Volume 50, No. 4 (December 2006)

Intelligence Officer's Bookshelf

Volume 50, No. 4

Intelligence in Recent Public Literature

Compiled and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake


Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War With Militant Islam—Mark Bowden


Al Qaeda In Europe: The New Battleground of International Jihad—Lorenzo Vidino

Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq—Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor

Hide and Seek: Intelligence, Law Enforcement, and the Stalled War on Terrorist Finance—John A. Cassara

House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power—James Carroll

Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack—Clark Kent Ervin

General Intelligence

Covert and Overt: Recollecting and Connecting Intelligence Service and Information Science—Robert W. William and Ben-Ami Lipetz

The Craft of Intelligence—Allen W. Dulles

Detecting Deception: A Bibliography of Counterdeception Across Time, Cultures, and Disciplines— Barton Whaley

Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, Third Edition—Mark Lowenthal


French Covert Action in the American Revolution—James M. Potts

The OSS and Ho Chi Minh: Unexpected Allies in the War Against Japan—Dixee R. Batholomew-Feis

OVERTHROW: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq—Stephen Kinzer

To Dare and To Conquer: Special Operations and the Destiny of Nations from Achilles to Al Qaeda—Derek Leebaert

The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World—Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin

Intelligence Around the World

Historical Dictionary of Israeli Intelligence—Ephraim Kahana

Man in the Shadows: Inside the Middle East Crisis with a Man Who Led the Mossad—Efraim Halvey

Profiles of Intelligence (Pakistan)—Brigadier Syed A. T. Tirmazi


Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War With Militant Islam

Mark Bowden. (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006), 680 pp., endnotes, appendix, maps, photos, index. (audio CD; abridged)

Onetime physics student, Mohammad Hashemi, certain the Marine guards would shoot to kill, said the Muslim prayer for martyrdom on 4 November 1979 and set off to lead a four-day “set in” of university students inside the American Embassy in Tehran. No one stopped them when they stormed the compound. Then the Ayatollah encouraged them to stay, and 444 days later on 20 January 1981, 52 hostages went home. Guests of the Ayatollah tells the story from both sides, from start to finish.

In addition to utilizing contemporaneous newspaper and TV accounts—which he sharply critiques—author Mark Bowden makes full use of material he gathered during five years of interviewing former hostages and former hostage takers, members of the governments on both sides, and participants in the failed attempt to rescue the hostages. The result is a forceful, stimulating, yet often disturbing, account that explains why the onetime Iranian students viewed United States as the Great Satan, what they thought they could accomplish, why both sides were surprised in different ways, and what went on in Iran and Washington during those 444 days.

The book is divided into five parts and an epilogue. Part one deals with the planning, occupation, initial interrogations and consequent unexpected events on both sides. The embassy in Tehran had been occupied briefly earlier in the year, and the hostages at first assumed the occupation would be more of the same. And in fact, the leaders—including the current president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—had not prepared for a prolonged stay nor had they informed the country’s political and religious authorities beforehand of their intent. In the initial confusion, several of the embassy staff and visitors avoided capture and Bowden tells how, with the help of the CIA and the Canadians, they made their way home. But overall, it is surprising how rapidly administrative, logistical, and the initially conflicting political issues were dealt with. The routine that was established quickly included hostage identification, interrogation, feeding, and housing.

Parts two and three cover the initial Western press coverage, the reactions at home, the routines the hostages adopted, and how they dealt with periods of blind-folded isolation between interrogations. It is here that we first learn of the students, calling the embassy a “den of spies,” one reason given for holding the hostages. They truly believed that the foreign services officers were just spies under cover, and that made life more difficult for genuine foreign service officers. The captors quickly realized the power of television to grab world attention and began allowing radical American pro-Iranian activists to call and visit the hostages in hopes of influencing US public opinion. Bowden goes on to explain that while this was going on the first of several CIA agents were inserted into Tehran as plans for the unfortunate hostage rescue attempt took shape. This he, too, describes in all of its sorry detail.

The initial group of hostages was reduced by 13 when all but two of the women and African-Americans were released. At the same time, the Ayatollah announced that the remaining 53 would be tried as spies, although it never happened. After one more was released because he had a serious health problem, 52 stayed the course involuntarily. Three of them were held at the Iranian Foreign Ministry, where they had a telephone line to the State Department for much of the time, but even their confinement took its toll. In an unusual form of rebellion, Bowden tells how one took to wandering the ministry building in the nude at night in search of escape routes.

The officers and staff at the embassy included only three fluent in Farsi. From their exchanges with the interrogators, one gets a sense of the Iranian ignorance in Western matters, even though several had been educated and lived in the United States. Bowden’s characterization of Nilufar Ebtekar—as “screaming Mary”—who became the spokeswoman for the hostage takers, is a fine example. She had grown up in Philadelphia and spoke English with an American accent. After berating the United States for “the inhuman, racist decision” to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, she was shocked to learn that Japan had started the war by bombing Pearl Harbor. Later she asked Bowden to help find an agent for the book she planned to write.

