Review: Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA

5 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Amazon Page
Amazon Page
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate Deep Current Insider View Cannot Be Denied
October 16, 2009
Charles S. Faddis
I am quite certain this author has been “black-balled” behind his back–Blair and Panetta, if they even have a clue this book exists–are being told reassuringly that the author is a disgruntled former employee, something of a “cowboy,” and not at all representative of the “smoothly-running” clandestine service. Wrong. This is the real deal and I love it, for I live to speak truth to power whether power wants to hear it or not.
Perhaps the coolest thing about this book, something no one else has done, is the elegant interweaving of Office of Strategic Services (OSS) success stories from the past, with the failures of the CIA that the author sets forth for the public.


First my fly-leaf notes, then I will list ten books that complement this one.  I agree with the first reviewer, if you read only one book this is the one, but I will suggest others where you can read my summaries and form a better bigger picture.+ The author takes the time to say this is not an attack on the clandestine service but rather on the pathological dysfunctionality of the parent organization and the manner in which it is training (or not), equipping (or not) and organizing (or not) the totality of CIA’s workforce.

+ I consider the heart-felt truth in this book, deeply rooted in real-world experience such as very few now have at CIA headquarters (and even less so on the DNI’s staff, which the author tells us numbers close to 4,000). His bottom line is on page 7: “The failure of the CIA is structural.”

+ Chapter 1 focuses on the divide between what the OSS sought to be–a small agile organization of individuals who were creative, daring, independence, self-starters, out of the box thinkers who would speak truth at all times; and what CIA has become–diametrically opposite. The author observes that CIA prizes groupthink and bureaucratic discipline as well as risk aversion (no ops no risk no problem), and that even the stars of the Afghanistan campaign are “suspect” as cowboys.

+ The author is articulate in observing the insanity of having clandestine stations anywhere near a U.S. Embassy and under any kind of control from Ambassadors whose highest priority is to give no offense and certainly not to allow any kind of operations amidst the opposition elements to our “friendly dictators” such as Saudi Arabia. I remember proposing an operation in Saudi Arabia in the 1980’s and being told that we were not allowed to do anything there.

+ The author is brutal on the Office of Medical Services (OMS) which I learned myself is lacking in integrity and all too eager to help drive independent-minded individuals out with “fitness for duty” physicals. The CIA definition of “unfit” is closely tied to one’s openly considering their boss to be an idiot.

+ The book excels at describing the break-down of the CIA, the leveling effect of putting unqualified people into the field, including Chiefs of Station neither trained as case officers nor fluent in the language. This will only get worse as the DNI takes over the Embassy spaces, hence I agree with the author–it is time to create something new totally outside the wire.

+ The CIA tries to recruit US citizens who can be cleared, and train them up in languages. This is exactly backwards, as the author notes. What we SHOULD be doing is recruiting third country nationals and U.S. expatriates at mid-career, and running them back on targets where they already have the needed access.

+ The author says that CIA has “crossed a critical psychological divide” and I agree. Too many people expect CIA to be a 20 year risk free comfortable job with early retirement. The REASON CIA has retirement at 55 is because we are supposed to have been “wasted” ten years earlier from the stress. I remember being obscenely proud of the fact that in my time, the DO had the highest rates of suicide, alcoholism, adultery, and divorce. I myself have 18 professional suicides in my past. Evidently everyone today is a well-behaved “pet” that can be relied upon to say “yes sir three bags full.”

+ CIA’s “layering” of multiple “centers” for proliferation, terrorism, etcetera has had the effect of gutting the authority and flexibility of the DO, while placing many more non-DO persons in positions where they can do a great deal of damage and little good.

+ The author believes that Non-Official Cover Officers (NOCs) are the future, and I agree, but since we know that CIA is incapable of creating functioning NOC bases from scratch, the author’s plan to go completely outside the wire is a good one.

+ The author spends time on Iran-Contra, primarily to make the point that this was a rogue operation out of the White House, and to make the point that the CIA should be in the service of the Republic, not a captive agency of the White House to abuse as the political president sees fit.

+ The fragmentation of effort overseas is covered, where everyone and their sister has some claim to both local “liaison” and in the case of the military, “human operations” both overt and clandestine. It is a mess, plain and simple.

The book ends with a 14-step proposal for a new OSS that I heartily endorse. Delegation down, and decentralization of authorities, are needed, and we need real men (and a few tough women) to do the dirty.

The ten books below merely scratch the surface. Another 1,400+ can be found at my Public Intelligence Blog, Phi Beta Iota, all with reviews and all with links back to Amazon. I will answer comments here or there.

I do not list my own books, all of which are both on sale at Amazon and free online at PIB/PBI.

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture
See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism
Charlie Wilson’s War
Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
Of Spies and Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam
Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’
Blond Ghost
Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC

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Note:  See the HUMINT Trilogy for thoughts on what could be, should be, can be.