The two lengthy reviews reproduced below take issue with the many largely positive reviews received by Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Doubleday, 2007).  --  The first is by Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow with the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. and the author of, most recently, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea (W.W. Norton, 2006), and The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology (Westview Press, 2001).  --  Richelson calls the spate of positive reviews "disturbing":  "The near-universal praise is perplexing, if only because Tim Weiner’s book cannot be even remotely characterized as a history of the CIA."[1]  --  "[C]laims that Weiner lacks bias cannot withstand a close reading of the book.  The numerous errors of omission and commission in Legacy of Ashes make it a profoundly tendentious and unreliable guide to the overall history of the CIA."  --  For one thing, the book is fixated on covert action, to the near exclusion of the CIA's human intelligence, technical collection, analysis, and counterintelligence activities.  --  For another, Legacy of Ashes has startling omissions.  --  Richelson also accuses Weiner of a "propensity to make extravagant judgments without hard evidence or serious thought" and demonstrates in detail how he ignores available evidence that complicates the story in favor of a version that makes a good anecdote.  --  As for Weiner's philosophy of history, again and again this is can be seen to be "absurdly reductionist."  --  Richelson concludes:  "The plaudits [Legacy of Ashes] has received to date, however, are far out of proportion to the quality of the book and contribution it makes to an understanding of the agency’s history."  --  Another review, both noteworthy and suspect due its authorship by a member of the CIA's History Staff and its publication in the CIA's own journal, Studies in Intelligence, called the book a "600-page op-ed piece masquerading as serious history" and noted that most of those writing rave reviews of the book have been journalists like Weiner.  --  "History, fairly done," Nicholas Dujmovic lectures, "is all about context, motivations, and realistic expectations in addition to the accurate portrayal of events.  Weiner is not honest about context, he is dismissive of motivations, his expectations for intelligence are almost cartoonish, and his book too often is factually unreliable.  What could have been a serious historical critique illuminating the lessons of the past is undermined by dubious assertions, sweeping judgments based on too few examples, selective or outright misuse of citations, a drama-driven narrative, and a tendentious and nearly exclusive focus on failure that overlooks, downplays, or explains away significant successes.  --  The irony is that a new history of CIA is needed to fill the gap left by the now dated works of John Ranelagh (The Agency, 1986) and Christopher Andrew (For the President’s Eyes Only, 1995).  Having read the book, I have to conclude that this is not it; anyone who wants a balanced perspective of CIA and its history should steer well clear of Legacy of Ashes."[2] ...


By Jeffrey T. Richelson

Washington Decoded
September 11, 2007

[Review of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner. Doubleday. 702 pp. $27.95]

Every author hopes for a news event that will draw attention to the subject matter of his or her book. But few actually enjoy the kind of exquisite timing that benefited Tim Weiner.

In late June, after 34 years of fending off requests, the Central Intelligence Agency released 702 pages of documents that constitute the agency’s fabled “Family Jewels,” in actuality, a hodge-podge of memos and reports. The “Family Jewels” were gathered in response to James Schlesinger’s 1973 directive that all agency components inform him, as director of central intelligence, of any activities which might have been undertaken in violation of the agency’s charter. Even though very few of the disclosures were new, release of the “Family Jewels” was major news for a full week.[1]

The publisher of Weiner’s book sought, quite naturally, to capitalize on the publicity windfall and immediately rushed Legacy of Ashes, which had been originally scheduled for an August release, into bookstores. This seemed to be one occasion, moreover, where timing and substance were happily joined. Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, has spent a considerable part of his career on the intelligence beat, covering the CIA for the most prestigious newspaper in the country, the New York Times.

The nearly-unanimous praise that greeted Legacy of Ashes underscored the presumption that here was a book which would convey an extraordinary understanding of the agency. Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten described Legacy of Ashes as “about as magisterial an account of ‘the agency’s’ 60 years as anyone has yet produced,” drawn “from more than 50,000 documents.” In the New York Times Book Review, Newsweek’s Evan Thomas, the author of a well-received volume on some of the CIA’s early stalwarts, praised Legacy of Ashes as “engrossing” and “comprehensive.” Thomas noted that it painted “what may be the most disturbing picture yet of CIA ineptitude,” a claim made all the more credible since Weiner’s reportedly drew from “tens of thousands of documents.” Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, also writing in the New York Times, described the book as a “deeply researched new chronicle of the Central Intelligence Agency” which could not be simply dismissed as “an anti-CIA screed.” In the Wall Street Journal, Edward Jay Epstein, an author of numerous books and articles on intelligence, informed his readers the “prodigiously researched” book was a “fascinating and revealing history.”[2]

There was very little critical commentary within the laudatory reviews. David Wise, the dean of journalists writing about intelligence, did observe in the Washington Post Book Week, “If there is a flaw in Legacy of Ashes, it is that Weiner’s scorn for the old boys who ran the place is so unrelenting and pervasive that it tends to detract from his overall argument. He is unwilling to concede that the agency’s leaders may have acted from patriotic motives or that the CIA ever did anything right.” Still, Wise concluded, “Legacy of Ashes succeeds as both journalism and history.”[3]

The near-universal praise is perplexing, if only because Tim Weiner’s book cannot be even remotely characterized as a history of the CIA.

During its 60-year existence, the agency has been engaged in five significant types of activities: human intelligence (the proverbial spying); technical collection (and other scientific and technological activities); analysis (efforts to interpret the present and divine the future); counterintelligence (actions taken to defeat adversaries’ intelligence services); and covert action (a grab-bag of activities, all of which are intended to produce political outcomes deemed beneficial to U.S. interests). Weiner’s book gives very limited space to the first four of those activities, while devoting the lion’s share of attention to the CIA’s covert action operations. It is not surprising given that covert actions -- such as the efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro -- tend to be the most sensational and controversial. But the fixation is more than strange, given the subtitle to Weiner’s book, together with his assertion that *Legacy of Ashes* “describes how the most powerful country in the history of Western civilization has failed to create a first-rate spy service.”[4]

How does one make such a sweeping conclusion without making a reasonable effort to examine the CIA’s performance in the areas of intelligence collection (human and technical) and analysis? Weiner’s calculated neglect of these activities is hardly the only problem with the book -- but it is the primary one.

HUMINT P<> The ungainly acronym HUMINT (for human intelligence) includes everything from classic espionage operations (i.e., getting foreign nationals to turn over their nation’s secrets), to recruiting travelers to share information (particularly during the early Cold War), to the interrogation of prisoners, including (most recently) “high value” detainees held in the CIA’s “black sites.” Targets of the agency’s HUMINT operations include enemies and allies alike, from the Soviet Union and Iraq, to France and Israel.

The HUMINT dimension is not entirely absent from Weiner’s account. He dredges up well-worn anecdotes familiar to any student of intelligence history, such as the KGB’s compromise of the first CIA officer ever posted to Moscow, while presenting some novel ones. One of the book’s genuine revelations is Weiner’s disclosure of a program designated GLOBE, described as the “CIA’s first worldwide cadre of deep-cover officers . . . [who passed] as international lawyers or traveling salesman for Fortune 500 companies.”[5] There is also an extensive discussion of the Aldrich Ames case (about which Weiner wrote an earlier book), which befits Ames’s devastating betrayal, easily the worst ever suffered by the CIA. Ames not only compromised valuable intelligence operations, but was surely responsible for sending a number of agency assets in the Soviet Union to their deaths even as the Cold War was winding down. These episodes, even the thread-bare ones, are certainly a valid part of any objective history of the agency.

Weiner also describes a number of the CIA’s successes against the Soviet and Soviet bloc targets. He mentions intelligence received in the 1950s from Major Pytor Popov, “the CIA’s first spy of any note inside the Soviet Union,” who “knew a thing or two about tanks and tactical missiles and Russian military doctrine.” The CIA could, Weiner writes, “claim with conviction that Popov saved the United States half a billion dollars in military research and development.”[6] Legacy of Ashes also acknowledges the contribution in the early 1960s of Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, a member of the GRU (the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Soviet General Staff), who met CIA and British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officers on trips abroad and also “smuggled out some five thousand pages of documents, most of them providing insight into military technology and doctrine.” Weiner rightly characterizes Penkovsky as the “secret hero of the Cuban missile crisis,” because the manuals he provided enabled agency analysts to estimate precisely the capabilities of the Soviet missiles spotted by the CIA’s U-2s.[7]

Weiner also refers to more recent CIA assets who provided significant intelligence during the late Cold War, namely, Ryzard Kuklinski and Adolf Tolkachev. A Polish military officer, Kuklinski gave the United States “a long hard look at the Soviet military,” including Soviet plans for use of tactical nuclear weapons in the event of a war in Europe. Tolkachev, who was regarded as the “CIA’s greatest source in twenty years,” is described as a “military scientist who had for four years delivered documents on cutting-edge Soviet weapons research.”[8]

But this is also almost everything Legacy of Ashes tells us about these cases, because Weiner is very parsimonious when it comes to describing successful CIA endeavors. A history of the agency, according to Weiner, need only provide the vaguest details about the intelligence these assets supplied, and even less about its value and impact. Kuklinski’s information about possible Soviet intervention in Poland and internal Polish government developments goes wholly unreported -- as does the salient fact that Kuklinski’s intelligence served as a catalyst for U.S. warnings to Moscow against intervention. None of this once highly-sensitive information is hard to come by now. But Weiner chose not to exploit such easily available primary sources as the transcripts of Penkovsky’s London debriefings, or the TOP SECRET Military Thought essays he turned over to Washington. Nor does Weiner even utilize well-regarded secondary sources, such as CIA officer Barry Royden’s detailed account of the Tolkachev case that appeared in Studies in Intelligence, or well-researched books on the Penkovsky and Kuklinski cases that relied heavily on primary documents.[9]

