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A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies First Edition Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0385506724
ISBN-10: 0385506724
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 CIA’s 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 administration’s selling of the war, but the author enriches it with a wealth of insider interviews that illuminate structural problems in the nation’s 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 America’s 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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (June 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385506724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385506724
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #452,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on July 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Like one of the other reviewers here on Amazon, I am an intelligence analyst for the US government. Unlike that reviewer, I personally witnessed how the Bush administration fabricated, twisted, distorted, "cherry-picked" and otherwise misused intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. Many of us on the inside pretty much knew that this war was already a done deal more than a year before it actually happened - Final decisions technically may not have been made, but it was obvious from observing what went on on a day-to-day basis that the war was going to happen. If it had not been for Colin Powell, it probably would have happened much earlier. It was my personal experience in the run-up to this war that led me to read Bamford's book. I was curious to see how right he would get it. In the end, I feel he did a decent job. He has gathered good information, and he has been fairly thorough.
The only issues I really had with the book were that it seemed to meander or repeat itself in parts - a slight lack of organization, at least when you hold the body of the book up to his thesis - that we went to war in Iraq based on a pretext. I also was a little bored, personally, with the first two-thirds of the book, dealing with the events surrounding 9/11. Not that he didn't have good information there or that it wasn't well written, it just wasn't the reason I picked up the book. I was expecting more Iraq, less 9/11. I also felt that Bamford could have gone into more detail on the myriad of reasons that the administration actually had for invading Iraq. As Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged after the war, WMD was simply the easiest one for all the decision makers at the NSC to agree on.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know Jim Bamford personally, and consider him to be one of the most capable of researchers and most objective of writers on intelligence matters. His deep personal relationships across the U.S. Intelligence Community make him the best possible reporter.
For those of us steeped in the literature, that routinely read both the daily reporting and the regular books, much of what Jim has put together here will be repetitive. This is, however, the very best book to read if you only have the time for one book on the topic of 9-11, the failure of U.S. intelligence, and the corruption of U.S. policy in using 9-11 as a pretext for invading Iraq and giving Bin Laden the best possible (i.e. most stupid) strategic response to 9-11.
This is the ideal book for any citizen who wants a professional "once over" tour of the various intelligence and policy pieces that broke down and allowed 9-11 to happen, and then allowed the entire "balance of powers" construct from our Founding Fathers to fly out the window. If you want to go deeper, see my thirteen Lists and 479+ other reviews of national security non-fiction.
The book is especially strong on the Rendon Group being used to illegally propagandize American citizens with U.S. taxpayer funds, on the abject failure of George Tenet in revitalizing U.S. clandestine operations, on the failure (treated more kindly) of Mike Hayden to bring the National Security Agency into the 21st Century, and on the very unhealthy merger of the U.S.
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Format: Audio Cassette
Lest we forget, the first 60 pages of A Pretext for War give a harrowing replay of the hijackings of 9/11, as seen first from the Air National Guard's Northeast Air Defense Sector, tracking the planes on radar as they pursue their deadly course. The personal details, conversations and horror-struck impressions are a reminder of the shock felt by all caught in the glare of this monstrous enterprise.

During the attacks on the World Trade Towers, President Bush remained in the classroom photo-op in Florida and General Myers, the acting military commander, spent forty-five minutes in the office of Senator Max Cleland, interviewing for the position of top brass in Cent Com, unaware that the worst attack in this country's history was occurring. The extent of our lack of preparation is shocking at this point, inexplicable. The missing third plane was not yet located. One hundred and ten minutes after takeoff, the forth plane, American Flight 11, came to a fiery end and the attacks were over at last.

In the meat of the book, Bamford covers the spy apparatus in this country, from the Cold War efforts of the NSA to George Tenet's meteoric rise as the head of the CIA during the Clinton Administration and the importance of Presidential Daily Briefings. Piece by piece, Bamford builds a solid structure of information, moving toward his conclusion: we are not much better off now, two years later, in the area of surveillance in other countries. Then he segues into the parallel growth of Osama bin Ladin's efforts to establish an anti-American legion of American fighters, in spite of active interference by Saudi Arabia and the freezing of bin Ladin's assets. Critical to his cause is the continuing support of America for Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
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