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The Secret History of the CIA Paperback – Bargain Price, January 4, 2005

3.2 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Citing legitimate governments ruined and thousands of lives lost, investigative reporter Trento (Widows) views the CIA as stunningly incompetent. He blames the agency's culture of arrogance for the waste of superior intellects and hundreds of millions of dollars. Trento vividly re-creates the day-to-day lives of key CIA agents during defining post-WWII events: the Cuban missile crisis; JFK's assassination; Vietnam; the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile; and Cold War espionage in the U.S. and Soviet Union. In Chile, for instance, the Nixon administration arranged a military coup to head off the Socialist Allende's presidency and abetted the assassination of the Chilean army's chief of staff, General Ren‚ Schneider, who wouldn't help "oust a democratically elected leader." Based on U.S. and Soviet records and reports and on hundreds of interviews with former CIA men and their families, the firsthand stories of moles, secret operations, assassination attempts and triple agents are equal to John le Carr‚'s best. But Trento's provocative conclusions that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for the KGB and that Averell Harriman was probably a Communist sympathizer suffer from the poor credibility of his sources; his CIA has few heroes, many alcoholics, womanizers, deceitful bureaucratic infighters, outright liars and worse. Trento's prose sometimes reads like boilerplate spy thriller (peopled by "brilliant," "cunning" men and "beautiful and ambitious" women), but generally he does a good story justice, and he has ample opportunity here. (Oct.)Forecast: Recently released Cold War security documents are spawning numerous intelligence expos‚s, and Trento's salable blend of gravitas and sensation will attract a wide readership.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"With The Secret History of the CIA, Joe Trento totally penetrated the CIA."

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (January 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786715006
  • ASIN: B002GJU3O6
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,372,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Don't buy this book if you are looking for information about the CIA's structure or policies. This is a "National Enquirer" style set of revelations about the CIA's mistakes in judgement and super-tricky Soviet agents' abilities.
The book is written in rough chronological sequence--but, the overlap of some of the stories requires a little backward and forward storytelling. It starts with the pre-CIA origins and moves well into the '90s.
Initial impressions, from early chapters, are that the CIA is foolish; the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing; and the reader is blinded by 20/20 hindsight. As the book progresses, and the reader is carried through the discovery of moles and double/triple agents, the reader begins to understand how hard the discernment of "the truth" can be. In the end, one is left with a mix of sympathy, amazement, and admiration.
Be sure to read each chapter's footnotes for more interesting tidbits!
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Format: Hardcover
The Secret History of the CIA will shake whatever faith you have in undercover intelligence activities by the United States. From the beginning of the Cold War, the CIA (and its predecessors) and the FBI were riddled with double agents for the Soviet Union, Israel, and Cuba among others. But don?t give the foreign intelligence agencies too much credit. U.S. operations were conducted with undue haste, laxness, inattention to detail, and questionable loyalty to ?people with backgrounds like ours.? Key intelligence leaders and operatives are described as typically being drunks, morally corrupt, inept, and callous about others.
In many ways, this history is a good parallel to The Sword and the Shield, which draws on the KGB?s own secret history files. The books reinforce the fundamental message that the Western vulnerability to KGB efforts had its basis in many basic weaknesses within British and U.S. intelligence operations.
The primary sources for this book are retired CIA intelligence and counter-intelligence operatives, many of whom insisted on either anonymity or having their stories told after their deaths. I can certainly see why they were reticent to make these horrible stories public while they were alive.
The mistakes began with wide-open recruiting of former Nazis and their collaborators, which opened the door to long-time Soviet agents like Igor Orlov who appeared to have operated successfully until his death over 35 years later. Later, ?migr? groups were treated the same way, letting more double agents into U.S. intelligence. Counter-intelligence had its hands tied from the beginning because those who had recruited the former Nazis did not want their roles uncovered.
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Format: Hardcover
"All the operations, all the billions spent, all the bodies we left around the world, all the lies to our countrymen, our friends, our families, our allies -- in the end we failed at the mission...Our problem was that we could not discern what mattered." --Dr. William R. Corson, American Counterintelligence Officer

The Secret History of the CIA covers the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, beginning even before World War II was completed. We're in Chapter Six, "The Battle to Control American Intelligence," before we encounter the National Security Act of 1947 and the agency it created, the Central Intelligence Agency.

Published in 2001, too early to include any mention of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, The Secret History of the CIA discusses CIA's history against the Soviet Union in enough detail to let the reader understand how the United States could be so utterly unprepared for what was (retrospectively, in any case) an obvious threat.

The book carries a caveat quoted from CIA mole hunter James Angleton, "Truth, when talking about the CIA, is relative." Despite this note, The Secret History of the CIA comes complete with many end notes identifying sources where possible, painting a picture that is as credible as it is disturbing. Joseph J. Trento's present work is quite different from The Main Enemy, documenting many failures, and some utter disasters funded by American tax dollars. Ultimately, both accounts might well turn out to be right.

Even before CIA was formed, the American intelligence community was plagued by penetrations from Soviet agents.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Trento's book is an interesting and verisimilar account of how CIA has worked on some of its cases from the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War. It does not provide an analysis of the CIA'style or policies in carrying out its job, but it describes operations that have been conducted and the feelings of those who worked as operatives. Since the author relies on two sources of his, who have worked mainly in the Berlin Operating Base, much of the stories are centered on that area with few digressions in other parts of the world according to postings of his sources. The book develops its arguments on different levels and with exhausting flashbacks, so the reader has to go back and forth to disentangle the plot and make a synthesis. However, one of the main character of the book is agent Orlov, a Soviet agent who managed at the end of WWI to be infiltrated in the Nazis and then in the American forces without being discovered until his death decades later in the Washington area. Other episodes are revealed that would make the interested reader in spy stories very into the action. However, two weak spots of the book are: Trento does not provide other reliable sources than hearsays from his own sources, therefore no proof is underpinning the stories. Secondly, the book does not reveal any important facts that would make it really revealing or astonishing, like would have been if he had mentioned something related to the now well known stay-behind operation in Europe. But if you are able to maintain your "suspension of belief" and navigate between the thin line that separates non-fiction from quasi-fiction stories Trento's book is readable and interesting.
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