- Paperback: 848 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (May 20, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780307389008
- ISBN-13: 978-0307389008
- ASIN: 0307389006
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 458 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA Paperback – May 20, 2008
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"Must reading for anyone interested in the CIA or American intelligence since World War II." —The Washington Post“Legacy of Ashes is the best book I've yet read on the CIA's covert actions." —Edward Jay Epstein, The Wall Street Journal"Legacy of Ashes should be must-reading for every presidential candidate—and every American who wants to understand why the nation repeatedly stumbles into one disaster abroad after another.”—The Boston Globe “A timely and vital contribution . . . [that] glitters with relevance.”—Los Angeles Times“This is by far the scariest book of the year.”—The Christian Science Monitor
About the Author
Tim Weiner, a reporter for The New York Times, has filed stories from inside the CIA and around the world for twenty years. He is a past winner of the Pulitzer Prize for covering national security. This is his third book.
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The book makes it painfully apparent that CIA is not so much James Bond or even George Smiley, but more like The Office. Except when they bungle, instead of hilarious awkwardness we get a bunch of people dead and/or tortured.
The main reason the CIA was established was to prevent another Pearl Harbor: to gather knowledge of foreign nations and what they are up to, so that the United States would not be caught by surprise again. In this task they have utterly failed, either not having the information or having plain wrong information. Sometimes they tried to cover up missing information just making it up on the spot, sometimes they caved in to the political pressure and told the people in power what they wanted to hear, even when they knew it was not true. Having provided so many times information that later turned out to be completely false they were often ignored in the few cases when they actually had some actual information. One example of embarrassingly and lethally bad intelligence was the bombing of Chinese embassy in Belgrade which CIA had claimed was a military depot.
One reason was that very few of the employees even spoke foreign languages like Arabic, Russian, Persian, Korean or Chinese. Once they tried to hire someone who had lived in Azerbaijan and spoke fluent Azeri, but he was rejected because he failed the English test. The one who had tried to hire him was exasperated: "I've got thousands of people here who can write English, but I don't have anybody here who can speak Azeri."
Another was that many in the agency wanted more to play James Bond than to do the boring work of gathering and analyzing intelligence. During the Cold War they sent hundreds of volunteers behind the Iron Curtain to do sabotage and form guerrilla forces, and basically every one of them was caught and killed, though sometimes they were first used by Soviets to feed back false intelligence and asking to send more men and guns, which Soviets then received with open arms. Despite the total failure of these operations, CIA kept on persistently doing them. One of the defining traits of the agency seems to be complete inability to learn from mistakes or even admit them.
I think this is what le Carré was hinting at in the The Looking Glass War about the inefficient bureaucracy, ambitions far beyond actual capabilities and resulting tragedies in the intelligence business, except that the truth turns out to be much, much worse.