[Paleopsych] NYTBR: The Spying Game

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Sunday Book Review > Chronicle: The Spying Game
April 10, 2005


SPYMASTER: My Life in the CIA.
By Ted Shackley with Richard A. Finney.
Potomac, $27.95.

By Richard L. Holm.
St. Ermin's /Trafalgar Square, paper, $18.

By Floyd L. Paseman.
Zenith, $24.95.

DENIAL AND DECEPTION: An Insider's View of the CIA From Iran-Contra to 9/11.
By Melissa Boyle Mahle.
Nation Books, $26.

    Walter Pforzheimer was a wonderful old political fixer for the
    Central Intelligence Agency who lived alone in two apartments at the
    Watergate -- one for himself and one for his library, among the
    world's greatest privately held collections of works on intelligence.
    Were Walter still alive, bless his bibliophilic heart, he would be
    clearing a five-foot shelf for the stacks of new books by C.I.A.
    veterans. At retired spooks' conventions, the card tables in the
    lobbies must be creaking under the weight of them all. They will be
    groaning boards by the time George Tenet, the recently departed
    director of central intelligence, finishes his own opus, for which he
    has received an advance roughly the size of the C.I.A.'s secret
    budget. What a country! Only in America could the intelligence memoir
    become a literary genre.

    But these works are crucial, and here's why. The C.I.A.'s files are
    ''the nation's unconscious,'' writes Thomas Powers, a longtime
    chronicler of intelligence. ''There you may find the evidence, like
    the gouges on rock where a glacier has passed, about what American
    leaders really thought, really wanted and really did -- important
    clues to who we are as a people.'' The C.I.A.'s attitude toward
    declassification has at times approached civil disobedience, yet
    important clues trickle out from official documents. The memoirs of
    C.I.A. officers, though subject to scissoring by guardians of
    imaginary secrets, as well as real ones, provide more clues. Over
    time, a picture takes shape out of the miasma of secrecy. Overlaid
    with the findings of diplomatic and military scholars, intelligence
    history is beginning to approach something like the truth about the
    last 60 years of American power abroad. Without it, we live in a state
    of vincible ignorance -- choosing not to know what we know we should
    know, which in some circles is a sin against God.

    Speaking of sins, Ted Shackley left a great deal out of his posthumous
    Spymaster (which will be published in May). Shackley was one of the
    C.I.A.'s colder warriors, carrying out some of the bloodiest tasks of
    American foreign policy. But it wasn't he who chose to try to
    overthrow Fidel Castro or Salvador Allende. Presidents made those
    calls. Sadly, his book stops abruptly, near the start of his three top
    jobs running covert operations in the 1970's. Save for an astonishing
    coda (more on that later), it's like a projector breaking down at the
    start of a thriller's last reel.

    Shackley is best on Berlin, freewheeling capital of the cold war.
    Fluent in Polish, he took his post in 1953, at the moment the C.I.A's
    operations in Poland collapsed. The agency had spent years dropping
    millions of dollars in guns and money to a fictitious Polish
    underground known by its attractive initials, WIN. It was a Commie
    trick: ''The Poles had taken the money that the C.I.A. had sent to WIN
    and used it to fund the Communist Party of Italy,'' Shackley writes.
    For the next two years he smuggled foreign agents into Poland, getting
    many of them killed. ''These operations' costs in terms of human loss
    might have been acceptable if the intelligence product had not been so
    marginal,'' he says. He then tried recruiting spies within Poland,
    Hungary and Czechoslovakia: ''It was harder than selling refrigerators
    to Eskimos. It was selling treason.'' After five years, a Polish
    intelligence officer finally defected. Unfortunately, he had come to
    believe he was the last of the Romanovs. Yet he helped uncover a
    Moscow spy who was a senior West German intelligence officer, and
    unmasked a British turncoat who had sabotaged Shackley's efforts to
    bug the Poles.

