Dana Priest and William M. Arkin
I generally take a very jaundiced view of books that emerge from Washington Post columns I have already read, but this book surprised, engages, and out-performs the columns by such a leap that I have to rate it at six stars (10% of what I read and review), and call it a nation-changing book.
Early on the book captures me in a way the columns did not–this is a book with integrity. It is a book that sees the corruption in Washington and the inter-play of political fears of losing elections and the need to arouse public fears of the unknown. It is not just a book about the massive waste of taxpayer expenditures on a security state that harms more than it hurts, it is a book about loyal, sensible employees who are anguished at the idiocy of what they are asked to do, and in the many cases of those who broke ranks to speak to the authors, eager to have the public know the truth of the matter.
This is a book that seeks to arouse the public to do its duty, to have a conversation, to demand of the politicians in Washington a serious conversation, a serious assessment, of what it is we are about–as a nation, and with this pervasive security state program.
This is also a book that demonstrates how much can be known through Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), something I have spent over 20 years championing, with one book recently standing out as a manifesto for change in how we do intelligence. I refer to Hamilton Bean's book, with a Foreword by Senator Gary Hart, No More Secrets: Open Source Information and the Reshaping of U.S. Intelligence (Praeger Security International). I could not bring myself to give that book six stars, but in the light of this book, certainly suggest that the two together could be, should be, a wake up call for any citizen with a brain. Our leaders in Washington STINK, our so-called experts are WRONG, our pundits and commentators are CORRUPT, and no one now running for President–with the exception of Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico being banned from the Republican debates–is telling the public the truth, in part because none of them know what the truth is.
To my surprise, what strikes me on page after page of this book is the innate sense of ethics that the authors bring to the work, and the ethics of the many people they interviewed who KNOW that what they are doing is insane, often illegal by our own standards, and certainly dysfunctional.
Although I have always known that we have over 1000 “compartments” about Top Secret with “bigot lists” from 3 to zillions, this book provides for the first time (this was not in the columns) a good solid look at just how insanely out of control all of this stuff is. Neither the Director of National Intelligence, by his own admission, nor the Secretary of State, by his own admission, have a clue about the full scope or how to get a grip on it.
CIA comes across as cavalier again and again, while the Department of Defense comes across as inept and out of touch. The authors make much of the 9/11 Commission's findings that despite the fact that George Tenet “declared war” on Al Qaeda, no one in CIA or in the Department of Defense actually took that seriously, and frankly, I don't blame them. We should have been focused on our domestic enemies and the policies that make us hated by Muslims around the world, something the former MI-5 Chief, Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller, has recently slammed, starting with the illegitimate invasion of Iraq and runninig up to the illegitimate subversion of Libya.
As I work my way through the middle of the book I have what can only be described as a queasy stomach. I am a former spy. I held Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Clearances for 30 years. They were taken away from me in 2006 and I am about to file a major legal action against both the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) which has never provided me with a Statement of Reasons for declining to restore the clearances, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, for age discrimination in refusing to consider me for over 35 jobs, all of which I kept track of, including four that were cancelled when I was found to be the only qualified candidate. This massive alternative secret government is OUT OF CONTROL, without Constitutional or checks and balance oversight, and a danger to the Republic second only to the Wall Street crime families and the two-party system that shakes them down for campaign funding.
“Wasteful redundancy” is a recurring phrase in this book, but toward the end there is a shift toward “pathological cancer” (my term). The book is devastatingly damning of the Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) including the Transportation Security Agency (TSA)–any President serious about cutting the budget would start there and then work there way across the secret world (cut it back to $20 billion from $90 billion) and “defense” which should be cut back to $300 billion from $900 billion plus.
The authors do a fine job of addressing the “false economy” of using contractors (quoting Mark Lowenthal) as the same time that the document the magnitude of our insanity in continuing to spend 70% of our secret budget on contractors. For more details on this outrage, see Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. The authors touch on, but do not go deeply enough into, the continuing outrage of the contractors we pay using our money to strip our government agencies of the best and the brightest. I will go on record now: if it is every up to me, and you resign to go to work for a contractor, you lose your clearance and start over and it will not be fast in coming back. I am just sick at the mis-management that continues because the top leaders lack the spine to get it right.
My stomach turns again as I read about how the US Government, in our name, can decide to assassinate someone simply because a bureaucracy makes a determination that they “pose a current and ongoing threat to the United States and therefore meet(s) the legal criteria for lethal action pursuant to the Presidential Finding.” This is SICK, and even worse when we take out truck drivers taking a dump on the side of the road. There is no integrity and no intelligence in all of this, and I for one hope that 2012 produces a presidential candidate with the brains to tell the truth and the balls to make it stick. What we are doing is a cancer. It is wrong, it is unsustainable at multiple levels, and it should lead to courts-martial and International Tribunal hearings.
The authors do a better job than anyone in recent history on Joint Special Operations Group (JSOG), and this is certainly worth reading, but I for one am not at all convinced that they killed Bin Laden. According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steve Pieczenik, Bin Laden died of marfan in 2001, and that tracks with everything I have heard. My personal speculation, based on my deep knowledge of CIA, is that they set up a safehouse with a patsy for JSOG to come in and kill (while making a real mess), and then deep-sixed the body (pun intended) because they knew it would not stand up to scrutiny. They tell the CIA story about getting the courier, when in fact another story is that a Pakistani officer gave up Bin Laden to claim the $25 million, and I for one cannot know what the truth is without a deep honest investigation such as our government is incapable of producing. What I do know is that I cannot believe CIA or the White House or Congress or the media, that is the “root” problem that this book lays out for all to consider.
The book is a tad naive in accepting at face value some of the claimed attacks by Al Qaeda–the USS Cole, for example, as with the Underpants Bomber of more recent vintage, and the exploding ink cartridges on UPS flights, are in my view far more likely to be Israeli Mossad false flag operations, perhaps declared to one or two US officials who believe devoutly that mind warfare demands that the US people be “tuned up” despite the fact that this is explicitly forbidden by Congress.
Color photos are includes, which is a very nice touch, but I am extremely disappointed to not see appendices with the names, no doubt because there are so many of them. I was hoping for a stand-alone reference. At the end there are pointers to the online databases that one hopes will be maintained. In my view–surely not a popular view within this sick secret world–I believe we need to have the same kind of citizen concern about secret facilities that we do about child molesters. Both are pernicious and both undermine society.
The book ends, rather appropriately, by confirming that since Obama took office, nothing has changed. We are in Bush-Cheney III (Lite).
I have one major list of books reviews on intelligence that I offer to those who would like to learn more by reading summaries of the investigations of others–my own books are here on Amazon and also free online, and I have been glad to see “the” book, On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World making a come-back, at the same time that the world “integrity” is the single most frequently searched term at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog. Search for this one list to get right to it: < Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most) >.
Within my ten book limit, here are seven books that I offer for additional reading.
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
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA, Fourth Edition
Rule by Secrecy: The Hidden History That Connects the Trilateral Commission, the Freemasons, and the Great Pyramids
Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life
God Bless America–America the Beautiful that is, and the good people trapped in a bad system that do what they can to get by and when they can, help reporters such as these authors devise a “best truth” for presentation to the public. Many will not understand the depth of my passion for reconstructing America as a Smart Nation and drop-kicking most of secrecy into the tar-pits of history, but I have paid dues, and I believe that my forthcoming book, Manifesto for Truth: Expanding the Open Source Revolution, will help bury the American security state that is evil incarnate, a stain on our national honor, and an obstacle to our achieving a prosperous nation at peace.