Review: The Family Jewels – The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power

4 Star, America (Founders, Current Situation), Atrocities & Genocide, Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Crime (Government), Culture, Research, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Impeachment & Treason, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Justice (Failure, Reform), Misinformation & Propaganda, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), True Cost & Toxicity
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

John Prados

4.0 out of 5 stars 5 fpr content, 3 for editing, 4 on balance — a unique book that could have been better, November 23, 2013

My review itemizes the highlights. This is a valuable book that is unique in its summary of both the historical misdeeds of the CIA and the fast forward current misdeeds of the past two Administrations (Bush-Cheney and Obama-Biden). However, this book could have been better. I recommend a second edition with vastly more attentive editing and a moderate inclusion of sub-titles and visualizations.

Three big points up front:

01 The author has chosen not to include mind-control in this book, nor does he include active ties with criminal organizations including the Boston to NYC to DC pedophile rings as well as the Catholic Church as enabler. So the book might better be titled “Most But Not All of the Family Jewels.”

02 By its nature, focusing on blatant mis-deeds, the book does not — nor should it be expect to — address the larger misdeeds of the CIA, such as being worthless or wrong most of the time [I've served in three of the four directorates, I continue to believe that CIA can and should be saved, but right now it is a basket case]. Under my signature below are four online references on this point.

03 This is a book about the CIA, which is the “runt” of the intelligence litter when compared to ODNI, NSA, NGA, and defense intelligence. I consider NSA to be vastly more criminal, vastly less constitutional, and vastly more worthless than CIA — the return on investment for CIA is perhaps 20%, for NSA less than 2%. For direct access to most of my reviews of intelligence books here at Amazon, seek out < Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most) >.

The book is organized into a summary review of each of the following, with each chapter concluding with modern-day equivalents and prognostications that I consider a real value-added.

01 Domestic Surveillance against anti-war protesters and political activists
02 Private communications interception beginning with mail and migrating to telephones and then the Internet
03 Unconstitutional and illegal detension and interrogation
04 Assassination (with totally inadequate coverage of the CIA role in the JFK assassination)
05 Manipulating and blackmailing journalists as well as publishing misinformation
06 Enlarging the fortress of secrecy to avoid all accountability while destroying critics with illegal methods
07 Presidents and spies — the central role of Dick Cheney for three decades in all that is evil

The author concludes with a chapter entitled “Clarity” that is quite valuable, and immediately follows a gripping account, ten pages long, on how Phil Agee was not a traitor and not funded by the Cubans, but hounded by CIA mis-deeds against him to go further and further down the rabbit hole of betrayal in detail.

And now for my notes. At the end I link to ten other books I recommend here at Amazon, all of which I have reviewed in summary detail, but many many more are to be found at the review list immediately above.

QUOTE (3): “This is the story of an *attitude,* a private presumption of superiority asedon on the posession of secret, and supposedly superior, knowledge. That attitude led dedicated and consciencious men and women to reach too far, do too much, and dispense with limits to follow misguided orders.”

– Started as an Office of Security program to protect CIA recruiters on campus
– White House converted that program into a national campaign against the anti-war movement
– Ultimately became as important a program as the entire anti-Soviet and anti-Chinese clandestine endeavor
– Huston Plan was stopped by Hoover but intended to deliberately set aside all legal restrictions — Nixon personally approved the Huston plan
– Poisoned our overseas stations and our overseas foreign liaison relationships, especially in Europe
– Ends with David Cohen and the NYPD as the exemplars of out of control CIA-police activity in the USA today

– Mail opening then was as clear a crime against postal and other laws then as what NSA does today
– Over 20 years an average of 4,000 letters a day were opened and copied
– Internal CIA memos acknowledged the total illegality of what was being done
– Project was found worthless by more than one review, but protected by Angleton and Helms
– Technology evolved — and CIA's illegal intrusions with it
– NSA chartered by Nixon to collection information on individuals or organizations whose activity “may” lead to civil distrubances or in any other way “subvert” national security [never mind the Constitution, and heaven help us if DHS ever becomes competent at anything]
– NSA revealed in testimony to Congress that the legal rights of Americans were never considered

– Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko was CIA's first black prison (on US soil)
– CIA learned the wrong lesson: to do black prisons overseas beyond the reach of US law
– CIA did not learn the right lesson: that such misbehavior demeans and undermines the entire legitimacy of the larger government of which it is a part

QUOTE (133): “A basic problem in the entire terrorism interrogation mess is that hope for what the detainee must know, should know, might know, ought to be expected to know, too often substituted for questioning built from a solid knowledge base.”

I and Stansfield Turner and Vince Cannistraro signed the letter to Senator McCain against torture. We actually know something about the topic, as does Colonel Stu Herrington, America's top counterintelligence and interrogation manager, whose book Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher's World remains a standard in the field. CIA went down the rabbit hole on rendition, torture, and drones, and in the process became pathologically inept at its core missions, foreign broadcast monitoring, clandestine and covert operations, and all-source analysis.

