bad our history has been in serving all occupants of The White House. If ever accurate information and analysis is needed it is now. Read this incredible saga....more info
  • Poorly Written Hachet Job
    A poorly written jumble of sometimes unrelated facts. Narrative is hard to follow (I gave up and skimmed the last half). While I am no fan of the CIA, I doubt any one agency is this bad. Lacks balance. ...more info
  • Legacy of Ashes
    This is the most shocking book I have ever read. It is well researched and totally credible. It makes me worry about my country and wonder how we managed to remain free from attack until 9/11/2001. Any person who loves their country should read this and hope that people with more intelligence are being tapped to take us into the future....more info
  • A journalistic account of the CIA's history
    For those who are looking for a historical work on the CIA this is not their book. The author is a journalist, and the book is written in journalistic style. Good journalistic style, and probably good journalism, but this is not history.

    Telling the history of the CIA, an institution that has been so intimately involved in American foreign policy, is a daunting task. Given the limitations of space, Weisner has tried to do a good job. Not sure if he has succeeded. He focuses on the anecdotic, not providing the big picture. Unless you think that the big picture is that the CIA's history is an impressive collection of blunders, with almost no successes (too bad to be true, I think). Anyway, the anecdotes are more interesting when they refer to events closer in time (and even more when they deal with the Bush II Administration). The final chapters of the book made a more engaging read.

    An additional problem is that the author's opinion and point of view is too evident (thus the non-historic character of this work). He does not even try to hide his personal take on many international past events. A more nuanced approach would have been welcome.

    I am not an expert on the CIA. Therefore, I do not feel prepared to opinionate about the accuracy of Weisner's assessment. But his style has pushed me a little back. I liked the book, but it could have been better. Weisner has the contacts and the information, but he lacked the skill to put together a real piece of excellent, objective and valuable research. I hope that in a second edition, he comes with a worthier work....more info
  • Interesting!
    This fascinating, provocative and relevant book is a history of the first sixty years of the CIA compiled solely from first-hand reporting and primary documents. It is a devastating account of how the agency lurched from crisis to crisis, unable to establish a first-rate intelligence organization in an increasingly complex and dangerous world.

    What began as a successor to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the military intelligence unit during WWII, the CIA was established to combat the emerging threat of the Soviet Union at the tail end of that war. The goal of the CIA was to ensure that there would never be a second "Pearl Harbor," but the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989 left the CIA somewhat aimless without its original raison d'etre. With the horrendous attack on 9/11, the initial reason and great fear that brought the CIA into existence had already come to pass.

    The ultimate findings of this award-winning study is that each President due to their own idiosyncrasies or failings left the CIA worse off than the previous administration. Some chose incompetent directors, others chose to ignore sound advice, while still others made decisions due to political criteria rather than substantive ones. Some presidents made the CIA a personal surveillance agency against presumed domestic enemies, while others pressured the CIA to tailor its findings to fit White House policy to the detriment of the organization and the country.

    This caustic indictment suggests critical errors were made by and to the CIA throughout its history. Its choice of gadgets over spies left it totally unaware of many critical developments. Its love of high wire covert actions over time-consuming intelligence gathering often left it bereft of knowledge and in embarrassing international situations.

    The conclusion that Weiner has come to is that the CIA ended its sixty-year history the same way Eisenhower evaluated it at the end of his administration - as a "legacy of ashes."

    Armchair Interviews says: Most thought-provoking information.

    ...more info
  • Spooks.
    Very interesting book, especially for one who has lived through most of this history. Jumps around a bit chronologically. Confirms what other Agencies & Dept's. claim, i.e., none of our governmental agencies communicate with each other to the detriment of national security. A lot of "turf wars."

    CIA operations were not well thought out, very shallow and as Dick Holm was quoted during the Kennedy years, he rued "the ignorance and the arrogance of Americans arriving in SE Asia...We had only minimal understanding of the history, culture, & politics of the people we wanted to aid..." Some personnel in our various Agencies now try to remedy this attitude, by achieving a greater understanding of these things....more info