Tim Weiner: NYT reporter pens history of CIA

Historians in the News

Top-notch journalists such as Tim Weiner of The New York Times are often so busy writing about what happened today that they cannot devote their talent to placing those deadline stories in context.

Fortunately, Weiner has stepped back from his daily coverage of the so-called U.S. government "intelligence" agencies to look at the big picture.

With "Legacy of Ashes," Weiner punctures claims by the spymasters at the Central Intelligence Agency that they have a track record of thwarting enemy threats and serving their nation well. Most important, Weiner has based his exposé on 60 years of CIA internal documents, obtained legally through perseverance. Weiner believes fervently in the importance of an effective spy agency, and thus presents his investigation in the spirit of building up, rather than tearing down. He says the Central Intelligence Agency's ineptness "constitutes a danger to the national security of the United States."

In fairness, Weiner documents the positive, what he calls "acts of bravery and cunning," such as recruiting spies in hostile territory, providing reliable information during the early years of the Vietnam War and running a successful counterattack against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. But the CIA's own documents provide another saga, that of "folly and misfortune," causing Weiner's exposé to feel both devastating and depressing. Only the most xenophobic patriots will be able to finish this massively documented book without a sense of shame for the bad behavior of a U.S. bureaucracy on the global stage, and without a sense of anger at the misuse of resources.

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