Three of the embassy hostages were CIA officers. Bowden interviewed the two who are still alive. Tom Ahern, in the only interview he has given on the subject, tells how he had been chief of station just four months at the time of the takeover and the error that led to his exposure as CIA. William Daugherty’s story was the subject of a memoir, In the Shadow of the Ayatollah: A CIA Hostage in Iran but Bowden fills in blanks and adds names where Daugherty could not, as for example the name of the soldier who revealed Daugherty’s CIA affiliation.[1] It was Daugherty who told Ebtekar about Pearl Harbor. The treatment these officers endured, the devices they employed to deal with their interrogators despite physical abuse, and the clever schemes they adopted to cope with solitary confinement, is essential but often not pleasant reading.

Guests of the Ayatollah also attempts to answer the question that arises in any discussion of the embassy takeover: why did they do it? Bowden argues that at the outset, the student radicals really believed that the entire embassy was in fact a “den of spies” who sought to restore the deposed shah as had happened in 1953. This conviction grew, he suggests, when the shah was allowed into the United States for cancer treatment and when President Carter refused to return him to Tehran. Understanding this as anything but a direct insult to Islam was beyond the radicals. The intensity of the student movement was unexpected, Bowden explains, because, at the shah’s insistence, “For years, little intelligence was collected from Iran that did not originate with the shah’s own regime.” In other words the CIA was dependent on SAVAK, the shah’s secret service, and had a distorted picture of Iranian political reality.

In part five, Guests of the Ayatollah concentrates on the gradual realization of Iran’s rulers that holding the hostages was doing more economic, financial, and political harm than good. At several points during the crisis secret talks had been held to resolve the issue, but Iran always demanded too much. Bowden tells how the Ayatollah rationalized dealing with the Great Satan and describes the negotiations that led to the hostages’ release, adding that all the hostage takers were convinced that the decision to wait until President Carter was out of office was a deliberate insult to the man who helped the shah. (629) In the epilogue, Bowden describes what has happened to the hostages since their return to the United States. Guests of the Ayatollah is a superb book that shows how Americans dealt with a national historical humiliation at the hands of Muslims of a mediocre mindset and emerged the stronger for the experience.

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Al Qaeda In Europe: The New Battleground of International Jihad

Lorenzo Vidino.(Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006), 403 pp., end of chapter notes, maps, index. Foreword by Steven Emerson.

The Investigative Project is a private organization that monitors terrorist activities throughout the world. It is headed by terrorism expert Steven Emerson, who wrote the foreword for this book. Author Lorenzo Vidino, a lawyer who speaks seven languages, is Emerson’s deputy. Al Qaeda In Europe has four parts. The first and most disturbing, describes the lengthy development, recruitment, education, training, and financing of radical Islamic cells and networks throughout Europe. Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of this portion is the discussion of the very successful, albeit cynical, al-Qa’ida policy of invoking the power of the converted in recruiting disaffected Christians and Muslims with passports to their cause. These super adherents reduce the potential utility of profiling techniques in preventing them from achieving martyrdom. Vidino also documents the work of radical groups that motivate the faithful in the mosques: “only a violent jihad will bring about the dream of making the word of Allah the only religion in the world.” In Britain, the group al-Muhajiroun, seeks “to turn Britain into an Islamic country following a Taliban-style interpretation of Islamic law.” (24)

The other three parts of the book are devoted to case studies of the major Islamic networks and their operations in Europe and the Middle East. Included are the Algerian network and its recin plot; al-Qa’ida in Italy, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The book concludes with analysis of the Madrid bombings and the Dutch Van Gogh assassination. Undiscouraged by setbacks, these groups take a long view, says Vidino. They justify their barbaric acts as an “Islamic rite of revenge.” (326) The future for radical Islamists in Europe, if the past is prologue, is optimistic. Vidino argues persuasively that Europe no longer has to import terrorists; it is “growing its own.” (359) Finally he warns that events in Europe have a way of affecting the United States. Well documented, well told, and alarming.

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Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq

Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006), 603 pp., endnotes, appendix, photos, index. (audio CD: abridged)

COBRA I was the codename given to General Patton’s successful breakout thrust from France toward Germany during World War II. COBRA II is a detailed account of the equally successful thrust that took Baghdad in 2003. While the majority of the book focuses on that operation, significant portions are devoted to the invasion planning and follow-up, which the authors find deeply flawed. They name names, describe incredible bureaucratic infighting, identify errors in strategic guidance, and conclude that civilian decision making has no place in deciding the details involved in executing tactical military operations. Curiously, the terms intelligence, CIA, DIA, and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) do not appear in the index, but they appear frequently in the text. It is here that the authors describe the Defense Department’s attempt to assume intelligence primacy from the CIA. In this connection they argue that the judgment of a National Intelligence Council officer that the degree of contact between al-Qa’ida and Iraq was incidental is dismissed because DOD had already decided otherwise, with insufficient evidence. The CIA and DIA analyses regarding WMD are discussed in detail, with emphasis on Secretary Powell’s speech to the UN. The initial reliance on a suspect defector’s claims about biological weapons labs is described, as is the subsequent decision that it made no difference whether reports were accurate since the decision to go to war had been made. The consequences of the failure to account for Saddam’s irregular forces that would become the postwar insurgents, coupled with inaccurate assumptions that the Iraqi army would not fight, the coalition forces would be received as liberators, and the Iraqi institutions of government would survive the war, are analyzed in deplorable detail. COBRA II ends in 2003, with a discussion of the decisions made to dismantle the Iraqi military and government and the problems that have occurred since. It is not a pleasant story, but with its devastating documentation it is one that is hard to challenge.