Weiner’s parsimony, in fact, is such that a number of Soviet-era spies of import are completely missing from his account. There is no mention whatsoever of Dmitri Polyakov, Anatoli Filatov, or Aleksandr Dmitrevich Ogorodnik. Polyakov, according to David Wise, provided information on Soviet strategic missiles, anti-tank missiles, nuclear strategy, chemical and biological warfare, and civil defense. Filatov approached the CIA in the mid-1970s while stationed in Algiers, and in the fourteen months before being transferred back to GRU headquarters provided Washington with a great variety of Soviet intelligence and military secrets. His service to the CIA continued for a year after his transfer back to Moscow, until he was detected making a dead drop. Ogorodnik became an agency asset in 1974, while serving in the Soviet embassy in Colombia. In 1975 he returned to Moscow and took a position in the foreign ministry’s Global Affairs Department. The information that routinely passed through Ogorodnik’s office included KGB intelligence reports and the year-end, comprehensive report from every Soviet ambassador. Such agents would seem worthy of at least some mention in any book that purports to be a thorough history and reaches sweeping judgments.[10]

Also, apart from the case of Colonel Chang Hsien-yi, the deputy director of Taiwan’s Institute for Nuclear Energy Research -- who defected in the 1980s, after twice providing critical information about Taiwan’s nuclear weapons intentions to the CIA -- Weiner’s history essentially ignores espionage operations against non-Soviet targets, including rogue nation nuclear programs and al-Qaeda. Thus, there is no real discussion of the agency’s apparent penetration of A.Q. Khan’s proliferation network and how the intelligence helped force Libya to abandon its weapons of mass destruction program.[11]

As stunted as Weiner’s history is, he does not shy away from raising all kinds of criticisms, some of which are quite curious upon close examination. In his author’s note, for example, Weiner writes that all of the agency’s key Soviet assets were “volunteers, not recruits.”[12]

This complaint seems trenchant until one recalls the Soviets were no more successful. The great majority of Americans -- or at least the valuable ones we know about -- who spied for Moscow were also walk-ins, a list that includes Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, James Nicholson, and Edward Pitts. Both sides during the Cold War obtained far more from volunteers than from recruits. In addition to denigrating the agency unfairly, though, Weiner completely disrespects the hard work of the case officers who ran the Soviet and East European nationals who volunteered their services. Successfully recruiting an agent from a “denied area” probably paled next to the genuinely hard work of running one, as the latter ranged from the technical tradecraft involved in obtaining information from the source without detection, to the emotional and material support necessary to those who risked their lives to provide the United States with valuable intelligence. Such skills were, and are, hardly trivial, and the agency’s ability to train such officers was not an insignificant accomplishment. But to ignore it is in keeping with Weiner’s proclivity to cast virtually any agency success in a negative light.

Weiner also voices criticism of the quality of the agency’s Soviet assets, apart from how they were gathered. The CIA “never possessed a single one who had deep insights into the workings of the Kremlin,” he writes. None of the 20 sources the CIA’s Soviet Division were running in 1956 “could have any idea of what made the Kremlin tick,” Weiner later adds, before concluding that the agency “never came close to providing a big picture of the Soviet Union.”[13]

Again, the critique sounds better than it turns out to be. Weiner never specifies what would constitute a “deep insight” into the workings of the Kremlin, or why he believes there was some great secret -- beyond Marxist ideology, a lust for power and privilege, and the personalities of those who ran the country -- that, if known, would have provided the key to unlocking the Kremlin. His complaint about the inadequacies of the CIA’s 1956 Soviet sources is supposedly justified by a recounting of their lowly positions in the Communist state: the wife of a guided missile research scientist, a low-ranking naval engineering officer, a laborer, a telephone repairmen, a garage manager, a veterinarian, a high school teacher, a locksmith, a restaurant worker, and one who had no position at all.

What Weiner fails to acknowledge or appreciate is that while such individuals may not have had any special knowledge of what drove the Soviet leadership, they may still have been able to provide valuable intelligence. There is a difference between status and access. A naval engineering officer, even a low-ranking one, might well supply critical information about Soviet naval systems, just as Christopher Boyce -- a $145-a-week communications clerk -- turned out to be one of the most damaging American spies ever simply because he was able to provide the KGB with a detailed manual about a top-secret U.S. signals intelligence satellite system.[14]


As wanting as Weiner’s treatment of the agency’s HUMINT operations is, it doesn’t compare with his indefensible neglect of the CIA’s scientific and technical activities. I Indeed, the agency has often been criticized for emphasizing technical collection at the expense of getting information the old-fashioned way, via human spying. Perhaps so, but the capabilities the CIA has developed over the decades are likely the envy of other intelligence services. Weiner’s treatment of this aspect leaves a gap wide enough to fly a pair of spy planes and a quintet of satellites through -- with plenty of room left over.

There are thousands of pages of declassified documents on technical collection in the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) database at the National Archives, in the National Reconnaissance Office reading room, and in the form of declassified articles in Studies in Intelligence and CIA histories. Weiner hardly makes any use of these sources.

Legacy of Ashes does recount the CIA’s interrogation experiments from the 1950s, undertaken when fears of Communist “brain-washing” of Korean War POWs were real. The saddest episode involved LSD and an Army scientist named Fred Olson, who jumped out the window of a New York hotel after a dose of the drug was covertly administered to him. Drawing from a recently declassified history, Weiner also devotes considerable attention, to the Berlin Tunnel operation which involved the tapping of Soviet communication links in East Germany. Although the Soviets knew of the project from its inception through their mole in the British SIS, George Blake, it still provided valuable intelligence because of the Soviets’ reluctance to take immediate action for fear it would compromise a highly prized source.

Wiener also devotes several pages to the U-2 program, particularly with respect to the Cuban missile crisis, but gives the program far less attention than it deserves, both as a part of the CIA’s history and of the Cold War. Absent from his account is any mention of those who developed or flew the plane, almost all of the details of the missions flown and intelligence obtained, and the impact.[15] Instead, he focuses on what he perceives as lost opportunities and at least one dramatic and allegedly negative consequence of the program.

Weiner complains that with regard to target selection for the U-2, “the Pentagon always set the requirements for reconnaissance: How many bombers did the Soviets have? How many nuclear missiles? How many tanks?” He also reports that later in life, James Reber, who headed the committee which selected targets for the U-2, observed that a Cold War, order-of-battle mentality blocked the very idea of photographing anything else, and Weiner quotes him as saying, “We didn’t raise the right questions.” What Reber meant, Weiner explains, is that “If the CIA had developed a bigger picture of life inside the Soviet Union, it would have learned that the Soviets were putting little money into the resources that truly made a nation strong. They were a weak enemy.” Weiner concludes, “The idea that the final battles of the Cold War would be economic instead of military was beyond their imagination.”[16]

But the U-2 program was approved by President Eisenhower precisely because of a justifiable concern over the threat of a surprise attack in the missile age. There was an overwhelming need to penetrate the Soviet regime’s veil of secrecy and discover if Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s boasts were accurate. The planes were photographing military targets not only, or even primarily, for Pentagon war planners, but for CIA and other intelligence analysts who needed the information to assess properly Soviet, Chinese, and other nations’ military capabilities. U-2 missions helped alleviate U.S. concerns of a missile or bomber gap, and kept the Cold War from turning hot, which was no minor achievement.

The treatment of James Reber’s comment (assuming he was accurately quoted in context) exemplifies a problem that recurs throughout Legacy of Ashes. Weiner is quick to quote any former intelligence official who now has something negative to say about any of the agency’s activities, but never asks whether those views are reasonable, or whether other officials have differing views in hindsight. With respect to Reber’s comment, it would not be unreasonable to argue that knowledge of Soviet military capabilities was more important for the U-2 to acquire than information about why the Soviets were unlikely to manufacture the first personal computers. It should also be obvious the damage caused by nuclear warheads, delivered on American or European cities, would not be mitigated by the Soviet Union’s misshapen economy, nor would its short-sighted investment policies have prevented Moscow from launching an attack.

