Monday, February 9, 2015

A Book Review of "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA" by Tim Weiner

Monday, February 9th 2015

My Dear America:

It has been awhile since I wrote a legitimate Book Review.  I felt Hillary Clinton's last book deserved a review and I wrote one.  That was awhile ago and it was a relatively current review for a relatively new publication.  "Legacy of Ashes" is not a book that is newly published.  It was published in 2007 by Doubleday, an ancient and highly respected publishing house.  The book was written by Tim Weiner, a New York Times Writer who has written two other previous books on subjects connected to the Central Intelligence Agency.  The book is 516 pages long.  The page print is small. The book has an additional nearly 200 pages of notes and an Index.  

The primary reason that I read this book is because I saw it sitting on Rachel Maddow's Television Desk on a night that she was presenting a story about the CIA.  Since I have been writing fictional books on the CIA for a few years now and reading a lot about "The Agency" in an effort to make my fiction more relevant, I decided to check and see if my local library had the book.  They did.  I checked it out and following two renewals I finally finished reading "Legacy of Ashes".  

Although initially I had plans to write my review immediately after finishing the book, I found myself reluctant to try to write my review without some serious reflection on what I had read in Tim Weiner's history of the CIA.

Weiner has written a remarkable book that is loaded with well organized, well researched and well documented historical facts concerning the CIA.  In addition to combing the archives of the CIA and the Library of Congress and Presidential Libraries, Weiner seems to have talked with nearly every living Past Director of the CIA and countless other agency professionals.

The result is a book of history that reads like a Novel gliding the reader from decade to decade in an almost seamless manner as Mr. Weiner tells his story. The story that he tells about the history of this previously secret spy agency to which he seems to have opened the door to many of its secrets, is a deeply disturbing story, indeed.

Although the United States has always spent enormous sums of money keeping this highly secret agency afloat the reader learns pretty quickly and pretty consistently throughout this history that Americans have never seemed to get enough bang for their buck from the CIA.

Although the agency has often had very bright and high minded employees working for it, the history of CIA according to Mr. Weiner seems to indicate that over the years of CIA's prominence it has had far more intelligence failures than successes and, in fact, has in its history had almost no successes at all.

CIA and it's predecessor agency, The OSS, had almost no success at all in planting spies in Soviet Countries, in Red China or in North Korea.  Despite the fact that most of its thousands of potential spies dropped behind enemy lines disappeared without a trace the CIA kept dropping doomed agents seemingly without any concern for their welfare.

CIA's obsession with anti communism led to many assassinations all over the world and helped in many cases to topple legitimate governments that were thought to be pro communist.  These pro communist designations were often made by the CIA with poor or little or no actual evidence and more often than not left in place of the "pro communist" assassinated government leaders, many leaders who were often times more pro communist than those assassinated and far more dangerous, brutal and repressive than the leaders who CIA brutally replaced.  Some of those leaders who CIA helped to put into place were Saddam Hussein in Iraq, The Shah of Iran and Manuel Noriega in Panama, although there were many other brutal dictators who also came back to bite CIA and America in the rear end.

The spies who couldn't shoot straight, according to Tim Weiner, have seemingly maintained a continuing attitude of arrogance and disdain for controls over their agency by anyone, including Presidents or the Congress, as evidenced by the recent scandals involving brutal abuses of captured individuals from other countries, who in many cases don't even turn out to be spies.  This arrogant stupidity seems to have had a long tradition in the CIA and although CIA is supposedly not as powerful today as it once was, It still seems to continue its long standing tradition of not answering to anyone.

Over the past few years I have read a lot of Non-Fiction Books about the CIA on my pursuit of knowledge about this troubled American Spy Agency.  Many of these books were frightening but none of them were as frightening as "Legacy of Ashes".  In this book Mr. Weiner has gathered together some well organized and well documented information about the CIA that should scare the living daylights out of all Americans who have concerns about the history of the CIA.  The CIA is and always has been a dangerous, well funded and out of control agency which still does not seem to wish to have any controls put on it.

Many years ago back in the 70's I had the incredible opportunity of going to a lecture at Lehigh University in Behtlehem, PA where I listened to Author, Norman Mailer rail about the CIA and Watergate.  Mailer had been researching the CIA for a Novel called Harlot's Ghost, which he eventually wrote.  At a fraternity party that I attended after the lecture I got the opportunity to talk to Mailer and I asked him if he was serious about the idea he had promulgated during his lecture.  That Idea was to establish a "Peoples CIA" to keep tabs on the real Central Intelligence Agency.

Mailer assured me that his research had showed him that the CIA was extremely dangerous and needed to be reined in and watched closely by individuals outside of the agency.

Tim Weiner's research and writing seems to show that Norman Mailer was absolutely right in his mistrust of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Sincerely Yours

Jerry Gallagher 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Can Brian Williams be Trusted: I Believe the Answer is Yes

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

My Dear America:

In our Great Land of The Free and Home of The Brave we seem to have lost our way in recent years when it comes to evaluating the Truth and Responsibilities and determining blame when it comes to Journalists and Journalism.

