One of Top Five Books on Topic, But Has Some Gaps,
The negative reviews on this book are by people that have not read the book carefully (one appears to have not read it all, having only seen the author on television). I am comfortable, on the basis of my career in intelligence, my three published books on intelligence (two with forewords by Senators, one Democratic, one Republican), and my 1100+ reviews on non-fiction about national security issues, is saying that this book is easily one of the top five books on the topic that most Americans should consider reading. The other four are the Webster Tarpley’s book 9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA, Fourth Edition which displaced the utterly imcompetent and unethical 9-11 Commission Report, the Aspin-Brown Commission Report (1996), Jim Bamford’s book, A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies and George Allen’s book on the failure of intelligence in Viet-Nam, None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam There are many others, but for 9-11 and the urgently needed reforms to intelligence after 9-11 (three years ago, still no reforms of note), these are the five.
The book is most important as an unclassified record of what can be known about our failures–in both intelligence and in policy–as understood by the then serving Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). It does have gaps–it is much less detailed than the 9-11 Commission Report, harder to read than Jim Bamford’s book, and suffers from considerable gaps in both what went wrong and what needs to be fixed, as covered by my own books as well as the many other intelligence reform books that I have reviewed in their own Amazon spaces. That does not diminish its relative value as a “touchstone” for all Americans.
There are, in my view, three compelling bottom lines in this book that cannot be ignored:
1) Senator Graham recognizes better than most that in the absence of public pressure for reform, there is little incentive for Congress or the Executive to take action. As one Member is reported to have told Amy Zegart “America still does not get it–it will take another 5,000 body bags.” It is my view that the combination of intelligence community leadership misrepresentation (“its all better now, no need to make major changes” and the White House denial that there was an intelligence failure at all, which defies understanding, have led the country to fall asleep again–a point that “Anonymous” makes in Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror.
2) Page 243 covers both of the other two points. The first is that the Department of State has become a neglected orphan in US intelligence and US policy making about global threats, and this needs to change. It is worthy of note that the Department of State got it right on Iraq despite its small numbers and tiny budget, and I agree completely with Senator Graham–State has to get back in the business of being America’s *primary* foreign and national security policy strategist. I put together THE SMART NATION ACT: Public Intelligence in the Public Interest but State leadership at this time is intellectually and morally challenged (2007).
3) Although disappointing in its brevity, especially since both the Aspin-Brown Commission and the 9-11 Commission found cause to note the importance of open sources of information, Senator Graham also notes on page 243 that a primary corrective measure to the failure of the intelligence community to “connect the dots” and related “incestuous amplification” lies in combining a renewed primary by the Department of State with greatly increased investments in Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) such as Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CT-02) is planning to put into the House Armed Services Committee legislation addressing 9-11 deficiencies.
Senator Graham joins Dick Clarke (whose book, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror I strongly recommend) in condemning both Saudi Arabian sponsorship of terrorism, and the bi-partisan Clinton-Bush pandering to the Saudi’s, accepting despicable sustained actions by the government of Saudi Arabia against the government and people of the United States of America, for the sake of cheap oil (see also the book by Michael Klare, and by Robert Baer). While I distinguish to an extent between Saudi intelligence, which sponsors terrorism, and Saudi royalty, which tried to deny its roots in Arabia, the bottom line is that both governments knew that Bin Laden was being nurtured by Saudi intelligence, and both chose to ignore the danger.
Senator Graham ends his book by lamenting the lack of accountability in both intelligence and policy. He is completely correct. George Tenet failed to resurrect the clandestine service in the seven years he served as Director of Central Intelligence, and then had the audacity to tell the 9-11 Commission that he needed seven more years to do this, now that he realized it was broken. No way, Jose. It is time to fire all the losers that have been testifying to Congress on how they would do things differently, and bring in the people who resigned their commissions in order to go public from 1985-2001. It is noteworthy that both the House and the Senate have failed to ask the latter to testify–virtually all of the witnesses on 9-11 are from the crowd that allowed 9-11 to happen in the first place.
Intelligence matters, indeed. It is clear from this book that the public does not yet grasp this, and it is not clear from this book that Congress ever will. The current legislative proposals are still in lip-service, cosmetic mode. The Members are still too reliant on ignorant staff and still too prone to substitute press conferences for deep discussions with the top 15 practitioner-authors who know what is needed.
There *will* be another 9-11, and there *will* be a “nuclear hell-storm” in America, courtesy of Al Qaeda. You cannot have smart spies in the context of a dumb Nation…..
See also, with reviews:
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World