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 Prizewinning author Tim Weiner offers the first definitive history of the CIAand 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 Weiners 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.
It must be said that Legacy of Ashes is, after all, an institutional history, not a narrative history, which means that it lacks a singular plotline and cast of characters. Weiner strings together six decades' worth of excellent
stories a fast clip and with appealing understatement. But I found it occasionally difficult to keep track of all the bureaucrats, and sometimes wished Weiner would slow down and take me to the scene instead of reporting it
with as many of the journalistic whos, whats, wheres, whys, and hows as he could
pack into this dense book.
One story that I was expecting to read never appeared: the story of how Weiner
researched and wrote the book itself. After all, how does a journalist
bring the clandestine to light? .... I hunted
through the footnotes in search of additional details of how the evidence was
procured, but aside from listing his sources (which frequently include his own
articles in the New York Times), Weiner does not divulge how he was able
to get the story where others were stymied.
But it isn't fair to indict the book for what it isn't. Legacy of Ashes
is a myth-busting book ....which grants some of the
keen-eyed vision that the agency has lacked for so long. (Reviewed by Amy Reading).
The New York Times Book Review - Evan Thomas
[By] 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.
The Washington Post - David Wise 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.
Absorbing, appalling history.
Starred Review. [A] fascinating, comprehensive and sometimes appalling history of the Central Intelligence Agency.
CIA.gov - Nicholas Dujmovic, CIA historian and intelligence analyst
Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes is not the definitive history of the
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that it purports to be. Nor is it the well
researched work that many reviewers say it is. It is odd, in fact, that much of
the hype surrounding the book concerns its alleged mastery of available sources.
Weiner and his favorable reviewers—most, like Weiner, journalists—have cited the
plethora of his sources as if the fact of their variety and number by themselves
make the narrative impervious to criticism. ....
History, fairly done, is all about context, motivations, and realistic
expectations in addition to the accurate portrayal of events. Weiner is not
honest about context, he is dismissive of motivations, his expectations for
intelligence are almost cartoonish, and his book too often is factually
unreliable. What could have been a serious historical critique illuminating the
lessons of the past is undermined by dubious assertions, sweeping judgments
based on too few examples, selective or outright misuse of citations, a
drama-driven narrative, and a tendentious and nearly exclusive focus on failure
that overlooks, downplays, or explains away significant successes ...
For all of its profound flaws bits of Legacy of Ashes are not bad (though Weiner has not earned the trust of the careful scholar regarding his sources, so best to check) ...
But these few plusses do not overcome the essential fact that Legacy of Ashes is a narrowly-focused and biased account. In his preface, Weiner claims to believe that the intelligence profession is critical to national security, but he is likely to have done considerable damage, as the people who take up the profession will, I fear, have to deal with his inaccuracies and skewed perspectives for years to come. Full review.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by EDB_review Comprehensive but biased Right from the start, Weiner sets the tone of the book; and then beats you to death with his unremitting negative views on the CIA. from Author's Note: "Legacy ... describes how the most powerful country...failed to create a first rate spy... Read More
Rated of 5
by Iron Hand Legacy of Ashes Review This book doesn't talk about the many foreign agents who were trying to ruin everything the CIA was attempting to accomplish. The Russians had spies inside the FBI and Langley (moles) feeding them the stuff that made the spy-business impossible to... Read More
Rated of 5
by CE Lathrop A Flawed, Even Deceitful Book The problem with reviews of Weiner's book, as Jeffrey Richelson has amply demonstrated on the blog www.washingtondecoded.com, is that most reviewers don't have substantive background about the subject matter and can't see past their own biases.... Read More
The Central Intelligence Agency has been riven by turf battles, political
infighting, and the lack of qualified agents and analysts. But just as
frequently, the CIA has been brought to its knees by thoroughly avoidable
from the (somewhat) droll
In 1994, the station chief in Guatemala accused the American
Ambassador, Marilyn McAfee, of having a lesbian affair with her
secretary, Carol Murphy. The station chief detailed his findings in "the
Murphy memo," which he distributed around Washington. The CIA had,
indeed, caught McAfee cooing endearments to Murphy on a bug in her
bedroom. But it turns out that Murphy was her poodle.
to the distressful
During the cold war, the CIA bought detailed reports of the Russian
airframe industry from Karl-Heinz Kramer, the "Stockholm Abwehr." He
claimed that the plans came from his vast network of agents inside the
Soviet Union, when in fact they came from a set of aircraft manuals he'd
Amazon cuts off 5200 affiliates in Minnesota(Jun 19 2013) With Minnesota's online sales tax law due to take effect July 1, Amazon has played a familiar card by cutting ties with 5,200 members of its Associates...