    Every success had its consequences in the cold war. Both Shackley and
    Richard L. Holm -- whose excellent book, The American Agent, first
    published in Britain in 2003, is a far more honest and thorough work
    -- were part of the C.I.A.'s operations in Laos in the 1960's. They
    persuaded Hmong tribesmen to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Hanoi's
    route through Laos into South Vietnam. The Hmong fought nobly and
    died. ''And then we left,'' Holm writes. ''This was a sin of
    commission for which the Hmong, our staunch allies for more than a
    decade, are still suffering.'' The C.I.A. almost destroyed the Hmong
    to save them -- one more hill tribe crushed by history.

    Holm next went to the Congo, where he nearly died when his plane
    crashed in the dark heart of the forest, a harrowing tale well told.
    He survived, horribly scarred, as a cold-war hero. The C.I.A.'s
    success in the Congo led directly to the three-decade dictatorship of
    Mobutu Sese Seko, staunch ally and murderous kleptocrat. Thirty years
    later, Holm was station chief in Paris when he was forced to leave
    France, along with a handful of his spies, after the exposure of an
    operation designed to steal French trade secrets. Some old hands
    wondered why the C.I.A. was now in the business of making the world
    safer for Disney, and after 35 years in the clandestine service, Holm,
    a cold-war hero, became a post-cold-war pariah at headquarters. It
    calls to mind the plaint of the long-ago station chief in Laos, Henry
    Hecksher, who cabled Washington asking: ''Is headquarters still in
    friendly hands?'' Holm's portrait of an agency in decline is sobering.

    Floyd L. Paseman was the chief of the East Asia covert operations
    division from 1992 to 1994, after 25 years spent mostly in Asia. It
    was a post Shackley had held two decades before. Shackley was all
    about statistics. Paseman is all about people, which is why he was
    able to recruit a Chinese spy, an exceedingly rare find in the 1970's.
    He believes covert action -- trying to change the course of history,
    as opposed to stealing secrets through espionage -- should always be
    the last choice for the C.I.A. That was a hard-won lesson. A Spy's
    Journey is a pleasure to read, the most personable memoir by a senior
    spy since David Atlee Phillips's 1977 classic, ''The Night Watch.'' If
    you wonder what it's like to breakfast on moose lips and vodka in
    Mongolia, this is your book. Paseman had fun -- until suddenly, in
    2001, he decided it wasn't fun anymore.

    The C.I.A. was created to prevent a second Pearl Harbor. Melissa Boyle
    Mahle's Denial and Deception helps explain how it failed. A
    fair-minded reconstruction of high and low points in the last 15 years
    of C.I.A. history, with particular emphasis on the Arab world, where
    the author served as a covert-operations officer, it weaves a careful
    reading of the public record with Mahle's personal experience. After
    years in the field, she had a falling-out with the agency, which
    dismissed her in 2002 for ''an operational mistake'' -- something to
    do with her handling of a foreign agent. The agency's censors have
    taken their inexhaustible black felt-tip pens to her book, but Mahle
    concludes that after seven years' hard labor, Tenet has left the
    outfit in a terrible mess.

    A superpower needs an intelligence service. The British had one, the
    Russians had one and, after fits and starts, we started one in 1947.
    But many who served, past and present, have come to the reluctant
    conclusion that the Central Intelligence Agency as presently
    constituted may be at the end of the line. Ted Shackley, of all
    people, was among them. In Spymaster, he forecast that a director of
    national intelligence would take over all but the core functions of
    the C.I.A., as may well happen under John Negroponte, the newly named
    czar of American intelligence. He thought that moment ''would be a
    good time to get rid of a set of initials that are carrying a heavy
    load of opprobrium and suspicion, however unjustified.'' Something
    smaller and smarter would take its place, but on that day, the old spy
    wrote, ''the C.I.A. would in effect disappear.''

    Tim Weiner, a reporter for The Times, is writing a history of the

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