Power and Politics in US Intelligence Operations
LEADERS AND INTELLIGENCE edited by Michael Handel, Totowa, N.J.: Frank Cass & Co., 298 pp., $19.95 THE CIA AND AMERICAN DEMOCRACY by Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, New Haven: Yale University Press, 338 pp., $25
HERE are two excellent intelligence histories, without flash or sensationalism, but with ideas, thought, and solid data.
Michael Handel's compilation, Leaders and Intelligence, derives from Army War College conferences. It contains eight richly detailed essays - largely by authoritative civilians - on intelligence and military operations, primarily at the top levels during World War II. The key figures are Eisenhower, Montgomery, Rommel, and other commanders, plus Churchill and Hitler (Stalin, unfortunately, is absent). The key question is how successfully they integrated intelligence data into their calculations.
If World War II was the last great war of materiel, of huge masses and productivity, these essays suggest it to be the first great knowledge struggle, for example, of the physics that created atomic bombs, and the allied code breaking that exposed Axis secrets. So Los Alamos and the Bletchley Park code breakers point toward our post-industrial society - with its keystone the production of knowledge - while Stalingrad and El Alamein hearken to past battles.
In The CIA and American Democracy, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones (the British author of a solid book on American intelligence before 1941) offers a brief, yet subtle and penetrating, account of the Central Intelligence Agency. He reaches from its controversial birth after 1945, through its glory days in the 1950s under Allen Dulles, to the disspiriting scandals that began in 1961 with the Bay of Pigs disaster. These have culminated in what the author perceives as the destructive ambivalence of Ronald Reagan and William Casey, who simultaneously upgraded and applauded - while privately distrusting - the CIA, thus opening the door to Oliver North.
Both books contain exceptionally creative scholarship, rather dry and academic to be sure, but part of the growing body of serious intelligence writing that is overtaking the sensationalism of James Bond, Smiley's people, and 15 years of journalistic revelations about the CIA. While this investigative journalism was - and remains - crucial in triggering reform and public discussion, it often overlooks the context, background, and political dynamics Jeffreys-Jones handles so ably.
The American left and center perceive the CIA as a conspiratorial and virtually psychotic organization in its covert actions, essentially marginal to American life, yet - inexplicably - very powerful. The American right finds it not powerful enough, too constrained by liberalism and elitist loyalties to be the gung-ho, anticommunist force of the Dulles era.
These moralistic arguments Jeffreys-Jones simply ignores. British intelligence is over 400 years old; that such organizations must exist, that a certain secrecy is required, that distasteful things will sometimes occur, this he accepts as a matter of course. His concern is neither to attack nor to defend the CIA, but to underscore its uniqueness as a new - and disturbing - American political factor. The CIA's relationship with the White House, the Congress, the news media, and the public is not yet clearly defined.
Unlike the Supreme Court, or even the Pentagon, the CIA remains a wild card in Washington, part university, part paramilitary unit, part police force, part overseas propagandist, part watchdog against surprise attacks, part.... The result is a lack of coherence and certainly of cohesion which makes the CIA very vulnerable to attack, not least - as Jeffreys-Jones contends - from those presidents who use it for short-run purposes without considering long-term consequences.
Those presidents include Lyndon Johnson, who ignored the pessimistic CIA estimates on Vietnam; Richard Nixon, who manipulated its estimates of Soviet nuclear power and thus spurred a rightist, anti-CIA backlash in the late 1970s; and Ronald Reagan, who further politicized intelligence estimates while permitting an Iran-contra affair, the public backlash from which slopped over onto the CIA.
What emerges clearly from this cool, understated book is that the CIA will prosper only if American life is calm and consensual - as it was under Eisenhower. When the United States is as troubled as it was in the 1960s, the CIA will inevitably be sucked in, and will take a pounding.