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Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA Paperback – May 20, 2008

4 out of 5 stars 377 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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. (Aug. 7)
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 Bookmarks Magazine

Tim Weiner, multiple Pulitzer Prize winner, longtime New York Times reporter, and the author of Betrayal: The Story of Aldrich Ames, American Spy (1995) and Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget (1991) hits his marks in Legacy of Ashes. Drawing on more than 50,000 documents and 300 on-the-record interviews with key players (10 of them former directors of the agency; all of the book's many notes and quotations are attributed), Weiner treats his subject with a ruthless, journalistic eye, skewering Republican and Democratic administrations alike for the CIA's slide into mediocrity. One critic finds a weakness in Weiner's exuberant dismantling of the old guard at the expense of more contemporary analysis. Still, this is an important book that will capture the attention of anyone interested in the CIA's checkered history.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (May 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307389008
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307389008
  • ASIN: 0307389006
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (377 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,195 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As Tim Weiner makes clear in the first pages of this book, the driving force for the creation of CIA was to establish a clearing house where all intelligence information available to the U.S. could collated, vetted, and organized into coherent knowledge. And as he also makes clear this mission was subverted and overshadowed from the start by the culture of the veterans of the WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who dominated the early CIA. These veterans were far more comfortable with covert action and clandestine collection of intelligence than desk bound intelligence analysis. So from the time of its creation to the present, the Directorate of Intelligence (analytic shop) has existed in the shadow of the Directorate of Operations (DO). Virtually every CIA Director from the beginning has focused on one or all of the following: initiating DO operations; cleaning up messes left by DO operations; or reorganizing the DO to do a better job.

This book is a case in point. Although ostensibly about CIA as an institution, the book really focuses on DO and its alleged failures. This fascination with the DO by journalists, Presidents, and CIA Directors has allowed the analytic arm of CIA to atrophy from almost the very first. Yet the many failures and embarrassments that Weiner has chosen to chronicle in this book are as much the fault of DI as DO.

Now this book is essentially a massive and well written critique of CIA and especially the DO. For the most part it is pretty accurate, but as CIA has pointed out in a rather pitiful rebuttal of the book, it is not entirely fair and balanced. For example, in 1998 India exploded a nuclear weapon to the utter surprise and amazement of the entire U.S. Intelligence Community (IC).
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Format: Hardcover
The incident which gives this book its title reveals something essential about its tone and direction. At the end of his two - terms of office President Eisenhower called into his office, the former legendary OSS officer and director of the CIA Allen Dulles, and said to him point- blank. " After eight years you have left me , a "legacy of ashes." In other words the institution whose task it was to provide vital intelligence to the U.S. Executive on world - affairs had not done its job. Eisenhower was concerned about what legacy would be handed on to his successor, President Kennedy. And surely enough some months later 'The Bay of Pigs' fiasco occurred in great part because of the faulty plan and information provided by the CIA's Richard Bissell. Bissell believed an infiltrating semi- Army of 1600 would easily defeat Castro's sixty- thousand troops. The result was the Kennedy Administration's first major disaster.
The two - sides of Intelligence work, the gathering of information, and the undertaking of covert operations are generously surveyed in this work. Weiner a long- time reporter for the NY Times devoted twenty- years to this book, and in the course of it read through fifty- thousand declassified CIA Intelligence documents. He also interviewed ten former directors of the CIA.
He points out errors made all along the way. Frank Wisner at the beginning ignored 'intelligence gathering' and sent during the Korean War thousands of hired agents to suicidal behind- the- enemy- lines operations. In the Bay of Pigs fiasco and in numerous other operations the CIA instead of providing hard, truthful contradictory analysis essentially worked to politically support a prior decision of the Executive branch. Speaking 'truth to power' has not been its essential strong point.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tim Weiner gives a sweeping account of the full six decade history of the CIA. As his title "Legacy of Ashes" implies, it is a chronicle of blunders and incompetence occasionally interspersed with success.

A constant theme throughout the book is the clashes of strong egos, of individual ambition taking precedence over national interest. This is a problem throughout the bureaucracy. The natural brakes on bureaucracy are the Congressional checkbook, oversight and rivalries from above and elsewhere in the bureaucracy, and public opinion informed by a diligent press. Bureaucrats everywhere try to hide their failings. When the mission itself is clandestine, they can be unusually successful in doing so.

The CIA is split into a Directorate of Operations and a Directorate of Intelligence, responsible for covert actions and espionage respectively. The DO received most of the funding through the early history of the CIA, and because of its activist charter got the agency into its gravest difficulties. Under its first long-term director, Allen Dulles, it developed a passion for regime change. Installing the Shah in Iran was the most sparkling success. Along with regime change, it was fascinated with political assassination.

Presidents were fascinated by the opportunities which a clandestine service presented for carrying out activities outside the law, or at least at its limits. They often directed the CIA to do things that its management would rather not have done, and they often asked for intelligence that was impossible to acquire given the CIA's resources. The tension resulted in a lot of lies being told. Presidents and Congress were told what they wanted to hear rather than the truth.
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