The CIA: A Legacy of Ashes

March 20, 2008 at 5:05 am | Posted in CIA | 7 Comments

I really need to go read that book because we see in the news even more examples of how much the CIA has failed us. It is quite painful actually, because, well, Westerners were able to get into the highest levels of Al-Qaeda. Anyone remember John Walker Lindh? He did meet Bin Laden you know.

Not only does the CIA have no ability to actually do its job of intelligence into our real enemy, but they are effectively making it worse by torturing Al-Qaeda suspects. George Bush, the Idiot, made sure that the CIA was not liable by vetoing a law intended to prohibit torture by the CIA.


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  1. Just starting to read the book now. As I’d learned in snippets in grad school, so too the history makes clear: incompetence and illegality driven by fear and people who thought they had grand visions. A lot of dead innocent and not-so-innocent people, a lot of Congress and judges abdicating their responsibility while the Executive looked the other way and Cheney-like said “we gotta play tough against these sob’s”. And this was the 1940’s! History repeating itself.

    None of which is to say that there isn’t a role for proper intelligence operations. But it’s pretty clear that you jack society up on boogeymen (whether a “red menace” or “islamofascists”) and pretty soon nobody cares if you toss the law out the window and murder people as you blindly stumble along. So far (less than 100 pages in), I’m more convinced than ever that a proper intelligence organization needs to be established by law clearly delineating it’s responsibilities and limits, that it needs to be properly funded and resourced, that far *less* about how the organization functions needs to be secret (not saying there are no legitimate state secrets, but much of what gets classified is simply immoral illegalities and buffoonery that nobody wants to be scrutinized over), and just generally that it needs to function in a broad sense at least in the light of democracy and far less should be done in the shadows. And I say that not just as a moral matter (which it is), but also as a practical matter – it plays to our comparative advantages as a society whose openness makes us attractive and wins us allies, while doing dirty work inevitably fails as we are bad at it and we end up producing gobs more enemies than allies.

  2. I’ve posted a brief Legacy of Ashes excerpt on the Mideast with some off-the-cuff commentary on my blog:

  3. NAA,

    I just bought the book and will start reading it fairly soon.

  4. You’ll enjoy it, it’s an eye-opener. Be aware as you go along, that the more recent decades suffer from a comparative lack of documentation due to documents still being classified. I had a professor in grad school who used to make a habit of poring over reams of recently declassified documents and he’d come in every week with some new way-out-there-in-the-blue crazy story of a CIA coup or operation somewhere that would make our eyes pop. Weiner has those for past decades, but for more recent decades he had to rely on on-the-record interviews and comments, so he’s trying to triangulate from a thinner basis and you never know what may yet come to light in future years. I’m almost done with it now, into the Clinton years. As Weiner’s sympathies with characters in the later years show up, it’s harder to know if they stem more from him having established a good relationship with sources versus say the 50s and 60s where he’s got relatively more objective evidence to work with on top of direct contacts with sources.

  5. I may be off topic a bit, but if you want a good read on how the CIA has failed, check out Robert Dreyfuss’ Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. Another good one is the Blowback series from Chalmers Johnson.

  6. Legacy of Ashes is on my to read list. I am currently reading Behind the War on Terror by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is what I am currently reading. If anyone else has read it I would be interested to hear thoughts on it.

  7. I also highly recommend “Perceptions of Palestine” by Kathleen Christison. She is actually a former CIA analyst. No better book out there to understand the US’ role in the lynchpin conflict of the Mideast. She carefully spells out the history that shows it is in fact not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the Israeli-American-Palestinian conflict and how the US has been a critical factor in fanning the flames of the conflict from its earliest days. I bring it up because it is important to remember that for all the CIA’s failures, the core failures of the US in the Middle East are actually more deeply rooted in American politics (leaders and us as a people) and can’t just be blamed on one agency no matter how bad its actions may have been.

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