While many Americans continue to place implicit trust in notorious liars such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and countless other Fox News personalities, those same supposedly conservative Americans seem to fail to adhere to the spirit of fairness when it comes to the evaluation of NBC News Managing Editor and On Air Anchor of NBC's Nightly News Program, Brian Williams.

Now the truth of the matter is that there seem to be some serious holes in William's story of what happened in Iraq 12 years ago when he was on assignment for NBC covering the American Invasion of Iraq.  Williams claimed, and has so for years, that he was on a plane that received small arms fire and Rocket Propelled Grenade or RPG fire.  Although servicemen including pilots of the planes involved in the incident or incidents sometimes differ in their assessments of what happened and where Williams was when the incidents went down, they all seem to agree that Williams was in Iraq when there was serious fighting going on in the air and on the ground there.  

Brian Williams has already apologized for his "mistake' on the air earlier this week and has acknowledged that his remembrance of this incident or incidents that occurred or did not occur during his time in Iraq may have been faulty.  While in my opinion that should have been the end of this problem, it has not been the end but possibly just the beginning of the end of Brian William's long and dedicated career with NBC News.  Had Brian Williams not apologized I would also have found fault with him also. But he did apologize yet the Brian Williams Beatdown seems to continue to go on - To Where, Nobody knows.

The NBC News Division President has announced that an investigation is being initiated by NBC to get to the bottom of this situation.  That is probably a good thing and an appropriate move, in my opinion, unless it leads to the public execution of a fine NBC Journalist.  Back in the days of real TV Journalism this seemingly minor story would not have had "legs" and wouldn't have lasted this long.  There is, after all, real news to report on.  CNN and Fox News might try to keep that in mind as this Williams mess seems to have energized their baser instincts.

Certainly Williams might want to cooperate with some interviews with reasonable interviewers who might give him a chance to explain himself with the style and grace that he usually seems to try to show to others.  Perhaps Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Tavis Smiley, Anderson Cooper or even David Letterman might be good interviewee choices.  If he is given a choice in the matter by NBC he should not resign if the story is simply the one that exists right now.  

Williams screwed up.  Of that there is no doubt.  He has seemed to embellish the story of his Iraq adventure over the years.  That is true.  But did he deliberately lie to make himself look better.  We don't know that.  Only Brian Williams knows that.

But let's give this quality Journalist the benefit of the doubt.  He, after all, went to Iraq to cover the invasion that probably never should have happened.  Did he misremember or did he deliberately lie.  The truth is that Brian Williams seems to have had a pretty decent record when it comes to telling the truth to the American People over his long and up until now distinguished career.  

Before we crucify this seemingly decent newsman who has traveled with us through Iraq, Afghanistan, Through Superstorm Sandy and many other national and international stories let's cut this guy a break and ask a relevant question.

Question:  What did Brian Williams do that was so awful.

Answer:  He may have intentionally outright lied.  If he did that he probably should lose his job.  However, if he simply had problems correctly remembering his Iraq war stories he has probably joined the ranks of countless Americans who have problems remembering everything they have ever done and said correctly throughout their lives.  If this was the case then he should be forgiven.

I think back to 1977 and 1978 when I worked on a book about my road trip through America and Canada that I took in 77.  I finished the first draft in 1978 and simply put the manuscript away, never to retrieve it until a few years ago, when I went back to it to work on preparing it for publication as a Word Document.  What I thought I remembered about my trip turned out to be far different and filled with gaps that my manuscript reminded me of.  I forgave myself for my faulty memory and in so doing I am willing to cut Mr. Williams a break for his faulty memory. 

I think it is interesting that the one person of any significance who has come out to defend Brian Williams is Dan Rather.  Dan Rather has been and continues to be the kind of newsman who sticks to his guns and lost his job at CBS primarily due to the CBS Corporate coddling of the George W. Bush White House, unhappy with Rather's powerful story of George Bush Junior avoiding the dangers of war through his daddy's contacts.  Dan Rather was a brave and truthful war correspondent in Vietnam just like Brian Williams was in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They apparently share a bond and I am hopeful that NBC does not cave in and destroy Brian William's career like they did David Gregory's when they tossed Gregory off "Meet The Press".

I think that what is most shameful about the Brian Williams situation is that it is once again showing how awful 24 hour news can be.  In addition to being boring it also seems to be unnecessarily vindictive and punitive.  I hope that Brian Williams' decision to take some time off from the NBC Anchor Chair will not lead to his termination, but to people and networks returning to what is truly important and responsible journalism rather than "Gotcha Journalism".

To Brian Williams I say Good Luck and God Bless.  I remain looking forward to your return to the NBC News airwaves where you belong and genuinely deserve to be for a long time to come.

Sincerely Yours

Jerry Gallagher