Monday, September 15, 2008

Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner

Legacy of Ashes is a fascinating and thorough history of the CIA from its inception in the late 1940s through to 2007. It is a story of incompetence, blustering, foreign intervention and terror, espionage, alcoholism, disunity and both intentional and unintentional obfuscation. At times the President did not know what CIA’s covert ops were doing even though he wanted to, but just as often did not want to know. Sometimes even the director of the CIA had little knowledge of covert operations. Weiner suggests that CIA has been perpetually flawed because of its inability to succeed at espionage, provide useful intelligence in a timely fashion and adapt to changing circumstances. The CIA has often trimmed evidence to fit the policies and politics of the White House, but just as often has been ignored or marginalized by various presidents and their secretaries.

Legacy of Ashes describes how the CIA intervened in other nations by setting up secret police, creating or backing political parties, propaganda, buying and trading arms, supporting various rebels, assisting in coups, buying foreign intelligence as well as monitoring domestic peace movements. A non-exhaustive list of the countries covered in the book includes Korea, Iran, Germany, Russia, Guatemala, Japan, Syria, Iraq, Indonesia, Cuba, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam (South & North), Ecuador, El Salvador, Cambodia, Columbia, Peru, Honduras, Brazil, Guyana, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Italy, Greece, Angola, Egypt, Afghanistan, and the United States (which actually violates their charter). Other events that were mentioned include the Korean War, Cuban missile crisis, Bay of Pigs, Castro/Cuba, wars in Indochina, Radio Free Europe, and 9/11.

Even though domestic surveillance is against the CIA’s charter, it was done by various presidents before Bush Jr. (at least Kennedy &, Nixon)

The CIA is/was almost everywhere in the world; if not trying to gain intelligence, then trying to intervene to create situations favourable to US interests. Often these interventions occurred and reoccurred many times within one country.

At a meeting during the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy expressed his confusion about why Khrushchev would put missile into Cuba. He said it would be like the US putting missiles in Turkey. Supposedly an awkward pause followed until one aide said, “Sir, we do have missiles in Turkey.” Kennedy had actually green lit that project years ago. (Sigh!)


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