Saturday, January 28, 2006

State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration – James Risen

I was shocked. For all of the debate, for the public stirring, for the skillful penetration of heavily classified National Security Agency (NSA) circles and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) programs, one would expect a monumental work of Woodward proportions, objectively dissecting the corpus of policy determinations providing a holistic view identifiably saying: this is it. That is not what one gets here. Instead, in a breezy book casually disclosing for the first time otherwise exceedingly classified operations (e.g. NSA interception of telecommunications in/out of the United States,[1] fumbled CIA communications with operatives in Iran causing them to be “rolled up” and not to be heard from again, Operation Merlin whereby CIA apparently provided false nuclear weapons designs to Iran, etc.), one is left with a sense that the book was written more as a screed than a report. Risen goes out of his way to characterize Condi Rice as impotent, George Tenet as sycophantic, and Donald Rumsfeld as myopic. Whether such attributes can be fairly attributed or not, in my view, is immaterial. I want substance, not private pontification from an outsider.

If you’re like me, you were inclined rush out and read the book as soon as possible, after all it could prove to be the cornerstone for debates within the security field for months to come. But now it’s out, and everyone is talking about it. My advice: just read the news reports.

[1] For more on my thoughts regarding the NSA surveillance program see here and here.