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Hide and Seek: Intelligence, Law Enforcement, and the Stalled War on Terrorist Finance

John A. Cassara. (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2006), 204 pp., endnotes, maps, index.

The five-year CIA career of onetime operations officer John Cassara ended when he decided, before he received approval to do so, to tell his fiancé who was not an American citizen, that he worked for the Agency. He then found a position with the Treasury Department where over the next 20 or so years, he served in nearly all organizations under its jurisdiction, including the Secret Service, while sandwiching in a tour at the State Department. Much of his experience was with Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) where he focused on narcotics traffickers, arms dealers and money launderers in the United States and overseas. In Hide and Seek he argues that he learned enough about illegal money transfer to sever the “life blood of terrorism,” but he is short on details. He does offer suggestions for correcting the deficiencies that allow al-Qa’ida to use the diamond and opium trades and various banking techniques to acquire the funds they need to support their operations, but these suggestions also lack specificity. The book does provide a good generic explanation of the no-documentation technique of transferring money—the practice of hawala used by al-Qa’ida. But Cassara fails to indicate how the process can be monitored, stopped, or controlled. The best that can be said of Hide and Seek is that the book identifies some serious problems, but they are not new. That is not surprising when one discovers his documentation is a mix of secondary sources, government studies, interviews, and personal experience. He concludes by recommending “new investigative tools for the War on Terrorist Finance,” but he doesn’t identify them. In short he lists well-known problems without providing specific solutions. As a result, the book is not as helpful as it might have been.

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House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power

James Carroll, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), 657 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

In his prologue, author James Carroll asks, “What does the Pentagon mean, actually, to the United States of America?” Some 500 pages later the question remains unanswered. Only the author’s tortured obsession with this building as a metaphor for evil is crystal clear. Carroll’s claim that his views should matter are summed up in the assertion that “I have the eyes of a soldier’s son, through which, unfortunately, I see everything.” (xiv) But this statement is inaccurate. Carroll’s father, Joseph, was not a soldier. He was, in 1947, one day a senior FBI special agent and the next an air force brigadier general. Brigadier General Carroll first headed the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and in 1962, as a lieutenant general, became the first director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). But by that time son James, a one time ROTC cadet, had become a dedicated anti-war activist permanently estranged from his father. Young Carroll subsequently became a Catholic priest, then a family man, novelist, and newspaper columnist. These are the eyes that explain the views in this often spiteful book.

House of War does provides unique insight into the life of the father and the origins of DIA. Carroll, the instant air force general, overcame deep-seated resentment from his fellow flag officers to establish an effective institution that, inter alia, stood fast when its estimates on the Vietnam War proved unpopular and played an important role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The book also gives a short description of the origins of the Pentagon itself. But, it quickly emerges that Carroll’s focus is on blaming the Pentagon and its culture of power for everything from the unnecessary World War II policy of unconditional surrender and the unforgivable use of the atom bomb, to equal, if not greater, responsibility for the Cold War than the Soviet Union. Thus, he concludes, the Pentagon is responsible for other avoidable wars—Korea, Vietnam, and the war on terror.

In many cases Carroll attempts to buttress his assertions with references to intelligence. For example, concerning the possible cooperation with the Soviet Union on the use of atomic power in the late 1940s, Carroll claims that Stalin, based on reports from his agents Donald Maclean and Kim Philby, “had secret intelligence that the US initiatives toward cooperation were duplicitous.” (167) But the sources he cites for this claim do not address the issue. This is designer history and is characteristic of a book that also claims “the Red Army’s terror tactics were duplicated by the British and Americans, but impersonally, without the heat of passion and overt sadism.” On this point no references at all are indicated.(494)

In sum, House of War ascribes the evils of post-war Western society to power improperly exercised by those in the five-sided building in Arlington, Virginia—”the Pentagon has, more than ever, become a place to fear.” (511) Fortunately, these assessments are not supported by his facts. Read with care.

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Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack

Clark Kent Ervin.(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 260 pp., endnotes, index.

We have “taken care of” aviation as a threat in the years since the last attack, according to an administration spokesman cited in Clark Ervin’s book. (211) Ervin, former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), doesn’t believe it. (211) He does believe that “it is still just as easy today to sneak guns, knives and bombs past airport screeners as it was in 2001 and . . . al-Qa’ida continues to consider new and novel methods for planning and conducting attacks against the United States.” (212) All of a single chapter is devoted to explaining why. The balance of the book examines every facet of homeland security: port, mass transit, infrastructure targets, customs and borders addressed since 9/11. The conclusions are the same. While some progress has been made, albeit wastefully, and it is harder for terrorists to attack now than it was five years ago, he argues persuasively that it is still much easier than it should be. Unable to convince his superiors of the urgency of correcting well-documented technical and bureaucratic deficiencies, and having made no secret of his judgments about the overabundance of mismanagement and old fashioned incompetency, Irvin resigned after two years on the job.