– This was not originally in the Family Jewels because these were mostly against foreign leaders, but of course I consider CIA's active central role in the JFK assassination to be reprehensible beyond imagination.
– Col Sheffield Edwards, original and long time director of security for CIA, merits much more attention
– In modern times, John Rizzo is the CIA lawyer most directly responsible for crating international agreements for Pedator assassination operations [I speculate that many of these agreements were made at the military or secret intelligence level and never briefed to prime ministers and presidents — there is a global accounting to be had, not just a US accounting]

– There is much better material elsewhere on how most of the US media has been on the CIA payroll in one way or another
– Excellent list of targeted journalists
– CIA continues to game the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and to actively manipulate, against the law and prior agreements with Congress, to keep legally mandated historical documents from public. The historians of the Department of State have made this accusation on multiple occasions.
– CIA intercepted and looted Phil Agree's contributed papers when they reached the receiving university's loading dock.

– Pricless, follows stunning pages on Phil Agee, his original intentions and cordial departure from the CIA, and how he was hounded by CIA toward counter-attacking
– Carter — and Brzezinski – oversaw the creation of the fortress of secrecy. I consider Carter oblivious, Brzezinksi to be Kissinger lite (which I means a compliment — more ethics, less delusional)

– Helms destroyed all tapes from his tenure, and over 4,000 pages, before leaving to be Ambassador to Iran — the largest “mass expurgation of records at Langley” in history
– Both Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld leave their Iran Contra roles out of their memoirs
– Dick Cheney lies to Congress, the media, and the public over and over
– From page 310, today's “family jewels” including among others the USG role in 9/11, support to Al Qaeda, the 935 lies that led us into Iraq, with George “Slam Dunk” Tenet as chief enabler, and of course rendition and torture and the drone assassination program.
– The author slams the CIA Publication Review Board (PRB) and they certainly merit some disdain for their earlier years, but I for one have found them to be consummate professionals in reviewing my books and occasional pieces that demand review (I have also used DoD's clearance process, equally professional) so on this one, I want to strongly favor the PRB. Since I have known them in 2000, they have been perfect. Annoying on occasion, but perfect.

– Neither CIA nor NSA is a “rogue elephant.” They do what the White House wants them to do. Obama's hands are NOT clean.
– Ineffectiveness plus mission creep plus hard to shut down secret operations plus a penchant to cover up mistakes are the cancer of the secret world
– Another blood-letting is waiting in the wings.
– Harry Howe Ransom is cited at the end, and ably so.

QUOTE (331): “Ransom believed t hat an informed electorate was both the ultimate power and the ultimate restraint of a democracy, and he ruled out any attempt to assert that intelligence by its nature was not an appropriate subject for public inquiry.”

Correct. I have fought for over 20 years to restore integrity to intelligence, and I am not giving up, nor should any of us. Secret intelligence is out of control, just as the various complexes (military, medical, police, energy) are out of control. A revolution is coming in the USA. I pray it will be non-violent and I pray I live to be part of it. John Prados has made enormous contribution in documenting the past and connecting it to the present.


01 Evasion of accountability is the greater crime by CIA and its White House masters, against the public interest.

02 Dick Cheney masterminded the Rockefeller Commission, stonewalling the Church Commission, and putting into place all of the tricks and crimes used then and up to today to avoid accountability while committing great crimes.

03 Henry Kissinger actively covered up all of this. I am reminded of Kissinger's greatest quote of all time, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

04 From the family jewels then to John Brennan's illegal, unconstitutional, and ineffective drone way (a 2% legitimate kill ratio), all of this is about whether or not the White House and the CIA are subject to the rule of law.

05 George Bush set the criminal track back in motion after Colby resigned. This is the same George Bush that led the Dallas team responsible for assassinating JFK, and whom we need to hold responsible before he dies. See Dark Legacy

06 Jose Rodriguez joins Ed Landale as the most evil case office in modern history — Rodriguez will take this as a compliment, and that is his self-indictment.

07 CIA has never, ever been out of control (Helms has said this as well). CIA works for the White House [to which I would add Wall Street, the Saudis, the Israelis, the Catholic Church, the Mormons, and the Evangelicals — as my colleague Robert Baer was written so pointedly, CIA is a slut — intelligence with integrity is not to be found there.

ONE INSIGHT THAT GRABBED MY ATTENTION: the author discusses how leaks tend to be from well-intentioned insiders who respond to intelligence agency lies to Congress. In other words, when Congress strives to investigate and hold accountable the intelligence agencies, and insiders see that Congress is being lied to, this triggers leaks in the public interest. That tallies perfectly with my failed attempts to get Jim Clapper to understand the concept of “cognitive dissonance” and why you cannot “investigate” candidates for employment so as to preclude such leaks in the future.

Eight other books within Amazon's ten link limit:
The CIA and The Cult of Intelligence
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
The Secret Team: The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World (Second Edition)
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

In my view, CIA as an institution (good people trapped in a corrupt system) has zero commitment to living up to its motto, John 8:32 “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Neither the CIA nor the White House nor our corrupt two-party tyranny and the loser Congress that tyranny perpetuates, get that. As Norman Cousins has observed, only the people can conceptualize the great truths, and the greatest truth that we must all agree on right now is that new sources and methods are needed for public governance. CIA is the poisoned nail in the horseshoe called secret intelligence. A good place to start a national renaissance rooted in intelligence with integrity.

Semper Fidelis,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
ON INTELLIGENCE: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World (2000)

< Search: Seven CIAs [Steele on the Record] >
< Robert Steele: Clandestine Operations 101 + Personal Comment >
< 1976-2013: Intelligence Models 2.1 >
< Decision Support Story Board >

Financial Liberty at Risk-728x90