Weiner also has some naïve and simplistic notions of his own. Writing about the Soviet shoot-down of the U-2 flown by Francis Gary Powers on May 1, 1960, which ultimately led Khrushchev to pull out of the Paris summit, Weiner proclaims, “The CIA’s spy plane destroyed the idea of détente for almost a decade.” Weiner does not elaborate on such a significant assertion either in the text or his copious endnotes. Is he actually suggesting that if only Eisenhower and Khrushchev had had a good, heart-to-heart chat in Paris, the Soviets would not have gone on to build the Berlin Wall, install missiles in Cuba, or invade Czechoslovakia? Weiner’s assertion, at best, reveals a Pollyannaish belief that talks between adversaries are inevitably productive. At worst, it is but one example of his propensity to make extravagant judgments without hard evidence or serious thought.[17]

The A-12 OXCART, another major spy plane produced under the supervision of the CIA and Richard Bissell, does not make even a cameo appearance in the book. The OXCART, intended to be the U-2’s successor, could fly up to an altitude of about 100,000 feet and at a speed of greater than Mach 3. Although it had a short operational life, without it the Air Force would not have had its SR-71, which flew reconnaissance missions from 1968 to 1990 and obtained high-resolution images of targets across the world.[18]

An even bigger problem is the virtually complete absence of information about the three imagery satellites -- CORONA, HEXAGON (KH-9), and KENNAN (KH-11) -- and two signals intelligence satellites -- RHYOLITE and ORION -- that were developed and produced by the CIA and its contractors. CORONA satellites were in service from 1960 to 1972, HEXAGON spacecraft from 1971 to 1984, and KENNAN spacecraft (and its successors) have been in orbit from 1976 to this day. As did CORONA, HEXAGON produced images of wide swaths of Soviet and other nations’ territory with much higher resolution. KENNAN imagery was the first to be returned in real-time, so imagery interpreters at a secret site in Virginia could witness developments in the Soviet Union, China, or Southwest Asia as they were happening. Those satellites proved invaluable for providing detailed intelligence on foreign military capabilities, for supporting military operations (such as the first Persian Gulf War), and for monitoring arms control agreements.[19]

Much the same could be said about RHYOLITE and ORION. These satellites intercepted the telemetry of foreign missiles while they were being tested and provided information vital to any assessment of their capabilities, as well as to efforts to monitor Soviet adherence to provisions in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). It almost goes without saying, of course, there would never have been any agreements with Moscow in the first place if the military services had not been confident about the CIA’s ability to verify Soviet compliance. In addition, these satellites’ communications intercept capabilities expanded the U.S. ability to eavesdrop on Soviet and other nations’ communications.[20]

Also absent from Weiner’s account is the CIA’s role in building stations to monitor telemetry in the years before satellite interception was an option, and the agency’s founding of what eventually became the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC). Both of those developments occurred during the tenure of Allen Dulles and undermine Weiner’s portrayal of Dulles as someone who was completely detached and uninterested in anything besides the agency’s covert activities.[21] Covert operations animated Dulles as nothing else could, and it is true he was initially reluctant to undertake the U-2 program. Still, he authorized the agency’s first ELINT (Electronics Intelligence) program in 1954; fought off Air Force attempts to take over the U-2 once it proved successful; opposed cutbacks in the number of CORONA missions; and deflected the Defense Department’s attempt to seize control over NPIC. It was during Dulles’ tenure at CIA, in fact, that the groundwork was laid for the agency’s extensive and invaluable technical collection operations. Had he been as indifferent as Weiner makes him out to be, it is quite likely the CIA would have been shut out of such collection efforts altogether.[22]

Weiner also has a jaundiced view of the CIA’s contribution to controlling the arms race, or at least to slowing it down. He tells the reader: "Over the course of more than thirty years, the United States had spent close to a quarter of a trillion dollars on spy satellites and electronic eavesdropping equipment built to monitor the Soviet military. . . . They provided the data for endless Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty negotiations with the Soviets, and it could be argued that those talks helped keep the Cold War cold. But Washington and Moscow never gave up a single weapons system that they had wanted to build. . . . And in the end the United States abrogated the very idea of arms control."[23] The claim that the United States has abandoned arms control altogether is a dubious one. Washington adheres to an array of arms control treaties, including some Unratified ones; a recent *Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists* noted that “To meet its treaty obligations, the United States plans to dismantle nearly 4,500 warheads.”[24] But even if Weiner’s assertion were true, would that be the fault of the intelligence-gatherers in general, and the CIA in particular? Wouldn’t responsibility for such action fall on the policy-makers?


Analytical activities fare somewhat better than technical collection in Legacy of Ashes, at least in terms of space. Analytical failures as well as successes are discussed throughout the book. But overall, Weiner’s treatment of this aspect suffers from the same shortcomings that afflict the rest of the book. He makes ill-supported claims, issues grandiose judgments, and gives only cursory attention to important episodes. Many accomplishments, when not ignored outright, are given an absurdly negative spin, and several failures are greatly exaggerated. There are a number of examples to chose from, but two will have to suffice.

One of the most serious shortcomings is Weiner’s brief and misleading description of one of the Cold War’s key analytical issues -- the “missile gap” that Senators Stuart Symington (D-Missouri) and John Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) accused a complacent Eisenhower administration of letting develop in the late 1950s. Most of Weiner’s account is open to challenge. He asserts that Eisenhower longed to bury “the false claims by the CIA, Air Force, military contractors, and politicians . . . that the Soviets had a widening lead in nuclear weaponry.”[25] Weiner’s phrasing implies that every politician and entity who ever claimed a missile gap should have known better -- although as Weiner himself also acknowledges, some of those estimates were initially based on very sparse intelligence the United States possessed on Soviet missile programs. In other words, Weiner fails to make the distinction between “false claims” (of which there were several, mostly by politicians seeking a partisan advantage) and incorrect estimates, which were made in good faith, but erred because they were based upon limited information.

Weiner goes on to state that “In 1960, the agency projected a mortal threat to the United States; it told the president that the Soviets would have five hundred ICBMs ready to strike by 1961.” In fact, this projection of 500 ICBMs was not made in 1960, but 1957, when Washington’s independent knowledge of what was going inside the vast territory of the Soviet Union was severely limited. By 1960, in point of fact, the Air Force had lowered its estimate to 200 Soviet ICBMs by mid-1961, while the CIA’s estimate was down to 150.[26]

After misrepresenting the agency’s actual 1960 estimate, Weiner goes on to complain that “Moscow did not have five hundred nuclear missiles pointed at the United States at the time. It had four.” That is the end of his account. What he does not mention, perhaps because it would be inconvenient, is that the very next National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), dated September 1961, estimated that the Soviet Union had only between 10 and 25 ICBMs, and was likely to have 75 to 125 by mid-1963. Nor does Weiner bother to inform the reader that this drastic reduction was the direct result of new imagery from the CIA’s CORONA reconnaissance satellites.[27] The CIA did not propagate the missile gap; it buried it.

Weiner does no better in his account of the CIA’s performance with respect to the Soviet Union’s collapse, another fundamental issue from the agency’s first 60 years. Throughout the book, of course, there are references to how the CIA was failing to see that Washington’s main adversary was dying or crumbling.[28] Near the end of the book, Weiner sums up the CIA’s allegedly desultory performance. He writes that the agency “pronounced the dictatorship of the Soviet Union untouched and untouchable at the hour it was starting to vanish.” The evidence he offers is that on December 1, 1988, “the CIA issued a formal report confidently stating that ‘the basic elements of Soviet defense policy and practice thus far have not been changed by Gorbachev’s reform campaign,’” although just six days later, Mikhail Gorbachev would appear before the United Nations and offer a unilateral cut of 500,000 troops in the Soviet military. Weiner also quotes a Bush administration Kremlinologist who insisted the CIA was “constantly reporting that the Soviet economy was growing.”[29]

Weiner either did not consult, or chose not to report, any number of declassified CIA and community-wide analyses from 1985 to 1991 that painted a very different picture, and thus, put the CIA’s performance with respect to the Soviet Union’s demise in a far different light. Shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary in 1985, the CIA noted the difficult challenges he faced. By 1987, CIA analysts were skeptical of his chances of success. In 1989, agency analysts distinctly raised the possibility of a coup, one that would be triggered by a treaty loosening the Kremlin’s control over non-Russian areas of the Soviet Union.

In November 1990, an NIE entitled “The Deepening Crisis in the USSR: Prospects for the Next Year,” declared “the old Communist order is in its death throes,” reflecting a judgment the CIA reached a year before any other entity in the Intelligence Community. Five months later, George Kolt, the head of the CIA’s Office of Soviet Analysis, wrote a prescient paper called “The Soviet Cauldron” for the National Security Council. Kolt noted that building pressures were likely to result in a coup attempt; described who was likely to be involved and how the plotters would attempt to sell the coup; and estimated that there was a significant chance such an effort would not succeed. No policy-maker who read and took to heart Kolt’s paper could have been surprised by the events that unfolded from August through December 1991. Yet there is not a word about “The Soviet Cauldron” in Weiner’s history.[30]

Given the author’s predisposition to hold the agency in a bad light, Weiner’s somewhat curious treatment of the CIA’s performance with respect to Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) -- both the stockpiles not known about prior to the first Gulf war, and the more recent debacle -- is so cursory as to appear obligatory. Despite the detailed examination of WMD issues by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and reporting on the likely state of post-war Iraq, Weiner glides over these key topics in a mere 12 pages. There is no discussion of any specific piece of analysis other than the October 2002 NIE, “Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Nor does Weiner address the CIA’s role in the analysis of Iraqi motivations for procuring aluminum tubes; allegations that Iraq attempted to procure uranium from Niger; or the charge that it was reconstituting its nuclear program. Key figures in these dramas -- Joe Turner (Joe T.), CIA weapons and non-proliferation chief Alan Foley, former ambassador Joseph Wilson -- are completely absent from his account.


The strength, as well as the overwhelming focus of Weiner’s book, is the coverage of six decades’ worth of covert action, although the book’s coverage is sparse after 9/11.[31] With more attention to detail than he devotes to any other aspect of intelligence, Weiner recounts the by-now familiar litany: the disastrous attempts to insert agents behind the Iron Curtain during the earliest years of the Cold War; the CIA’s successful efforts to overthrow the governments of Iran and Guatemala; covert support for Japanese politicians; the unsuccessful attempt to unseat Indonesia’s President Sukarno; the Bay of Pigs disaster; and the efforts to eliminate Fidel Castro. Weiner also trods over familiar ground when he writes about covert action in Vietnam, including the overthrow and death of Ngo Dinh Diem; the attempts to prevent Salvador Allende from gaining, and then holding on to, the presidency of Chile; operations against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua; and support to the Afghan resistance, which ultimately forced the Soviets out of Afghanistan. He also discusses the CIA’s success is disrupting the Abu Nidal terrorist organization by planting false evidence that resulted in Nidal executing several of his subordinates. The end result is an account that anyone writing a history of covert operations or the agency itself would find important to consult. But even this portion of the book is not without flaws.