Ervin ends with a chapter offering suggestions for “closing the vulnerability gap,” but none are original. He concludes that we need to do the things DHS was chartered to do three years ago. This is a frustrating, even frightening, but important book.

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General Intelligence

Covert and Overt: Recollecting and Connecting Intelligence Service and Information Science

Robert W. William and Ben-Ami Lipetz (ed.). (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2005), 250 pp., end of chapter notes, photos, index.

This collection of 17 articles covers many aspects of intelligence and information science from World War II to the present as practiced in the British and American military and civilian intelligence services. There are chapters on the use of open sources and the problems associated with estimates based on incomplete data. Two chapters cover the literature of intelligence and information sciences. Another deals with the problem of defining intelligence itself, but no conclusions are reached, and the official definition in Executive Order 12333 is ignored. The final papers explain how the intelligence requirements of an analyst differ from those of scholars and scientists and discuss the early application of computer technology to intelligence, though the material here is outdated. Gently thought provoking.

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The Craft of Intelligence

Allen W. Dulles. (Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2006), 279 pp., bibliography, photos, index. Reprint of second revised edition.

The first edition of Craft of Intelligence was published in 1963; the second followed in 1965, with additional comments on cases made public in the interim. The current edition is identical to the second. Despite the chronological disparity, the book is an easy read and excellent introduction to the profession, as it deals with both the history and functional aspects of the topic. Beginning with intelligence in Biblical times, it is later illustrated from the author’s personal experience as it surveys the field down into the 1960s. There is a chapter on counterintelligence, a very valuable one on myths and mishaps, as well as chapters on the analysis and collection functions, intelligence and policy makers in the Cold War, and the legal aspects of espionage. While the emphasis is on Soviet espionage, the principles are consistent with today’s threats. Although Dulles went over various manuscript drafts, the book was written by a group of retired CIA officers headed by Howard Roman.[2] The group included Roman’s wife, Jane, and Walter Pforzheimer. It is definitely the best book on intelligence written by a committee.

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Detecting Deception: A Bibliography of Counterdeception Across Time, Cultures, and Disciplines

Barton Whaley. 2nd edition, CD version (Washington, DC: Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Intelligence Council, Foreign Denial and Deception Committee, 2006), 676 pp., searchable pdf, 3MB, no index.

Compiling a comprehensive annotated bibliography is labor intensive and time consuming in any area of study. The topic of deception compounds the problem because it is dependent on a number of overlapping fields: counterintelligence, analysis, forensic science, cognitive psychology, police investigation, magic, surprise, and political-military theory, to name a few. Dr. Barton Whaley’s epic Detecting Deception, with its 2,444 entries covering books, magazines, journals, and various reports is a unique, extremely valuable, and often (to the newcomer) surprising contribution to the field.[3] In the surprising category, see for example, the entries for actor and illusionist Orson Wells.

Beyond identifying works published, there are two primary benefits to be derived from the bibliography. The first is the star-rating system assigned, 0-5, 5 being among the best contributions to deception. Perhaps more important is the second, Whaley’s candid, incisive, and robust opinions; they will save the reader considerable time. The organization of the bibliography is strictly and intentionally alphabetical. Whaley has not created a table of contents or listed books by category. This would mean multiple entries because so many books cover more than one field. It would also limit browsing, something he wishes to encourage. Many annotations include an indication of where the less well-known or more rare items may be found (the “LOC” entry). Entries vary in length from a page or more to short one-paragraph statements. Second, opinions from reviewers are often quoted and cited, and related fields of interest are indicated. In all but 71 cases in which he relied on an expert in the field, Whaley examined the item himself.

This digital book has three other valuable features: a list of other related, some distantly, bibliographies, and two appendices. Appendix A is a list of 184 public exhibitions of fake, forged, counterfeit and otherwise deceptive documents. Appendix B lists 159 conferences on the topics included in appendix A.

If the bibliography has a weakness, it is the absence of any keywords in the entries to guide the reader. A code such as CI (counterintelligence) in a keyword field would focus the search to entries on the topic. An attempt to deal with this problem appears in the section “In Lieu of an Index,” but it is only partially successful.

For those interested in denial and deception the Whaley bibliography is a gateway contribution, the place to start.

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Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy

Mark Lowenthal—Third Edition (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2006). 334 pp., end of chapter notes, bibliography, appendices, tables, index.

The second edition of this introduction to the Intelligence Community was published in 2000. With all that has occurred since, it is not unreasonable to expect the third edition to be a major revision. That is what Professor Lowenthal has given us! Seventy more pages, two more chapters, numerous changes and emendations throughout the text, along with new organizations, the impact of reforms, shifting priorities, and the like. As an introductory text, this book gives the reader an understandable functional view of the national Intelligence Community. It lays out the fundamental missions, the organizational participants, tells what they should do, how they are related, and the general constraints under which they function. At the outset the author makes clear that he intentionally avoids the how-to details of the profession which are covered nicely elsewhere.

