Joseph E. Persico presents FDR as one of America's great spymasters. "Few leaders were better adapted temperamentally to espionage than Franklin Roosevelt," writes Persico, author of Nuremberg
and Colin Powell's autobiographical collaborator. "FDR compartmentalized information, misled associates, manipulated people, conducted intrigues, used private lines of communication, scattered responsibility, duplicated assignments, provoked rivalries, held the cards while showing few, and left few fingerprints." He was a kind of principled Machiavellian who hoped to achieve several clear ends, such as getting the United States into the Second World War, even though most of the public wanted nothing to do with it (before Pearl Harbor). FDR then pursued these goals with the fervor of an opportunist: "the devious route to a desirable goal; inconstant behavior directed toward constant ends; the warship hiding behind a smoke screen but steered by a moral compass."
A good example of this is his relationship with the celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh. Roosevelt asked J. Edgar Hoover to keep tabs on Lindbergh because he was a critic of the administration, and FDR suspected he was a closeted Nazi (not true, but perhaps an understandable opinion). Roosevelt's Secret War reveals how FDR created a huge intelligence operation and then ran it--he "built espionage into the structure of American government," says Persico. There were plenty of successes (Roosevelt knew about Hitler's plans to invade Russia before they did it), but also failings: Soviet agents burrowed into FDR's administration at the highest levels. One of the best sections of the book addresses a perennial question: Did FDR know the Japanese were about to bomb Pearl Harbor and let them do it because he believed the sneak attack would propel the public into supporting war against the Axis powers? Persico argues that FDR didn't know: "The clues seem to lead to that conclusion like lights on a well-marked runway." He makes a convincing case that "Pearl Harbor was a catastrophe, not a conspiracy." Roosevelt's Secret War is a unique contribution to our understanding of FDR--no other book treats America's longest-serving president as a spymaster--and it will appeal to readers interested in the Second World War and the cloak-and-dagger world of espionage. --John Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Blending anecdotes, speculations and documented facts into an exciting story of collecting and transmitting information in wartime, Persico (Nuremburg: Infamy on Trial) offers a clear-eyed take on FDR's approach to intelligence. For Persico, Roosevelt was someone to whom dissimulation was second nature, and who enjoyed for their own sake the trappings of secret agentry: clandestine meetings, reports done in invisible ink, codes and ciphers. Roosevelt built espionage into the very structure of American government well before Pearl Harbor, Persico shows. The president preferred human sources over electronic ones and the intuition of field agents to the conclusions of technocrats, but he incorporated electronic intelligence comprehensively into strategic and operational planning. Roosevelt's was the decisive influence in creating the Office of Strategic Services. Under "Wild Bill" Donovan, this initially unstable amalgam of dilettantes, poseurs and experts achieved an enviable record of successes during the war. Roosevelt, however, was by no means dominated by his intelligence services. As we see him here, the president listened, processed and drew his own conclusions. He rejected, for example, repeated OSS recommendations to modify the principle of unconditional surrender rather than risk exacerbating Stalin's distrust of the Western alliance, and he respected the Faustian bargain that kept Russia in the war, even in the face of growing evidence that the U.S. was the target of a major Soviet espionage offensive. Such examples are rife throughout the book, showing how Roosevelt's use of intelligence decisively shaped the war and helped define the peace that followed. (On-sale Oct. 9)Forecast: This book should sell solidly to intelligence enthusiasts, but it doesn't connect clearly to any current issues or make major revelations, and is not quite strong enough to create its own buzz.
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