Perhaps the most egregious is Weiner’s recycling of a very old canard he should have known was discredited.[32] Chapter one begins with the allegation that all Harry Truman wanted, when he created the CIA in 1947, was “a global news service” that would provide him with accurate and up-to-date information. “It was not intended as a ’Cloak & Dagger outfit’!” the former president wrote to David M. Noyes in December 1963. But Truman’s “vision was subverted from the start,” Weiner ominously observes.[33]

There’s only one problem with this story: the meaning Weiner attaches to it cannot withstand scrutiny.

Weiner is correct in that Truman did make such a comment to Noyes, one of his closest post-presidential advisers. Noyes was the ghostwriter for a syndicated column (“Harry Truman Writes”) that was published during the former president’s waning years. In this instance, Noyes fashioned Truman’s thoughts into a column that ran on December 22 in the *Washington Post* under the headline, “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence.”[34] The article immediately evoked concern from current and former CIA officials, including retired DCI Allen Dulles, for the simple reason that they knew the truth to be quite the opposite.

The National Security Council’s top secret directive of December 14, 1947 (which Weiner elsewhere acknowledges) had tasked the nation’s new intelligence agency with conducting “covert psychological operations designed to counter Soviet and Soviet-inspired activities.”[35] Under that authority the CIA began conducting covert operations in the late 1940s that soon grew to include direct financial subsidies to labor and political groups in France and Italy; organization of the Free Europe Committee and Radio Free Europe; suppression of the Huk rebellion in the Philippines; and support of insurgencies in the Soviet bloc. It was also under Truman that the CIA-operated Office of Policy Coordination was established, an organization with a sole function of covert action. For that matter, the Truman administration was the first to contemplate and to plot the overthrow of Guatemalan President Arbenz, beginning in November 1951, although it was left to the Eisenhower administration to carry it out.[36] The CIA was not doing much in 1963, in other words, that it had not already started doing by 1953, when Truman left office.

In the spring of 1964, moreover, while passing through Kansas City, Allen Dulles made a point of meeting with the 79-year-old former president to discuss his December column. According to Dulles’s four-page memo of their discussion, "I suggested [the *Post* column] seemed to me to be a misrepresentation of his position. I pointed out the number of National Security Actions . . . which he had taken which dealt with covert operations by the CIA. He studied attentively the Post story and seemed quite astounded at it. In fact, he said that this was all wrong. He then said that he felt it had made a very unfortunate impression."[37]

Much of what is wrong with Weiner’s book can be gleaned from how he handles this single anecdote. The facts don’t get in the way of a winning story, indeed, the sentence that Weiner uses to open his book: “All Harry Truman wanted was a newspaper.”[38]

Weiner also disparages CIA covert operations that succeeded in accomplishing presidentially-mandated objectives for Iran in 1953 and Afghanistan in 1988. He has every right to that view, of course, yet his logic seems cramped. Weiner will fault a covert operation on the basis of events that occur a decade or more later. With respect to Iran, he writes, “In time, the chaos that the agency had created in the streets of Tehran would return to haunt the United States.” Vis à vis Afghanistan, Weiner faults the CIA for failing “to see that the Islamic warriors it supported would soon take aim at the United States,” following their defeat of the Soviet Union.[39]

While it is possible to foresee negative consequences from covert operations, it is unlikely the mere prospect of such repercussions, several administrations into the future, would have deterred Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, or Ronald Reagan from ordering such actions on their watch. To argue that either the Shah’s overthrow or 9/11 inevitably and inexorably followed a covert action is absurdly reductionist history, if only because it denies any agency to other actors. In the case of Afghanistan, it is more plausible and thoughtful to claim it was the Bush administration’s abandonment of the country following the Soviet withdrawal that gave rise to the Taliban. And the Clinton administration, it is certain, could have done more to deal with the threat from al-Qaeda than it did. Furthermore, a pivotal development that incited Osama bin Laden -- the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait -- did not occur until after Soviet forces had been driven from Afghanistan.


Those interested in the history of the CIA, particularly its covert action operations, will undoubtedly find some value in Legacy of Ashes. The plaudits it has received to date, however, are far out of proportion to the quality of the book and contribution it makes to an understanding of the agency’s history. In particular, claims that Weiner lacks bias cannot withstand a close reading of the book. The numerous errors of omission and commission in Legacy of Ashes make it a profoundly tendentious and unreliable guide to the overall history of the CIA.

The kudos lavished on Weiner’s book in prestigious newspapers are just as disturbing as the volume’s shortcomings. The reviews in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal were the kind one might expect from gullible writers who lack independent knowledge of the agency. While the reasons for their plaudits may be complicated, the uniform praise from reviewers who should know better leaves one with a sinking feeling. An intelligent debate about the strengths and shortcomings of the CIA, as well as its future, requires an unbiased understanding of its performance -- something missing both from Legacy of Ashes and its reviews.

--Jeffrey T. Richelson, a member of Washington DeCoded’s editorial board, is a senior fellow with the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books on U.S. intelligence, including, most recently, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea (W.W. Norton, 2006), and The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology (Westview Press, 2001).

[1] Although never released substantially, the “Family Jewels” had provided the base-line for the Church Committee’s investigation into the intelligence community in the mid-1970s, and the major revelations came out in 1976, when the final report was issued. For some perspective on the “Family Jewels” from the vantage point of two CIA directors, see “Reflections of DCI Colby and Helms on the CIA’s ’Time of Troubles,’” Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 51, No. 3 (2007).

[2] Tim Rutten, “Legacy of Ashes Looks at Consequences of the U.S.’ Ineffectual Spying,” Los Angeles Times, 29 June 2007; Evan Thomas, “Counter Intelligence: A Chronicle of Failure at the CIA, From the Iron Curtain to Iraq,” New York Times Book Review, 22 July 2007; Michael Beschloss, “The CIA’s Missteps, From Past to Present,” New York Times, 12 July 2007; Edward Jay Epstein, “Opening Up the CIA,” Wall Street Journal, 14 July 2007. Similar plaudits can be found in major foreign publications, including the Sydney Morning Herald (Tim Shipman, “Invasion, What Invasion? Sorry Tale of CIA Bungles,” 30 July 2007), and in the Economist (“On Top of Everything Else, Not Very Good at Its Job,” 16 August 2007).

[3] David Wise, “Covert Action: Has the CIA Ever Been Good at Intelligence Gathering?” Washington Post Book World, 22 July 2007.

[4] Weiner, Ashes, xiii.

[5] Ibid., 278.

[6] Ibid., 232, 566.

[7] Ibid., 197, 232. Somewhat inconsistently, Weiner, after having labeled Popov the CIA’s “first spy of note,” goes on to refer to Penkovsky as “the first spy of consequence that CIA ever had.”

[8] Ibid., 360, 416.

[9] Barry Royden, “Tolkachev, a Worthy Successor to Penkovsky,” Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 47, No. 3 (2003); Jerrold S. Schecter & Peter S. Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World: How a Soviet Colonel Changed the Course of the Cold War (New York: Scribner’s, 1992); Benjamin Weiser, A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country (New York: PublicAffairs, 2004).

[10] David Wise, Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames Sold the CIA to the KGB for $4.6 Million (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), 105; John Barron, KGB Today: The Hidden Hand (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1983), 428-429; David Martin, “A CIA Spy in the Kremlin,” Newsweek, 21 July 1980, 69-70; Myra A. McPherson, “The Good Neighbor Who Came in From the Cold,” Washington Post, 21 June 1978.

[11] Gordon Corera, Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and the Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 155-156. While Weiner mentions that CIA and SIS played a part in inducing Libya to abandon its nuclear weapons program, he provides no details.

[12] Weiner, Ashes, xv.

[13] Ibid., xv, 124, 433.

[14] Robert Lindsey, The Falcon and the Snowman: A True Story of Friendship and Espionage (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979).

[15] For such information see, Gregory W. Pedlow & Donald E. Welzenbach, The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974 (Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 1998), and Chris Pocock, The U-2 Spyplane: Toward the Unknown (Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2000).

[16] Weiner, Ashes, 113-114.

[17] Ibid., 160. Weiner also writes that the “The chagrin over the U-2 shoot down gave way to a murderous anger,” which he connects with Richard Bissell redoubling the CIA’s plan for “overthrowing Cuba.” He provides no source that anyone at the agency suffered from “murderous anger” or that there was any connection between the U-2 shoot down and covert activities directed against Cuba. And in point of fact, the initial decision to subvert the Castro regime was taken before the shoot-down. Document 481, “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,” 16 March 1960, in Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960: Cuba (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1991), 850.

[18] For documents on the OXCART and SR-71 see Jeffrey T. Richelson (ed.), The U-2, OXCART, and the SR-71: U.S. Aerial Espionage in the Cold War, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 74, 16 October 2002; and David Robarge, ARCHANGEL: CIA’s Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft (Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Intelligence, 2007).

[19] On all three imagery satellites, see Richelson, The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001), 22ff, 129ff, 166, 201, 212; 287; on CORONA see Kevin C. Ruffner, ed., CORONA: America’s First Satellite Program (Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1995); and Dwayne A. Day, John M. Logsdon, and Brian Latell, eds., Eye in the Sky: The Story of the CORONA Spy Satellites (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998). The closest Weiner comes to a description of any specific satellite system occurs on page 350, when he writes of “A new generation of satellites . . . coming on line that summer. Code-named KEYHOLE, they provided real-time television images instead of slow-to-develop photos.” The satellites were actually code-named KENNAN, not KEYHOLE (although the optical system was designated KH–11), and while they provided real-time images they were not television pictures.

