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Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA Hardcover – June 28, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 702 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (June 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038551445X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385514453
  • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 6.1 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (328 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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.

Customer Reviews

The audio book was very well read.
Y. Jones
The CIA knew the Gulf of Tonkin was radar interference after provocation but they were too late and Johnson didn't want to hear it.
Charles S. Fisher
A very good and readable book,well researched and documented.
Paul Gelman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

226 of 241 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on August 10, 2007
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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106 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 11, 2007
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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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Swystun on December 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
Has there ever been more scrutiny and criticism of an organization that is suppose to operate in secret? At its formation from the remnants of the OSS, the CIA was always playing "catch-up" with other nation's counterparts who were more practiced at the 'great game'. Then in short order, its many missteps brought about distrust from its own government and people. Despite this, the CIA managed to maintain a formidable reputation in spite of its truly awful record.

Its purpose or mission was to know the world. Soon that came to entail exporting and cementing democracy. The result, in the words of President Eisenhower, is "a legacy of ashes." Weiner's book delivers on two levels. First, it offers up a definitive history of the CIA activities (much you may have read before but the whole effort is more comprehensive). But more importantly, he provides an analysis of why the organization has been such a debated failure giving credence to the theory that its brand is more valuable than its substance.

History will show that the US missed a critical opportunity to totally revamp its entire intelligence apparatus in the wake of 9/11 rather than simply applying bandaids and creating an umbrella structure for competing organizations.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By CJA VINE VOICE on April 30, 2012
Format: Paperback
Weiner has written an interesting and compelling polemic against the CIA. He maintains that the CIA is an incompetent organization that has never fulfilled its mission of providing reliable central intelligence, but that it has been quite good at political survival and creating an image for itself. In the process, the CIA has done damage to our democratic institutions -- lying to the President, running rogue operations overseas that depose or kill leaders, and engaging in domestic spying.

But Weiner is so focused on criticizing that he ends up doing a bit of a hatchet job on the Agency. The CIA has to be given its due for some of its successes, and its failures are symptomatic of far larger problems than the incompetence of one agency. For example, Weiner acknowledges that the CIA got Vietnam right, but then bowed to polical pressure to rubber stamp the military's erroneous counting of the insurgency and assumption that it was winning a war of attrition. And Director Helms resists Nixon's directive to feed to the Watergate burglars the Agency's vast store of secret cash -- yet the Agency cannot ultimately resist the temptation to expand the war on American enemies to domestic targets. As for the Cold War, it is the survival instinct of the Agency that perhaps explains its move after the 1960s to vastly exaggerate the power of the Soviets.

Weiner is devastating in recounting the remarkable failures of the Agency to plant overseas spies against totalitarian governments. But that may well be more of a function of the inherent advantages of controlled societies to ferret out such threats -- our society is simply not structured to do as good a job.

Also infuriating is the Agency's habit of throwing huge amounts of cash around to buy or influence foreign leaders.
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More About the Author

From the Random House Speakers Bureau profile:

Tim Weiner has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his writing on vital issues of American national security. As a correspondent for The New York Times, he covered the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon in Washington, and reported on war and terrorism from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, and many other nations over the course of 15 years.

His new book, Enemies: A History of the FBI, has been acclaimed as "fascinating" by The Wall Street Journal. Legacy of Ashes, his chronicle of the CIA, was a bestseller across the United States and around the world. His fields of expertise include espionage, foreign affairs, intelligence, and Presidential power politics. He has lectured at the CIA, universities, political think tanks, and at Presidential libraries.

Tim Weiner's trademark use of intelligence research and unique sources compose compelling narratives that are as riveting as they are important to understanding the world we live in. Weiner is currently at work on a history of the American Military.