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Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA Hardcover – 2 Aug 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (2 Aug. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846140463
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846140464
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 4.6 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 150,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


This extraordinary story reads like tragedy and thriller. Impeccably sourced, utterly absorbing, dazzling and very, very dark (Time Out )

This racy history reveals the CIA as a secret service to make Smiley weep and Bond howl in horror (Daily Telegraph )

Combines thrilling storytelling with terrifying revelations (Simon Sebag Montefiore New Statesman, Books of the Year )

Weiner's riveting history of the CIA contains dozens of jaw-dropping incidents ... astonishing (Evening Standard, Books of the Year )

Timely, immensely readable, and highly critical (Mark Bowden, Author Of 'black Hawk Down' )

Marvellous ... that every quote is also on the record is a testament to his skill (Steve Coll, Author Of 'ghost Wars' )

Winner of the National Book Award (Prizes and awards )

Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

'...a timely and vital contribution to one of the most fraught
debates now roiling our bitterly divided capital [Washington DC]: the
correct role of the intelligence agencies and their proper relationship not
only to the executive and legislative branches but also to the rule of law

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Tim Weiner, an American journalist, has written a useful history of the US state’s Central Intelligence Agency. It has been the president’s private, secret and illegal army, it does what the president wants, so it is not ‘a rogue elephant’, as the Church Committee called it. He shows that from its origin in 1947, the CIA has always been incompetent and incapable.

In 1948 the CIA launched a scare about the Russians invading Berlin; the next day Congress approved the Marshall Plan. A secret clause let the CIA skim $685 million from Plan funds, what Weiner calls ‘a global money-laundering scheme’.

In 1948 the CIA set up secret prisons in Germany, Japan and Panama, using torture and drugs on its captives. It carried out 81 major anti-democratic covert operations in Truman’s second term, 170 in 48 countries under Eisenhower, and 163 in just three years under the liberals’ hero Kennedy.

Its efforts at gathering intelligence from 1948 (‘World War Three starting in Berlin’) to Iraq (‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’) have been consistently wrong. It always said that the Soviet Union was impervious to reason, impossible to reform and understood only force – but this is projection, mirroring the CIA itself.

It ran coups overthrowing elected governments and installing tyrants, for example in Iran, Guatemala, Congo, where Eisenhower ordered that Lumumba be ‘eliminated’, Chile and Greece. Against Cuba it used biological and chemical weapons, assassination attempts hiring Mafia hit men and a botched invasion. The CIA funded Italy’s neo-fascist terrorists in the 1970s. It illegally spied on the American people.

The CIA lied to Congress, the people and presidents, for example, Weiner notes its director Allen Dulles’ ‘practice of deceiving the president’.
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The CIA was founded in 1947 to brief the President and conduct covert operations overseas. It has no monopoly, coexisting with the State Department, Pentagon and branches of military intelligence, the FBI and a plethora of other agencies. The US "never has had and does not now have a co-ordinated intelligence system." From the immense amount of data, government reports, books and memoirs and allowing for the historical context where the threat (levels of paranoia) and the political environment changed radically, just how do you produce a history of the CIA in 514 pages? The sins of selection, omission, emphasis and over simplification accepted, this book is nothing if not ambitious. It is excellent journalism, a credible work.

Weiner relates the history of the CIA in six parts grouped by presidential office holders (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy/Johnson, Nixon/Ford, Carter/Reagan/Bush Snr, Clinton/ Bush Jnr). The relationship between the President and the CIA is crucial; it has never been solid, always imprecise and often confrontational. The CIA missed the Soviet bomb, the Korean War, misread Eastern Europe, the Cuban crisis (Bay of Pigs and missiles), the Arab Israelis Wars, Kuwait and much more. It was terrible at assessing intentions and strengths of the Soviet Union. In seeking to secure regime change in the third world countries, it has a track record of bringing down bad governments to be replaced by nastier ones. It's often farcical and tragic - for example Saddam Hussein went from close friend through to the Weapons of Mass Destruction. Even in soft intelligence, the CIA often has little more than a newspaper clippings agency collects. "While the Soviet state withered away, the CIA was constantly reporting the Soviet economy was growing" (page 429).
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A superb book that will not disappoint any historian anxious to learn of the massive corruptions conducted by the CIA's incompetent agents across the whole world from early in 1945 until quite recently. Inspector Clouseau compares to the CIA as diamonds do to glass.Twenty years of Tim Weiner's meticulous research and hundreds of interviews with ex CIA personnel have made this book into an authoritative work on this deservedly sensitive subject, namely "state sponsored corruption" resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and many assassinations, subverting and corrupting any government showing aversion to America's ruthless exploitation and plundering, costing American taxpayers billions of dollars without either their knowledge or authorization. All this covert activity was perpetrated under the deception of protecting America's security, but in reality accommodating corporate America's subsidized business practice of theft and venality with total disregard for humankind or extreme cruelty and torture, demonstrating the CIA's frequent use of "false flag" operations and endangering the security of whole the planet.
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This is an astonishing book, telling the story of the development of the CIA from its small-scale origins in 1947 to a massive and bloated multimillion dollar organisation. The last part of the book covers the final demise of the CIA after 7/11, by when it had become a shadow of its former self. This is a story of individual courage in the field but gross strategic incompetence at headquarters. So much money seems to have been spent choosing the wrong side, botching operations and sending individual agents to their deaths.
OS It's still not entirely clear how the CIA and managed to get almost everything wrong. The infighting within the organisation, the tension between operations and intelligence, the antipathy of successive Presidents and the mystique built up by the agencies most cunning of directors Allen Dulles were all factors in its long-term decline.

Although this book left me with many unanswered questions, it's still a fascinating read. Tim Weiner's structure is a bit fragmented. But he tells an extremely well researched and quite remarkable story, highly relevant to the 21st century. The book goes a long way to explain why America's recent fall in policy has been so disastrous.

This book is dense, with many pages of footnotes, but extremely absorbing and thought-provoking.
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