[20] On RHYOLITE and ORION, see Richelson, Wizards, 111ff, 234-235.

[21] In his review, David Wise commented that despite Weiner’s portrayal of Dulles “as a sort of duplicitous Santa Claus, [who was] over the hill by 1961,” his personal observation and conversations with Dulles in the early 1960s revealed “not a doddering old man in carpet slippers but a shrewd professional spy.” Weiner’s determination to portray Dulles in an extremely negative light is illustrated by his portrayal of the CIA chief on page 122, where Weiner writes that: "An analyst admitted to the inner sanctum in midafternoon to advise Dulles on the crisis of the moment might find the director watching a Washington Senators baseball game on the television in his office. Lounging in a reclining chair, his feet up on an ottoman, Dulles followed the game while the hapless aide faced him from the back of the TV set. As the briefer reached his crucial points, Dulles would analyze the ball game."

Although Weiner provides no source for this anecdote about Dulles, the apparent source (which Weiner is aware of, since he cites it on page 619) was a speech by then-DCI George J. Tenet to the “Conference on the CIA’s Analysis of the Soviet Union, 1947-1991,” held in 2001. In his address, Tenet recounted the same story (also using the word “hapless” to describe the briefer) but didn’t stop where Weiner does. Weiner leaves out the rest of the story as told by Tenet: “Which is not to say that Dulles was not listening -- it was just hard to tell sometimes. For example, when Khrushchev kicked out the anti-Party group in 1957, he evidently took in what everyone said, then dictated his own briefing for the president. By all accounts it was brilliant. He did not miss a single nuance.” In other words, the complete story as told by Tenet paints a very different picture of Dulles than does Weiner’s selective version.

[22] Richelson, Wizards, 15, 28-33. Somewhat hypocritically, Weiner criticizes Dulles for not paying attention to a 1952 memo from the deputy director of intelligence on a proposal to develop a satellite reconnaissance vehicle. At the time, however, nobody believed that such a vehicle was anything other a long-term possibility.

[23] Weiner, Ashes, 418.

[24] Robert S. Norris & Hans M. Kristensen, “The U.S. Nuclear Stockpile, Today and Tomorrow,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 2007, 60-63.

[25] Weiner, Ashes, 158.

[26] NIE 11-8-60, “Soviet Capabilities for Long-Range Attack Through Mid-1965,” 1 August 1960, 14-15; NIE 11-4-60, “Main Trends in Soviet Capabilities and Forces, 1960-1965,” 1 December 1960, 51-54.

[27] NIE 11-8/1-61, “Soviet Capabilities for Long-Range Attack,” 21 September 1961, 2, 10-11, 13.

[28] It is easy in hindsight to say that a regime was dying or crumbling. But criticism that a regime’s collapse was not foreseen well in advance ignores the reality that the world has been full of dysfunctional regimes that have managed to have long, if not healthy, lifespans -- the result of an effective apparatus of repression, deluded or morally bankrupt followers, and possibly, outside assistance. Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe would be among current examples.

[29] Weiner, Ashes, 429.

[30] On the CIA’s track record, see Bruce D. Berkowitz and Jeffrey T. Richelson, “The CIA Vindicated: The Soviet Collapse Was Predicted,” National Interest, Fall 1995, 36-47, and Douglas J. MacEachin, CIA Assessments of the Soviet Union: The Record Versus the Charges (Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1996). In addition to “The Deepening Crisis in the USSR” and “The Soviet Cauldron,” other CIA and Intelligence Community papers concerning the collapse of the East European and Soviet regimes can be found in Benjamin B. Fischer, ed., At Cold War’s End: US Intelligence on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, 1989-1991 (Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999).

[31] The sparseness of Weiner’s coverage here is at odds with his expressed concern over the effectiveness of covert action. Presumably, the time to weigh the costs versus the benefits is when the threat is palpable. There is almost nothing in *Legacy of Ashes*, however, about the CIA’s role in toppling the Taliban. Nor can a reader learn of the efforts to apprehend key al-Qaeda figures like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, or the operation of the black sites where such high-value prisoners were interrogated prior to being transferred to Guantánamo, or the use of Predator unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with Hellfire missiles to eliminate senior al-Qaeda leaders.

[32] See Hayden B. Peake, “Harry S. Truman on CIA Covert Operations,” Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 25, No. 1, (1981), and Peake, “More About Harry S. Truman on CIA Covert Operations,” Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 25, No. 2, (1981).

[33] Weiner, Ashes, 3.

[34] Harry S. Truman, “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence,” Washington Post, 22 December 1963. The actual column read, “I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations.”

[35] Weiner, Ashes, 26.

[36] Nick Cullather, Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 28-31; and Document 22, “Chronology Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency,” 8 October 1952, in Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954: Guatemala (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2003).

[37] Memo for Lawrence Houston from A.W. Dulles, “Visit to the Honorable Harry S. Truman,” 21 April 1964, Dulles Papers, Box 127, Mudd Library, Princeton University. Truman’s reaction, as noted by Dulles, suggested that he had never read the column before it was published and that it reflected Noyes’s view more than the former president’s. Truman’s ghostwriter had no knowledge, of course, of covert actions undertaken after 1947 since they were still largely secret in 1963.

[38] Weiner, Ashes, 3.

[39] Weiner, Ashes, xv, 92.




Center for the Study of Intelligence

CSI Publications

By Nicholas Dujmovic

Studies in Intelligence
Vol. 51, No. 3
September 10, 2007

[Tim Weiner. New York: Doubleday, 2007. 516 pages. Notes and index.]

Original source: CIA

Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes is not the definitive history of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that it purports to be. Nor is it the well researched work that many reviewers say it is. It is odd, in fact, that much of the hype surrounding the book concerns its alleged mastery of available sources. Weiner and his favorable reviewers -- most, like Weiner, journalists -- have cited the plethora of his sources as if the fact of their variety and number by themselves make the narrative impervious to criticism.

But the thing about scholarship is that one must use sources honestly, and one doesn’t get a pass on this even if he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the New York Times. Starting with a title that is based on a gross distortion of events, the book is a 600-page op-ed piece masquerading as serious history; it is the advocacy of a particularly dark point of view under the guise of scholarship. Weiner has allowed his agenda to drive his research and writing, which is, of course, exactly backwards.

History, fairly done, is all about context, motivations, and realistic expectations in addition to the accurate portrayal of events. Weiner is not honest about context, he is dismissive of motivations, his expectations for intelligence are almost cartoonish, and his book too often is factually unreliable. What could have been a serious historical critique illuminating the lessons of the past is undermined by dubious assertions, sweeping judgments based on too few examples, selective or outright misuse of citations, a drama-driven narrative, and a tendentious and nearly exclusive focus on failure that overlooks, downplays, or explains away significant successes.

The irony is that a new history of CIA is needed to fill the gap left by the now dated works of John Ranelagh (The Agency, 1986) and Christopher Andrew (For the President’s Eyes Only, 1995). Having read the book, I have to conclude that this is not it; anyone who wants a balanced perspective of CIA and its history should steer well clear of *Legacy of Ashes*.


The phrase “legacy of ashes” comes from a critical remark President Dwight D. Eisenhower uttered near the end of his administration when, Weiner tells us, Ike finally blew up at Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Allen Dulles and the failings of CIA generally, and more particularly at Dulles’s resistance to recommendations for intelligence reform from the president’s board of consultants. Here’s how Weiner treats the episode, under the subhead “An Eight-Year Defeat” (page 166). “'A great deal has been accomplished,' Dulles insisted to the president at the final gatherings of Eisenhower’s National Security Council. Everything is well in hand, he said. I have fixed the clandestine service. American intelligence has never been more agile and adept. Coordination and cooperation are better than they have ever been. The proposals of the president’s intelligence board were preposterous, he said, they were madness, they were illegal. I am responsible under the law for intelligence coordination, he reminded the president. I cannot delegate that responsibility. Without my leadership, he said, American intelligence would be a 'body floating in thin air.' -- At the last, Dwight Eisenhower exploded in anger and frustration. 'The structure of our intelligence organization is faulty,' he told Dulles. It makes no sense, it has to be reorganized, and we should have done it long ago. Nothing had changed since Pearl Harbor. 'I have suffered an eight-year defeat on this,' said the president of the United States. He said he would 'leave a legacy of ashes' to his successor."

The central episode in Weiner’s book is an invented dialogue, a created exchange that never happened. This incident serves as an iconic moment in the book, the cornerstone of the entire edifice, a sort of literary fractal that encapsulates in microcosm all that Weiner thinks is wrong with CIA: its unrelenting record of failures, its non-responsiveness -- and even duplicity -- to presidents, its cowboy-ish autonomy and resistance to accountability and oversight. But this central episode in Weiner’s book is an invented dialog, a created exchange that never happened. An examination of the source documents shows that:

* Dulles made his remarks (“body floating in thin air”) at a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on 12 January 1961, and he was speaking against a Defense Department proposal to separate the position of DCI from the management of CIA.

* Eisenhower’s supposed retort (“eight-year defeat . . . legacy of ashes”) occurred a week earlier, at the 5 January NSC meeting, and had nothing to do with CIA. Eisenhower was expressing frustration at what he considered his major failing regarding intelligence -- his inability to reform and streamline military intelligence.

* Far from criticizing Dulles and CIA, Eisenhower at both meetings affirmed the Agency’s central role in the collection and correlation of strategic intelligence while criticizing the redundancy and expense of having four separate military intelligence agencies.

