Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner
Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes will interest students of American history since WWII, especially those who thrived on cold war spy novels (though when I think about it the best spy novels focused on the British Secret Service more than on the CIA). To appreciate what Weiner has to say, it helps to know the basics about the overthrow of governments in Iran and Guatemala, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U2 incident, the Kennedy assassination and the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, Iran Contra, Noriega in Panama, the kidnapping and bombing of Americans in Lebanon, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Afghanistan, Mogadishu, the bombing of the Cole, the African embassy bombings, the bombing of the aspirin plant in Sudan, American support of the Baath party in Iraq and of course 9/11.
Weiner’s thesis is that even the most successful
Weiner takes advantage of documents available through the Freedom of Information Act and other sources to look at the CIA from the inside. He reveals how the CIA lied to successive presidents and also how presidents lied to the CIA—and how the CIA covered up its failures in the name of national security. He identifies the villains and a few heroes of the CIA. He profiles all the directors since Wild Bill Donovan first organized covert operations in WWII with the
Weiner examines attempts to ensure oversight of the CIA and explains why its goals were never realized. He lays bare the issue of whether a secret intelligence service is even possible in a democracy. His conclusion is that the CIA is and has always been incompetent.
With as much bad news and as many exposes as Weiner’s book contains one can’t help but wonder if it’s not a one sided view. Michael Beschloss, reviewing the book in The New York Times review calls it an “angry book” and a “deeply researched” not one that was wrong. He also said, and I have to agree, that the goal of Weiner’s book is not to destroy the CIA as have past exposes, but to warn the United States that “this nation may not long endure as a great power unless it finds the eyes to see things as they are in the world.”