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Breakdown: How America's Intelligence Failures Led to September 11 Hardcover – August 1, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
From the bestselling author of a scathing indictment of Clintonian foreign policy, Betrayal, comes an unbalanced but revealing expose on the mistakes, misdirections and blunders behind "the most damaging intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor." Gertz supports his argument that the intelligence community has "lost sight of its purpose and function" with interviews, news clips and almost 100 pages of government documents, some partially classified (a National Security Agency report reproduced within contains little but the date and the designation "TOP SECRET UMBRA"-the rest is "withheld at the request of U.S. intelligence officials"). He points a very stern finger at the FBI, the NSA and the CIA, "where preservation of the agency's budget takes precedence over its performance." In one confounding case, Gertz writes, veteran CIA field agent Robert Baer was investigated and nearly prosecuted by the FBI for planning an assassination of Saddam Hussein; when the CIA discovered their jig was up, they left Baer out to dry. But while the insights into a government overrun by bureaucracy can be fascinating (and infuriating), Gertz seldom assigns any blame toward either George H.W. or George W. Bush's policies in the Middle East. He saves his condemnation, instead, for the Clinton administration (again). This one-sided portrayal may leave the critical reader feeling as if only half the story is being told, as Gertz's strong conservative bent distorts what could have been an important and well-informed look at the terrorist disaster.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The hottest reporter in town...he breaks dozens of big stories every year... -- Washington Post
What he's uncovered is shocking. He's done a great service for the people of this country. -- Rush Limbaugh
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There is little doubt that mature bureaucracies in general live to preserve the bureaucracy rather than serve the original purpose for which they were created. Gertz does a good job of illustrating this point as it relates to the various intelligence agencies. As with most other books I've read on the subject the CIA seems to be the best at this game while dismayingly ineffective in gathering intelligence about enemies.
Gertz also does a good job discussing the politics of intelligence and tracing the impact on the various agencies over the last 40 years. I thought his criticism of republicans in particular was interesting and compelling.
At the end Gertz discusses potential improvements. But by that time I was left pretty much convinced that there is probably little hope for these agencies to ever be effective in their missions without complete overhaul and that is unlikely. There is not much favorable about the new homeland security department either.
If the United States and the American way of life must depend on the Intelligence agencies as convincingly portrayed by Gertz in this book then there is little chance of the oldest democracy surviving another millennium.
While his credentials and writing ability are beyond reproach, Gertz fails miserably by simplistically concluding that politics ruined our intelligence gathering system. Without mentioning the bloody, destabilizing covert actions that compelled legislative intervention, Gertz blames congressional panels "packed with liberal Democrats who assumed that U. S. intelligence agencies posed a threat to American democracy and engaged in wide criminal activity."
To agree with Gertz, one must ignore scores of corporate-friendly coups supported by the CIA in the last half century. For a more complete examination of intelligence misdeeds, read "Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World" by Jonathan Kwitny.
By taking a partisan stance to draw a political conclusion, Gertz fails to put the blame where it belongs; on the hubris ridden, bureaucratic Boys Club that the intelligence service has become. Sycophancy and conformity cross party lines, and smother the creative thinkers in our nation's intelligence community.
Although the Clinton administration comes in for particular blame in neglecting to give proper attention to matters of intelligence, the Congress and Bush Administration were not left free of blame.
Some problems presented by the author as causes of "Breakdown" were the failure of the agencies to adjust to changing circumstances. There was too much dependence on electronic intelligence gathering and not enough emphasis on the need for human involvement. There was also too much dependence on obtaining intelligence from foreign governments.
Many pages of appendices were provided. Some were of little use due to lack of information or being unreadable. One appendix of particular interest, however, was the detailed well-written letter from a Minneapolis FBI agent to the FBI Director in which she is very frank about the shortcomings of the agency in dealing with information about the so called twentieth hijacker of September 11.
I found the book to be both interesting and informative.