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The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth Hardcover – April 9, 2013
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The New York Times:
“Superb…the best account yet.”
“[An] indispensable CIA history.”
The Hindu (India):
Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War:
"The story of how the CIA got back into the killing business is as chilling and dramatic as a spy novel--except it’s true. Mark Mazzetti has laid out an extraordinary tale, tracking the spies as they track the terrorists. The Way of the Knife is as close as you'll ever get to the real thing."
Jane Mayer, staff writer, The New Yorker; author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals:
"The Way of the Knife provides a stunning, inside account of the CIA's transformation after 9/11 from an intelligence agency into a global clandestine killing machine. Mazzetti, who is one of America's best national security reporters, has written a frightening, must-read book."
Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Generals:
"The United States fought three wars after 9/11: Iraq, Afghanistan and the one in the shadows. This is an authoritative account of that that third war, conducted by the CIA and military Special Operators in Yemen, East Africa and, most of all, Pakistan. If you want to understand the world we live in, you need to read it."
“The definitive history of how the intelligence agency became something much more like a paramilitary wing—de-evolving, in a sense, back to the days when the agency's adventurism influenced foreign policy around the world. It's a fascinating expose of what information the U.S. was not collecting—and how an attempt to fill the gap fell through oversight mechanisms and complicated geopolitics in Pakistan.”
San Francisco Chronicle:
“A highly engaging account that should please the curious and experts alike. Mazzetti manages to give a fresh reading to such oft-told stories as the bureaucratic jousting among White House, CIA and Pentagon officials over killer drones, secret prisons, ‘harsh interrogations’ and going global with military assassins.”
“The new American way of war is here, but the debate about it has only just begun. In The Way of the Knife, Mr Mazzetti has made a valuable contribution to it.”
The New Republic:
“Essential background reading… there are many signs that the novel ‘military-intelligence complex’ that Mazzetti describes is becoming unacceptably controversial at home and abroad.”
"Mazzetti's is an assiduously compiled account that strings together some of the missing parts in the puzzle… The Way of the Knife is a tale full of intrigues."
The New York Times Book Review:
“A fascinating, trenchant, sometimes tragicomic account.”
The Age (Australia):
"An astounding tale that melds the immediacy of fiction with the authority of fact."
The Washington Post:
“[A] deeply reported and crisply written account… While The Way of the Knife recounts the important shifts in the architecture of the U.S. military and intelligence communities, it also reveals the many eccentric characters who emerged during this.”
Los Angeles Times:
“Mazzetti finds new details and tracks the ominous blurring of traditional roles between soldiers and spies, the lush growth of a military-intelligence complex, and what the shift portends for the future....a valuable addition to a canon that is exposing America's use of lethal operations far from declared war zones."
“[A] fine account… Mazzetti describes in compelling detail the agency’s turf battles with the Pentagon, its awkward relations with its Pakistani counterpart, and its reliance on a motley collection of freelancers and private contractors.”
“Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mark Mazzetti’s The Way of the Knife makes for an incisive guide to what he terms the 'shadow war' being waged in multiple countries around the world, away from prying eyes....[W]ith crisp, precision reporting, Mazzetti lays out a chronology of how one thing led to another after al-Qaeda’s asymmetric attacks in 2001 and the ruinously bloody and inconclusive invasions that followed exposed glaring weaknesses in both the American military and its intelligence services.”
“A well-reported, smoothly written book for anyone who wants to understand contemporary American military might and the widespread hatred for the U.S. that has been the result.”
About the Author
MARK MAZZETTI is a national security correspondent for The New York Times. In 2009, he shared a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the intensifying violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Washington’s response, and he has won numerous other major journalism awards, including the George Polk Award (with colleague Dexter Filkins) and the Livingston Award, for breaking the story of the CIA's destruction of interrogation videotapes. Mazzetti has also written for the Los Angeles Times, U.S. News & World Report, and The Economist. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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So reads the blurb on the back of this book, and it's true, to a degree. In the wake of 9/11, America proved totally unable to pursue Al Qaeda, with a CIA averse to covert operations, and a special forces culture that trained for high-stakes rescue missions. The new war required human intelligence gathering in some of the most hostile corners of the world, and soon developed a system of secret prisons, 'enhanced interrogations', and long-distance drone assassinations. Neither the military nor the CIA was set up to do this, but they soon adapted and evolved.
This book isn't so much about America's shadow wars: the renditions, drone strikes, and secret armies, as it is about who would get to wield the knife. Mazzetti goes into the byzantine conflicts between the Pentagon, the CIA, State, the White House, private military contractors, and the whole weird menagerie of Beltway counter-terrorism experts. The dsyfunctional relationship with Pakistan is a second focus of the book, and the failure of the American relationship with the ISI, culminating in Admiral Mike Mullen's public declaration that the ISI supported terrorist attacks against American troops.
