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Burn Before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors, and Secret Intelligence Paperback – October 11, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion (October 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786886668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786886661
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.7 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,012,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

President George H.W. Bush may have called it "the best job in Washington," but many of those who have held the position of director of central intelligence (DCI) may beg to differ. Retired Admiral Stansfield Turner, for one, did not want to take the post, which meant giving up his long naval career. Nevertheless, Turner took Jimmy Carter's offer and went on to become one of just two DCIs who lasted the entire term of the presidents who appointed them. In this volume, Turner, with the research and writing help of Allen Mikaelian, presents a straightforward look at the relationships between DCIs and the presidents they served. It is often not an inspiring picture. Turner shows that very few presidents worked well with their CIA directors and that the relationships were often severely strained over matters of politics, personality and loyalty. Things reached a nadir under President Nixon, who "came to the job already despising the CIA." Most interesting to general readers, however, is Turner's claim that this rocky history led directly to the agency's two biggest intelligence failures: not preventing the 9/11 attacks and not providing the correct information about Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. (Oct. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Turner served as director of the CIA from 1977 to 1981. He is obviously qualified to offer an insider's perspective on the relationship between presidents and their CIA directors from World War II to the present. Perhaps the most interesting chapter is the first; here Turner reveals the amazingly primitive state of U.S. espionage before WWII, when the bluebloods of the State Department viewed spying as ungentlemanly. Turner proceeds to detail the origins of the CIA as a Roosevelt favorite, "Wild Bill" Donovan, founded the O.S.S. Under Truman, the CIA grew in power, despite Truman's discomfort with some of their activities. Turner's description of some of the roughest moments in CIA relations with Kennedy (the Bay of Pigs fiasco) and Nixon (Watergate) are recounted with frankness and insight. In every administration, Turner maintains that providing the president with concise intelligence unvarnished by political and bureaucratic considerations remains a problem, and his concluding suggestions for remedying the problem deserve serious consideration. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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37 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a useful retrospective by Admiral Stansfield Turner, Director of Central Intelligence under President Jimmy Carter, but it is most useful if you are a Member of Congress, a sitting or future President, or perhaps being considered as a future DCI. For the general public, and even for intelligence professionals, this is an interesting personal recollection and evaluation that reflects a limited appreciation for the broader literature on intelligence reform and is less likely to be exciting to those seeking to understand the minutia of intelligence.

It could be very useful to the public under one condition or rather one hope: that the public react to this book as I did, to wit, the author may not have intended this, but his superb tour of the relations between Presidents and Directors of Central (or in today's terms, National) Intelligence has persuaded me that our national intelligence community must be removed from the Executive Branch. We need a new hybrid national intelligence community in which the Director is simultaneously responsive to the President, to Governors, to Congress, and to the public. It's budget must be set as a fraction of the total disposable budget of the federal government, on the order of 1%. This agency must be completely impervious to Executive or Congressional abuse, and must act as a national objective source of truth upon which to discuss policy and acqusition and liaison options. A national board of overseers could be comprised of former Presidents, former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former Leaders of the House and Senate, as well as selected representatives of the public. Intelligence is now too important to be subject to the whims of politics.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on January 16, 2006
Format: Audio CD
From his position as Director of Central Intelligence during the Carter presidency Admiral Turner is able to present a view of the CIA from an inside that few of us have seen.

In this book he reviews the relationship between the agency and the president that they served. Sometimes the relationship has been cordial, sometimes you would use other words. Over the years there have been successes and failures, with the failures getting a lot more press.

While the main part of the book is a discussion of the relationship between each of the presidents since Truman and the agency, perhaps the most interesting part of the book is recommendations for strengthening the agency so that it provides more useful assistance to the Government.

His basic proposal is for more of the same. More authority for the director, more budget (of course) more control of the other agencies. There is also a suggestion to tie togeather the fifteen or so agencies that currently collect information. Needless to say, the other agencies have different opinions.

From an outsider point of view, the CIA has become very oriented to collecting intelligence from 'National Technical Means' that is satellites. This worked pretty well when the target was the Soviet Union. It has not worked so well against al Queda or Iraq. Changing the target, the procedures, the languages and perhaps some major changes in philosophy may be needed.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Robert Carlberg on October 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It would be nearly impossible to improve on Robert Steele's excellent review (below) so I won't even try. Instead I'll just mention a few conclusions that this book brought me to.

1. The events of 9/11 starkly illustrated that our Intelligence structure is broken. Infighting, lack of communication, personal rivalries and flawed methods all contributed to the greatest intelligence failure in our nation's history. Rearranging the deck chairs isn't going to fix it.

2. Adm. Turner's book is not about our intelligence failures (as I'd hoped) however; it's a history of Directors of National Intelligence and their relationship to their Presidents. It has been, as Steele noted, a rocky relationship -- and Turner is not above throwing a little monkey poo himself, calling Reagan's transition team "as unbalanced, opinionated, and unwilling to listen as any group I have ever encountered."

3. It is not a foregone conclusion that strengthening the DCI would have prevented 9/11, or any future terrorist act. Undoubtedly it would help, but there's only so much one man (or woman) could do against entrenched parochialism.

4. Nevertheless, both Turner and Steele feel obliged to offer suggestions for DNI strengthening. Steele's idea of making the position independent of the Executive branch has merit, but perhaps puts too much power (and influence over decisionmakers) in the hands of a non-elected official. Turner raises and dismisses both a ten-year fixed term (dismissed for the same reason, essentially) and making it a cabinet position (dismissed as making the position even MORE partisan).
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. Robinson on August 1, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not nearly as candid as in his first book, "Secrecy and Democracy". Admiral Turner's writing and thinking in this text is of minimal effort and this by a man who has had such a distinguished career. I would expect this kind of work from someone turning their dissertation into book length or a professor aiming for tenure, not a retired NATO commander and former DCI. Not only does he not provide anything new in terms of presidents and their relationships to central intelligence but bothers with little meaningful national security/ political analysis, and what technical analysis that exists is trite. He could of produced a seminal and critical work in the field of national security studies using his security clearance and the national security archives but instead writes something that will be quickly dismissed by both the public and scholars. But of all the issues I have with this book most important are the facts he ignores or is unaware of. An example of this is on pg. 84 when he says that Iran was Ike's and Dulles's first use of covert action. There are numerous errors and omissions in this text.

I would not recommend this book to anyone (not even a newbie to national security studies); instead as a replacement "Getting to Know the President: CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates 1952-1992" by John L. Helgerson (one of Turner's key sources by happenstance). But I also suggest reading "Keepers of the Keys" by John Prados, which concerns itself with the history of the National Security Council.
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