Thursday, November 8, 2007

User's Review on Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA

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.

Book Review on "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA ": From The Washington Post's Book World/

Reviewed by David Wise

The CIA is a fat, easy target these days. Under George "slam dunk" Tenet, it failed (along with the FBI) to prevent 9/11, and then it famously and wrongly estimated that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Tenet's $4 million memoir to explain these failures merely subjected him to more slings and arrows, soothed only somewhat by all that moola.

Morale plunged under his successor, Porter Goss, who brought a clique of unpopular flunkies from Capitol Hill to Langley. The spies revolted, and Goss had to walk the plank. Now the agency is presided over by Michael Hayden, the same Air Force general who supinely created President Bush's warrantless wiretap program to eavesdrop on Americans despite the Constitution. Given the checkered history of the CIA, it is small wonder that Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes is a highly caustic, corrosive study of the beleaguered agency.

But Weiner, a New York Times correspondent who has covered intelligence for years, cannot be accused of kicking the agency when it is down. It is his thesis, amply documented, that the CIA was never up. He paints a devastating portrait of an agency run, during the height of its power in the Cold War years, by Ivy League incompetents, "old Grotonians" who lied to presidents -- an agency that, more often than not, failed to foresee major world events, violated human rights, spied on Americans, plotted assassinations of foreign leaders, and put so much of its energy and resources into bungled covert operations that it failed in its core mission of collecting and analyzing information.

To compare some of the agency's antics revealed in this book to the Keystone Kops is to do violence to the memory of Mack Sennett, who created the slapstick comedies. My personal favorite is an episode in Guatemala in 1994, when the CIA chief of station confronted the American ambassador, Marilyn McAfee, with intelligence, as she recalled, that "I was having an affair with my secretary, whose name was Carol Murphy." The CIA's friends in the Guatemalan military had bugged McAfee's bedroom, Weiner reports, and "recorded her cooing endearments to Murphy. They spread the word that the ambassador was a lesbian." The CIA's "Murphy memo" was widely distributed in Washington. There was only one problem: the ambassador was married, not gay and not sleeping with her secretary. " 'Murphy' was the name of her two-year-old black standard poodle. The bug in her bedroom had recorded her petting her dog."

Forty years earlier, the CIA had overthrown the legally elected government of Guatemala, a covert operation long touted as one of the intelligence agency's grand "successes." It was even called Operation Success. Guatemala was made safe for United Fruit -- talk about banana republics -- but not for democracy. A series of military dictators followed the CIA coup, with death squads and repression in which perhaps 200,000 Guatemalans perished.

Weiner's study is based on a prodigious amount of research into thousands of documents that have been declassified or otherwise uncovered, as well as oral histories and interviews. And one of the truly startling, eye-opening revelations in Legacy of Ashes is just how close even the agency's avowed triumphs came to disaster. As Weiner documents, both the Guatemalan operation and the overthrow of the government of Iran (Operation Ajax) in 1953 teetered on the edge of catastrophe. They were run by old boys whose management skills seemed to combine Skull and Bones with the Ringling Brothers.

And of course the "success" in Iran, restoring the Shah and his notorious secret police, the SAVAK, to power, was all about oil, grabbing it back from Mohammed Mossadeq, who had nationalized it. The coup, run by the CIA's Kim Roosevelt, Teddy's grandson, was followed in 1979 by the takeover of the ayatollahs, arguably a direct outcome of Islamic resentment of the agency's meddling in that country. Today, Iran, with its ominous nuclear weapons program and defiance of the West, looms as a much greater foreign policy challenge to the Bush administration, and to world peace, than Iraq ever was. Thanks a bunch, Langley.

Weiner carefully traces the agency's history from the start, when Harry Truman, realizing he had disbanded the wartime OSS too quickly, anointed Sidney Souers, a St. Louis businessman who had run the Piggly Wiggly supermarkets, as the first central intelligence chief. In a White House ceremony, Truman presented Souers and Admiral William Leahy, the White House staff chief, "with black cloaks, black hats, and wooden daggers." Weiner recounts a series of botched operations run by the likes of Tracy Barnes, Desmond FitzGerald and Richard Bissell, who were among the CIA's leading spooks in the agency's early years. But he reserves his greatest contempt for Frank Wisner, the agency's first covert operator, who sent dozens of agents to their deaths in the Ukraine and Albania and wasted the CIA's millions on a phantom army in Poland that was invented by Soviet and Polish intelligence to befuddle the agency.

As Weiner tells it, the arrogance of CIA Ivy Leaguers was matched only by sheer incompetence. From the start, the CIA hid its failures behind a Top Secret label and was useless in its ability to penetrate the Soviet Union or any other foe. In one year, he notes, the agency managed to miss the Soviet atom bomb, the Korean war and China's entry into that conflict. Weiner also finds little to admire in Allen Dulles, who presided over the agency in its heyday but had to depart after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. He portrays Dulles as a sort of duplicitous Santa Claus, over the hill by 1961, shuffling about in carpet slippers. But Dulles's OSS record in penetrating the Nazi high command from Switzerland had been impressive. And based on my personal observation and conversations with Dulles in the early 1960s he was not a doddering old man in carpet slippers but a shrewd professional spy.

