Customer Reviews: Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987
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on September 18, 2002
Anyone interested in the Iran-Contra issue should have read this book. But the title, is a bit misleading. Woodward focuses too much on the Iran-Contra issue (and superficially at that) to the detriment of other CIA and DoD paramilitary/covert activities during the era of the 80s.
Furthermore, the way Woodward wove himself into the storyline would lead one to believe that he was a key character in the whole Casey-era saga. Fortunately, this is hardly the case.
Nevertheless, the book is a good review of the key players at the macro-level who were creating policy. Of note, the interaction between Goldwater and Casey is enlightening.
If you really want to get to the meat of CIA/DoD secret activities during this era, Steve Emerson's "Secret Warriors" will provide far more insight into the covert activities of the 80s.
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on April 13, 2002
I am a big fair of Woodward, so much so that I would even consider reading his shopping list. With that said I will give him a little slack on the Casey deathbed revelations. I think if the author would have know the level of scorn he has received concerning the "Casey confession" he may have used a tape recorder.
Overall this book gives the reader some very interesting stories about the Regan years and his use of the CIA. The reader of any book covering a review of a set of government policies that had a very firm stamp of approval or even the direction of the President will always fall on side or another on if the book is a truthful and "shocking" exposé or a "political bias hatchet job". I think that is one of the fun things about this book, no matter what side of the argument you are on; you will experience some emotion while reading this book. If you are also very interested in this subject it is interesting to go back into time and read his review and then compare it to some of the new facts on the subject.
Overall, this is another Woodward book, well written and constructed, very detailed and full of a lot of conversations that make you feel that you are involved, not just page after page of monotone lecturing. I wish he spent a little more time on footnotes so that the reader could be a better judge to the research he puts into the book and the sources used. If you like Woodward, you will love this book. If you have leanings to the left then you will have a lot of "you see" stories to tell, and if you are a strong Reaganite then you will be happy with the strong effort described in the book to defeat the USSR.
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on May 30, 2007
This is an excellent read where Bob Woodward with his astonishing access to sources deep inside the White House and CIA reveals the secret wars conducted by the CIA led by William Casey (1981-1987) during the Regan years. From Nicaragua to Afghanistan to the Iran-contra scandal Casey was involved in and controlled it all. The repercussions of his feverishly misguided policies and the secrets he kept from the U.S. Congress would have drastic effects on future generations of Americans and the world. One of Woodward's best!
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VINE VOICEon April 26, 2005
This book presents the history of the CIA during William Casey's tenure, from 1981 to 1987. Woodward focused the book primarily on William Casey himself. The book details not only the various operations that the CIA was involved in during the 1980s, but also Casey's motivations for his leadership decisions. The CIA operations described in the book include everything from the mundane details of placing bugs in the offices of foreign leaders to the Iran-Contra affair.

Woodward gathered material from a variety of sources when writing this book. One of his primary sources was Casey himself. Woodward interviewed Casey on numerous occasions, and Casey was aware that Woodward was compiling material for a book about his leadership of the CIA. Casey was surprisingly forthcoming about his involvement in many covert operations. He must have felt confident that Woodward would not betray his trust and expose any material prematurely. What is odd is that Woodward discusses not only Casey's professional life, but also his personal life, and includes comments about such things as peanuts getting caught in Casey's dentures that seem mean-spirited rather than relevant for the story. Nevertheless, the historical documentation of Casey's leadership and CIA activities in the 1980s makes the book well worth reading.
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on March 6, 2010
...Okay, so it's Operation "Ivy Bells"...I just wanted to relay an abbreviated connotation into the title, in a nutshell.

Specifically covering past espionage operations, this book relates excellent past internal working and policy decision making between various intelligence agencies, political players and other intelligence sources, not just the CIA. It covers specific, proven great detail.

You can get an in-depth idea of how "shadow systems" work around, and with, existing civilian and government markets, as well as DC politics that are often involved in big business and major political entities world-wide.

I find it a very informative book, especially with its "hindsight" into deeper inner workings of not just what policy IS, but HOW policy is CARRIED OUT in the real world, and the not so visible world.

An eye opener...well written, as to simultaneously inform and entertain.
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on March 21, 2010
This is another of Bob Woodward's insider stories on the White House, the Presidency of the United States and the surrounding players, in this case the CIA and it's Director William Casey.

Woodward chose one of the most turbulent times in US political history to write about and he wrote extremely well, it is almost as if the reader is in the room while these events took place. The ability of Woodward to draw out the biggest secrets and stories from some of the most powerful people in the world is something to be seen to be believed.

