Review: Spying Blind–The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11

3 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Spying Blind
Amazon Page

3.0 out of 5 stars Useful, Could Have Been *Much* Better

September 21, 2007

Amy B. Zegart

I was thrilled when this book arrived today, put everything aside, and spent the last two hours with the book.

It is useful, but it could have been much better.

The useful part is the academic model, the timelines of CIA and FBI missed opportunities, and in general, taking the kinds of recommendations that I and others have made, and putting them into polite terms that the la-di-dah crowd and the pontificators can accept. Adapt or die is a homage to Bob Gates, who excells at adapting politically, not professionally. When he and I spoke together at the War & Peace Conference in Paris, I went first, he got up, said “I’m not even going to touch that,” and launched into status quo speak. I am sure he shared Sandra Kruzman’s view in the 1990’s that my publication of “E3i: Ethics, Ecology, Evolution & Intelligence: An Alternative Paradigm for NATIONAL Intelligence” (Whole Earth Review, Fall 1992, easily findable on the web), “confirms Steele’s place on the lunatic fringe.” To the extent that this “safe” author and “safe” book nudge the young and mid-grade professionals to peek oput of their cubbies, it is helpful. Unfortunately, most case officers and analysts do not read widely and most have no idea of what world-class commercial intelligence practices and processes are–as John Perry Barlow said in Forbes some time back, “if you want to see the last vestiges of the Soviet era, go to CIA.”

Missing from this book, which could have been a barn-burner, are three things:

Equal coverage of White House, State, and Defense appointee failures

An appendix integrating all 500+ recommendations, most not implemented, with a structure that could have been of extraordinary value to the Director of National Intelligence.

A solid methodologically-grounded trade-off analysis of how best to spend $60 billion a year on national intelligence, including full consideration of both our rotten educational system that General Mike Hayden has ably lamented in two major speeches; and multinational information sharing.

The author’s first book was an instant classic. The core point from the first book, that intelligence needs to be fixed big with the full weight of the President, or not at all because marginal fixes are not worth the political capital, remains extant. The DNI has not been empowered to “fix big” nor does he have the deep bench of iconoclasts needed to do anything other than a 500 day plan that is well-intentioned but still on the margins in the larger scheme of governance and intelligence reform.

This book is not as good, largely because is stays within the box and does not offer new substance, only organizes old stuff covered in many other books including my own (which are noteworthy for their absence from the bibliography–that is either contrived, or poor scholarship, take your pick).

Minus one star.

This is a fine book for the non-professional, the innocent bystander that wants something more substantive than Gertz, less polemical than Steele, less original than Allen, Hiam, or a host of others–I list a few below, more are in my lists.

If I were the publisher of this book, I would not reprint it until the author provided a consolidated actionable integrated appendix of all the recommendations structured so as to be immediately useful to Congress, the media, the public, and of course, the DNI whom we all support as best we can.

As I completed my review and spent another half hour with my notes, and especially noting that the books below (and many others) were not considered by this author, it hit me. She’s drunk the kool-aid. This is a book by a person who so wants to please Condi Rice (her PhD mentor) and the extremist Republicans, that she was willing to sacrifice more than I expected to stay in the safe lane with safe authorities.

Minus a second star.

Moves the book into the pedestrian category, and that is a real shame, because had she kept her balance and used all the sources and intellect of which she is demonstrably capable, this book could have been most helpful. I am very disappointed. I recommend that the book be completely re-developed, or that an appendix of the integrated recommendations be offered free at the book’s home page on Amazon; if that were done the book would be worthy of four stars, in my opinion, and I would change the rating, something Amazon now allows us to do.

A handful of the more obvious omissions:
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
Strategic Intelligence & Statecraft: Selected Essays (Brassey’s Intelligence and National Security Library)
Informing Statecraft
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
Denial and Deception: An Insider’s View of the CIA
Secrecy: The American Experience (World Religions: Themes and Issues)
Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’
Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11–How the Secret War between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security
On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World
Secrecy and democracy: The CIA in transicion (Perennial library)

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