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Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIAby Tim Weiner
"Tim Weiner's excellent account of the CIA has already won many kudos and plaudits, including the National Book Award. There's not much I can add to that, other than to say folks really should read this book." Doug Brown, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
For the last sixty years, the CIA has managed to maintain a formidable reputation in spite of its terrible record, burying its blunders in top-secret archives. Its mission was to know the world. When it did not succeed, it set out to change the world. Its failures have handed us, in the words of President Eisenhower, "a legacy of ashes."
Now Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tim Weiner offers the first definitive history of the CIA — and everything is on the record. Legacy of Ashes is based on more than 50,000 documents, primarily from the archives of the CIA itself, and hundreds of interviews with CIA veterans, including ten Directors of Central Intelligence. It takes the CIA from its creation after World War II, through its battles in the cold war and the war on terror, to its near-collapse after 9/ll.
Tim Weiner's past work on the CIA and American intelligence was hailed as "impressively reported" and "immensely entertaining" in The New York Times.
The Wall Street Journal called it "truly extraordinary...the best book ever written on a case of espionage." Here is the hidden history of the CIA: why eleven presidents and three generations of CIA officers have been unable to understand the world; why nearly every CIA director has left the agency in worse shape than he found it; and how these failures have profoundly jeopardized our national security.
"Is the Central Intelligence Agency a bulwark of freedom against dangerous foes, or a malevolent conspiracy to spread American imperialism? A little of both, according to this absorbing study, but, the author concludes, it is mainly a reservoir of incompetence and delusions that serves no one's interests well. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Weiner musters extensive archival research and interviews with top-ranking insiders, including former CIA chiefs Richard Helms and Stansfield Turner, to present the agency's saga as an exercise in trying to change the world without bothering to understand it. Hypnotized by covert action and pressured by presidents, the CIA, he claims, wasted its resources fomenting coups, assassinations and insurgencies, rigging foreign elections and bribing political leaders, while its rare successes inspired fiascoes like the Bay of Pigs and the Iran-Contra affair. Meanwhile, Weiner contends, its proper function of gathering accurate intelligence languished. With its operations easily penetrated by enemy spies, the CIA was blind to events in adversarial countries like Russia, Cuba and Iraq and tragically wrong about the crucial developments under its purview, from the Iranian revolution and the fall of communism to the absence of Iraqi WMDs. Many of the misadventures Weiner covers, at times sketchily, are familiar, but his comprehensive survey brings out the persistent problems that plague the agency. The result is a credible and damning indictment of American intelligence policy." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Is the Central Intelligence Agency a bulwark of freedom against dangerous foes, or a malevolent conspiracy to spread American imperialism? A little of both, according to this absorbing study, but, the author concludes, it is mainly a reservoir of incompetence and delusions that serves no one's interests well. Pulitzer Prize — winning New York Times correspondent Weiner musters extensive archival research and interviews with top-ranking insiders, including former CIA chiefs Richard Helms and Stansfield Turner, to present the agency's saga as an exercise in trying to change the world without bothering to understand it. Hypnotized by covert action and pressured by presidents, the CIA, he claims, wasted its resources fomenting coups, assassinations and insurgencies, rigging foreign elections and bribing political leaders, while its rare successes inspired fiascoes like the Bay of Pigs and the Iran-Contra affair. Meanwhile, Weiner contends, its proper function of gathering accurate intelligence languished. With its operations easily penetrated by enemy spies, the CIA was blind to events in adversarial countries like Russia, Cuba and Iraq and tragically wrong about the crucial developments under its purview, from the Iranian revolution and the fall of communism to the absence of Iraqi WMDs. Many of the misadventures Weiner covers, at times sketchily, are familiar, but his comprehensive survey brings out the persistent problems that plague the agency. The result is a credible and damning indictment of American intelligence policy.' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"The CIA is a fat, easy target these days. Under George 'slam dunk' Tenet, it failed (along with the FBI) to prevent 9/11, and then it famously and wrongly estimated that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Tenet's $4 million memoir to explain these failures merely subjected him to more slings and arrows, soothed only somewhat by all that moola. Morale plunged... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) under his successor, Porter Goss, who brought a clique of unpopular flunkies from Capitol Hill to Langley (Va.). The spies revolted, and Goss had to walk the plank. Now the agency is presided over by Michael Hayden, the same Air Force general who supinely created President Bush's warrantless wiretap program to eavesdrop on Americans despite the Constitution. Given the checkered history of the CIA, it is small wonder that Tim Weiner's 'Legacy of Ashes' is a highly caustic, corrosive study of the beleaguered agency. But Weiner, a New York Times correspondent who has covered intelligence for years, cannot be accused of kicking the agency when it is down. It is his thesis, amply documented, that the CIA was never up. He paints a devastating portrait of an agency run, during the height of its power in the Cold War years, by Ivy League incompetents, 'old Grotonians' who lied to presidents — an agency that, more often than not, failed to foresee major world events, violated human rights, spied on Americans, plotted assassinations of foreign leaders, and put so much of its energy and resources into bungled covert operations that it failed in its core mission of collecting and analyzing the truth. To compare some of the agency's antics revealed in this book to the Keystone Kops is to do violence to the memory of slapstick comic creator Mack Sennett. My personal favorite is an episode in Guatemala in 1994, when the CIA chief of station confronted the American ambassador, Marilyn McAfee, with intelligence, as she recalled, that 'I was having an affair with my secretary, whose name was Carol Murphy.' The CIA's friends in the Guatemalan military had bugged McAfee's bedroom, Weiner reports, and 'recorded her cooing endearments to Murphy. They spread the word that the ambassador was a lesbian.' The CIA's 'Murphy memo' was widely distributed in Washington. There was only one problem: the ambassador was married, not gay and not sleeping with her secretary. ' "Murphy" was the name of her two-year-old black standard poodle. The bug in her bedroom had recorded her petting her dog.' Forty years earlier, the CIA had overthrown the legally elected government of Guatemala, a covert operation long touted as one of the intelligence agency's grand 'successes.' It was even called Operation Success. Guatemala was made safe for United Fruit — talk about banana republics — but not for democracy. A series of military dictators followed the CIA coup, with death squads and repression in which perhaps 200,000 Guatemalans perished. Weiner's study is based on a prodigious amount of research into thousands of documents that have been declassified or otherwise uncovered, as well as oral histories and interviews. And one of the truly startling, eye-opening revelations in 'Legacy of Ashes' is just how close even the agency's avowed triumphs came to disaster. As Weiner documents, both the Guatemalan operation and the overthrow of the government of Iran (Operation Ajax) in 1953 teetered on the edge of catastrophe. They were run by old boys whose management skills seemed to combine Skull and Bones with the Ringling Brothers. And of course the 'success' in Iran, restoring the Shah and his notorious secret police, the SAVAK, to power, was all about oil, grabbing it back from Mohammed Mossadeq, who had nationalized it. The coup, run by the CIA's Kim Roosevelt, Teddy's grandson, was followed in 1979 by the takeover of the ayatollahs, arguably a direct outcome of Islamic resentment of the agency's meddling in that country. Today, Iran, with its ominous nuclear weapons program and defiance of the West, looms as a much greater foreign policy challenge to the Bush administration, and to world peace, than Iraq ever was. Thanks a bunch, Langley. Weiner carefully traces the agency's history from the start, when Harry Truman, realizing he had disbanded the wartime OSS too quickly, anointed Sidney Souers, a St. Louis businessman who had run the Piggly Wiggly supermarkets, as the first central intelligence chief. In a White House ceremony, Truman presented Souers and Admiral William Leahy, the White House staff chief, 'with black cloaks, black hats, and wooden daggers.' Weiner recounts a series of botched operations run by the likes of Tracy Barnes, Desmond FitzGerald and Richard Bissell, who were among the CIA's leading spooks in the agency's early years. But he reserves his greatest contempt for Frank Wisner, the agency's first covert operator, who sent dozens of agents to their deaths in the Ukraine and Albania and wasted the CIA's millions on a phantom army in Poland that was invented by Soviet and Polish intelligence to befuddle the agency. As Weiner tells it, the arrogance of CIA Ivy Leaguers was matched only by sheer incompetence. From the start, the CIA hid its failures behind a Top Secret label and was useless in its ability to penetrate the Soviet Union or any other foe. In one year, he notes, the agency managed to miss the Soviet atom bomb, the Korean war and China's entry into that conflict. Weiner also finds little to admire in Allen Dulles, who presided over the agency in its heyday but had to depart after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. He portrays Dulles as a sort of duplicitous Santa Claus, over the hill by 1961, shuffling about in carpet slippers. But Dulles' OSS record in penetrating the Nazi high command from Switzerland had been impressive. And based on my personal observation and conversations with Dulles in the early 1960s he was not a doddering old man in carpet slippers but a shrewd professional spy. Although most of Weiner's research is superb, he unfortunately perpetuates the legend that CIA director Richard Helms stood firm against Richard Nixon's Watergate cover-up. Not so. In an odd footnote, Weiner says Helms 'complied with the president's order to go along with the cover-up for sixteen days at most.' But the author, who quotes extensively from dozens of CIA documents, curiously makes no mention of the damning memo that Helms wrote to his deputy, Vernon Walters, on June 28, 1972, about the FBI investigation of the break-in: 'We still adhere to the request that they confine themselves to the personalities already arrested or directly under suspicion and that they desist from expanding this investigation into other areas which may well, eventually, run afoul of our operations.' It was a bald-faced lie, exactly what the White House was demanding that Helms tell the FBI. If there is a flaw in 'Legacy of Ashes,' it is that Weiner's scorn for the old boys who ran the place is so unrelenting and pervasive that it tends to detract from his overall argument. He is unwilling to concede that the agency's leaders may have acted from patriotic motives or that the CIA ever did anything right. Nevertheless, 'Legacy of Ashes' succeeds as both journalism and history, and it is must reading for anyone interested in the CIA or American intelligence since World War II. Weiner quotes Dean Acheson's prophecy about the CIA to good effect: 'I had the gravest forebodings about this organization ... and warned the President that as set up neither he, the National Security Council, nor anyone else would be in a position to know what it was doing or to control it.' David Wise is the author of 10 books on intelligence and espionage. His most recent work is 'Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America.'" Reviewed by Jonathan YardleyJennifer VanderbesRobert G. KaiserRon CharlesSusan P. WilliamsBill SheehanRobert PinskyJonathon KeatsAnne ApplebaumSheri HolmanDavid Wise, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"This is a timely, immensely readable, and highly critical history of the CIA, culminating with the most recent catastrophic failures in Iraq." Mark Bowden, author of Blackhawk Down