The two new chapters deal with intelligence reform and foreign intelligence services. The former anticipates some of the difficulties foreseen in that area and since encountered in practice. The foreign intelligence services chapter describes only five nations—Britain, France, China, Israel, and Russia—but the references list reliable Web sites that discuss the services of most other countries. Changes in basic chapter content include descriptions of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Under Secretary for Defense for Intelligence, and the Department of Homeland Security. All that and it is still not up-to-date as the author acknowledges; only a constantly revised digital version can accomplish that. For many years teachers and students clamored for a basic intelligence text. Now we have it.

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French Covert Action in the American Revolution

James M. Potts. (Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, Inc., 2005), 192 pp., endnotes, bibliography, appendices, photos, index. (digital edition available)

That France provided clandestine support to the United States during the War of Independence has long been recognized by historians of the period.[4] Questions about how the relationship was initiated, when it began, the types of materials involved, and the impact it had on the war effort, have been matters of speculation. Working in the French government archives on the American revolution, scholar and former CIA officer James Potts found the answers among documents that had never been translated. French Covert Action in the American Revolution tells the story. The covert action involved was against the British, not the Americans. Its purpose was to weaken Britain by helping create a power that would make it less likely that the British would make war on France. After the Declaration of Independence, the French foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes dispatched a representative to Philadelphia to assess America’s determination and the need for warmaking materials. Convinced of American resolve and the acute shortage of weapons and gunpowder, France created a “proprietary” that met these needs for the first two years of the war. Potts shows that without this help Washington could not have sustained his army in the field until the critical battle of Saratoga, a battle won with materials supplied by France.

The British were aware of what the French were doing; their secret service had penetrated the new American mission in Paris. In telling this part of the story, Potts introduces us to some familiar players in Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, double-agent Edward Bancroft, and the Chevalier Charles-Geneviève de Beaumont d’Eon. Franklin and de Vergennes maintained the fiction that the French government was not involved. At the same time, Deane worked with French playwright and covert action operator, Pierre-Augustine Caron de Beaumarchais to arrange supplies. Bancroft, Franklin’s secretary and an agent of the British Secret Service, reported on events, but he never could establish an official connection to the French that would justify a British military response—this despite his knowledge that the French were supporting American privateers that ravaged “English shipping… in the years before France openly entered the war” after Saratoga. The Chevalier d’Eon, the French officer who had masqueraded as a women in the Russian and British courts, was also a British agent who tried to upset the operation by blackmailing the French over incriminating papers he had stolen.

After the war, the principals did not all fare well. The secrecy arrangements were such that George Washington was unaware of the French connection, as Congress never revealed the source of his supplies. As president he refused to repay the “unofficial” debt owed the French. Beaumarchais and Deane could not document all their transactions through private lenders, some of whom didn’t exist and Beaumarchais’ heirs did receive some compensation in 1838, long after his death. Both were discredited and died in poverty. D’Eon, after being bought off by Beaumarchais, retreated to Britain, where his true gender was revealed only in death. Covert actions tend to have unintended consequences.

French Covert Action in the American Revolution is a very well documented and well-told treatment of the first covert action involving the United States.

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The OSS and Ho Chi Minh: Unexpected Allies in the War Against Japan

Dixee R. Bartholomew-Feis. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2006), 435 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos.

One day in September 1969, I walked past the office of OSS veteran Paul Hoagland and noticed that he was visibly upset—there were tears in his eyes. Observing my concern, he said that Ho Chi Minh had died. Having just returned from Vietnam, I was perplexed at his distress. Paul quietly explained that Ho had not always been an enemy of the United States and that an OSS medic, Private First Class Hoagland, had saved his life in 1945. The Ho that Paul described was soft-spoken, kind, polite, thoughtful, pro-American, and an effective leader, a rather different image from the one I had acquired. Buena Vista University history professor, Dixee R. Bartholomew-Feis, tells the Hoagland-Ho part of this story while expanding on the wartime links between OSS and Ho’s Vietnamese faction. This is not the first time the relationship has been discussed by historians, but it is the first book devoted to the subject.[5] The mission of the OSS team, designated Deer, was to work with the Vietnamese and conduct sabotage, intelligence collection, and morale operations against the Japanese in Indochina. While it might be expected that with the end of the war in view, cooperation from all anti-Japanese participants in the region would have been smooth and effective, Professor Bartholomew-Feis leaves no doubt whatever that the reality was otherwise. OSS conflicts with the colonialist French were the most frustrating, but an American naval officer was a close second, and even the British and Chinese created supply and subordination problems as they too jockeyed for advantageous postwar positions. The anti-OSS desk barons in Washington were equal-time contributors to the dissension.

