I just finished reading/listening to the books above and they made an interesting trilogy. Legacy of Ashes was a phenomenal book which traced the history of the CIA from its origins until 2007. I found it particularly interesting how, from its very inception, the agency was characterized as one that saw any sort of control (from the President, congress, or the constitution) as interference. The inability of the agency to voluntarily stay within the limits of its charter raises serious questions about the wisdom of having a secret agency whose central function requires deceit and subversion in an open democracy.
I have to admit, I’ve bought into the myth of the CIA as much as everyone else so it was a bit of a disappointment to hear the numerous instances where intelligence and analytical work was shoddy or took a back seat to political considerations or cowboys who decided they knew what was in the best interests of the U.S. and did their own thing. It was that covert action, usually done with no consideration of possible consequences that has to make one wonder if we wouldn’t be better off without such an agency.
A good (semi) counter point would be Robert Baer’s See No Evil which is a brilliant description of the CIA from a covert operators point of view. After reading his book you do kind of think that perhaps Baer (and those few like him) really does know what’s best for the country and should be allowed to just ‘get on with it’. I’ll have to spend some time trying to reconcile those two accounts. Both books do seem to agree, however, on the idea that the CIA is hobbled by a new wave of inexperienced analysts, agents as well as a glut of bureaucrats.
State of Denial doesn’t really tell you anything you don’t already know providing you haven’t been in a coma during the past five years. Still, it just lets you know that the gross incompetence is a well documented fact and not just a strong suspicion.
Armed Madhouse is great because its one of those books that gives you an alternative narrative to what’s going on today in America’s political landscape. I’m not entirely convinced that Palast is providing the best explaination for what’s been going on in America since 2001 (when a book tries to question so many closely held assumptions like this one does, it would be a big help to provide links to supporting evidence) but it does get you to think. I found his defense of Hugo Chavez particularly interesting.