Synopses & Reviews
The untold story of a whiskey-swilling, skirt-chasing, scandal-prone congressman from Texas, and how he conspired with a rogue CIA operative to launch the biggest and most successful covert operation in U.S. history
In a little over a decade, two events have transformed the world we live in: the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of militant Islam. Charlie Wilson's War is the untold story behind the last battle of the Cold War and how it fueled the new jihad. George Crile tells how Charlie Wilson, a maverick congressman from east Texas, conspired with a rogue CIA operative to launch the biggest, meanest, and most successful covert operation in the Agencys history.
In the early 1980s, after a Houston socialite turned Wilsons attention to the ragged band of Afghan "freedom fighters" who continued, despite overwhelming odds, to fight the Soviet invaders, the congressman became passionate about their cause. At a time when Ronald Reagan faced a total cutoff of funding for the Contra war, Wilson, who sat on the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee, managed to procure hundreds of millions of dollars to support the mujadiheen. The arms were secretly procured and distributed with the aid of an out-of-favor CIA operative, Gust Avrakotos, whose working-class Greek-American background made him an anomaly among the Ivy League world of American spies. Nicknamed "Dr. Dirty", the blue-collar James Bond was an aggressive agent who served on the front lines of the Cold War where he learned how to stretch the Agencys rules to the breaking point.
Avrokotos handpicked a staff of CIA outcasts to run his operation: "Hilly Billy", the logistics wizard who could open an unnumbered Swiss bank account for the U.S. government in twelve hours when others took months; Art Alper, the grandfatherly demolitions expert from the Technical Services Division who passed on his dark arts to the Afghans; Mike Vickers, the former Green Beret who created a systematic plan to turn a rabble of shepherds into an army of techno Holy warriors.
Moving from the back rooms of the Capitol, to secret chambers at Langley, to arms-dealers conventions, to the Khyber Pass, Charlie Wilson's War is brilliantly reported and one of the most detailed and compulsively readable accounts of the inside workings of the CIA ever written.
"The result is a vivid narrative, though a reader may wonder how much of this story is true in exactly the way Crile presents it. Still, few people who remember Wilson's years in Washington would discount even the wildest tales." David Johnston, The New York Times
"The stories George Crile tells in Charlie Wilson's War must be true nobody could make them up. This is a rousing tale of jihad on the frontiers of the Cold War, infighting at the CIA and horse-trading in Congress, spiced by sex, booze, ambition and larger-than-life personalities. " Thomas Lippman, The Washington Post
"An amazing tale, made all the more amazing because it was missed by the press. George Crile has written a book revealing the extraordinary details and intrigue of a secret war, and that alone would be a monumental achievement....all of this comes with a breathtaking cast of characters worthy of a LeCarre novel. Only it's all true. And just as vivid."
"Americans often ask: 'Where have all the heroes gone?' Well a lot of them come roaring through in this tour de force of reporting and writing. Tom Clancy's fiction pales in comparison with the amazing, mesmerizing story told by George Crile. By resurrecting a missing chapter out of our recent past, Charlie Wilson's War provides us with the key to understanding the present." Dan Rather
"A cross between Tom Clancy and Carl Hiassen, with the distinguishing feature that it's all apparently true....Throw in a middle-aged Texan belly dancer, an assortment of Congressional looinies, a few beauty queens, some ruthless Afghan rebels, and a murderous Pakistani dictator who only wants to be understood." Gerard DeGroot, Christian Science Monitor
"Crucial and timely....Criles book, with its investigative verve and gripping narrative, is a comprehensive political assessment and sobering account of the power structures that run parallel to, but apparently unknown by, official government authorities."PW Daily
"More than a character study,...Crile's book, with its investigative verve and gripping narrative, is a comprehensive political assessment and sobering account of the power structures that run parallel to, but apparently unknown by, official government authorities." Publisher's Weekly
"[W]hile this may have been the largest covert operation in U.S. history, it was not the most important; that honor goes to Operation Bodyguard, which hid the D-day invasion plan from Hitler. An interesting and readable story that is suitable for academic and large public libraries."
"So, lets see. We arm Afghan rebels to fight the Soviets. The Afghans drive the Russians out of their country. We ignore the Afghans. They stew for a few years and hook up with Osama bin Laden." Kirkus Reviews
"Crile, a producer at 60 Minutes
, has hold of a story here that everyone else missed, and his elation at having a big scoop dovetails with the enthusiasm that Charlie Wilson brought to his cause arming the Afghan rebels to defeat the invading Soviet army in the '80s. Crile has written an extraordinarily entertaining piece of reportage that has much to tell us about how the U.S. armed a group of people who are now using the weapons we provided them to kill us. A fiction writer would be hard-pressed to come up with a comparable tale of American shortsightedness, or one with more hairpin reversals and rich, comic irony." Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com
(read the entire Salon review
"Charlie Wilson's War" tells the story of what became the largest covert operation in history--costing over $1 billion a year. Moving from the back rooms of the Capitol, to secret chambers at Langley, to arms-dealer conventions, to the Khyber Pass, this is a compulsively readable account of the inside workings of the CIA.
From an award-winning 60 Minutes reporter comes the extraordinary story of the largest and most successful CIA operation in history-the arming of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, pressure mounted for the Americans to support the Afghan resistance. Charlie Wilson, a maverick congressman from East Texas who sat on the powerful House Defense Appropriations Committee, persuaded his colleagues to allocate $10 million to fund the CIA's effort to arm the Mujahideen. Charlie Wilson's War tells the story of what became the largest covert operation in history; funding eventually grew to over $1 billion a year. The book includes an incredible cast of characters: Charlie, the charismatic, hard-partying congressman who raised eyebrows when traveling to Pakistan with unusual companions -- one his personal belly dancer, another an ex-beauty queen -- but was passionate about supporting the Afghans and brilliant at getting deals done. Gust Avrakotos, a working-class Greek among Ivy Leaguers at the CIA who set up the team that ran the largest operation in the history of the CIA. President Zia of Pakistan, who became great friends with Charlie and used his leverage to get huge aid dollars as well as keep the West looking away as he built the first Muslim bomb. Moving from the back rooms of the Capitol, to secret chambers at Langley, to arms-dealers conventions, to the Khyber Pass, Charlie Wilson's War is brilliantly reported -- one of the most detailed and compulsively readable accounts of the inside workings of the CIA ever written, with a cast of characters and a plot out of Le Carre or Clancy. This book is a remarkable account of the last battle of the Cold War, a battle that helped weaken the Soviet Union and led to its collapse and, of course, paved the way to the rise of the Taliban, with consequences that we are dealing with today.