The OSS and Ho Chi Minh describes these circumstances and the field operations with their limited successes, their predictable failures, and the long-term consequences. Bartholomew-Feis also tells of the differing viewpoints of the field and Washington when it came to wartime and postwar support of Ho and Indochina. The decisions were not clear cut, she argues. Many viewed him as a dedicated communist. Recommendations from the field, where the tendency was to obstruct if not ignore headquarters, were inconsistent. The tendency in Washington, especially after President Roosevelt died, was to take the path of least resistance and support the colonialist aspirations of wartime ally France. This policy assured French support in Europe and in the formation of the United Nations. In the event, when Ho was ignored he turned to the only other alternative, and the rest is familiar history. In her otherwise very well documented study, Professor Bartholomew-Feis concludes with some speculation about what might have happened had US policy been otherwise. Perhaps Paul’s view of Ho as a potential ally was right.

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OVERTHROW: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

Stephen Kinzer. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006), 384 pp., endnotes, bibliography, index. (audio CD unabridged)

“The United States has assumed the right to intervene anywhere in the world, not simply by influencing or coercing foreign governments but also by overthrowing them.” (3) With this premise clearly established, author Stephen Kinzer commences his assessment of “regime change,” a term he applies retroactively to US foreign policy since the Hawaiian revolution in 1893. The book is divided into three parts: the “Imperial Era,” roughly the period 1893–1945; the “Covert Action” era from Iran (1953) to the Reagan presidency; and the “Invasions,” Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, and Afghanistan and Iraq. Kinzer gives examples in each part to support his proposition that regime change generally progresses as follows. First, US firms experience commercial difficulty functioning in a country. Second, they persuade the US government to apply political pressure on the country to resolve the problem in the company’s favor. Third, failing political success, the United States resorts to forceful liberation or regime change and solves the immediate issue while simultaneously creating long-term, unintended, though predictable, negative consequences. The CIA is the nefarious manager in the final two parts. Kinzer does not identify terrorism as a potential cause of necessary regime change, dismissing it as the product of “fateful misjudgment by five presidents.” (275)

OVERTHROW doesn’t contain new facts—it is based entirely on secondary sources. Kinzer’s contribution is the summary of well-known covert action operations in a single volume and his attempt to establish policy links, followed by conclusions. He is less successful in accomplishing the second than the first. If there be a common thread linking all regime-change operations, it is not apparent—not even commercial interests explain all. Likewise, his conclusion that America is “singularly unsuited to ruling foreign lands” (309) ignores the fact that it never set out to do that. Other conclusions reflect his own views more than the data he presents, as for example, his assertion that the idea behind all the invasions he discusses is “that Americans have the right and even the obligation to depose regimes they consider evil…. [this is] one of the oldest and most resilient of all the beliefs that define the United States.” (302)

No one can argue that the events Kinzer cites did not take place. But at the same time, there is no evidence that the regime changes he alleges were “simply a substitute for thoughtful foreign policy [and that] in most cases diplomatic and political approaches would have worked far more effectively.” (320; emphasis added) There is a barely latent malevolence in this book. Kinzer doesn’t approve of covert action but despite his best efforts, he has not succeeded in justifying its demise.

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To Dare and To Conquer: Special Operations and the Destiny of Nations from Achilles to Al Qaeda

Derek Leebaert. (Boston: Little Brown & Company, 2006), 675 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, endnotes.

No matter how elevated the position of the claimer, nothing can be reinvented! But things can be rediscovered, and that, according to the onetime Marine and now Georgetown professor Derek Leebaert, has been the case with special operations. In To Dare and To Conquer he chronicles the origins and development of such operations from the Greeks and their Trojan horse to modern era American Special Forces units, the CIA special operations teams, and Islamist terrorists with their sacrificial passion. In between, he covers all the major wars and confrontations traditionally described by historians in terms of battles fought by armies, navies, and air forces, supplying the lesser known contributions of special operations. He argues persuasively that while the vocabulary so common today “is barely a century old… the activities of special warfare…are as old as civilization.” (9) His first chapter spends considerable time discussing what constitutes special operations today and the characteristics of the personnel who conduct them. Special operations, he demonstrates, originate from necessity and require personnel possessing ingenuity, daring, a willingness to accept risks, and skill in the methods of special warfare.[6] Throughout the book we find examples of the special units required to conduct these operations, including Vikings, soldiers of Wellington’s Peninsula Campaign, the Soviet Spetsnaz, the British SOE, the American OSS, and their post-war successors.

Successful examples of special operations include the British victory in “removing Napoleon from Egypt,” (314) their role in the Boer War, Cortez’s defeat of the Aztecs, their application by Britain’s Long Range Desert Group in World War II, the assassination of Admiral Yamamoto in the Pacific theater of that same war, after which “the Japanese never won another naval battle,” and the rapid insertion of CIA teams into Afghanistan in 2001. Special operations don’t always go well, professor Leebaert writes. Examples, with their reasons, include the attempts to rollback the Soviets in Eastern Europe after Hitler’s defeat, their use in the Korean war, and in North Vietnam, and the failure to use special operations before 9/11, despite multiple indications of al-Qa’ida’s intent. Then there are the problems created by bureaucratic infighting and the conflicts between high-ranking military and civilians that resulted in the failure to follow up the opportunity to get Usama bin Laden when he was trapped in Tora Bora.

