by Retired Reader
As Tim Weiner makes clear in the first pages of this book, the driving force for the creation of CIA was to establish a clearing house where all intelligence information available to the U.S. could collated, vetted, and organized into coherent knowledge. And as he also makes clear this mission was subverted and overshadowed from the start by the culture of the veterans of the WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who dominated the early CIA. These veterans were far more comfortable with covert action and clandestine collection of intelligence than desk bound intelligence analysis. So from the time of its creation to the present, the Directorate of Intelligence (analytic shop) has existed in the shadow of the Directorate of Operations (DO). Virtually every CIA Director from the beginning has focused on one or all of the following: initiating DO operations; cleaning up messes left by DO operations; or reorganizing the DO to do a better job.
This book is a case in point. Although ostensibly about CIA as an institution, the book really focuses on DO and its alleged failures. This fascination with the DO by journalists, Presidents, and CIA Directors has allowed the analytic arm of CIA to atrophy from almost the very first. Yet the many failures and embarrassments that Weiner has chosen to chronicle in this book are as much the fault of DI as DO.
Now this book is essentially a massive and well written critique of CIA and especially the DO. For the most part it is pretty accurate, but as CIA has pointed out in a rather pitiful rebuttal of the book, it is not entirely fair and balanced. For example, in 1998 India exploded a nuclear weapon to the utter surprise and amazement of the entire U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). Weiner jumps on the CIA in particular for its failure to predict this event. What he did not mention was the fact that India used its considerable knowledge of the workings of the U.S. Intelligence System to develop and execute a masterful denial and deception program. Further, India has a world class counter-intelligence service that makes collection of secret intelligence in India a very dicey proposition in the best of circumstances. True CIA was guilty in this instance of mirror imaging and failed to creatively use a number of clues available from secret and open sources, but it also had a really tough nut to crack, As Weiner chronicles the many missteps that CIA has made, he would be more credible had he also gone into a bit more detail about the impressive obstacles faced by CIA operations officers. In the end this is a fascinating book that accurately chronicles a part, but not the entire CIA story.