Although most of Weiner's research is superb, he unfortunately perpetuates the legend that CIA director Richard Helms stood firm against Richard Nixon's Watergate cover-up. Not so. In an odd footnote, Weiner says Helms "complied with the president's order to go along with the cover-up for sixteen days at most." But the author, who quotes extensively from dozens of CIA documents, curiously makes no mention of the damning memo that Helms wrote to his deputy, Vernon Walters, on June 28, 1972, about the FBI investigation of the break-in: "We still adhere to the request that they confine themselves to the personalities already arrested or directly under suspicion and that they desist from expanding this investigation into other areas which may well, eventually, run afoul of our operations." It was a bald-faced lie, exactly what the White House was demanding that Helms tell the FBI.

If there is a flaw in Legacy of Ashes, it is that Weiner's scorn for the old boys who ran the place is so unrelenting and pervasive that it tends to detract from his overall argument. He is unwilling to concede that the agency's leaders may have acted from patriotic motives or that the CIA ever did anything right.

Nevertheless, Legacy of Ashes succeeds as both journalism and history, and it is must reading for anyone interested in the CIA or American intelligence since World War II. Weiner quotes Dean Acheson's prophecy about the CIA to good effect: "I had the gravest forebodings about this organization . . . and warned the President that as set up neither he, the National Security Council, nor anyone else would be in a position to know what it was doing or to control it."

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

New Book Report: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner

Is the Central Intelligence Agency a bulwark of freedom against dangerous foes, or a malevolent conspiracy to spread American imperialism? A little of both, according to this absorbing study, but, the author concludes, it is mainly a reservoir of incompetence and delusions that serves no one's interests well. Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times correspondent Weiner musters extensive archival research and interviews with top-ranking insiders, including former CIA chiefs Richard Helms and Stansfield Turner, to present the agency's saga as an exercise in trying to change the world without bothering to understand it. Hypnotized by covert action and pressured by presidents, the CIA, he claims, wasted its resources fomenting coups, assassinations and insurgencies, rigging foreign elections and bribing political leaders, while its rare successes inspired fiascoes like the Bay of Pigs and the Iran-Contra affair. Meanwhile, Weiner contends, its proper function of gathering accurate intelligence languished. With its operations easily penetrated by enemy spies, the CIA was blind to events in adversarial countries like Russia, Cuba and Iraq and tragically wrong about the crucial developments under its purview, from the Iranian revolution and the fall of communism to the absence of Iraqi WMDs. Many of the misadventures Weiner covers, at times sketchily, are familiar, but his comprehensive survey brings out the persistent problems that plague the agency. The result is a credible and damning indictment of American intelligence policy. (from Publisher Weekly)

Monday, November 5, 2007

National Gallery of Art Exhition: The Art of American Snapshots, 1888-1978: from the collection of Robert E. Jackson

The Art of American Snapshots, 1888-1978: from the collection of Robert E. Jackson
October 7---December 31, 2007

This exhibition of approximately 200 snapshot photographs chronicles the evolution of snapshot photography from 1888, when George Eastman first introduced the Kodak camera and roll film, through the 1970s. During this time it became possible for anyone to be a photographer, and snapshots not only had a profound impact on American life and memory, but they also influenced fine art photography. Organized chronologically, the exhibition focuses on the changes in culture and technology that enabled and determined the look of snapshots. It examines the influence of popular imagery, as well as the use of recurring poses, viewpoints, framing, camera tricks, and subject matter, noting how they shift over time. By presenting the history of snapshot photography instead of concentrating on thematic subject matter, the exhibition and accompanying catalogue mark a new approach to the genre. The exhibition is drawn from the collection of Robert E. Jackson and from recent gifts Mr. Jackson made to the National Gallery of Art.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Schedule: National Gallery of Art, Washington, October 7–December 31, 2007; Amon Carter Museum, February 16–April 27, 2008

Sponsor: The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Trellis Fund and The Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation.

New Book Report: "The Death of Progressive Education: how teachers lost control of the classroom" Roy Lowe, 2007

A new book by Roy Lowe has just published by Routledge, 2007, on education. The title is "The Death of Progressive Education: how teachers lost control of the classroom".

This is the first book to take a long, hard look at the changes that have taken place in the classroom over the last thirty years. Roy Lowe examines the rise of child-centred approaches to teaching in the period following the Second World War and then traces the process by which the role of the classroom teacher has been almost completely transformed since major debates on what should be taught and how it should be taught during the 1960s.
Just some of the questions raised -and answered - by this original and freshly researched examination of what has gone on in our classrooms include:

  • Who were the progressives and what influence did they have on what went on in the classroom?
  • How widespread was the teaching revolution that many claimed was taking place during the 1950s and 1960s?
  • What exactly were the changes in classroom practice at that time?
  • Why is it that the coming of a new politics of education during the 1970s and 1980s was able to have such a massive impact on classroom practice and on the role of the teacher?

This study of recent educational practice and policy should be essential reading for anyone concerned with what our schools should look like into the 21st century.