To Dare and To Conquer is a vast undertaking. For those concerned with military history it offers much—often in the form of lessons not learned—on a subject not dealt with in this magnitude elsewhere. And, atypically for historical treatments, the role of intelligence is a major factor throughout. Those concerned with this aspect of the issue have genuine reasons for concern if Professors Leebaert’s assessment that our current special operations capabilities “will take much more than the declared five years, if ever, to rebuild.” (591) Superbly documented and well written, this book deserves studied attention.

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The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World

Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin. (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 677 pp., endnotes, bibliography, appendices, photos, index.

The operational material former KGB Colonel Vasili Mitrokhin brought with him from Russia in 1992 was initially viewed with skepticism by some academic critics because they could not have access to the documents cited in the endnotes. Two approaches to this question of source validation soon put the matter to rest—one traditional, one not. The traditional way involved comparison with existing and newly released material in which the Mitrokhin data confirmed earlier assessments and, in other cases, filled gaps. The unusual, and to some extent unexpected, way involved interviews with people who were directly involved and who admitted their heretofore unacknowledged roles as agents. The most shocking example was the case of octogenarian Melita Norwood, the longest serving and most important female British KGB agent. When asked by the press about the claims in the book, Ms. Norwood quickly stepped forward and proudly admitted her role. It is all true, she said, and under the same conditions, “I would do it again. I thought I had got away with it.”[7] From then on Mitrokhin was taken seriously.

Mitrokhin brought out so much material that it had to be published in two volumes; this is the second. The first book focused on KGB operations in the West. This one looks at four geographic regions: Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. In the foreword, coauthor Christopher Andrew presents new details of Mitrokhin’s early life, his KGB career, the reasons for his defection, and other personal data that could not be presented while Mitrokhin was still alive.

Each of the four geographic parts of the book begins with an introduction wherein Professor Andrew describes the political circumstances of the period concerned and lays out the often surprising role the KGB played in promoting Soviet foreign policy in the region. In the substantive portions of the book Mitrokhin’s files portray KGB activities in the Third World in great detail. Of particular interest is the extent and variety of KGB forgery and disinformation operations. Clearly, the Soviets intended to spread communism in third world countries as a step towards achieving their goal of a worldwide communist state—they said so unequivocally. Many of the cases are familiar from evidence collected and published by Western intelligence services. Cuba is an example, though new details are added, as for example the role of Raul Castro in gaining Soviet support. The chapters on India, on the other hand, discuss KGB support for some important Indian leaders and the extent to which the government had been penetrated. These specifics were new, at least to the Indians, and caused a major flap. Stories about how the KGB recruited political figures and influenced policy were in the local papers for weeks.

There is extensive detail about KGB operations in Nicaragua and Africa, where in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviets publicly denied attempting to apply any influence. These claims were believed by many in America. The KGB role in Afghanistan is particularly interesting, as are the attempts to influence Egypt and Iraq. In the case of Vietnam, where the Soviets kept a low profile, what they told the North Vietnamese left no doubt as to their long-term goals. In 1980, KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov told the Vietnamese interior minister that “the Soviet Union is not merely talking about world revolution but is actually assisting it…. Why did the USA and the other Western countries agree on détente in the 1970s and then change their policies? Because the imperialists realized that a reduction of international tension worked to the advantage of the socialist system. During this period, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Afghanistan were liberated.” (471) This was the distorted KGB view of Soviet reality.

In retrospect, it is hard to comprehend that anyone in the Soviet government really thought they were ever on the road to making the world communist. Volume one shows how hard they tried to subvert the West. Volume two leaves no doubt that the KGB made an even greater attempt to achieve this goal by subverting Third World nations. And almost until the end they believed that the world was really going their way.

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Intelligence Around the World

Historical Dictionary of Israeli Intelligence

Ephraim Kahana. (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2006), 369 pp., bibliography, appendices, chronology, no index.

The track record for the historical intelligence dictionary series from Scarecrow Press is mixed. The first volume on British intelligence, by Nigel West, is quite good. The second, on US intelligence, by Michael Turner, is dreadful.[8] The latest volume, written by Israeli scholar Ephraim Kahana is worthwhile. It has useful case summaries, but it is incomplete in surprising areas. For example, the description of the “Lillehammer incident” in Norway, where an innocent man was mistakenly assassinated, doesn’t describe the incriminating data revealed by the captured assassins. With regard to the entry on convicted Israeli spy Jonathon Pollard, Kahana fails to mention Pollard’s lies about his academic record and that he had been rejected by the CIA (which the Navy didn’t learn about until his arrest). Nor does Kahana mention the classified material on China found in Pollard’s apartment or the fact that his wife Anne had made her own approaches to the Chinese government. Kahana is candid about Pollard’s operational errors and, despite claims to the contrary on 60 Minutes, states flatly that “economic motivation was of the utmost importance to Pollard.” (233) The entry on James Angleton ends with the curious statement that “after Angleton’s dismissal in 1975 [sic: 1974], the liaison unit (with the Mossad) was dismantled.” (13) On the other hand, there is new information on some cases, as for example the Mordechai Louk spy-in-the-diplomatic-trunk incident. Similarly, the domestic security service, often called Shin Bet, is discussed under its formal name, the Israeli Security Agency (SHABAK). There is a very useful chronology describing the evolution of the various Israeli intelligence services and the officers that headed them. The introduction is a valuable summary of how Israeli intelligence operates, citing missions, failures, oversight, the importance of HUMINT, and a look to the future. Overall this is a valuable reference book.