* The words “preposterous” and “madness” are nowhere to be found in the record of Dulles’s remarks on proposals to reform intelligence. [1]

Here is the critical paragraph from the minutes of the 5 January meeting. "The President then remarked that soon after Pearl Harbor, he was engaged in an operation which required him to have certain information which he was unable to obtain from the Navy, i.e., the strength the Navy had left in the Pacific. The President also noted that the U.S. fought the first year of the war in Europe entirely on the basis of British intelligence. Subsequently, each Military Service developed its own intelligence organization. He thought the situation made little sense in managerial terms. He had suffered an eight-year defeat on this question but would leave a legacy of ashes for his successor."

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has distorted what was said, why it was said, when it was said, and the circumstances under which it was said -- all to support his thesis that CIA has been a continuous failure from 1947 up to the present. Weiner’s use of the plural “final gatherings” in the excerpt from his account suggests he knows what he is doing.


The book’s preface, an “Author’s Note,” is another literary fractal that in four-and-a-half pages reveals all the problems of interpretation, evidence, and scholarship that follow throughout the entire book. [2] Weiner is on thin ice from the opening lines: “the most powerful country in the history of Western civilization has failed to create a first-rate spy service.” Yet at no point in the 671 pages of narrative and notes does Weiner offer a basis for his standards -- other than suggesting that mistakes just shouldn’t be made -- or explain what his “first rate” intelligence service might look like.

The intelligence services that are often judged to be superior to CIA -- the Israeli Mossad, the Cuban DGI, the East German Stasi, and even the British SIS -- are far more limited in focus and scope. CIA from the beginning was charged with worldwide coverage in all intelligence areas, something no other service, except perhaps the Soviet KGB, was required to do. If making no mistakes is Weiner’s only standard, he has adopted an unrealistic one -- a Platonic ideal for intelligence -- that CIA, dealing with the world as it is, could only have failed to meet.

There is a difference between warning of the day and time of the next attack and providing analysis that helps presidents and other policymakers understand circumstances and act to affect outcomes.

CIA’s central “crime,” as Weiner puts it in the opening pages, is its consistent failure to inform presidents, which he equates with predicting the future. This is a rather sophomoric view of what intelligence can reasonably be expected to do. Throughout the book Weiner repeats the mantra that the Agency was created “to prevent another Pearl Harbor.” True enough, but if CIA had existed in the fall of 1941, it would have been telling policymakers of Japanese capabilities, analyzing Tokyo’s intentions, drawing attention to the vulnerabilities of our Pacific bases, including Pearl Harbor, and by November estimating that war was imminent -- not going for a prediction that at 0755 on 7 December, the Japanese would strike (though, of course, credible intelligence of that sort would have been welcome).

There is a difference between warning of the day and time of the next attack and providing analysis that helps presidents and other policymakers understand circumstances and act to affect outcomes, an aspect of the process Weiner -- who has written about U.S. intelligence activities and organizations for some time -- somehow seems not to have learned.

There are other lapses. Weiner’s opening note asserts that, in CIA’s history, U.S. presidents ordered the Agency to undertake covert action when CIA could not provide knowledge of adversaries; that CIA lied to presidents to conceal its failures and preserve its standing in Washington; that CIA analysts “learned to march in lockstep” to conform to what the president wanted to hear; that all of the Agency’s Soviet assets were executed; and that the “Islamic warriors” CIA supported in Afghanistan later turned on the United States. Overall, in his view, the few successes have been “fleeting,” while the many failures are “long-lasting.” Heady stuff, these assertions -- but every one of them is wrong (some are not even consistent with each other), and this is just the tip of the iceberg.


Moving into the book itself, the reader finds a ceaseless drumbeat of failure. The main theme of Legacy of Ashes is that the CIA has been a consistent and essentially inexcusable failure since the beginning, over the decades, and up to the present moment.

No objective observer of Agency history can fail to note that CIA in its history has failed -- sometimes miserably -- in what it set out to do or was ordered to do. As a CIA historian, I’ve been accused of dwelling too much, in fact, on the failures, a few of which are real doozies. Most of us in the profession take these cases very much to heart, endeavoring to learn as much from them as we can so we can do better.

It is a task that requires constant attention. Among difficult human endeavors the profession of intelligence is an activity that seems by its very nature to have a higher probability of failure. Everything intelligence is called upon to do is inherently, inescapably difficult: to reveal what is hidden, most often deliberately by people who mean us harm; to ascertain trends and look into the future; to push the bounds of science and technology to collect what otherwise would be uncollectible and therefore unknowable; to test the limits of human ingenuity and courage in old-fashioned spying and counterespionage; and to estimate what it all means. These are not trifling challenges.

Consider further that these difficult tasks are being attempted by mortal men and women, all of whom by virtue of the human condition are fallible and imperfect: not a superhero among them, outside of the imaginations of novelists and screenwriters. The logic is inexorable: if the tasks are very hard, and the human raw material is flawed, inevitably there will be failure.

This suggests that a fair treatment of intelligence and a realistic assessment of its history, if not tending toward a sense of forgiveness, would at least attempt to understand the very human context of what must be a record that will include failures. This context is especially necessary in appraising the early years of CIA, when enormous challenges were faced by a new generation for whom intelligence was something learned through often-bitter experience.

A fair treatment of intelligence and a realistic assessment of its history would at least attempt to understand the very human context of what must be a record that will include failures.


Weiner’s central theme of unremitting failure does an injustice to the truth, not least because the existence of real Agency achievements cannot be denied. Moreover, Weiner’s secondary theme, that Agency leaders learned to lie to portray CIA’s failures as successes, is inaccurate and requires one to believe U.S. presidents are dolts.

Allen Dulles freely admitted to President Eisenhower that CIA had no sources in the Kremlin, that its Soviet estimates relied more on speculation and “the logic of the situation” than on hard evidence, and that the Agency could not reliably warn of a sudden Soviet attack (pages 73–75). This was not a unique occasion of truthfulness, and it does not sound like an Agency trying to hide its shortcomings.

Weiner even manages to portray genuine CIA successes as failures. For example, in 1948 CIA accurately assessed the chance for war with the Soviets as nil; according to Weiner, that was a failure because “no one listened” -- likewise with accurate Agency predictions of genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

He portrays the development of the U-2 spyplane -- a stunning technological achievement -- as a failure because, he says, CIA should have had better human sources inside the USSR. If we had only developed “a bigger picture of life inside the Soviet Union” that revealed the Russians “were unable to produce the necessities of life” (page 114), we would not have had to create the unprecedented capability to take pictures of Soviet military power from 70,000 feet. Never mind that the Soviets had built and would continue to build a formidable and genuinely threatening military machine for decades to come.

Oddly, in the video trailer for the book on his publisher’s Web site, Weiner contradicts himself about the utility of the reconnaissance efforts. He describes as a success the development of spy satellites, and the analysis from satellite imagery, that, in his words, “helped keep the Cold War cold.” This is significant. If CIA had had no other success in its history, the Agency deserves more credit than Weiner allows for keeping the Cold War from becoming a hot war, presumably a nuclear war. In the book, Weiner gives the Agency no credit on this point.

Other successes Weiner obscures or otherwise marginalizes. For example, discussing the successful covert support of democracy in Italy in 1948, Weiner belittles the prospects of a communist takeover and then implies that CIA’s achievement had little real effect other than to encourage more such operations. The Berlin Tunnel operation gets short shrift, and the story of CIA’s first major Soviet spy, Pyotr Popov, is buried in a footnote. Weiner ascribes the Agency’s spot-on call regarding the 1967 Mideast war wholly to liaison service information rather than to the rigorous analytic work that was behind the judgment. [3]


Throughout his book, Weiner has a distressing tendency to make compelling, usually damning statements about CIA -- its leaders, operations, and programs -- and about U.S. presidents that are untrue. Many of these assertions he even undermines in his subsequent narrative.

A prominent early example, in which Weiner sets the stage for his view that CIA overstepped its boundaries from the beginning, is the first sentence of chapter 1: “All Harry Truman wanted was a newspaper.” Weiner then repeats the myth, long discounted, that President Truman wanted his intelligence service just to produce a daily report. A few pages later, however, Weiner tells how Truman gave the first director of central intelligence a black hat, a cloak, and a wooden dagger -- which make for a pointless joke if all Truman wanted was a classified version of the New York Times.

In fact, Truman signed NSC directives assigning the responsibility for covert action to CIA, a duty CIA officials had misgivings about at the time. Weiner goes on to mention that, by the way, there were 81 covert actions approved by the NSC and carried out by CIA during Truman’s term, including significant paramilitary operations in the Korean War.

Weiner is forced by his own premise to then assert the incredible: that Harry Truman didn’t know what was going on in his own administration regarding Cold War covert activities. To accept that, you need an imagination like Oliver Stone’s to believe that Truman’s secretaries of state and defense, his military commanders, his advisers Clark Clifford and former DCI Sidney Souers, his own secretary, plus George Kennan at the State Department, as well as Directors Vandenberg, Hillenkoetter and Smith -- all conspired to keep this form of warfare a secret from the president.

Yet publicly available documents, which Weiner seems to be unaware of or ignores, make an overwhelming case that President Truman was informed frequently of NSC and other policy discussions on covert operations and CIA’s role in them. In Michael Warner, ed., CIA Cold War Records: The CIA Under Harry Truman (CIA History Staff, 1994) is a memo from the DCI dated 23 April 1952 to the NSC about CIA activities. It includes (pages 459–60) a discussion of “cold war covert activities, including guerrilla warfare.” The document is marked “Included in the President’s Book.”

