BookForum takes a look at two new critical studies of the CIA, one year after the New York Times’ Tim Weiner released Legacy of Ashes (2007), a scathing critique of U.S. intelligence practices.
Along with Melvin A. Goodman’s Failure of Intelligence, Burton Hersh profiles Stanford University Press’s The CIA and the Culture of Failure: U.S. Intelligence from the End of the Cold War to the Invasion of Iraq by former USA Today writer John Diamond.
Hersh, who has written his own CIA book The Old Boys (1992), says both Goodman and Diamond’s books explore the reasons for the CIA’s failures, picking up where Weiner left off with Legacy of Ashes.
He says Diamond “has astutely canvassed active and recently retired agency personnel, cultivated top personalities in the congressional-oversight committees, combed through the documents and professional literature, and emerged with fine-grained, fair-minded analyses. The result is a collection of riveting specific case studies, with sharp and frequently surprising judgments.”
In The CIA and the Culture of Failure, Diamond puts into historical perspective the CIA’s successes and failures in the dissolution of the Soviet Union; the Gulf War; the Ames spy case; the response to initial attacks by Al-Qaeda; and the U.S and UN efforts to contain and disarm Iraq in order to illuminate the links between lower-profile intelligence controversies in the early post-Cold War period and the high-profile failures that continue to define the War on Terrorism.
Diamond argues that the CIA tends to overlook the connections between seemingly unrelated intelligence failures and to underestimate the impact of political pressure on the agency. These are factors that need to be examined in order to understand the origin and magnitude of 9/11 and Iraq intelligence failures.
The CIA and the Culture of Failure is available September 22, 2008.