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The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror Paperback – September 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
The war on terror is a sideshow to the larger struggle for the CIA's soul in this illuminating but partisan book. Investigative journalist Kessler gives a warts-and-all account of the CIA's checkered past up to the despondent 1990s, when the demise of Communism, official disparagement of human intelligence-gathering in favor of high-tech spying, and humiliations like the Aldrich Ames spy case, left the agency rudderless and demoralized. Kessler ties these lapses to a dysfunctional institutional culture that oscillated, he says, between paranoia and slackness, bureaucratic sclerosis and "cowboy" adventurism, and arrogant unaccountability and prissy human rights regulations. Kessler gives an absorbing and critical, if somewhat rambling, history of the agency and its problems, based on extensive interviews with past and present CIA officials and leavened with intriguing secret-agent lore. But when current CIA director George Tenet-a "gracious" and "politically savvy" leader whose "integrity and outspokenness" started a "healing process" that made the agency "focused, aggressive and effective"-arrives on the scene, Kessler's objectivity departs. He dismisses criticisms of the CIA's pre-Sept. 11 performance and the controversy over intelligence claims about Iraq (Tenet, he huffs, "would never tolerate any attempts to influence the CIA's conclusions"). Instead, Kessler extols the agency's successes in "rolling up" terrorists and laying the clandestine groundwork for the invasion of Iraq, while downplaying awkward loose threads like the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction the CIA insisted were in Iraq. Kessler's uncritical endorsement of Tenet-and of President Bush, another "focused" leader who "gets" intelligence, unlike the inattentive Clinton-lacks the insight displayed in the rest of the book. Photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Kessler takes us from the formation of the CIA as an outgrowth of World War II OSS intelligence activities, when most agents were East Coast Ivy League elites focused on cold war scrimmages, through the current war on terror, where the enemy is often unknown and the agency elite are somewhat more diverse. Through numerous interviews with both agents and operatives, Kessler brings to life a world generally described only in fiction. While providing special insight into CIA successes associated with the post-9/11 war on terror, Kessler also portrays a demoralized agency that lost popular and political support because of its inability to detect traitors within its own ranks. This historically secretive and powerful agency has adjusted to modern warfare by integrating intelligence gathering with field operations. Kessler had unprecedented access to the agency, which is reflected in his up-to-date commentary on the war and administration policy. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Tenet followed a series of failed Directorships (no less than 5 in 7 years!) and has revived a cultural of confidence and intelligent risk taking in the Agency that is crucial to prosecution of the War on Terror. If the feckless (and invariably insubstantially supported) calls to fire Tenet are heeded it will not only be a crushing blow to morale within the CIA and the intelligence community generally, but will also send a message that the (all too recent) bad old days of political scapegoating have returned, and that operatives, agents and analysts should revert to C.Y.A. mode.
Tenets accomplishments are considerable. To relate just a few:
He began the process of reviving HUMINT after it had been gutted by his predecessors; he literally pounded the witness table in hearings urging policy makers to take the offensive against al-Qaeda, and identifying Bin Laden as the country's single most important covert threat, years before 911; he promoted Coffer Black, the Khartoum station chief, to head the CIA's Counterterrorism Center precisely because of his expertise on al-Qaeda and his aggressiveness; he increased the staff of the Counterterrorism Center from a few dozen employees to over 300, again years before 911, while also integrating FBI employees on special assignment and actively addressing institutional infighting that undermined the center.
Unlike the technophobic Freeh at the FBI (who probably DID need to be fired) Tenet has been a consistent booster of modernization and innovation. He supported and pushed development of the Predator drone, for instance. With a less far sighted Director (who would have deferred to the Defense Dept's plodding development of similar but ultimately overly complex and less effective systems) we wouldn't have had that vital resource available, which has been responsible for "smoking" many al-Qaeda operatives.
Another example of Tenet's embrace of effective innovation is his promotion of In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit org established in '99 that funds and develops CIA technology and software projects, incorporating and co-opting private sector innovations. Prior to this, private firms with cutting edge technologies avoided the CIA because of it's cumbersome procurement procedures.
Along the same line, Tenet installed the ex-marine and retired millionaire investment banker A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard as the CIA's executive officer with a charge to cut through the Agency's bloated bureaucracy. Among other bold reforms, Krongard eliminated an entire directorate -- the powerful but bloated and sluggish fourth directorate, of administration -- so that (as in a private firm) the CIA's various divisions now report directly to higher management.
As other reviews have also noted, the treatment of CIA directors previous to Tenet is unremittingly negative. While this is glaringly true, it's not quite as bad as it sounds. Taking William Casey as an illustrative example, Kessler's criticisms -- poor handling of congress, shaky and inattentive administrative skills, failure to kill some ill conceived and counter productive operations, etc -- are at least arguably fair and accurate. The deficiency is not one of commission, but is rather the omission of Casey's strengths. For instance, Casey is given no credit at all for his most important accomplishments: his development of the economic warfare strategy against the Soviet Union, and his cultivation of accurate intelligence on the previously murky status of the Soviet economy.