[Paleopsych] NYTBR: The Spying Game
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Sun Apr 10 17:04:07 UTC 2005
Sunday Book Review > Chronicle: The Spying Game
April 10, 2005
By TIM WEINER
SPYMASTER: My Life in the CIA.
By Ted Shackley with Richard A. Finney.
THE AMERICAN AGENT: My Life in the CIA.
By Richard L. Holm.
St. Ermin's /Trafalgar Square, paper, $18.
A SPY'S JOURNEY: A CIA Memoir.
By Floyd L. Paseman.
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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