Excellent book.
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Woodward wrote in "A Note to Readers" of this 1987 book, "Work on this book began in late 1984. My purpose was initially to cover only the first four years of the CIA under Reagan and (William) Casey. But... it soon became clear... that the book would have to cover 1985, 1986 and a portion of 1987... Since this book is one of the first to treat the subject... this book is much closer to journalism than to history, particularly as the Iran-Contra hearings and the various investigations continue."

He wrote, "(John) Bross argued that the crazies on the transition team were trying to sell Casey a bill of goods from some spy novel, some romantic notion of a golden espionage past. Well, it never existed and probably never will. Dr. No from some James Bond novel is not our opposition. It's not a matter of destroying Dr. No's headquarters. The Russians are all over the place and will remain so. It's a more subtle, permanent game." (Pg. 64)

He interviewed Sen. Barry Goldwater about "the Central America thing," and Goldwater explained the difference between the CIA's "overt covert" operations ("secret but public... no one would be caught by surprise"), and a "covert" operation (one not involving sending U.S. troops), adding, "A lot of this stuff should be made public. The American people should know what is being done... We are out of the business of overthrowing governments. We may cause a little economic trouble... but we don't overthrow governments." (Pg. 227-228)

Woodward notes that Casey "had molded and organized the CIA to assist its six true clients---the President, the Vice-President, the White House chief of staff, the Secretaries of State and Defense and the national security adviser. The CIA was not set up to service Congress, it was not there for the news media... Casey's essential message to any but his major clients was 'F___ you.'" (Pg. 443) Casey later stated that "We have a chance to establish our own foreign policy. We're on the cutting edge. We are the action agency of the government." (Pg. 479)

In his later discussions of the Iran/Contra affair, Woodward notes that Oliver North provided the Sultan of Brunei with the number of the Swiss bank account in which the Sultan was to deposit $10 million; but North's secretary "transposed two digits in the account number, with the result that the $10 million went into the wrong account and was not received by the contras." (Pg. 543)

While not containing any major "revelations" (a la Woodward's Watergate books), this admittedly "journalistic" account still holds some interest.
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on January 26, 2015
For those of us old enough to remember the Reagan Era, it is an interesting nostalgia trip to go back to those days with books such as this:

' Veil ' chronicles the CIA's activities under then Director (the late) William Casey, who passed away shortly prior to the book's publication.

And ' Veil ' is immediately notable because it was written with the cooperation of Casey, as well as others in the Reagan Administration, while they were still in office, and also because it was released while the ' Iran-Contra ' scandal, which is addressed in detail in the book, was still in the news at that time.

With the benefit of hindsight, ' Iran-Contra ' appears to be a classic case of good intentions gone seriously wrong, and in which matters became so covert, with so many ' insulating layers '. that the players themselves had trouble keeping control.

Woodward actually paints a largely sympathetic portrait of these players: Casey, North, Poindexter, Etc., (less so with Secord, who appears to be little more than a war profiteer) and includes in the book documents signed by Reagan himself, that appear to actually be ' Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Cards ' for all of them.

Woodward's descriptions of the relationships between Intelligence Community, Congress, & the White House (including the White House staff's relationships with each other) are also detailed and insightful.

One curious omission was the lack of detail regarding the US support for the Mujahideen vs. the Soviets in Afghanistan, which, like the anti-communist efforts in central America, Reagan & Casey also supported strongly (However, anyone with an interest in that topic can read ' Ghost Wars ' by Steve Coll).

All in all, ' Veil ' is a great read about an era that is, for better or worse, important in American & World History.

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on September 4, 2016
If you want to know more about the interactions between the Congress, the President, and the Intelligence Community on covert action then this is the book to read. Be aware this is a leftist leaning book but the expose of this important interaction for the United States is well layed out.
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on November 29, 2009
This book delves into the various covert operations sponsored by the CIA during the Reagan administration. The primary focus is on combating communist parties in Central America and dealing with Middle East dictators and terrorism. The story is told chronologically and allocates about the same number of chapters to each year stated in the book's title. Woodward writes the book like a TV crime drama; with some conversations taking up whole paragraphs and some weeks covered in a sentence. The book contains many references, but all are in the back, with no correlation between specific facts and their sources. Woodward takes a fairly objective view of events, and there are many instances where central characters like CIA DCI Casey, Reagan, and various cabinet members can comment on their words and actions. The book gives a lot of facts such as dates, names of operations, names of characters, and other details that make this a good reference, along with a good piece of investigative journalism. All in all, a good book.
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