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Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform Hardcover – September 6, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


[A] rich, useful, and important book.

(Thomas Powers New York Times Book Review)

A thoroughly documented, cogently argued work by an author with vast personal experience of his topic.

(Kirkus Reviews)

A vigorous and hard-hitting insider's account,

(Lawrence D. Freedman Foreign Affairs)

Pillar provides a telling and comprehensive new perspective from the inside.

(Steve Coll New York Review of Books)

This is a well-written effort by a former intelligence offer and academician. Hopefully, members of the national security community and their staffs will read and benefit from it.


Pillar's book is extremely detailed and informative, providing a better understanding of just how hard it is to be an intelligence professional in a world where all that matters is being wrong... once.

(James M. Burcalow Military Review)

Important and highly readable.... This is a book that should be widely read by both the public and policymakers.

(Richard Harris The Manhattan Mercury)


Pillar's combination of qualifications as a high-level practitioner and careful scholar is unmatched. He weaves together general analysis of the role of intelligence with insights from his own involvement in the most important foreign policy issues over many years.

(Richard K. Betts, Columbia University)

The 9/11 attacks and the Iraq WMD estimate are both encumbered by erroneous legends. Paul R. Pillar, a senior intelligence analyst deeply involved in both issues, offers crucial correctives, also applicable to the overly-esteemed 9/11 Commission Report. These alone make this an important book. Pillar goes further, offering a unique history of U.S. intelligence and the issue of 'intelligence reform.' Not all will agree with his observations, but they come from substantial experience and deep thought and need to be seriously considered.

(Mark M. Lowenthal, president, The Intelligence and Security Academy, and former Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production)

Paul R. Pillar brings to his study of intelligence and foreign policy the skills of an accomplished scholar and a wealth of experience as an intelligence officer. A brief endorsement cannot do justice to the richness and power of his arguments, which are essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what intelligence can and cannot do; why the appeal of reforms is often greater than their value; and how we can avoid repeating our past mistakes.

(Robert Jervis, author of Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Fall of the Shah and the Iraq War)

Writing with the authority of a distinguished practitioner and scholar, Paul R. Pillar presents a blunt and candid assessment of the profound disconnect between intelligence and American national security policy. His pointed reflections expose the reality of the politicization and misuse of intelligence as well as the importance of the images of the world that policy makers bring to the table. His book is an invaluable corrective to the assumption that policy blunders and the inability to predict can be blamed simply on 'intelligence failure.'

(Martha Crenshaw, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University)

Paul R. Pillar has written a brilliant, lucid analysis of the evolution of U.S. national security intelligence in the decade since the 9/11 attacks. He shows how the intelligence agencies have been made scapegoats for the failures of our political leaders, how intelligence reform has become confused with bureaucratic reorganization, and how our foreign policy is driven by a psychological as well as political incapacity to accept the limitations of our knowledge about the plans and motivations of actual and potential adversaries. Pillar's book is erudite, thorough, and authoritative, yet accessible to anyone concerned with the gravest issues of national and global security.

(Richard A. Posner, author of Countering Terrorism: Blurred Focus, Halting Steps)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; First Edition edition (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231157924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231157926
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,090,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have to give the book a solid five, not my norm by any means for books on the intelligence profession. It loses one star for eschewing deeper discussions of the lack of integrity across the intelligence system (to include George Tenet refusing to implement any of the recommendations of the Aspin-Brown Commission, or Jim Clapper continuing to do the wrong things more expensively than ever before), but abundantly compensates for those omissions with devastatingly fresh precision attacks on the political side of the house, where intelligence is generally irrelevant. This is, without question, the ONLY first class book on this topic, and it is certain to be of lasting value, along with a still relevant companion by Mort Halperin, Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy; Second Edition, in which "rule one" is--I do not make this stuff up--"Lie to the President if you can get away with it."

The killer quote that makes the book for me is from Richard Immerman, and appears on page 318:

"regardless of any benefit from reform of the intelligence community, 'the effect on policy is likely to be slight so long as the makers of that policy remain cognitively impaired and politically possessed.'"

Wow. I've never heard politicians called stupid and corrupt in such elegant terms. It works for me. Pillar makes a stab at addressing the importance of openness, but this book completely avoids the trenchant details that are better found in Hamilton Bean's
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The core of this book is a scathing critique of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (aka 9/11 Commission). It makes a persuasive argument that the 9/11 Commission inquiry and its subsequent report were more an exercise in public relations and political gamesmanship than a serious study of the events associated with the 9/11 tragedy. The argument is made that the staff director of the Commission, Philip Zelikow, not only was politically biased toward the Bush Administration, but entered into the inquiry with a predetermined agenda to "reform" the U.S. Intelligence Community by creating a new layer to an already top heavy bureaucracy by advocating the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to oversee the entire IC.

Pillar appears to have done a good deal of thinking about the complicated issue of how intelligence relates to policy and how domestic political considerations can influence both. Although his uses the 9/11 Commission report as the center piece of his thinking, he discusses other examples of what is sometimes called `politicalization' of intelligence as well. He makes the important point that intelligence often is used to sell policy rather than inform it. He notes that in the run up to operation Iraqi Freedom, the administration of President George W Bush appears to have decided upon a military invasion of Iraq with no discernable evidence of a formal decision making process. Once the decision was made, intelligence reporting was considered principally as a means of selling the decision to the American public and Congress. The events of 9/11 were sized upon as a catalyst to build public support for the invasion of Iraq.

This is an important book that makes a major contribution to the understanding of how the U.S.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a must for anyone interested in how intelligence is used and misused by policymakers, in particular prior to the invasion of Iraq, as well as historic examples by past administrations. As the National Intelligence Officer [NIO] for the Near East/South Asia from 2000 to 2004, and previously as deputy in CIA's CounterTerrorism Center, few people have the background and experience that the author has in viewing these turbulent years. Bonus: the book is not only an insider's view, but also thoughtful and well written. It is not without flaws; but they are few in contrast to the wealth of informed judgement that Pillar brings to the subject.

Question: Did the Bush Administration go to war in Iraq through a deliberative process that identified reasons pro and con? Pillar states there was "the absence of any apparent procedure for the determination of whether the war was a good idea..." thus agreeing with other insiders, such as former Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill and Deputy Sec. of State Richard Armitage. But the administration needed a reason to "sell" the idea of war to the American public. In August 2002, it was decided that the threat posed by Iraq's potential for using so-called weapons of mass destruction--chemical, biological, and nuclear, the latter the only truly "mass destruction" weapon--would be used justification. The CIA was asked to produce a hurried National Intelligence Estimate on this topic. Pillar agrees that the NIE was badly flawed, that the key judgments "leaned forward" in government parlance, agreeing that a threat was there. However, as Pillar notes, the body of the NIE spelled out in detail the flimsy nature of the evidence, the disagreements by the Department of Energy and State as to the key findings.
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