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On the Brink: An Insider's Account of How the White House Compromised American Intelligence Hardcover – October 17, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf; First Edition edition (October 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078671915X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786719150
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,354,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The highest ranking CIA official yet to write a book about the current war in Iraq, retired officer Drumheller looks back on his 25 years in intelligence to lay bare the Bush administration's push toward invasion and its long-term impact on U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities. Central to Drumheller's argument is the familiar story of the White House's reliance on the testimony of an Iraqi defector (who came to be known as "Curveball") in making its case for war; to that effect, there's much here that simply reiterates the critical chorus that "policy was shaping the intelligence and not the other way around," as do numerous recent Iraq war exposés. More interesting are the glimpses of well-known milestones in the run-up to the war, including a late-night call from CIA Director George Tenet the night before Colin Powell's infamous UN address, at which he presented Curveball's testimony on an Iraqi bioweapons program. With this story and others, Drumheller illustrates how the Bush administration left the CIA scrambling to clean up the ensuing mess when they should have been pursuing new threats: "The biggest difference between the current transition period and those in the past is that we are facing the added challenge of fighting off abuse and being made scapegoats by our political masters." Drumheller's book is a lucid account of the Bush administration's intelligence breakdown, hobbled only by its late arrival to the shelf.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Drumheller is the first high-ranking CIA "insider" to write extensively on how supposed intelligence failures led to the war in Iraq, which he clearly feels has damaged national interest. He retired from the agency in 2005, spent more than 25 years as an intelligence operative, and served as chief of clandestine operations for Europe from 2001 to 2005. Although his high position in the agency certainly makes his account worthy of close attention, it is not clear how directly Drumheller was in the loop as decisions to take military action were made. Still, his assertions are certainly disturbing. While Bush defenders consistently have blamed intelligence failures for the phantom weapons of mass destruction, Drumheller credibly claims that the administration pressured the agency to make the case that the weapons existed and any reports that contradicted that view were ignored. In particular, the treatment of an Iraqi defector who refuted the claims of advanced weapons programs now seems both outrageous and tragic. In a broader context, Drumheller reveals an erosion of the political independence and professionalism of the agency over several decades as successive administrations tried to manipulate and distort intelligence to serve political and ideological ends. Sure to engender intense debate. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

It is crazy to say this, but there are far better books on this subject.
About the only thing that Drumheller's book adds to the public record is a little bit more detail.
That the CIA couldn't obtain what was supposedly needed is a gross indictment of the agency.
David M. Dougherty

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on March 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If one is a careful reader, this book provides a fascinating window on how CIA went about its business in the period prior to the tragic attacks of 9/11 and Operation Iraqi Freedom. This, one would suspect, was an unintended consequence of the book. The book is rather disjointed and episodic, but this is probably due to the fact that it is really the informal personal narrative of veteran CIA Officer Tyler Drumheller.

In order to look into the window on CIA activities, one has to sort through the narrative for interesting pieces of information. For example, early on in the narrative the reader learns that prior to 9/11 Drumheller, as chief of the European Division of CIA's Directorate of Operations and his leaders had agreed to "press harder on counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation issues in Europe" and that he "wanted to be more aggressive" in this effort. We are then told that this was really hard because the European security services had a different approach than we did. As an example, Drumheller noted getting a telephone tap in Germany was much more difficult than in the U.S. because the German services had to get taps cleared through a committee of parliament. Yet if the Germans didn't routinely tap telephones there would scarcely have been a legal procedure for doing so in place. Nonetheless one is left with the impression that this was a show stopper for CIA. Also apparently only after his retirement in 2004, did it occur to Drumheller that CIA could have attempted to recruit informants from the large expatriate Muslim population then living in Europe. Country to Drumheller's contention, the risk to CIA relations with their European counterparts would have been minimal, if the recruitment was handled properly. Again this risk was apparently a show stopper for CIA.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By R. Sessions on November 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Although Drumheller's book rambles some and feels incomplete, this can be forgiven since 1/6 of the original was excised by the CIA. I particularly liked the personal glimpse of this fine professional and his family, rarely seen due to the necessarily hidden and shadowy roles of CIA people. I would enjoy having these people as friends.

The book makes a significant contribution to our national security discussion. Specifically, it shows that a key part of the CIA (Drumheller's group)did not consider reliable the Iraqi source "Curveball" held by another European security service, and on whose reports the Bush administration based much of its false case for Iraq having biological weapons of mass destruction. Also important is the description of the Iraqi source in Saddam's inner circle identified by another European security service. This source reputedly claimed that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and Drumheller's agent kept trying to meet personally with this source. Drumheller makes a strong case that George Tenet and key Bush administration figures too willingly believed and trumpeted the fabricator, Curveball, but weren't interested in pursuing the Saddam associate. In other words, the administration had its mind made up to go to war with Iraq and wanted to hear and allow only that intelligence that supported its case. The administration's methods were to not-so-subtly intimidate CIA analysts and to "stovepipe" raw data directly to key Bush figures and discourage normal CIA vetting and analytical processes.

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34 of 45 people found the following review helpful By maskirovka VINE VOICE on November 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"Drumheller's book is a lucid account ... hobbled only by its late arrival to the shelf."

I think the above quote from the Publishers Weekly review of "On the Brink" says it all. I'm still reading it, but there really isn't anything in it so far that hasn't already been discussed in exhaustive detail in news coverage before its publication and especially in the WMD Commission Report (aka "the Silbermann-Robb Commission Report). About the only thing that Drumheller's book adds to the public record is a little bit more detail. The reviewer who claims that the book contains "explosive insights" ought to read the WMD Commission Report and see if he or she still believes that afterwards (the report came out in early 2005).

Drumheller's book also suffers from his tendency to attribute what he thinks and believes about Iraq to everyone in the Intelligence Community. As someone who works in that community, I think I can safely say that he does not speak for me or a lot of other people --even inside his own agency.

Another thing about the book that I find rather annoying is that it overwhelmingly "CIA-centric." Drumheller obviously believes that there is the CIA and "all the little agencies who make the CIA possible." My agency isn't even in the index.

This is in stark contrast to the WMD Commission Report (which is available on the Internet --just Google it-- and also in a book of reports called "Desert Mirage." The Commission looks at the total Intelligence Community and what it got wrong and right.

So why pay good money for a book that tells you only one narrow part of the story? Why not download the report and get the whole thing for free? It's not like the report is hard to read or that it whitewashes anything that Drumheller decries.
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