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Secret Empire – Review

by: Taubman, Philip

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Copyright: 2003

Cover: Marc J. Cohen,

Type: Hardcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 1/22/2004

Summary: Highly Recommended. Surprises all the way. The post World War II American spy industry.

In SECRET EMPIRE, Taubman asks more than once whether the American political will still exists to persevere in the face of failure upon failure upon failure. He provides no concrete answer, but does supply plenty of hints.

Between 1942 and 1945, America spent over a billion dollars to successfully develop the atomic bomb. Throughout the 1930s, the Soviets were putting together five and ten year plans just to get bread on the table for its citizens. Pockmarked by corruptions and inefficiency, Soviet economic plans limped along behind a wall of statistics and future expectations. When it came to technology however, the Soviet had an advantage. They had an espionage apparatus that was second to none.

Taubman’s book deals with the concept of spying rather than the mechanics–the who, what, where and when. But in reading this excellent history, the reader can not help but to reflect upon the irony of America rushing to the skies to find out the latest advancements in Soviet technology when those advances were lifted directly from America itself. One area in which the Soviets had their own blueprints was rockets. The Rocket Research Development Center was established in Moscow in 1932 and the first rocket fired in August 1933. The Russians captured the Nazi V-2 rocket center at Peenemunde along with about five thousand German technicians and twenty-thousand members of their families. By July 1953, strategic intelligence services in the West were justifiably worried that the Soviet would develop a missile with a range long enough to strike London, England by 1956. The West responded to the worry by launching a spy program that eventually reduced the thrust of missile power to a very secondary consideration. It was what you did when you got the missile up that was important.

There are many conclusions one can reach in this book. Taubman artfully, and wisely in the final analysis, avoids making heady conclusions. For instance, is it possible that the only reason we have world-wide satellite communications today is because the American military needed a way to spy on the Soviet Union without creating an international incident? And what of the entire argument that scientific advancements are driven by the exigencies of war and conflict? Heady stuff. In Taubman’s work, the conclusions are un-necessary. That’s a lot more down to earth stuff, like the foibles and character of human nature.

The author mentions the men (at the time, it was men only–about 252 between 1950 and 1970) who lost their lives flying reconnaissance planes deep into Soviet territory to provide the American military with intelligence about Soviet air defense and communication systems. This started in 1946 and continued into the early 1950s when the newly elected President Dwight W. Eisenhower became determined to find a better way. Eisenhower is the surprise in this book. A subplot, really, but his presence pervades the book. Having read his autobiography years ago and perhaps being too focused on what he did rather than why he did what he did, he comes across in this book as a truly pragmatic thinker. An odd pragmatic thinker, but pragmatic and a thinker nonetheless. What are you to make of a man who tells his aides that if the Soviets were violating U. S. airspace in the manner the U.S. was violating Soviet airspace, there would be war? But this President, who held such a tight rein over the flight schedules of reconnaissance planes, was not making judgements based upon fairness or mutual respect. He was fighting a war.

Taubman takes us from the start of the air reconnaissance missions to the almost haphazard development of the U-2 planes (capable of flying at an attitude of 75,000 feet), to the incredible Corona satellite projects. So much of this history we, for the most part, take for granted, as if it were all a breeze-the inevitable outcome of American know-how and stick-to-it-ness. But the facts show that it was far from an historical stroll. Taubman escorts us through the fumbles and failures along the way.

There are no down sides in this book. There are, in fact, surprises all the way.




CIA At War, The – Review

by: Kessler, Ronald

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Copyright: 2003

Cover: Sarah Delson, Roger Ressmeyer

Type: Hardcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 1/14/2004

Summary: Highly recommend, sans editorializing. A history of the Central Intelligence Agency and the new war on terror.

The subtitle of this book is “Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror”. Though there is nothing significantly new here, the book is definitely worth reading.

Kessler has demonstrated an ability to look at government bureaucracies and zero in on the warts. He did it with “The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI” (reviewed here in November 2003). In The CIA AT WAR, Kessler, in very quick succession, introduces the last two and current Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). R. James Woolsey Jr., President Clinton’s first CIA Director from February 1993 to 1995, who was replaced by John M. Deutch in May 1995. Deutch resigned at the end of 1996. (One CIA official is quoted as saying, “Deutch was aggressively ignorant”. This official must have been the public relations officer, or at least a trainee). Deutch had selected George Tenet as his Deputy Directory of Intelligence, or DCI. Tenet became the Director in November 1997.

In going through a cursory history of the CIA, Kessler builds a very strong case for the impact of leadership on bureaucracies. This is both Kessler’s strength and weakness as a reporter of history. The reader gets a sense of the dedication and commitment of the lowly bureaucrats toiling away at shuffling paper and implementing management direction. At the top of the agency, he presents the personalities who were responsible for providing direction. That top tier is a very diverse picture in terms of quality and commitment. From the heyday of CIA bureaucratic empire building in 1955 when CIA Director Allen Dulles presided over construction of the new CIA headquarters complex in McLean, Virginia, to the “bring back the glory” days of CIA Director William Casey, Kessler examines an agency that functions pretty much the way it was intended when President Truman authorized it on September 18 by way of Section 107 of the National Security Act of 1947. Like the current Homeland Security Department, the CIA emerged from the attack on America at Pearl Harbor.

Kessler goes over the familiar CIA subscripts: James Jesus Angleton as chief of CIA counterintelligence and the disastrous consequences of his reign of power; Richard M. Bissell Jr., the Bay of Pigs, and the U-2 flights; the Vitaly Yurchenko defection to America and his re-defection to the Soviet Union; and the American spies-Aldrich Ames, Jonathan Jay Pollard, and the spy-network incorporated career of Navy warrant officer John A. Walker Jr.. (For an thorough look at the CIA’s U-2 program, you definitely want to read SECRET EMPIRE by Philip Taubman-an upcoming TG review). The author uncovers no new CIA history. But there is the perspective he brings to why things happened the way they happened. This insight makes his work worth reading.

The CIA’s war against terrorist is at the heart of the book. The usual complaints: not enough intelligence sources (agents), not enough language experts to decipher intelligence products, we all hear about the failures, only a select few hear of the triumphs. Then there is the monotonous song of non-cooperation between the various federal agencies entrusted with safeguarding America’s security. It is here that Kessler brings something new. What’s new is George Tenet.

Kessler’s steady praise of George Tenet may seem a bit much. However, what little we see of Tenet the public man backs up the praise and Kessler himself sketches a very good portrait. It comes across very clearly that Tenet is a CIA Director who knows his job. That trait seems a rarity among those heading these humongous bureaucracies.

If there is a mis-step in this book, it is when Kessler discusses the 2003 Iraq war and those never found weapons of mass destruction. He simply misses the point. On page 319 he states that “whether weapons of mass destruction were found. . .became almost as relevent [sic] as whether a serial killer who reaches into the back seat of his car when an FBI agent orders him to keep his hands up actually has a handgun in the back.” The reason the weapons of mass destruction were relevant was because they, in effect, ended up costing over 500 American lives and countless Iraqi lives. They’re the reason America went to war. One can not help to reflect upon another “intelligence” assessment and another President’s reaction to it. In the late 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was being pressured by his political adversaries, the intelligence community and the military to significantly ratchet up American defense spending to counter the so-called missile gap with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower held his ground, attempting to assure the American people above the clamor and fear, that America was safe. American technology eventually allowed Eisenhower to be vindicated. There was no missile gap. It is amazing what differences can spring up between a coupe of generations.



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