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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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The author covers events in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Ethiopia. For example, he describes the use of a Pakistani doctor to help locate Osama Bin Laden. He also describes the political problems that followed Pakistan’s arrest of CIA contractor Ray Davis, psychological operations, and the use of retired CIA employees such as Dewey Clarridge.
The competition between the CIA and the Department of Defense is equally fascinating. Despite the CIA’s proficiency at covert action, there was a clear effort on the part of the Secretary of Defense to seize control. This is especially true with regards to the use of Reaper and Predator drones in killing terrorists.
Bottom line: this is an informative and well researched book. The narrative moves quickly and provides the reader with a truly fascinating look at recent covert action activities.
That said, readers should be prepared for what is mostly an account of bureaucratic infighting within the US security establishment, rather than an account of the hostilities themselves--hence the title of my review, "The Way of the Pen"... For instance, in aggregate the positions of CIA and Pentagon lawyers on various issues took up far more space in this book than an account of the raid that took out OBL. Another major topic in the book are the fraught relations between the CIA and the Pakistani spy agency and military. This is all interesting enough as long as it is what you're looking for. If you're looking for a detailed account of training or planning for, or execution of, various special forces raids, this is not the book for you...
Overall a very good book, just more focused on bureaucratic infighting than I expected.
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.
The most striking thing about The Way of the Knife is its clarity in describing the two poles between which the CIA tends to execute its mission. There are apparently periods when war-making and assassination, aka 'the way of the knife,' are accepted within the CIA. Then again, there are periods when this is not the case and the agency focuses instead on intelligence gathering and analysis. This is not just a moral debate, although morality does play into it. More important is that during those times when the CIA is making war (generally in places where no formal war has been declared) it is not able to do the job of intelligence gathering/analysis. Thus, the US can lose out because we don't know what's actually going on in the world.
To collect intelligence, a CIA agent (or spy) must ingratiate herself with the locals of the country where she's stationed. If the CIA is busy blowing up the place and killing people, the agents are not able to gain enough trust to get the information the country needs. However, if the agency is just focusing on spying, the nation misses opportunities to achieve objectives such as capturing particular terrorists or destroying weapons caches.
Mazzetti charts the ebb and flow of 'the way of the knife' within the CIA, from the time of Senator Frank Church in the 1970s, when the knife was forbidden, to post-911, when the knife became the CIA's primary way of doing business, a fact which will surprise no one. The CIA does not decide these things alone. Deep within this complicated tangle are the politicians, whose quest for personal gain and political glory should never be underestimated. In some ways, the CIA seems to be a token that is buffeted among the various waves of favor and patronage that go on between the White House and the Congress.
What is rather surprising is the viciousness of the in-fighting Mazzetti claims goes on between the CIA and the Defense Department, with an occasional jab gotten in by the Department of State. In a sort of 'grass is greener' situation, Defense wants to spy and the CIA wants to make war. Thus, they fall all over one another vying for funding, power and presidential favor. Mazzetti's description of this process -- including fiasco after fiasco -- is fascinating, and, sadly, dispiriting.
And -- surprise, surprise -- the Obama Administration is portrayed as being at least as blood thirsty, short sighted and threatening to civil liberties as the Bush Administration ever was. I did not expect to be reading that, but the evidence is convincing. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."