Mazzetti is too much of the professional reporter to make judgement, but he clearly feels that the duplication of effort between the CIA and JSOC has harmed American interests, and that the entire secret war exists on shaky legal and ethical grounds. The pragmatic question: what form should American engagement with this part of the world take? goes unanswered. I've heard it said that journalism is history's first draft, and this topic definitely deserves further study. But in the the here and now, this is the best book about what actually happened after 9/11.
Mazzetti has had a long career as an investigative reporter. This gives him account dimensions that I have not seen elsewhere. The other side of investigative journalism is that the journalist does not always delve into the literature. Mazzetti seems to have missed some of the history of Enrique Prado. Prado worked with Jose Rodriguez at the CIA and was involved in some of the targeted kill operations. Prado's checkered background is discussed in the book How to Get Away with Murder in America by Evan Wright.
Mark Mazetti traces the philosophy of the CIA over the past fifty years as follows: In the 1960s, the CIA was allowed to carry out assassinations overseas as part of its job. In the 70s, President Ford reversed all that, forbidding the CIA from being a killing machine and instead making it focus on intelligence gathering and spying as its primary job. However, 9/11 changed all that yet again, with the CIA getting into the business of tracking down Islamic extremists, incarcerating and torturing them overseas. The adverse reaction to this practice and the Congressional indictments that followed, made them choose the silver bullet of killing terrorists abroad again through remote-controlled drones without opting for on-the-ground assassination squads. In doing so, the American government has outsourced the basic functions of spycraft to private contractors, making the American way of war morph from clashes between tank columns - into the shadows, outside the declared war zones. In the process, the constraints on who can be killed, where they can be killed and when they can be killed have been conveniently blurred.
The author says that the challenge of Al-Qaeda has led the Pentagon, the CIA and the US Govt into paradoxical and inconsistent positions. The Clinton administration, though opposed to the CIA carrying out the assassination of Osama bin Laden through hit-squads, was okay with killing him through Tomahawk missiles. In the same way, President Obama, though a liberal, finds no contradiction in embracing and expanding the killing program through the drones, which has resulted in the deaths of substantial number of civilians, non-combatants and even allies, apart from suspected terrorists.
Mark Mazetti clearly believes that the CIA should not stray away from its primary mission of spying and gathering intelligence. He attributes this 'straying' as the reason for the CIA getting blind-sided by the Arab Spring events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in 2010-12. Though it is tempting to agree with this, I remember reading in Tim Werner's book, 'The Legacy of the Ashes', about the CIA getting blindsided by many world events even before 9/11. For example, the CIA did not foresee India going for an atomic blast in 1998. Nor did they foresee the sudden collapse of Communism in 1990-92 or even the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein in 1991. The CIA has the image of an all-powerful God-like entity in the eyes of developing countries. However, in reality, it is probably just a massive bureaucracy struggling to make sure that its left-hand is aware of what the right-hand is doing.
I found the chapters on the CIA's role in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia quite absorbing and revelatory. The sections on Pakistan show that the US got quite fed up with the 'double game' of the ISI and the Pak army, resulting in giving full rein to the CIA to violate the country's borders. Years before the assault on Osama bin Laden in 2011, the Navy Seals had landed inside Pakistan and conducted operations in Damadola in the Bajaur agency without the Pak army ever being aware of it. This seems to have given the confidence for the later invasion to kill OBL. The US never informed President Musharraf of special operations that were carried out inside Pakistan. During the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, the CIA slipped in many covert officers into Pak without the ISI's knowledge under the cover of relief efforts. The book paints a dismal picture of Pak-US relations at all levels. There are fascinating accounts of how the CIA pursued al-Shabab in Somalia and killed the American citizen Anwar al-Aulaki in Yemen.
After reading the book, I am compelled to think that this spree of 'killing by remote control' could end dangerously, similar to making the atomic bomb and waging cyber-warfare. The atomic bomb was seen as a way to bring fascism to its end in Japan without loss of of American lives. But the nuclear weapon has since proliferated and has come to threaten all of us. Similarly, internet viruses like Stuxnet were deployed towards a 'bloodless' destruction of Iran's nuclear program. But, it also got out of control, resulting in more cyber espionage and state-sponsored viruses threatening the highly-networked infrastructures of the advanced industrial nations. We are likely to see in future many countries following the 'US lead' in waging war (without declaring war) and killing citizens of another country through remote controlled drones, exacerbating tensions among nations and power-blocks.
It is possible that the US has let another dangerous genie out of the bottle.