Weiner might also have read Hayden Peake, “Harry S. Truman on CIA Covert Activities,” in Studies in Intelligence 25, No. 1 (1981). Peake demonstrates that, Truman’s stated opposition to Eisenhower- and Kennedy-era covert operations notwithstanding, CIA officials of the late 1940s and early 1950s considered Truman to have been intimately involved in the development of CIA’s covert mission.

Weiner might also have examined more closely the holdings of the Truman Library, where he would have been able to see a progress report sent by DCI Souers to the president in June 1946 on “planning for psychological warfare” on the part of the Central Intelligence Group; [4] he might also have taken note of the NSC memorandums for the president summarizing NSC discussions of 20 May and 3 June 1948 concerning psychological and political warfare, also in the Truman Library, President’s Secretary’s files. [5]

He misses other important evidence of Truman’s knowledge of such activity, such as the Acting DCI’s 16 January 1951 report to the NSC on “Responsibilities of CIA (OPC) with Respect to Guerrilla Warfare.” [6] Weiner does cite the 23 October 1951 NSC report on “Scope and Pace of Covert Operations,” but he misses the significance of this document’s presence in the files of Truman’s secretary -- unless Weiner is implying that she was in on the aforementioned conspiracy to keep him in the dark.


Weiner’s portrayal of CIA leaders, especially in the Agency’s first decades, drips with hostility -- something that even favorable reviewers have criticized. [7] His prose forces one to conclude that the Agency was led by incompetent louts ignorant of the world and duplicitous with higher authority.

Frank Wisner, a passionate and driven man who led covert operations for many years, comes in for especially rough treatment. Weiner portrays him as absolutely autonomous, out of control, accountable to no one: “He alone would decide whether his secret missions conformed to American foreign policy” (page 32). But even Weiner’s animosity can’t get in the way of unavoidable facts -- on the very next page, one reads that Wisner created stay-behind agent networks in Europe on the orders of Secretary of Defense Forrestal. Reading on, one finds that both State and Defense were pressing Wisner to expand covert action programs in 1951, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered him to undertake covert operations against the USSR, and that all such operations were authorized by George Kennan at State.

Weiner says Wisner successfully resisted orders from DCI Smith to shut down any covert program, no matter how ineffectual, yet in reality Wisner complied with orders to end the heavily invested “Third Force” program in 1953. Wisner is lambasted for doing too much -- except during the 1953 East German riots, when Weiner chastizes him for doing nothing.

Weiner asserts that Agency officers consistently misunderstood the world and communicated that misunderstanding to U.S. presidents, who then reacted by ordering the CIA to conduct covert actions in order to change the world to their liking. This thesis is unsupportable from the historical record. Other commentators (Walter Laqueur, Angelo Codevilla, e.g.) have noted that one problem with covert action in the Agency’s history is that it was not sufficiently informed by the Agency’s analysis. For example, the analysts were completely cut out of deliberations before the Bay of Pigs, and they could have told the operators that there was no potential for an anti-Castro uprising that the operation was intended to foment.

One of Weiner’s most unfair assertions is that CIA analysts “learned to march in lockstep” to conform to how the president saw the world (page xv). That judgment would come as a surprise to several generations of analysts in the Directorate of Intelligence, especially those who delivered unexpected or unwelcome assessments to various administrations on China, Soviet strategic intentions and capabilities, Vietnam, the Balkans, and more recently on terrorism and Iraq.


Weiner’s predilection for the knockout punch or the cheap shot might make for successful tabloid journalism, but it is unsatisfactory as history because it neglects essential context that would provide real understanding of complex situations. For example, he dismisses the first DCI to lead CIA, Roscoe Hillenkoetter. Labelling him as an ineffectual leader, Weiner gives him no credit for trying, as a lowly rear admiral in Washington, to lead this new venture called Central Intelligence. In an apparent rush to condemn Agency covert action, Weiner curiously fails to give Hillenkoetter credit for trying to keep the Agency out of it.

Similarly, Weiner focuses solely on CIA’s problems with the Gehlen group, the former military officers of Nazi Germany who served as the basis for West German intelligence, and he omits mention of its valuable intelligence on the USSR, which “outweighed these problems during the hottest years of the Cold War,” in the words of a declassified CIA historical assessment. [8]

Weiner also repeats the canard that CIA missed the decline of the USSR, something that was obvious to everyone in the world but the Agency. He ignores several important sources that have refuted this claim: the work of Bruce Berkowitz, Douglas MacEachin, Robert Gates, and the Case Program of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. CIA analysts warned of the USSR’s socio-economic troubles from the late 1970s on.

A particularly telling cheap shot is Weiner’s dismissal of Ronald Reagan as someone who came to the presidency knowing “little more about the CIA than what he had learned at the movies” (page 375). This is a wrong-headed view of a president who in 1975 had served on the Rockefeller Commission investigating intelligence activities and who had drafted for his own delivery, from 1975 to 1978, radio addresses on national security matters that included cogent discussions about CIA and intelligence issues. In addition, a large number of Reagan’s letters and essays has emerged that dispel Weiner’s notion. [9]

Weiner, like a prosecutor in a trial, pulls from his source material only that which supports his perspective.


Just as he fails to provide context or alternative plausible explanations, Weiner, like a prosecutor in a trial, pulls from his source material only that which supports his perspective. Concerning CIA analysis of the Soviet Union, he quotes the former director of national estimates at CIA, Abbot Smith, on page 154: "We had constructed for ourselves a picture of the USSR, and whatever happened had to be made to fit into that picture. Intelligence estimators can hardly commit a more abominable sin."

Clearly Smith’s idea of an “abominable sin” doesn’t apply to this journalist-turned-historian, who doesn’t mention that in the very next paragraph of the document from which he drew the above quote is the following: "Abbott balanced his critique by noting that many of the main points of political analysis of the USSR had turned out to be valid: emphasis on the continuing strength of party rule, the importance of heavy industry and the military, and the emergence of problems with Communist China." [10]

That last point is especially important, for CIA analysis on the Sino-Soviet relationship was far ahead of the rest of Washington’s and must be counted a success.

Another example: Weiner’s treatment of CIA during the Korean War (chapter 6) is entirely one-sided, again supported by selective quotation of sources. His account of error and botched CIA operations relies on the work of Michael Haas, a former Air Force contract historian who had access to CIA internal histories on the Korean War. [11] To be sure, those internal histories speak of many failed operations, especially after 1952, but Weiner fails to report that Haas also wrote of “noteworthy” HUMINT successes early in the war -- one of which contributed to the successful Inchon landing -- as well as collection operations that yielded intelligence on the enemy’s order of battle and critical targeting information that resulted in the destruction of a North Korean Communist Party facility.

The one Korean War internal history that has been released (and available to Weiner) speaks of many successful missions into North Korean territory, mostly to gather intelligence but also to destroy infrastructure and to kill enemy combatants. [12] All this is absent from Weiner’s retelling.

Oddly, Weiner goes on at some length concerning what CIA’s internal histories say about the Korean War, and throughout the book he frequently cites declassified Agency histories. So it is amusing to read that “CIA’s covert operators never wrote ‘lessons-learned’ studies.” What does he think those internal histories were for? While it is debatable whether needed lessons were really learned, these things were written by the Directorate of Operations for the Directorate of Operations and invariably included conclusions intended to improve operations in the future -- sometimes explicitly called “lessons.”

There is sloppy scholarship in the recounting of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, which in Weiner’s hands becomes a tragicomedy.

With respect to analysis during the Korean War, Weiner is not completely up front either. He meticulously documents CIA’s inaccurate assessments of China’s intent to enter the war in force -- based on the Agency’s flawed premise that Moscow was really behind events on the peninsula -- but he ignores the same sources regarding the Agency’s frequent and consistent warnings that Chinese deployments gave Beijing the capability of entering the war. [13] CIA warned President Truman on 1 September 1950 -- six weeks before Chinese troops crossed the Yalu into North Korea -- that "Chinese Communist propaganda has portrayed the U.S. as an aggressor. . . . Thus, the stage has been set for some form of Chinese Communist intervention or participation in the Korean War. . . . In any case, some form of armed assistance to the North Koreans appears imminent."

On 30 September, CIA told Truman that most information pointed against a Chinese decision “to intervene openly in Korea,” although the Agency also presented contrary reports -- including intelligence from Indian diplomats in Beijing that the Chinese leadership had swung toward intervention. As Weiner notes, CIA in mid-October told Truman there were “no convincing indications” of a Chinese intention “to resort to full-scale intervention.”

What Weiner omits is that this report, “Threat of Full Chinese Communist Intervention in Korea,” begins with the Agency’s assessment that Chinese ground forces “are capable of intervening effectively” in the conflict; that the report discusses the factors arguing for a Chinese intervention, as well as the factors militating against it, concluding that continued covert aid was most likely; and that the last paragraph of the report repeats that “full-scale Chinese Communist intervention in Korea must be regarded as a continuing possibility” though it was assessed as “not probable in 1950.”

There is sloppy scholarship at the very least in the recounting of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, which in Weiner’s hands becomes a tragicomedy, with Frank Wisner ordering Radio Free Europe (RFE) to incite violence against the communist regime and against invading Soviet troops -- only to see the uprising crushed. One of Weiner’s major sources for his assertion of CIA’s culpability is an RFE New York memo, allegedly the result of Wisner’s “exhortations” to violence, telling the radio’s Hungarian staff in Munich that “All restraints have gone off. No holds barred.” It’s a significant problem for Weiner’s thesis that Wisner in 1956 actually had no direct involvement in RFE and that the memo was produced after the uprising was effectively over and dealt with rhetoric, not violence.

