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.
Legacy of Ashes is the record of the first sixty years of the Central Intelligence Agency. It describes how the most powerful country in the history of Western civilization has failed to create a first-rate spy service. That failure constitutes a danger to the national security of the United States. Intelligence is secret action aimed at understanding or changing what goes on abroad. President Dwight D. Eisenhower called it a distasteful but vital necessity. A nation that wants to project its power beyond its borders needs to see over the horizon, to know what is coming, to prevent attacks against its people. It must anticipate surprise. Without a strong, smart, sharp intelligence service, presidents and generals alike can become blind and crippled. But throughout its history as a superpower, the United States has not had such a service.
History, Edward Gibbon wrote in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is little more than the register of ...
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).
Full Review (932 words).
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 ...
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