Review: The Art of Intelligence – Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service

4 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Amazon Page

Henry Crumpton

4.0 out of 5 stars As Good as It Gets From an Approved Insider,June 9, 2012

I write this as a former clandestine case officer who spent 30 years across all of the functions of intelligence less MASINT, and went on to write, edit, and publish nine non-fiction books on the craft of intelligence.

The author’s first book, Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander, remains a classic in the field of CIA Special Operations at its best. This book, an approved book by an insider who sees the world through the very narrow lens of the CIA bureaucracy that shuts out everything it does not understand (which is to say, 80% of reality), is certainly one that should join the two standard works I recommend, Allen Dulles’ The Craft of Intelligence: America’s Legendary Spy Master on the Fundamentals of Intelligence Gathering for a Free World and Miles Copeland Without Cloak or Dagger: The Truth About the New Espionage, but the title misrepresents the book.

The book is vastly superior to any of the tripe from wanna-bees that flunk out of training or fail in their first couple of tours and leave the CIA as disgrunted former employees. It is slightly better than some of the non-official cover officer memoirs but not as good as The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture or Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. It is not quite the equal of some of the deeper works, such as Milt Bearden’s The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB or Steven Coll’s Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.

Where this book excels, no doubt due in some measure to the author’s having the opportunity to reflect for a full year while earning a Master’s degree and enjoying the course by Dr. Jennifer Sims, whose edited work Transforming U.S. Intelligence the author contributes to, is as an approved insider view of the world through CIA’s deeply tinted glasses of the blind.

This is a good author, a good book, “as good as it gets” from inside the wire, but divorced from reality. Just as there was nothing transformative about the Sims et al book, just as the author fails to appreciate the wisdom of Milt Bearden et al on Russia, he is simply without a clue of the larger craft of intelligence, which is about decision-support — the OUTPUTS — not not not about the INPUTS and certainly not about secrecy.

I am loading just one image above from a chapter (available at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog as a pre-print), “The Craft of Intelligence,” commissioned for the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Intelligence Studies edited by Robert Dover, Michael S. Goodman and Claudia Hillebrand. In the illustration above, the author is mired at the lower left of that field.

In this book there is insufficient appreciation for how broken the US secret intelligence collection system is, for how shallow the US secret processing system is, for how immature the US secret analytic world is, for how broken the US secret clandestine human intelligence is, and for how non-existent to psycho-pathetic US secret counter-intelligence mob is.

I value the author. I respect what he has done and I heartily recommend this book, but in no way, shape or form is this book about the craft of intelligence writ large. It is a memoir from an officer who was fortunate enough to play in the Africa league where GS-12’s could be station chiefs and lots of black people could be killed with impunity, and to then graduate to Afghanistan where circumstances, not CIA’s wisdom, finally led to some glorious moments. For an alternative understanding on Africa Division, see In Search Of Enemies.

My master list of non-fiction books on the craft of intelligence that I have reviewed can be found by searching for the below:

Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most)

All of those reviews lead back to the Amazon page for each book being reviewed.

The one lesson the author did not learn from his life in clandestine (secret) intelligence is this: everything is connected, everything matters. What CIA does in isolation, while much less expensive than what NSA and others do at outrageous expense, is at best irrelevant (ignored by policy) and at worst a travesty that disgraces the Republic (2000 people running drones that kill people without due process). I pray that one day we might have an honest government in the USA, one that appreciates the FACT that the only way to eliminate the 50% of the taxpayer dollar that is now fraud, waste, and abuse, is through the full integration of intelligence as decision support, across Whole of Government. Until then, the US secret intelligence community is an $80 billion dollar a year self-licking ice cream cone and sucking chest wound that produces, as General Tony Zinni, USMC is on record as stating, just four percent of what a major commander needs to know (and nothing for everyone else–on this, see “Intelligence for the President–AND Everyone Else” as published in Counterpunch).

This is a great book and worthy of reading. it is one man’s memoir, not a comprehensive nor even a structured guide to the craft of intelligence, for that, one must go elsewhere….and also achieve considerable changes in mind-set and method.

Robert David STEELE Vivas
THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth & Trust

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See Also:

2012 PREPRINT AS SUBMITTED: The Craft of Intelligence

2002: New Rules for the New Craft of Intelligence (Full Text Online for Google Translate)

Robert Steele: The Craft of Intelligence – OLD vs. NEW