John Diamond’s The CIA and the Culture of Failure: U.S. Intelligence from the End of the Cold War to the Invasion of Iraq (2008) has been reviewed in The San Francisco Chronicle by Ben Tarnoff, an assistant editor at Lapham’s Quarterly.
Throughout his book, John Diamond takes a critical look at the CIA’s missteps in the decade and a half after the fall of Communism. Like many, Tarnoff cannot help but marvel at the anecdotes: “There are plenty [of missteps] to choose from, including a medicine factory in Sudan being flattened by 13 cruise missiles because the CIA mistakes it for a chemical weapons plant or the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade being leveled by a satellite-guided bomb because an analyst using an outdated map of the city thinks it's a Serbian target.”
But beyond individual intelligence failures, Diamond identifies some long-standing causes of CIA misfires. As Tarnoff puts it: “The messiness of the raw information piped into CIA headquarters from its sources around the world, Diamond explains, tends to make intelligence reporting either too simple or too complex: Agency officers either overstate their case, imposing a coherent pattern where none exists, or subject their readers to a dizzying litany of undigested facts.”
This “messiness of raw information” continues to dog the US war in Iraq and the CIA’s war on terrorism.
The CIA and the Culture of Failure is available September 22, 2008.