James Bamford builds his case against America's intelligence agencies from the ground up, which makes for devastating reading not only for his subjects, but for anyone concerned with the nation's security or simply smart use of taxpayer dollars. Indeed, one can't help but cringe as the veteran journalist records the alarming post-Cold War floundering of the C.I.A., N.S.A., Defense Department, and succeeding administrations in the face of burgeoning terrorist threats that culminate with the attack on 9-11. Seemingly caught flatfooted by the demise of the Soviet Union, the U.S. intelligence community stumbles through the 1990s as it becomes institutionally hidebound and sluggish. During relatively peaceful times, its shortcomings, while not unnoticed, remain largely unaddressed. As Bamford sees it, with the arrival of George W. Bush, the situation goes from bad to worse. With the neocons in power, intelligence gathering is corrupted and politicized to create the grounds for going to war with Iraq. While much of what appears here has appeared earlier in works by Joseph Wilson, Richard Clarke, and others, Bamford pulls the loose ends together and adds new reporting to create a wide-ranging yet taut and absorbing expose of an American security apparatus that combines vast power with stunning ineptitude. --Steven Stolder
From Publishers Weekly
In this hard-hitting expose, investigative journalist Bamford (The Puzzle Palace; Body of Secrets) paints a damning portrait of an incompetent and politicized intelligence community. Before 9/11, he contends, the inadequacy of the CIAs clandestine service hobbled its fight against Osama bin Laden, forcing it to rely on mercenary Afghan proxies and cruise missile drive-bys. Meanwhile, bread-and-butter undercover operations to infiltrate and monitor al-Qaeda were eschewed, and leads on the upcoming attacks bungled. After 9/11, he asserts, the Bush administration used the attacks as a pretext for a long-planned invasion of Iraq; a Defense Department intelligence unit was set up to tout trumped-up evidence against Saddam, which, Bamford says, CIA analysts were pressured into endorsing. Much of the book rehashes a now familiar critique of both the pre-9/11 lapses and the Bush administrations selling of the war, but the author enriches it with a wealth of insider interviews that illuminate structural problems in the nations intelligence effort. Bamford lards his account with pointless mise-en-scene ("in the onyx darkness, George W. Bush switched on the brass sidelight next to his bed") and a gratuitous, if gripping, narrative of the carnage of 9/11. But when he gets down to analysis, his broad understanding of Americas intelligence institutions and procedures make this a must-read for anyone concerned about the current state of affairs.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.