"This is a fascinating, deeply scary book. With prodigious reporting and on-the-record sources, Tim Weiner shows why the CIA has done so poorly in traditional intelligence. It's a riveting tale and also a warning. America must develop the ability — and the will — to know and face the facts about the world." Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Einstein: His Life and Universe
"Legacy of Ashes, like all first-rate histories, is not only richly informative but provocative and insightful. It is a combustible mix of deeply-researched history, solid reporting and revealing anecdotes. Tim Weiner's history of the CIA explains not merely the past but the present, laying out in fine detail the structural and philosophical flaws that have dogged the Agency from day one and which continue to leave the country unduly vulnerable." Ted Gup, author of The Book of Honor and Nation of Secrets
"Tim Weiner has read widely and dug deeply to produce this marvelous and convincing history of the CIA across six decades. That every quote is also on the record is a testament to his skill and also, thankfully, to the transparency that endures in the American political system." Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars
"[B]y using tens of thousands of declassified documents and on-the-record recollections of dozens of chagrined spymasters, Weiner paints what may be the most disturbing picture yet of C.I.A. ineptitude." New York Times
"Weiner chronicles the CIA's willful ignorance, arrogance and so-called intelligence measured in quantity rather than quality, and poor judgment with anecdotes that often sound like plots invented by an evilly comic John le Carre. Even the footnotes make for good reading." Oregonian
"[A] fascinating and revealing history — a jewel of a book." Wall Street Journal
"Weiner punctures claims by the spymasters at the Central Intelligence Agency that they have a track record of thwarting enemy threats and serving their nation well." Seattle Times
"The most remarkable and...admirable thing about Legacy of Ashes is that it is based entirely on primary sources and on-the-record interviews. Nothing goes unattributed." Los Angeles Times
"By now, the CIA's longtime role as secret army ought to be known to every American, though clearly it is not. At that level, Legacy of Ashes deserves a wide readership, and will probably win one given the page-turning gusto of its narrative." Newsday
In the wake of the news that the 9/11 hijackers had lived in Europe, journalist Ian Johnson wondered how such a radical group could sink roots into Western soil. Most accounts reached back twenty years, to U.S. support of Islamist fighters in Afghanistan. But Johnson dug deeper, to the start of the Cold War, uncovering the untold story of a group of ex-Soviet Muslims who had defected to Germany during World War II. There, they had been fashioned into a well-oiled anti-Soviet propaganda machine. As that war ended and the Cold War began, West German and U.S. intelligence agents vied for control of this influential group, and at the center of the covert tug of war was a quiet mosque in Munichradical Islams first beachhead in the West.
Culled from an array of sources, including newly declassified documents, A Mosque in Munich interweaves the stories of several key players: a Nazi scholar turned postwar spymaster; key Muslim leaders across the globe, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood; and naïve CIA men eager to fight communism with a new weapon, Islam. A rare ground-level look at Cold War spying and a revelatory account of the Wests first, disastrous encounter with radical Islam, A Mosque in Munich is as captivating as it is crucial to our understanding the mistakes we are still making in our relationship with Islamists today
For decades, while America obsessed over Soviet spies, China quietly penetrated the highest levels of government. Now, for the first time, based on numerous interviews with key insiders at the FBI and CIA as well as with Chinese agents and people close to them, David Wise tells the full story of Chinas many victories and defeats in its American spy wars.Two key cases interweave throughout: Katrina Leung, code-named Parlor Maid, worked for the FBI for years, even after she became a secret double agent for China, aided by love affairs with both of her FBI handlers. Here, too, is the inside story of the case, code-named Tiger Trap, of a key Chinese-American scientist suspected of stealing nuclear weapons secrets. These two cases led to many others, involving famous names from Wen Ho Lee to Richard Nixon, stunning national security leaks, and sophisticated cyberspying. The story takes us up to the present, with a West Coast spy ring whose members were sentenced in 2010but it surely will continue for years to come, as China faces off against America. David Wises history of Chinas spy wars in America is packed with eye-popping revelations.
About the Author
Tim Weiner is a reporter for The New York Times. He has written on American intelligence for twenty years, and won the Pulitzer Prize for his work on secret national security programs. He has traveled to Afghanistan and other nations to investigate CIA covert operations firsthand. This is his third book.
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