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Man in the Shadows: Inside the Middle East Crisis with a Man Who Led the Mossad

Efraim Halvey. (New York: St. Mars Press, 2006), 292 pp., index.

The author was a career Mossad officer who headed the service from 1998 to 2002. The first 10 chapters concern his views on Israel’s political problems since its creation and leave the reader wondering about Halvey’s Mossad role. Only in the final chapters does he describe intelligence operations in which he was involved, abortive assassination attempts in Jordan being the most important. He spends considerable space describing the problems that arise when the political masters, in his case Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attempt to manage operations directly. He includes comments on the organization of Mossad, other heads of state with whom the author had contact, and the difficulties of providing intelligence to the boss when it could have adverse political impact.

On present events, Halvey admits Mossad was caught by surprise on 9/11. He goes on to support the war on terror and Washington’s current approach. On a personal note, he compares the working relationship with the CIA’s James Angleton, when he handled the Mossad account many years ago, with the more recent experience under DCI George Tenet. He concludes with a depressing assessment that suggests the world has yet to see the worst that radical Islamists have to offer. Halvey leaves the impression that he has more to say.

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Profiles of Intelligence

Brigadier Syed A. T. Tirmazi. (Lahore, Pakistan: Fiction House, 1995), 363 pp., photos, no index.

Brigadier Syed Tirmazi was born in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and attended the University of the Punjab before being commissioned an artillery officer. After attendance at the Intelligence Bureau School and the School of Military Intelligence, he held positions in Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau, eventually serving as its directorate general, and the Inter Services Intelligence (analogous to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the United States), interspersed with a tour as Army attaché in Tehran during the Iran-US hostage crisis. For reasons not entirely made clear, he took early retirement in 1985 and wrote this book some 10 years later.

Tirmazi employs the word “profiles” in the sense of case summary or study. At first he summarizes his career and outlines the Pakistani intelligence structure generally. Then he turns to intelligence in five geographic areas: the United States, India, Libya, Israel, and Iran, and three functional topics: the threat to Islam (from the West and India), domestic security, and the problems stemming from political corruption. In each area he describes counterintelligence cases, his specialty. Although somewhat admiring of “imperialist” America, he is critical of what he perceives as the CIA role in various changes of governments. He asserts that US post-war policies with regard to Iran resulted in the hostage crisis. In his judgment, had the rescue operation reached Tehran, all the hostages would have been killed. He also claims Pakistan was very much aware of US interest in the Pakistani nuclear program and thus managed to avoid attempts to close it down. He is candid about the high quality of the Israeli services but leaves no doubt as to his political views: “Most ills that have enveloped the world today can be traced back to Tel Aviv….” (225) Without explanation, the chapter on the KGB in Pakistan is only five pages long and says little.

Counterintelligence and security operations—defections and agent recruitments—are described in each chapter. Tirmazi argues that despite limits imposed by initially primitive technology, the basic espionage techniques were still effective, as illustrated in his discussion of the “Mata Hari from India” case. In a more general sense, he provides valuable insights into the cultural and the practical problems to be faced when dealing with the Muslims generally, and the Pakistani services in particular. Of special concern, although it is an underlying theme throughout the book, is the unsolved problem of attempts to shape intelligence for political purposes. The final chapters deal with lessons learned and with the author’s views for the future. This book is a valuable contribution.

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[1]William Daugherty, In the Shadow of the Ayatollah: A CIA Hostage in Iran (Naval Institute Press, 2001).

[2]The drafts were given to the Yale University library.

[3]The first edition of Whaley’s deception bibliography was published in 2005 and contained 2146 entries.

[4]See for example, G. J. A. O’Toole, Honorable Treachery: A History of U. S. Intelligence, Espionage, and Covert Action from the American Revolution to the CIA (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991).See, for example, Archimedes L. A. Patti, Why Vietnam?: A Prelude to America’s Albatross (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).

[6]On the topic of personnel recruitment Professor Leebaert makes an odd—seemingly incongruous—and unexplained assertion that American “special forces personnel are recruited from the ranks of civilian amateurs.”

[7]The London Times, 28 June 2005.

[8]See Hayden B. Peake, “Bookshelf,” Studies in Intelligence 50, No. 2 (2006): 83.

All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed in this article are those of the author. Nothing in the article should be construed as asserting or implying US government endorsement of an article’s factual statements and interpretations.

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Posted: Apr 06, 2007 12:56 PM

Last Updated: Jun 26, 2008 07:25 AM