Weiner also points to an RFE broadcast that predicted the United States would come to the aid of Hungarian freedom fighters, without acknowledging that the broadcaster was doing a press review after the Soviet invasion and was quoting -- by name -- a London *Observer* editorial, and that even so this was a violation of RFE policy, or that this was the sole example of an implicit hint of assistance in two weeks of continuous broadcasting to Hungary. The idea that RFE was fomenting violence at the behest of Frank Wisner is not supported either by Weiner’s sources or by other sources he failed to cite. [14]

On CIA’s analysis of Soviet missile development, Weiner writes, “In 1960, the agency projected [that] the Soviets would have five hundred ICBMS ready to strike by 1961” (page 158), but Moscow in 1961 only had four. This item is often mentioned in reviews of Legacy of Ashes as an example of the Agency’s total incompetence. How could we get it so wrong, especially after years of U-2 coverage?

The problem is that Weiner got the year wrong: it was in 1957, three years earlier -- not long after the shock of the first Soviet ICBM test and then Sputnik, when Soviet leaders had boasted of turning out rockets “like sausages,” and while the U-2 program was in its early stages -- that CIA and the Intelligence Community (not just CIA) projected 500 Soviet ICBMs in 1961, four years into the future.

Weiner failed both to correctly read his secondary source and to check primary sources. [15] If he had been more careful, he would have found that a National Intelligence Estimate in 1960 told the president that the Soviets at that time probably had 10 operational ICBMs and would have 50, at most 200, the following year. In other words, the U.S. Intelligence Community, still animated by worst case analysis as the prudent course, nevertheless used information from CIA’s U-2 program to scale back significantly its earlier estimate, and CIA’s CORONA satellite program and its intelligence from Oleg Penkovskiy would soon improve that score. This should be considered a success, but Weiner uses it as an occasion to ridicule the Agency.

Enumerating cases of Weiner’s selectivity would take another 600 pages, but I will close with the especially egregious incomplete explanation of events surrounding the famous “sixteen words” President Bush used in the 2003 State of the Union address about Saddam Hussein’s alleged efforts to purchase uranium in Africa. Weiner, claiming that Bush was making “CIA’s case,” omits mention of the attribution of the information to British intelligence. Moreover, George Tenet’s recent memoir makes it clear that the Agency had removed the assertion from previous speeches and simply had failed to do so for the State of the Union. CIA, in fact, did not support that statement.

Weiner gets better during the period when he started covering intelligence as a reporter.


The errors of fact in Legacy of Ashes are numerous and of the kind that a half-way diligent graduate student would spot. Following is a short list:

* OSS was not “barred from seeing the most important intercepted communications” during World War II (page 5); few in any organization could view ULTRA intercepts, but within OSS the X-2 counterintelligence branch had access.

* The distinction between the espionage and covert action missions did not emerge in the postwar period (page 11) but years earlier was already part of the organizing principle of OSS; the Secret Intelligence branch handled what would later be called HUMINT, and various other branches were responsible for paramilitary and other covert activity.

* The 1949 CIA Act did not provide the Agency with the legal authority to conduct covert action (page 40) -- that legislation concerned DCI authorities regarding personnel, secrecy, and unvouchered funds (which certainly helped operations remain covert); the Agency construed its covert action authority from admittedly vague language in the 1947 National Security Act and from Executive Orders.

* Weiner obviously read (and quotes from) my Studies in Intelligence article on the ill-fated flight of Jack Downey and Dick Fecteau in 1952, yet he misrepresented a flight to pick up documents as a mission to “rescue” agents who had radioed for help (page 60).

* The reference to a “CIA colonel” (page 88) is odd; the KGB had colonels, but CIA never had military ranks -- though it has employed military officers.

* Weiner also errs when he says that the current director, Michael Hayden (page 510), is the first active-duty military officer to lead the Agency since the early 1950s -- that was Admiral Stansfield Turner (1977).

* Weiner says that the 1950s-era program to encourage Soviet walk-ins outside the USSR, REDCAP, was not effective and had no significant successes by 1956 (page 124). He forgets the two Peters, Pyotr Deriabin, and Pyotr Popov, both of whom were immensely important assets.

* The idea that the “Islamic warriors” CIA supported in Afghanistan would later turn on the United States (page xv) fails to make the basic distinction between the Afghan mujahedin, whom the Agency supported, and Arabs who went to Afghanistan in the 1980s -- whom CIA did not support.

* John McCone was never a deputy secretary of defense (page 180) and did not, as DCI, begin mass firings (page 188).


For all of its profound flaws bits of Legacy of Ashes are not bad (though Weiner has not earned the trust of the careful scholar regarding his sources, so best to check).

Weiner accurately chronicles much of the chaos of the early days of CIA espionage and covert action, particularly when the Office of Strategic Operations and Office of Policy Coordination were separate entities with separate stations in the field and competing programs (page 33).

I actually agree with Weiner that at some point, though I am not certain where that point is, the dispatch of ethnic agent teams into denied areas was unconscionable, based on the fact -- observable to CIA at the time -- that so few (about 25 percent) were ever heard from again. At the same time, no one put a gun to the heads of these ethnic agents; they were nationalists, willing to risk their lives (many fought, unheralded, for years as guerillas against the Soviets in their homeland without U.S. help), and we were willing to take the chance that sending them might yield good intelligence or otherwise harm our adversaries. In the high pressure of the early Cold War -- when everyone was concerned about communist expansion and no one knew how the struggle would come out -- these operations, ill-advised though they may have been, were far more understandable, if not forgivable, than Weiner allows.

Weiner gets better during the period when he started covering intelligence as a reporter (Part Six). His recounting of events in the 1990s -- the change in CIA’s relationship with the military as a result of the Gulf War, the effect of the “peace dividend” on Agency resources, and the debacle of the Clinton administration’s attitudes toward intelligence -- seem accurate and useful summaries.

My hunch is that Weiner’s work will soon be replaced by that of a historian who has seriously attempted to get at more of the “whole truth” of intelligence, rather than some carefully selected bits intended to highlight an interpretation.

But these few plusses do not overcome the essential fact that Legacy of Ashes is a narrowly-focused and biased account. In his preface, Weiner claims to believe that the intelligence profession is critical to national security, but he is likely to have done considerable damage, as the people who take up the profession will, I fear, have to deal with his inaccuracies and skewed perspectives for years to come.

As to the gap that we in CIA’s History Staff hoped to see filled, my hunch, and hope, is that Weiner’s work will soon be replaced by that of a historian who has seriously attempted to get at more of the “whole truth” of intelligence, rather than carefully selected bits intended to highlight an interpretation. Then we will have a history that we can learn from to improve and advance the important work of our nation’s security. [16]


[1] Memoranda of Discussions at the 473rd Meeting (5 January 1961) and the 474th Meeting (12 January 1961) of the National Security Council; documents 80 and 84, in *Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963*: Volume XXV (2001). See also document 79, a record of 3 January meeting of Eisenhower, National Security Advisor Gordon Gray, and General Andrew Goodpaster.

[2] Weiner, xiv–xvii.

[3] See David Robarge, “Getting it Right: CIA Analysis of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War,” Studies in Intelligence 49, No. 1 (2005).

[4] “Progress Report” memo of 7 June 1948, Harry S. Truman Library, Papers of Clark Clifford, available through the Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS).

[5] These are reprinted as documents 277 and 283 in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945–1950: Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment (1996).

[6] Truman Library, President’s Secretary’s files and available through DDRS.

[7] See, for example, David Wise’s review in the Washington Post, 22 July 2007.

[8] Kevin Ruffner, ed., Forging an Intelligence Partnership: CIA and the Origins of the BND, 1945-49 (CIA History Staff, 1999; redacted and released, 2002), xxix.

[9] On Reagan’s views of CIA and intelligence, see Kiron Skinner et al., eds., Reagan, In His Own Hand (New York: Touchstone, 2002), 121–28.

[10] Gerald K. Haines and Robert E. Leggett, eds., Watching the Bear: Essays on CIA’s Analysis of the Soviet Union, 70.

[11] Michael E. Haas, In the Devil’s Shadow: UN Special Operations During the Korean War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000), 172–205.

[12] CIA in Korea, 1946-1965; released portions concern only the Korean War period.

[13] At the Truman Library, and available through DDRS, are CIA reports “Situation Summary 1 Sep 50,” “Interim Situation Summary 30 September 1950,” and “Threat of Full Communist Intervention in Korea,” 12 October 1950. All these reports were declassified during 1977–79.

[14] Weiner cites, for example, Arch Puddington’s definitive Broadcasting Freedom (University Press of Kentucky, 2000) but unaccountably seems unaware, or chose not to use, A. Ross Johnson’s paper, available on the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Web site, “Setting the Record Straight: The Role of Radio Free Europe in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956,” December 2006.

[15] Weiner relied on Raymond Garthoff, “Estimating Soviet Military Intentions and Capabilities,” in Watching the Bear, 135–86. The actual estimates have long been available for serious researchers in Donald Steury, ed., Intentions and Capabilities: Estimates on Soviet Strategic Forces, 1950–1983 (Washington, DC: CIA History Staff, 1996).

[16] In his acknowledgments, Weiner offered a "tip of the hat to the men and women of the history staff" in the cause of openness. An examination of his notes, however, suggest that he made relatively little use of the fruits of such labors, which seldom produce the biting lines and colorful turns of phrase found in interviews and oral histories, which he most relies on.